Digital employee experience explained

In a world of digital acceleration, companies that want to improve their employee experience need to start with their DEX.

Digital Employee Experience

There’s no denying that digital transformation has accelerated rapidly in the post-pandemic era. According to a McKinsey survey of 800 executives around the globe, 85% said their organization had increased digitization somewhat or greatly since the pandemic began, with a further 35% digitally transforming their supply chains. 

But this change has not always benefited the rank-and-file employee, or at the very least, it hasn’t benefited all employees equally. To maintain their digital progress, organizations must move from making process-focused technology choices to making people-focused ones—and that means prioritizing the digital employee experience. 

What is digital employee experience (DEX)?

Digital technology is ubiquitous in the modern workplace. A recent Firstup survey of 100 IT leaders revealed that 78% of workers now use 6-10 digital tools on average just to communicate. While this brings to mind a vision of the overwhelmed office worker, many modern frontline positions are also somewhat app-dependent, from warehouse staff to rideshare drivers. And even deskless hourly employees are expected to use technology to access company news or perform basic tasks like logging their hours.

As a result, much of an employee’s daily work experience is now dictated by their interactions with company technology. The digital employee experience, or DEX, is simply the term for all of their user experiences. 

Employee experience vs. digital employee experience 

DEX is a subset of the overall employee experience (EX). Traditionally the domain of HR, employee experience is currently influenced by a number of enterprise departments. 

What is meant by employee experience?

Just as customer experience (CX) is the sum total of a consumer’s experiences with a brand, employee experience is the entirety of a worker’s experiences at a company. Hundreds of billions are spent worldwide every year on CX, but in the last few years, growing interest in EX has turned it into an internal priority. 

IT, communications and HR leaders now recognize that employees are the “customers” of the digital workplace. They have limited time at work, countless demands on their attention, and to be engaged effectively, they must be reached at the right time in their journey—much like consumers. 

What makes a good employee experience?

A positive workplace experience results in greater workforce engagement, which has a number of benefits for organizations. According to Gallup, “highly engaged business units realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity.”

But what does it take to deliver employee experiences that achieve these business goals? 

4 best practices that lead to a positive workforce experience

  1. Open communication between employees and organizations. Businesses need to implement mechanisms to gather feedback. This gives every employee a voice in the company, leading to greater empowerment and a sense of ownership. 
  2. Direct access to senior management. Once the company has gathered feedback, it’s up to managers to show that they’re acting on it. Managers and executive leaders should consider weekly or monthly outreach to update employees on their progress, and provide a venue for direct questions.
  3. Transparency from executive leadership. CEOs and executives need to provide employees with a single source of truth in order to dispel rumors and boost confidence in the organization.
  4. Adapting to changing employee needs. There are 4 different generations in the workforce right now. Meeting all of their needs will require a digital workplace with adaptive technology that measures up to all the latest EX trends.   

Why is digital employee experience important to overall EX?

From small startups to large enterprises, businesses now rely on a hybrid workforce with an array of roles, including frontline workers, desk workers, mobile employees in the field, and remote or distributed workers. The pandemic has only increased role diversity, and a recent IDC study predicted that employee responsibilities will become increasingly dynamic in the future. 

Of course, these roles all have different workflows and use different software and devices to do their work, resulting in an end-user experience that varies in quality. For example, a wired worker watching a training video on their desktop computer won’t have the same experience as a delivery driver watching it on their smartphone. Generational preferences can play a role, too. After decades of email reliance, baby boomers may live in their email inboxes, while millennial and Gen Z users may prefer to communicate via Slack messages or Microsoft Teams.

Varying roles can also lead to different digital struggles. Desk workers are inundated with messages and “digital noise,” receiving an average of 87 emails and 46 smartphone notifications per day. They may also have to manually log into different systems to find information. On the other hand, deskless workers often don’t have the same digital capabilities as desk employees—a fact acknowledged by the IT professionals who participated in our survey. This leaves them at a loss for information, reducing their productivity. 

A recent Gartner report shared during Gartner Digital Workplace Summit stated that workers are digitally overwhelmed:

  • 68% of workers spend much of the day toggling between apps
  • 28% of their time is spent on email
  • 20% is spent looking for information
  • 400x – how often they context switch in a given day

What makes a great digital employee experience?

A great digital experience is one that will work for all your employees. To deliver on that promise, it needs to give all users access to the same features and capabilities. At Firstup, we call this the “unified DEX.” 

