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Meadows C J, Chief, Innovation Center, SP Jain School of Global Management
The above quote is not exactly a quote – it’s the title of an article predicting the rise of human-centered computing, in which we use data science to identify (or predict) what people do and human-centered design to find out why and craft better solutions. The author states, “people must be at the heart of every digital initiative.”
But does every digital initiative have a heart?
CHROs are taking classes to become more “tech-savvy” and work closely with CIOs, but how many CIOs are taking classes in empathy and design? Forrester predicts rising expectations for digital experiences, and employees are expecting both hybrid work and work systems on par with their consumer experience.
Why should CIOs bother with employee experience? Quite simply, it pays to do so.
Apparently, 40 percent of employees are considering quitting their jobs soon, and it costs roughly 1/3 of a new recruit's salary to replace an employee. Even if they stay, are workers fully productive? According to Gallup, a shocking 80 percent of employees are either not engaged or are actively disengaged, costing the global economy USD7.8 trillion in lost productivity. Increasing retention and engagement by even a small percentage can mean significant savings for any company.
All these factors point to the need for a MetaOffice -- a “phygital” work infrastructure that enables workers to be productive, integrate into the workforce social system, and operate seamlessly no matter where they are working. Sounds like a job for the CIO, CHRO, and COO, enabled by a design team.
Can Design Thinking (DT) help? Decidedly, yes. High-performing HR departments are five times as likely to be using DT, and studies repeatedly show that design-oriented companies financially outperform their peers, whether measured by growth (2X – 3X), shareholder returns (roughly 60 percent more), or return on assets (2X). Whether focusing on customer experience or employee experience, DT is a powerful approach.
You’ll need a diverse team, to take advantage of a wide range of skill sets and thinking styles. I’ve seen an artist help her pharmaceuticals design team understand experiences and visualize solutions, and I’ve been asked where to hire ethnologists and corporate anthropologists (yes, they are real jobs).
You must also recognize you’ll not begin with technology and the opportunities it offers. You’ll need to focus first on the desirability, to escape the shiny toy syndrome, producing brilliant tech no one wants to use.
Consciously choose your challenge. It’s surprising how often people come up with brilliant solutions to the wrong problem. A useful tool is the “challenge map,” in which you deconstruct your challenge with post-its on a whiteboard (for example), asking “why” you want to solve this problem (is there a better one to work on?) and “what’s stopping you” (something you have to fix first?).
Next, observe people in their natural (work) habitat and ask why they do what they do. Discover what they really need and want. When working with a group of CHROs recently to reduce turnover, we used the extremes-and-analogies “tool” to make their observation and interview time productive. They engaged with super-unhappy employees, happy long-timers, and an analogous situation – marriage. The team quickly discovered a host of things wrong with the workplace, found a number of great coping methods and ideas to share with other employees, and decided to adopt a number of marriage counseling techniques for the workplace. Realizing married couples can “read” each other’s moods, they’re also pursuing “wellbeing tracking” via facial recognition.
To help them observe fully and develop a deeper understanding, they drew employee journey maps, listing the steps an employee has to perform to get something done, as well as what he/she says, thinks, and feels along the way. Journey maps are a great tool for finding “pain points” to fix, and if getting something done takes too many steps, you need to simplify (or, better yet, automate).
Envisioning a smoother, simpler future took the form of a journey map, too – a future-state one with fewer steps and more positive talking, thinking, and feeling.
Increasing retention and engagement by even a small percentage can mean significant savings for any company
The team then brainstormed a variety of ways (physical and technological) to solve problems and smooth out people’s work lives. Research shows that the first 10 – 20 brainstormed ideas are usually mundane. Great ideas follow, often right at the end of brainstorm time. One group of country heads I was coaching said they were disappointed – their ideas seemed mundane. I asked if they put the crazy, infeasible ones up. They said no. Once they allowed the crazy ones to be posted, they built on those with better ideas and toned some down so they were workable.
Prototyping and experimenting with people to see how they interact with your solution are essential to evolving your idea. However, it doesn’t start with a software wireframe. It can start with a person behind a cardboard screen interacting with people to define features, functionality, and sequence.
Will the resulting office feel like a metaverse version of today’s physical office? It might, especially for meetings and those accidental water-cooler encounters that help us make friends across organizational boundaries. That said, we’ll probably need a better excuse for making new friends than needing virtual water, the digital toilet, or waiting for the now-unnecessary printout. Will people make friends and learn company culture in the meta-cafeteria or by scheduling 100 coffees to build a collegial network? Perhaps.
Most likely, it’s the deeper attributes of the metaverse we need to build into our hybrid workspaces: consistent look-and-feel, intuitive human interface, integrated functionality, immersive experience (where appropriate), and a focus on social connection for teamwork and building community. And let’s not forget to keep the power couple together, continually discovering our whats, whys, and designing better hows.