A Guide to Employee Experience Management in Distributed Teams

In moments when the workplace as a whole goes through upheaval, and the fundamental pillars of our work culture are being redefined, companies who turn their attention to employee experience are likely to come out the other side as winners.

Let’s dive into our definitive guide to employee experience management and help you take your place on the winners’ podium.

What is employee experience management?

Let’s start by briefly explaining employee experience (EX). Put simply, employee experience is everything a person does, feels, sees, experiences, and contributes to on their employee journey — from glancing at your Careers page to leaving your company after a period of employment.

Employee experience management is a vertical inside the company tasked with influencing each one of those touchpoints and ensuring future, existing, and former employees have a good experience going through them.

So what exactly does an Employee Experience Manager do?

Traditionally, Employee Experience Managers work under the scope of People or HR teams. Their jobs touch upon all the elements of a fruitful and positive experience, from workplace atmosphere and work environment to processes around performance reviews, employee development, and employee feedback.

In recent years and with the rise of remote work, Employee Experience Managers often work closely with Human Resources, People Operations, Workplace, and IT departments to enhance the experience on all fronts, unifying the three P’s: people, places, and technology.

Employee lifecycle: The five stages of employee experience

To get a deeper understanding of the daily responsibilities of EX managers and the importance of EX for organizations, we need to understand the different stages of a single employee journey.

Recruiting phase

This journey starts with the Recruiting stage, which covers everything that happens before and during hiring a new employee. Factors that impact experience in this phase include how long the recruiting process takes, how much it costs to hire new talent, and the quality of the hired candidates.

Employee experience managers work with stakeholders like recruiters and hiring managers to improve factors like ease of application, the attractiveness of job postings, the length and complexity of the hiring process, and the entire talent management experience.

Onboarding phase

Once you hire a new employee, they must be effectively onboarded into the company. This means integrating them into the broader company structure and their core team, so they have all the conditions to do their job at their best.

In this phase, employee experience managers consider how long the onboarding lasts, whether it is effective enough, and if there are ways to improve the process and ensure the initial enthusiasm and engagement stay high.

Development phase

When an employee settles into the company, team, and role, the stage of employee development begins. Of course, every employee will develop differently based on their position, experience, and skills.

As employees develop, EX managers hone the development processes and ways to measure and quantify the employees’ progress, skill growth, productivity, and team belonging. For companies aiming to achieve the best business results, offering development programs and educational opportunities is vital to the employee experience.

Retention phase

The retention phase starts when employees integrate fully into the organization, and their development path is charted. This phase centers around ensuring employees perform at their best and stay with the company.

In recent years, employee retention has proven to be economically wise, as replacing an existing employee with a new one is costly and takes time, which hinders the broader company's performance. In this phase, EX managers focus on aligning the company’s mission, vision, values, and culture with the everyday experience of employees. Additionally, they create processes around performance management,

Exit phase

Whether it’s for a new job, retirement, or a life-changing decision, the reality is that employees leave. And when they do, ensuring they have a smooth offboarding experience is the job of the EX team.

In this phase, employee experience managers focus on finding out why an employee is leaving, gathering feedback on their overall experience, and learning where the company can improve and develop better processes for existing and new employees.

Why employee experience management is critical for organizations

Just a few years ago, employee engagement and productivity were all companies worried about. However, even before the pandemic, a shift started happening, leading to expanding employee experience as a more holistic concept.

The factors behind this are plenty:

  • Technological developments like social media, which enabled employees and organizations to talk more directly and publicly about the workplace
  • A generational shift that ushered in a workforce mainly comprised of Millennials and Gen-Z workers, who want better work-life balance and look for a deeper purpose at work
  • An uncertain economic situation, with a pandemic and a potential recession on the horizon
  • Broader workplace changes like The Great Resignation
  • An expectation of a unique and customized employee experience tailored to individual employees
  • A global rise in remote, hybrid, and distributed work, and employees’ expectations of workplace flexibility

All these factors led companies to delve deeper into the importance of employee experience and realize that employees (especially engaged, well-performing ones) are indeed their biggest assets. And it pays off to invest in a positive employee experience. Here are a few examples to prove it:

Attracting top talent and increasing employee retention

A good candidate and employee experience help companies attract the best hires, especially in raging talent wars. Designing and implementing a hiring process that isn’t too long, burdensome for the candidates, and too complex for both sides isn’t easy, but it can be the make-or-break factor in convincing candidates to join.

On the other hand, companies say that retaining employees is the biggest challenge for their HR and People Ops teams. And if we know that excellent employee experience translates to engagement, it’s no wonder companies invest in EX to reduce attrition. In fact, highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their current employers.

Onboarding new hires

An effective and carefully designed onboarding process can make or break new employees' performance and tenure with the company. Most employees resign within their first year at work, hinting that their onboarding and integration into the company were poorly executed.

A holistic employee experience strategy and a dedicated team can lead companies to implement better, more tailored, and more effective onboarding strategies, especially for their remote workers.

Higher employee engagement

Employee engagement, like productivity, is part of a broader picture of employee experience. If employees feel valued at work, have good lines of communication with peers and superiors, and receive regular feedback, chances are they will be more engaged. Actually, around 16 times more engaged, according to McKinsey.

For employers, engagement translates directly into employee satisfaction and company loyalty, and those two bring the most desired outcome of all: a better bottom line. Some stats suggest companies with engaged employees have 2.5 times better revenues than those where employees are disengaged - and it seems only logical that business outcomes are better when employees are happy.

Employee experience in remote teams

As remote and hybrid work walked into the picture en-masse in 2020, HR teams and EX managers had to rethink all the principles they were just starting to adopt in the first place.

