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Orçun IrfanApr 28, 2023 12:11:44 PM16 min read

Everything You Need to Know about Digital Employee Experience (DEX)

In this part of our employee experience series we will talk about the digital employee experience (DEX) which, with its place in the total experience, has a significant impact on the employee's work efficiency, productivity and working pleasure. 

However, we will go through a different path from other similar articles in this field that deal with this subject. Instead of moving straight ahead to the digital employee experience, we will firstly take a detour and talk about the relationship between employee experience and customer experience to understand what "meeting the employees where they are" means in the field of experience. 

And then we will explore why the digital side of the experience has gained importance and the role it plays on the total experience based on the demands, expectations, interests, wishes and needs of the user. I think that with an article that develops in this way, the reader will be able to grasp the subject more easily and with a holistic point of view by establishing the cause-effect relationships. 

If you're ready, let's start! 


A Prerequisite for Digital Employee Experience 

As mentioned earlier, before discussing the digital employee experience and its importnace we first will talk about a prerequisite to it: the relationship between employee experience and customer experience. 

You may remember that in our first article, the Introduction to Employee Experience, we called customer experience and employee experience as sister domains. Now, let's start by talking a little more about the relationship between these two sisters. 

In my opinion, the clarification of the distinct relationship between customer experience and employee experience begins with the famous quote of Virgin Group President Richard Branson. 

“The customer doesn't come first. The employee comes first. If you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your business. It's that simple." 

Branson was right in his thinking when you consider that, at the end of the day, the great customer experience initiatives of your organization with multi-million-dollar investment budgets can only come to life with the effort and willingness of your employees to ensure customer satisfaction.  

If the employees do not live the amazing experience that your organization promises to the customers first themselves and do not personally experience what it feels like, they naturally cannot embody the experience delivery expected of them. 

Conversely, I ask you to consider the employees who have been treated unfavorably by their managers and need to to show up in front of the customer immediately afterward. How much effort and willingness do you think they would be ready to deliver so that the wonderful customer experience that the organization has dreamed of would come to life? 

For this reason, an extraordinary employee experience is the pre-requisite of an amazing customer experience. Two sides of the coin. 


Digital Employee Experience: A History You Need to Know 

It is in the early 2000s that the customer experience, to its full potential, takes the stage in the business world. With its strong entry into the business world, customer experience has completely eliminated its predecessors under different names such as customer relations and customer services, which were among the business units that businesses entrusted their relationship management with their customers, and virtually redefined the relationship between the organization and the customer. 

This approach from scratch brought about a design philosophy that would ensure that the processes of the companies that touch the customer are not designed from a design point of view flowing from the inside to the customer (inside out) but, on the contrary, based on the emotion and experience of the customers while passing through these processes (outside in). 

In addition, it provided the identification of the touch points where the customers interacts with the brand while receiving the product or service they need, standard experience designs that were deliberately put in place at each of these touch points and real-time, data-based follow-up of the experience. 

Customer experience offered a very destructive and innovative philosophy, skill set and a wealth of tools to all organizations that wanted to stand out from the competition with an original and inimitable experience for the customer. 

On the other hand, employee experience, who has been trying to make its voice heard in different parts of the world, especially in the USA and UK, for about ten years gained the place it deserved in the agenda of corporate leaders only with a catalyst such as the pandemic. Even now, we can say that employee experience is still a very young discipline about which we have a long way to explore.  

In the meantime, thanks to her hardworking and curious personality, employee experience learned a lot from her elder sister, customer experience. For example, in the relationship between customer experience and employee experience, we are looking at not only a user-oriented philosophical association, but also a large set of intersections in terms of methods and tools. 

Employee experience, like customer experience, makes use of surveys, observations and field studies for data collection purposes. And again, just like customer experience, makes use of many service design methods and tools, from personas to journey maps. 

The partnerships between these two disciplines do not end there. Employee experience embraces the great principles of customer experience with a matching enthusiasm. 

It is one of these great principles that put this article on a path that seems so far from the title of this article, but which, in my opinion, will allow us to make a very meaningful introduction shortly. 