At the same time, every employee is unique, so your digital employee experience needs to seamlessly deliver the tools and information they need to do their specific job. That includes access to the right systems, software, applications, team resources, and company content. In other words, your DEX should be personalized for each employee. 

These two must-haves may seem contradictory, but implementing the right workplace technology can give you the opportunity to tick both boxes. 

Key factors that impact the digital employee experience

Improving DEX is not an easy task. Most companies have acquired dozens of technologies in an effort to digitally transform their business processes, but in doing so, they’ve often created friction and information silos for users. To address such challenges, you’ll need to take a page from the CX world, and use these marketing technologies (or martech) features to modernize your organization’s DEX:

Omnichannel Reach

Your organization needs the ability to reach any employee anywhere—not just in any location, but also on any endpoint the employee uses for work. That endpoint could be a device, like a mobile phone, laptop or smart TV, a channel, like email and collaboration tools, or a system, like Microsoft 365 or Salesforce. 


You should be able to target the right content, resources, software, and systems access to every employee. Ideally, look for a solution that can segment employees by their locations, titles, business units, interests, and other attributes. 


You need the ability to tailor every aspect of your DEX, including what tools and information are delivered to each employee, which channels or devices they’re delivered to, when they’re sent and how employees are notified.  


The more granular your targeting and orchestration are, the more personalized the experience is for each employee, and the more likely they are to engage with the applications or content you’ve delivered. 


As you take the pulse of your workforce and collect additional data on employee engagement, behavior, and preference, you’ll gain insight to help you optimize your DEX and the employee experience overall. 

Top 7 benefits of a great digital employee experience

  1. More equitable digital experiences. In the past, organizations have tended to prioritize and invest in the workflows of desk workers. Giving frontline workers a DEX that is equally robust and useful is one way to show that they are truly essential. 
  2. Greater employee productivity and satisfaction. The digital experience makes up such a large part of today’s work environment that it inevitably impacts how satisfied employees are with their jobs. A seamless DEX not only helps workers increase productivity, but also makes their work lives easier. 

According to Gartner’s 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey, “Workers satisfied with applications indicate that they are twice as inclined to stay in their current organization.” Unfortunately, 46% are currently not satisfied.

  1. The ability to create shared values. A unified digital employee experience connects every member of the workforce with their company, making it easier to survey employees and collaboratively develop a shared sense of purpose. That shared purpose can ultimately help organizations achieve their business goals.

“I always say that our people are our source of competitive advantage. They are our strategic assets. We can have strategies, but if you don’t have the people who are deeply passionate about the organization, who you’re able to win the hearts and minds to give you that discretionary effort, then you have nothing.”

Elizabeth Adefioye | CHRO, Ingredion
  1. A fully aligned workforce. That same continuous connection makes it possible to reach employees where they are with information that their organizations need them to know. Businesses can notify their people in real-time during critical events.
  2. Greater agility for the organization. The ability to reach and engage their people in real-time allows companies to mobilize their people quickly and pivot rapidly. For example, at the start of the pandemic, a company with a modern, employee-focused DEX would have been able to quickly prompt employees to follow new safety practices. 
  3. Workforce intelligence. A unified DEX allows organizations to measure their workforce’s response to content across channels. Companies can learn how their people are responding to major initiatives and dig deeper into employee engagement trends.
  4. Increased customer satisfaction. It’s long been recognized anecdotally that more employee satisfaction leads to improved CX, but now, research proves it. According to a study by Glassdoor, “There is a strong statistical link between employee well-being reported on Glassdoor and customer satisfaction among the largest companies today.”

It’s clear that a modern, employee-focused DEX benefits organizations and their people, but investing in building one requires buy-in from a number of stakeholders.  

Roles that manage the digital employee experience

The digital employee experience comes with so many challenges because it’s usually owned by multiple departments or business units, each with its own set of DEX goals: 

IT Teams

Tasked with extracting the most business value from their technology investments, IT departments want to drive usage of their existing apps and reduce friction by giving employees self-service options.

Internal Communications

For comms teams, the key DEX goal is employee engagement. They need to be able to reach every worker with company news and measure the results of their efforts. Working with HR and IT, communicators can be the drivers of DEX strategy. 

HR Professionals

Traditionally the keepers of the employee experience, HR teams would like to utilize technology to increase equity, improve employee retention, and foster community with actionable 2-way feedback. 

CEOs and Executives

C-suite leaders require a way to speak directly to their entire workforce, and they need simple, user-friendly technology to do it. For decision-making purposes, they may also want to gain insight into their workforce data. 

