Digitalization Is About People, Not Just Technology

Digitalization Is About People, Not Just Technology

The digital age has its pros and cons for the workforce. Technology provides employees with faster, easier access to information and data. It also allows for greater personalization and more interaction between employee and employer. Yet the digitalization of the workplace does have its downsides. Consider smartphones, for example: They can be alternately distracting and distressing; they can create barriers to action like information overload and decision fatigue, as well as work-life balance issues stemming from an “always-on” mentality.

Some managers, frustrated with the ubiquity of these devices and their ability to distract employees, are banning phones from meetings or otherwise limiting their use in the workplace, the Wall Street Journal’s John Simons wrote in a feature last week. Simons points to studies indicating that executives and managers consider smartphones “the leading productivity killers in the workplace” and that the presence of a phone can harm people’s cognitive performance, even when they are not using or holding it. He also notes Google’s recent announcement that the next version of its Android operating system will introduce a feature enabling users to see how much time they spend on their phones, which apps they use the most, and how often the phone gets unlocked.

Our recent research at CEB, now Gartner, also underscores these downsides of technology at work. While solutions to help employees minimize time wasted on tech, like Google’s forthcoming Android time tracker, might be helpful, our research suggests that no technological intervention can have a meaningful impact on employee performance or the employee experience by itself. The limitations are striking, given the large investments organizations (and HR functions in particular) are making in technology to support employees. But the challenges employers face are human and organizational, not just technological—and the same must be true of any solution.

Improving employee performance and the employee experience in the digital age is about how organizations prioritize, design, and deploy resources for employees by taking a consumer-centric approach—not about finding the perfect app. By thinking of employees as consumers, HR can tap into what their peers in the marketing and product development functions have known all along: that people make purchasing decisions based on logic (“Is this worth my time?”) and emotion (“How does this make me feel? Is everyone around me using it?”).

Specifically, HR needs to do three things differently:

  1. Choose solutions based on an empathetic understanding of what employees value, not just what they need;
  2. Design “good enough” HR solutions that flex and evolve as needs and preferences change; and
  3. Deploy HR solutions that are effortless to access, not “on demand.”

Not only will this approach allow HR functions to provide better resources for employees to improve their performance and their experience; it will also free organizations from debating policies and smaller decisions about technology use. Should we let employees use smartphones at work? Should we invest in the latest meeting-scheduling app? If you’re not following a consumer-centric approach, these granular decisions don’t really make a difference.

CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can register for our upcoming round of executive briefings to learn more about digitalizing HR to improve the employee experience.