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Working in the new abnormal: Human-centred design critical to making digital a help rather than a hindrance


To be bylined to Camp Digital 2022 speakers, Sharon O’Dea, digital strategist, and Hanna Karppi, head of digital worklife strategy at Nexer Group

Work is becoming more complex, a trend that only looks set to continue in the years ahead. The rise of hybrid working means teams are more fragmented, an ever-increasing focus on emerging technology means jobs are more specialised and increasingly saturated markets mean businesses need to do more to stand out from the crowd. Technology is supposed to help people to get work done, but if it is badly designed and implemented, it will have the opposite effect, adding to the complexity of business.

When properly designed, developed and implemented with a human-centred focus, technology does have the potential to provide the tools to support the more complicated future of work. To achieve this, it needs to be configured for humans – messy humans with complex working lives. There needs to be a focus on the needs of people, rather than technocentric decisions as internal digital solutions driven by technology-based choices and infrastructure end with environments that ultimately don’t help people to get their job done.

Why do companies need to get this right now?

As digital tools are central to most jobs, the digital experience is employee experience. The acceleration of hybrid and remote working brought about by the pandemic has brought this to the front of minds as digital is more crucial now in how we communicate with our teams, experience employer brand and get our jobs done than ever before.

Digital experience that doesn’t work properly will harm employee experience, engagement and satisfaction, which then has a knock-on effect on productivity and retention and the business’s overall bottom line. Hard to use technology is frustrating, and staff don’t want to have to put up with this making their jobs more difficult every day.

In addition, technology that is used outside of work has raised expectations around what good, user-friendly digital products look like and businesses need to meet these raised expectations. You don’t, for example, need a day’s training to learn to use your private social apps, so if a company implements a complex instant messaging system, they are likely to find that these unauthorised communications channels become used in the professional setting.

As well as a shift in expectations from tech, expectations of work have changed in recent years and this has been accelerated by the pandemic. People want a more flexible way of working and a digital offering that supports this will improve the employee experience. The nine to five is now not so prevalent and more people are working away from the workplace and good digital tools need to support both doing this and the complexity of managing it.

Making the digital approach human-centred

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The key to successful human-centred digital products in a workplace is carrying out thorough discovery and research by speaking to the everyday users of the tools. There is a tendency to focus too much on collecting data rather than supporting users and this results in tools not being used or being used badly. Speaking to those on the ground will reveal whether this is the case and will highlight the tools that don’t work seamlessly, how inter-department tools do or don’t work together and the overall experience of using them.

By understanding the user needs, companies can look at what their employees need to achieve, what is presenting challenges to that and how technology can be smartly used to resolve them. As well as looking at this through the scope of the employee, those working on digital transformation need to assess blocks to the business’s values and strategy and how digital tools can drive, shape and support the overall vision and goals of the company.

Users need to be asked if digital offerings work for them and then there needs to be continual feedback and improvement. Businesses shouldn’t fall into the trap of rolling out a digital process and leaving it for five years before refreshing. By seeking regular feedback on pain points, there can be a continual journey of improvement which will better employees’ daily lives. In addition, setting specific goals will allow decision-makers to measure the success of tools in relation to what they set out to achieve.

Remembering digital isn’t the answer to everything

Although digital tools have the potential to streamline working and jobs, they can’t be used as a fix for everything and do have their negatives.

It used to be that workforces had access to much better digital products at the workplace than they did at home, whether that was hardware, software or internet connection, but this shifted to be the other way round very quickly a few years ago. This means that now, people go to work to access people, not tools.

Businesses cannot, therefore, rely on technology to support culture and the social aspect of work. It is also crucial that digital burnout is considered in digital strategies. Zoom fatigue became a buzzword over the pandemic, but the reality of always-on, easy contact is something that can seriously impact employee mental health and may be a contributing factor to burnout.

Businesses need to plan and invest to make the most out of physical and digital interactions. This could, for example, mean re-configuring office spaces so they can be used for creative thinking and team-building activities, upskilling managers to facilitate more productive in-person meeting, which at the same time streamlining digital transactions so that people aren’t left frustrated and unproductive while working alone. 

The main takeaway for businesses looking to shake up their digital strategy to improve employee experience is to ensure that user experience and user input is central to strategy. It is baffling how many IT projects are run by the IT department and only from the technical perspective. We need more people from the business to be involved in order to drive successful change. Updating work processes can be difficult for everyone, so having clear reasons and support for the change is crucial. The value needs to be apparent to employees and the implementation process needs to be considered as this is as important as the tools themselves. Digital tools can unlock all kinds of potential for businesses, but it cannot be random or lack consideration or the already complex world of work will become more difficult and employees will begin seeking jobs where their tools help them do their work.

Hear Hanna and Sharon talk about the digital employee experience at Camp Digital 2022. In-person and live stream tickets are available at

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