Team and Line Managers

Most management roles have to distribute targeted and time-sensitive information to their teams, particularly on the front line. They need an easy way to make content more engaging so their people will respond. 

Because these roles all have a stake in the digital employee experience, organizations often find it effective to build a cross-functional team to make DEX improvements. 

Learn how Hilton’s cross-functional team overcame their digital clutter challenges and streamlined their DEX during the pandemic.

5 ways a great digital employee experience impacts an organization

A seamless digital employee experience is hard to get right, but organizations that do can expect to see a number of beneficial effects across the company. 

1. Greater employee engagement

When an employee receives personalized information that’s relevant to them, it can lead to a cascade of engagement. Content that matches their interests gets them more interested in their job. Content that matches their preferences comes across as more meaningful. Being informed about critical goals or major changes makes them feel included. 

As more employees have an increasingly positive work experience, businesses can improve talent retention. Gallup states that highly engaged business units achieve 59% less turnover than those with low engagement. 

2. A highly productive digital workplace

74% of the IT leaders we surveyed agreed that workers have to use too many tools right now. Improving the digital employee experience makes the digital workplace more streamlined and seamless because it connects all of its elements. 

Employees will no longer need to manually log into and toggle between different enterprise systems. Instead, the information they need is delivered to them from every system, enabling them to work more quickly and efficiently across the entire digital workplace. 

3. More effective internal communications

Malcolm quote

As Malcolm Gladwell shared in our Attune DEX summit, organizations will need to switch to a network-based structure to succeed in a post-pandemic economy. This means every employee will need the ability to communicate out to their company, rather than having all internal comms centralized in the IC business unit. 

“…how you communicate with your employees really matters, especially when your employees [have] an expectation that they ought to be, need to be included in conversations. […] And what you say matters. You have to be able to have a conversation that reaches people, that seems real. That seems like it’s consequential, and intentional, and deliberate.”

— Malcolm Gladwell

A modern DEX will offer omnichannel communication capabilities to make these network-based structures a reality. Any employee will be able to reach their teammates no matter what system or channel they’re working in, including email, mobile, and collaboration tools. They will also be able to broadcast messages out to the wider company without professional communications expertise, taking the pressure off of comms teams. 

FirstUp Studio turns anyone into a professional communicator. Learn more → 

4. An inclusive workplace culture

When DEX is done right, it should give every employee a stake in the company culture. Modernizing the digital employee experience will give workers multiple ways to have a 2-way conversation with their company, including commenting on major announcements, giving anonymous feedback in polls, and sharing the priorities that matter to them. 

Providing several avenues for feedback will give underrepresented employee groups more opportunities to share their voices, including underrepresented identities and frontline or hourly team members. 

5. Increased ROI from the tech stack

Because a great DEX unifies all of an organization’s technologies, it makes it easier for employees to find them, use them and get the information they need from them. This not only boosts adoption but also increases recurring usage. Additionally, it minimizes friction for employees, leading to fewer helpdesk calls and more self-service autonomy for workers. 

A DEX with an analytics component will also allow IT teams to track adoption, usage and engagement so that they can continue to optimize for greater ROI. 

Want to get greater ROI from your intranet? Find out how companies are modernizing the intranet in 2021. Learn more → 

The Future of DEX

The digital employee experience will continue to grow in importance as a wider swath of “digital natives” enter and advance in the workforce. By 2025, it’s estimated that millennials and Gen Z together will make up nearly 64% of the global working-age population. These groups will expect intuitive, consumer-like digital experiences in their work environment—Gen Z workers, in particular, are likely to consider seamlessness a given and to frown upon companies that don’t deliver it. DEX will increasingly become a key factor in retaining young talent. 

Significantly, millennials and Gen Z are also more likely to consider digital platforms a primary venue for company culture and will expect technology to facilitate opportunities for social interactions with coworkers. These expectations will solidify in the next two years as the hybrid workforce becomes a permanent feature of society; already, many big names in Silicon Valley are announcing reopenings of their offices while at the same time giving employees the option to work from home permanently. 

Conclusion: DEX is a must for businesses that want to lead in the new economy

The digital employee experience has been on the radar of IT, communications and HR executives for some time, but it’s taken the events of the past year to turn it into an organizational priority. Between high-speed technological change and growing expectations for employee satisfaction, DEX may well be a deciding factor in which companies succeed going forward.

Related resources

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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 personalised communications, and gain engagement insights throughout the employee journey. With Firstup, employers can view engagement data in real time, by organisation, 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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