How can organisational design improve employee experience?

Creating a purpose-driven employee experience means rethinking how and why organisational structures work. In order to overcome disruption and drive real change, people leaders need to be courageous and tear up the existing human resources rulebook.

As technology continues to power fluid ecosystems of permanent and contracted talent, working side by side or remotely anywhere in the world, the task of redesigning the entire employee experience (EX) cannot be put on hold.

From actively pursuing greater diversity of thought, to rewiring corporate communications to foster a sense of belonging among disparate groups, pioneering organisations are already driving change across the globe.

We believe HR leaders can help their organisations to design a better employee experience by:

  1. Managing new employee ecosystems
  2. Communicating corporate values
  3. Creating a sense of belonging

Managing new employee ecosystems

“This isn’t the future of work, it’s the now of work and whether we are reshaping the experience of permanent hires, temporary gig workers or ad hoc consultants, the values and desires of each group will be very different,” says Jason Averbook, founder of human resources consultancy Leapgen.

“There is no doubt that new employee ecosystems have made the world more complex from a business perspective, but if people leaders start designing for the now and not for the past, it will be a very positive change.”

If people leaders start designing for the now and not for the past, it will be a very positive change

While progressive organisations are already fashioning a culture that embraces both salaried staff and gig workers, the fear of losing control over those who work remotely has seen other firms drag their feet.

Although Matt Stephens, founder of employee engagement consultancy Inpulse, agrees that staying in touch requires more effort, simply “picking up the phone or jumping on Skype more regularly” provides a workable solution.

His favourite example of an organisation that has successfully challenged the belief people work better when they’re supervised is Google. In its quest to create the perfect remote team, the tech giant spent two years studying more than 5,000 workers spread across a variety of bricks-and-mortar sites and remote locations.

The trial concluded, says Mr Stephens, that there was “no difference in the effectiveness, performance ratings or promotion rates for those whose work requires remote collaboration with others around the world and those who spend most of their day working side by side with colleagues”.

For Ben Whitter, founder of the World Employee Experience Institute, another exemplar is the fashion rental business Rent the Runway, which has extended all staff benefits to contractors in a bid to provide a positive experience across the workforce.

“This enlightened and developing way of thinking will start to differentiate and become a primary method of identifying the world’s top brands,” he says. Sky, LinkedIn and Salesforce are all examples of organisations that he says are “driven by their people”, no matter how clever their technology is.

Trusting people to get on with their work when they are out of sight of managers is a vital piece of the EX jigsaw and can have a significant impact on performance.

“When top management understands the value and impact of work culture, they embrace it and understand the need to be flexible,” says Karin Volo, co-founder of engagement consultancy Evoloshen and self-styled “chief joy bringer”.

When top management understands the value and impact of work culture, they embrace it and understand the need to be flexible

“While at times this may be disruptive, this itself can be seen as a positive, particularly when organisations that feel able to trust their people outperform low-trust organisations by as much as 600 per cent.” She cites Virgin, John Lewis and WD-40 as good examples of this approach.

With social media providing few places for ineffectual organisations to hide, Ms Volo believes that consistent messaging, internally and externally, is crucial. She quotes Amazon subsidiary Zappos, which has an open Twitter arrangement, allowing any employee to tweet from the company account. “The message that the firm trusts employees to use Twitter responsibly increases the level of trust even further,” adds Ms Volo.

Communicating corporate values

In the new, more complex employee landscape, communicating an organisation’s values is climbing the agenda. Technology provides a wealth of tools to ensure remote staff can stay abreast of the business’s goals and purpose, but while digital-thinking has an important role to play, personalisation cannot be overlooked, as Leapgen’s Mr Averbook points out.

“Organisational values are very easy to put on the back of a badge, but your virtues have to be seen to be lived by everyone too and that’s harder with gig workers. Values can no longer be done by the water cooler,” he says.

The power of employee brand advocates, both online and face to face, is enormous. To engage with and inspire, some lateral thinking around staff benefits may be required, says Mr Whitter, who singles out a recent communication dispatched to new parents by Microsoft’s HR team.

Instead of sending out what he calls “a dull, boring and robotic” missive outlining the firm’s maternity policy, the tech giant opted for a welcome letter addressed to the newborn baby.

“The letter was well crafted, warm and empathetic to the needs of both the child and its parents,” says Mr Whitter. While setting out all the relevant information, it did so in a personalised, human-friendly way. “This is the standard of communication all businesses should be aiming for,” he adds.

The power of employee brand advocates, both online and face to face, is enormous

Considered holistically, EX presents many opportunities to communicate at a deeper level, Mr Whitter believes, while also arming staff with easily shareable and engaging brand content.

He gives fitness brands Gymshark and Grenade as examples of being “very intentional around how they connect their people to the brand”, but notes that “harnessing social media, influencers and brand advocates is something that companies are still getting used to”.

Creating a sense of belonging

As working life migrates from concrete to the cloud, fostering of a sense of belonging is beginning to underpin the entire diversity and inclusion movement.

In part, this is a self-defence mechanism, a way of warding off the havoc that can be caused to any company falling foul of disgruntled ex-employees venting on the web. Yet, taking time and effort to ensure that employees can feel a deeper emotional affinity with their work and the organisation is inevitably repaid in greater loyalty.

Mr Whitter cites Airbnb’s business mission to create a place where you can “belong anywhere”, a tagline which, he says, also “runs through everything an employee experiences”.

Spotify is also worthy of praise, he adds, in light of its policy that allows staff to access any public holiday, anywhere in the world, that most connects to their personal beliefs, regardless of their work location.

This policy, accompanied by the message “Whatever you believe, we believe in you”, offered “a small change in the experience, but an incredible impact on existing and prospective Spotify employees”, says Mr Whitter.

Taking time and effort to ensure that employees can feel a deeper emotional affinity with their work and the organisation is inevitably repaid in greater loyalty

For many organisations, ensuring the top table is truly representative of modern society is already proving a thorny issue and, with neurodiversity now coming to the fore, the current inclusivity stamping ground of gender, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation and educational background can only become more complex.

In this respect, while Mr Averbook believes counting heads has become the norm in many boardrooms, particularly when it comes to reaching the desired quotas for female representation, making heads count is more profound.

“Manufacturing, retail and healthcare have already been forced to rethink the old ways of thinking and for all three sectors, innovation in terms of people policy and much else can only continue to grow,” he says.

With the traditional “profits before people” business model already reshaped by the need for values and purpose, forging emotional links with the human beings who will guide organisations forward has never been more pressing.

Organisations that reach out to their talent, however remote, and design the working experience around their employees will be rewarded with commitment, loyalty and a wealth of ideas and innovative thinking. The people experience will dictate which brands continue to thrive.