The latest Digital Employee Experience research and how to support the remote and hybrid workforce with Mike Walsh of SocialChorus

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Dive into the details when Chuck Gose talks with Mike Walsh, Vice President of Product Marketing at SocialChorus about the latest research around the acceleration and enhancement of the digital employee experience in the remote and growingly hybrid workplace.

“75% of leaders believe that their workers are less productive because there’s just too much digital noise. ( . . . ) but at the same time for frontline and mobile workers, it’s really the opposite problem. They are left out.“

— Mike Walsh

Get the details on the three core trends he’s seeing in the market:

  • Remote and the hybrid workforce are here to stay. Really!
  • The pandemic accelerated the need and highlighted the gaps in the digital employee experience
  • Companies are looking for streamlined, intelligent ways to support employees, wherever they are.
  • Then, discover how digital technology is driving culture, alignment, and productivity for workers.
  • As the episode continues, Mike breaks down how companies are moving away from a pull method and more toward a push methodology to deliver information more intelligently. 
  • Not to be missed, Chuck and Mike also preview the upcoming Attune summit featuring keynote speaker, Malcolm Gladwell. 

Interested in learning more? 

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode 47 Transcript

Chuck Gose: Hello everyone. This is Culture, Comms and Cocktails, the podcast with internal comms served straight up. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, strategic advisor at SocialChorus. And on this episode of Culture, Comms and Cocktails, I am joined by my colleague, Mike Walsh, product marketing at SocialChorus. Welcome to the podcast, Mike.

Mike Walsh: Hey Chuck. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Chuck Gose: Now, we don’t get a lot of SocialChorus voices on here other than my own. So Mike, thanks again for joining. And let’s kick this off by sharing what does it mean to be a product marketer at SocialChorus?

Mike Walsh: Yeah, that’s a great question. Product marketing is a function and a role that can change in different companies where you’re at. But largely what I’m focused on here at SocialChorus is really helping to bring new products and features to market, helping to position what our product offerings are to customers, to prospects, and then working with our teams to go out there and tell the story on how people are using our products, why they’re great, and some of the value in that use cases that we’re generating from these products.

Chuck Gose: Now going into this year, 2021, a term that listeners might be hearing, reading on Twitter, reading on LinkedIn, wherever, that we’re using a lot is this term digital employee experience. We’ve got our Attune coming up in April, April 13 through 14, so all about the digital employee experience. So Mike, in your words, thinking about from the product marketing side, define what digital employee experience means to you.

Mike Walsh: Great. That’s a great question. Yeah. And we’d like to shorten that, because it is a mouthful of a word. So we shorten that to DEX sometimes too, for digital employee experience. Well, it starts, though, with the employee experience. So that is a concept that’s been around for a while, and it’s taken on a lot more importance lately, and it really refers to the larger journey that employees are going through, from hire to retire and all of the different steps and moments that matter along that journey. So onboarding, promotions, exit, things like that. It’s all about the touch-points and the moments that employees are going through.

The digital employee experience is a part of this, a really big part of this, and it’s even bigger now as a result of the pandemic with more of us working from home. So since so many of us are now working remotely or in this hybrid environment, as people are saying now, we’re relying more and more on digital technology to really keep us together. We don’t have the office cooler any more to go around and talk and catch up with each other. So digital technology is really driving culture. It’s driving alignment, it’s driving productivity for all your workers, wherever they are.

Chuck Gose: There’s a couple of things you used in there, Mike. One was that “hire to retire”. That’s a very good and that’s stuck in my head. I like that. And on a previous episode of the podcast, we had [Kristen Cronin] from M&T Bank, who talked about the digital employee experience. And as you pointed out, for a lot of employees, this is now their employee experience, being digital, if you’re fortunate enough or your job allows you to work from home, you have that. And then there are those employees who are right on the front line, customer-facing, who have the opportunity for a brand new digital employee experience for them. And I know that as we close out 2020, we’re into 2021, the company has been doing a lot of research around the digital employee experience. So what are some of the things that you’ve been exploring recently, Mike?

Mike Walsh: Yeah. Great. Yeah. We have been doing a bunch of research. We’ve commissioned a couple of studies ourselves, as well as worked with folks like Gartner, IDC and Forrester to understand what are the bigger trends out there that are happening in the market. I’d say there’s three core trends that we’re seeing. One is that remote work and this hybrid workforce are really here to stay. It’s not going to be going away even after things return back to some sense of normalcy.

Two is that really the pandemic has only accelerated the needs for digital transformation, and it’s really highlighted the gaps in the digital employee experience that we see for every worker. So for a long time, when we talk about the future of work and remote work and things like that, it is really focused on the corporate office worker, and it’s leaving the frontline worker behind. And so we’re doing a lot more when it comes to how can we drive equity across the employee experience for every worker, wherever you are, whatever type of job you have.