First of all, location-agnostic hiring works both ways. Just as employers gain access to the best talent anywhere, employees can expand their job search to employees who cater to their needs, regardless of location.

This means that the efforts around hiring, onboarding, and retaining remote employees quickly became the focus of both companies and employees.

Additionally, remote work brings many improvements to how we work: we can get our job done from any location with an internet connection and an electrical socket. But as remote productivity grows, human connection can suffer.

Workspaces are also going through a rebirth, as their purpose is no longer to make you sit at your desk. Companies that hire remotely say 85% of their employees go into a workspace to see their teams, connect, and collaborate — they do their focused work at home.

So with this paradigm shift from an office-based workforce to a distributed one, how can Employee Experience Managers design their strategies for a remote world?

Six steps to tailor employee experience for remote work

Remote and distributed work requires every organization to take action and determine what works for their team members and employees and how they want to design employee experience for the future of work. Unlike before, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, but there are first steps to take towards a holistic employee experience.

Do an honest assessment

Start by assessing your employee experience strategy — and doing it honestly. Take a look at your existing data and employee satisfaction; chances are you will find ways to improve your efforts, redesign some aspects, and implement new ideas.

A good starting point is to comb through the three most important aspects of employee experience: company culture, technology, and the physical workspaces. Is your culture clear enough and transparent to all employees? Do you invest in suitable tools and technology to make work easy? Do you provide workspaces to all employees regardless of where they live?

Ask for employee feedback

Before rolling out any new initiatives, ask your employees for input. You can do this with engagement and pulse surveys, which are great tools for real-time understanding of your employee’s feelings. Don’t think of employee feedback as a one-time thing; employee surveys are essential to honing your employee experience strategy and ensuring you are on the right track.

Start by asking questions about how employees see your remote work policy, their flexibility expectations, their needs for tools and technology, and their sense of belonging and community inside the company. Don’t limit the feedback surveys to existing employees only: exit interviews are a great place to uncover feedback you wouldn’t get from existing employees.

Treat employee experience like customer experience

This step requires a shift in how companies think about their employees. And while human capital is a company’s biggest asset, employee satisfaction is often treated as a nice-to-have. Compare that to how you treat your customers; you’ll realize where we’re getting at.

Employee experience is just as important as customer satisfaction and a product in and of itself. Your employees are your internal customers, and every iteration of the employee experience is a product you deliver. Adopting this mindset will make you realize the importance of feedback, iteration, and continual learning about your employee experience strategy.

Tie your employee experience strategy to your company culture

For distributed teams, company culture is one of the essential pillars that unifies employee experience across locations. If employees don’t work from a single physical office, the values and culture give them a sense of belonging and a consistent experience.

When designing an EX strategy, consider how to instill culture into it. For example, you can start by asking yourself how to facilitate collaboration for remote employees virtually and in person. Next, consider how you want to weave flexibility into the overall experience, help workers avoid burnout, and achieve a better work-life balance.

Rethink your perks and benefits

The perks of an office-based workforce don’t necessarily match what remote workers need. To avoid offering perks employees won’t use (and wasting money!), use employee feedback to find out what your team members need and want the most. For remote employees, what they need will vary based on their role and responsibilities, their typical workday, as well as their personal life, preferences, and work-from-home conditions.

Many studies show that mental health and well-being are among the top priorities for employees today, so make sure you include stipends, budgets, and programs that cater to mental health. Other benefits employees want the most are flexible work, access to flex workspaces, home office stipends, and paid parental leave.

Measure your efforts

Companies, and People teams, in particular, struggle to provide a world-class employee experience without creating a massive hole in the budget. This means everything you do to improve employee experience needs to be measured.

An excellent example of this is your workplace strategy. If you want to offer employees access to workspaces, even in cities where you don’t have an office, it would be helpful to know how much they are actually using them. This rules out coworking memberships, as you can’t really see every employee’s usage or know whether it’s an expense that pays off.

Like any other department, employee experience has metrics and KPIs that let you track the success of your strategy. Some of these metrics are more general, like an engagement score of employees, while others can be more granular, like adoption rates for perks you offer.

What is digital employee experience?

Digital transformation and remote work bring a new environment for employees and EX professionals. Apart from the physical places we work in, we now primarily reside in the virtual world, as most remote employees collaborate with team members online.

Digital employee experience means focusing on delivering the best tools, services, and processes to employees with the help of technology, and it’s where EX and HR teams work closely with the IT departments in their companies.

Enhancing employee experience with digital tools

A company's dedication to investing in the best tools for employees pays off with better business outcomes and profitability, and a better employee experience. Technology plays a significant role in the day-to-day work of every employee, from the software they use to get the job done to communication tools like Slack.

But the EX teams expand on this further by using employee recognition platforms, tools for employee surveys, virtual team building platforms, and other HR tools for distributed teams.

Employee experience management software

HR and People teams have long been left to handle manual tasks and tedious workflows, but with HR tech getting richer and better every day, they are no longer stuck in the past. Like many other departments, Employee Experience Managers now benefit from automation and workflow optimization tools to get a holistic view of their EX strategy.

For example, tackling a distributed workplace strategy is tedious if you have employees in 20 different cities. You don’t have the big-picture visibility of usage in offices vs. coworking spaces, and you can’t get comparable data to track your efforts.

Luckily, tools and dashboards like Gable help People and EX professionals track how their workplace is doing, how much employees spend, and what the usage is across all locations. And the best part? Most employee experience management software integrates with your HRIS tools, so you can genuinely manage employee experience from a single platform.

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Andrea Rajic