One more thing is that through this research and what the [inaudible] are seeing that companies are trying to address this employee experience and these gaps by looking for streamlined, intelligent ways to support employees, wherever they are, with an orchestration-type platform that delivers the right information, the right tools, the right technology to people wherever they are. And so it’s bringing together groups that may not have always worked so closely together to solve this problem. It’s bringing together comms, HR and IT are really becoming the three core folks coming together within an organization to improve the employee experience.

Chuck Gose: Yeah, every time I open up LinkedIn, I see it is article after article, topic after topic, about remote work and the hybrid workforce. And as somebody who has worked remote for more than a decade, it is an interesting concept for me to understand how that can be new for some people. What does hybrid mean for some workplaces? What about the people who don’t want to stay hybrid and want to stay home but are expected to go back to work? And vice versa, the people that have to go to work and they’re like, “No, I’d rather stay home.” And I’ve heard from a lot of communicators that prior to the pandemic, companies were saying, “Oh, there’s no way that we can have people work remote.” And now companies are learning, no, those were largely excuses. We absolutely can have people work remote. So in the research and studies that we’ve done around remote work and the hybrid workforce, what is some of the information that we found?

Mike Walsh: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it’s crazy. There’s new stats that are coming out every day around what is this remote work experience? What are we learning from this remote work experience and the experiment that we’re all going through? And a lot of times productivity actually is increased. People are working more because there’s less commute, there’s less boundaries between work-life balance. There’s a lot more focus on, how do we set up those boundaries?

Some of the research though that we have found was that Forrester found that really 48% of decision-makers really expect to permanently maintain this higher rate of remote work even after the pandemic ends. So we know that there’s been an increase in the amount of people who are working from home remotely. It’s going to go down a little bit once things go back to normal, but it’s not going to go back to the levels they were before. There’s going to be a higher level of people working from home or coming in half-time on a rotational schedule. IDC found some very similar trends as well to this. And that’s also bearing out not just the research, but also in what we’re hearing back from our customers too. So they are planning on bringing back folks slowly to the office, often considering a rotational-type basis, and also exploring ways to let more people work from home permanently or on a much more frequent basis.

Chuck Gose: Yeah. Going back to your early point around finding those boundaries, if you do find those boundaries for remote work, please let me know, because that’s something that I have absolutely struggled with for the past decade, and I know that’s a new challenge for someone when work is home and home is work. It sounds great and there are certainly some advantages to it, but there are also some inherent challenges, and it will be interesting to see how companies balance the needs of employees. And yes, productivity, there is something around the amount of time worked, but also there’s a limit to that. If you work too much, at some point you start to become counterproductive to the workplace. So again, going back to this research, what are some of the challenges that organizations face with supporting this new way of work, whether it is fully remote or hybrid remote or certain part days remote? How can companies manage this?

Mike Walsh: A lot of these challenges actually existed before the pandemic, and again, the pandemic has really just ushered new focus on this. What we’ve seen, we did some research with over a hundred global IT leaders and found that for them, when they look at their corporate office workers, 75% of these leaders believe that their workers are less productive because there’s just too much digital noise. There’s too much digital exhaust, too many things, too many systems. People don’t know where to go to find out what information is relevant. How do I get to a certain tool? How do I be most productive in my job? So the desk worker’s overwhelmed with too much content.

But at the same time for frontline and mobile workers, it’s really the opposite problem. They are left out. So 80% of those survey respondents believe that these workers are actually less productive because they’re missing out on key systems and information because they don’t have an email address. They’re not on the internet. They may not even have a way to easily check what’s happening through their mobile phones. So how do we keep these people engaged? Because after all, these are the people who are keeping the lights on, who are really doing the day-to-day customer-service jobs and production that are essential to our economy. So how do we keep these folks engaged?

Chuck Gose: Yeah. What’s interesting about both of those to me is that it sounds like none of us are productive enough for them either. If you are a desk worker, you’re not productive enough because there’s too much noise. And if you are a frontline or mobile worker, you’re not productive because there’s not enough noise, there’s not enough stuff for you to access. So to me, I wonder at times how much of that is their own projection, meaning that they’re a desk worker, so they want less pings. They want less… They use that term digital exhaust. I like that. They want less of that. I would say that one I’m not sure I’m in alignment with them on.

But certainly those frontline and mobile workers, I think the question that organizations should be asking is how can we help them? How can we make them more productive, and finding out what is the information they need and what are the systems they need easy access to? That’s what we work with a lot of companies to help them solve. So yeah, definitely in line with that one. So for the companies that see these gaps, that see these issues with the pandemic, and as you pointed out, it has exposed some gaps here… The pandemic exposed the gaps in a lot of areas, not just in work life, but when it comes to the professional life, how are companies trying to solve some of these gaps and solve some of these issues?

Mike Walsh: Yeah. So some of the research that that we’ve seen, again, and this is coming from Forrester and IDC and Gartner and others around that, companies are looking for ways to augment their employee experience with more intelligence, better orchestration of the assets that they already have. Companies already have a lot of tools, technology and content out there floating around, but it’s all about how can we deliver this information to the right person in the right place at the right time and a more efficient way? And they’re looking at ways to orchestrate all of this delivery to people in a way that’s just easier and more effective than having to hunt [inaudible] through all these different systems.

So a lot of companies too are looking at, all right, what’s in my tech stack that I can improve that would help us? And one of the things that jumps out is the intranet. And so Forrester found that only 66% of companies are really satisfied with their internet. It actually scored lower than pretty much every system within the enterprise, lower than expense and payroll reports and things like that. So that’s getting a lot of attention because traditionally that’s been a place where larger enterprises said, “Hey, go to your intranet to find tools and information relevant to you.”

But we know, and our belief, is that the internet has always been treated as a destination site. It’s been one place that you have to go to, to find what you need. And with the way people are spread out today, and the way people work with technology on their phone, on their laptop, on the commute, on the factory floor, we need ways of reaching those workers where they are. And so we actually need to go out and push information to employees. And so that’s the concept that people are looking for, going away from a pull method where it’s all on the employee to find what they need, going more towards a push methodology that delivers information intelligently. And the IDC calls this concept the intelligent digital workspace. Forrester refers to it as the visual play experiences. And this is really the challenges and solutions that we’re solving for here at SocialChorus.

Chuck Gose: Yeah. I think that number around 66% are satisfied with their intranet, I got to admit Mike, I find that number really funny. Not that it’s the lowest. That makes me really sad because so many organizations rely on their intranet in some ways, but even that term around satisfied with it, I think there’s a lot of employees that would be satisfied if they’d never even had to go to their intranet for anything. So that’s a pretty low baseline to be satisfied with it when they may not even have to use it or go to it. So certainly something that we are working with organizations to solve. And again, we talked about the Attune that’s April 13th and 14th, excited to have Malcolm Gladwell, famous author, famous podcaster who was a keynote there. Go to firstup.io to get signed up, learn more about it. Mike, I hope we keep doing research, whether it’s around DEX and Attune and how do we keep learning and looking at the other research other organizations have done and you’ve shared, where can listeners go to download this research and dig in deeper?

Mike Walsh: Yes. For sure. Well, thanks for talking about it too, and a lot more research will be discussed there, but for these reports, we’ve got reports with Gartner, with Forrester or our own surveys that we’ve run. You can go to firstup.io, go to resources and then check out our eBooks and guides. And from there, you’ll find a variety of materials like the ones I’ve gone through today to highlight the trends that people are going through today.

Chuck Gose: Any time we can get more information in front of IT leaders, HR leaders, communication leaders, giving them that guidance, fully in support of this. I want to thank you for coming on the podcast and we’ll plug Attune one more time. That’s A-T-T-U-N-E, Attune, April 13 through 14th, all virtual, unfortunately. Maybe in 2022, we’ll be able to all be together in a room.

Mike Walsh: Hopefully.

Chuck Gose: Certainly look for it, get signed up, join Malcolm Gladwell and a host of other diverse speakers out there, all talking about the digital employee experience. Mike, thanks for coming on the podcast. It is called Culture, Comms and Cocktails. So I do want to close this out, Mike, by asking, what is your favorite cocktail?

Mike Walsh: Yes, I’m very simple. I like to go for just a regular old Manhattan, something you can just make in a glass with some ice and you’re in and out and done pretty quickly. Nothing too fancy.

Chuck Gose: Not fancy, but certainly effective, a Manhattan, if you need a good cocktail. I’m a Manhattan fan myself. But Mike, I would say I’m a tiny bit disappointed in your recommendation, only because what listeners don’t know is that during the pandemic you have relocated to Hawaii. So I would have expected perhaps something a little more Hawaiian from a cocktail standpoint.

Mike Walsh: Yeah, I am taking advantage of the remote work. I’m very blessed and privileged to have my wife from here. So we’re hanging out with her family, but while I’m here, the Mai Tai is definitely the king of the cocktails. That is definitely not something I can make. It has too many ingredients. But if I’m out somewhere, I’ll get one of those.

Chuck Gose: Mike, thanks again for coming on the podcast, sharing that great research. And again, go check out Attune. We’d love to have you attend.

Mike Walsh: Thanks a lot, Chuck. Thanks so much.

Chuck Gose: If you enjoyed what you heard from this episode and want to check out others, find Culture, Comms and Cocktails on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you like to listen. And when you do, hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss any future episodes. This has been Culture, Comms and Cocktails, internal comms served straight up. Thanks for listening.

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Firstup is the world’s first intelligent communication platform. More than 40 percent of Fortune 100 companies use our platform to connect with their people, design and deliver personalized communications, and gain engagement insights throughout the employee journey. With Firstup, employers can view engagement data in real time, by organization, department, or employee. That helps leaders better understand their workforce, make informed decisions, and provide better experiences from hire to retire. Companies like Amazon, Tesco, Ford, and Hilton use Firstup every day to improve outcomes for their employees.

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