This principle of meeting the customer where they are is a key to enter the field of experience from the right door. This great mantra manifests itself on the employee experience side in a very similar fashion as meeting the employee where they are. 

Whether you call the customer or the employee this experience principle focuses on the idea of meeting the "user where they are" and points to a very critical component in anything related to the field of experience: Being able to correctly understand and interpret the expectations, demands, interests and needs of the users in their current conditions and dynamics by the designer. 

As I always say in trainings and in my speeches, employee experience starts with design thinking, and design thinking starts with empathy. Therefore, meeting the employee where they are means being able to empathize with the employee. 

Now, on this solid ground, we can slowly start bringing everything together. 


Why is Digital Employee Experience Important? 

You would remember that in our article, What is Employee Experience?, we defined employee experience as the holistic perception that employees acquire as a result of their interactions with their organizations. 

We mentioned that the interactions that play a role in the formation of this holistic perception take place at the touch points interspersed within the employee life cycle which allows us to divide the career time of an employee in your organization into phases for the ease of follow up and management.  

The 5f(x) Model in Employee Experience, which I mention in my book allows us to define working, resting, training and socializing environments of the employees in two layers: Physical and Digital.  

These touch points are sometimes in physical spaces designed for on-site working model such as personnel service, locker room, cafeteria, office, production area, infirmary, resting area and sometimes in the digital environment such as online meetings, interviews, remote training sessions, accessing to corporate memory from afar or simply partying in virtual happy hours. 

The physical work environment has always been a part of the business world, for better or worse, since the industrial revolution. 

Among the extraordinary examples in the physical environment we have seen Google with the rule of always having a free food serving area within 50 meters of any employee despite having a massive population of its 194,234 employees.  

We have seen Apple's 5 billion USD Apple Park, a completely free acre wide ultra-modern gym for its employees.  

We have seen Airbnb's free three-course gourmet restaurant service to employees and work offices each of which is furnished as a replica of a room in a different Airbnb host. 

These leading companies in this group have inspired the entire business world and shed light on what is possible in order to provide an extraordinary experience to the employee. 

However, on the other side of the seesaw, we have seen many organizations around the world that do not give much thought to this area with their cafeterias that serve cold and tasteless meals to their employees, their crowded and cramped offices designed to kill the enthusiasm for work, locker rooms with ventilation problems, and unhygienic infirmaries.  

The life span of the organizations in this group in the business world are naturally limited, and the trace they leave behind has always been indistinct. 

The importance of the digital environment, our main topic in the article, has emerged due to the 3 critical factors we mentioned in the previous article. 

  1. Generational change in the workforce 
  2. Digital transformation and revolution 
  3. Pandemic and new normal 

38% of Generation Z, also called as the digital natives, spend an average of 4 hours a day using only social media. Only 18% of the other generations combined average can approach these usage times. Generation Z, which will make up 25% of the total workforce worldwide by 2025, and Ys, being not far behind in technology usage and who dominate the workforce today, are among the most important triggers of the digital revolution. 

However, the issue should not be limited to the time spent by young generations on social media. Especially with the pandemic, digital transformation now occupies a serious place in our lives in many areas that are extremely important for the continuity of life such as work, education, shopping, banking, socialization and even health. 

In fact, research shows that an average internet user between the ages of 16 and 64 today spends 7 hours a day actively connected to the internet. In other words, considering that the average person spends 7-8 hours a day sleeping, today individuals are online 75% of the time they are awake. 

Of course, each of the fields we mentioned above such as business, education, shopping, banking, socialization and health, requires the installation and use of different applications in order to function in the digital world. 

For example, in a study in which the activities of technical support specialists were followed for 5 million hours, it was observed that employees used around 35 critical applications during the day to follow-up on their work, and between these applications, they changed the screen 1100 times during the working time and that shows how important digital employee experience is. 


Employee Experience in the Digital Era 

Think of a time when you were trying to concentrate to prepare a detailed report that required your lazer focus. Let's take a look at what is happening in the digital environment created by your computer and other smart devices at that moment shall we? 

  • A pop-up in the bottom right says that new mails have arrived. 
  • A reminder pops up in the middle of your screen notifying you of your upcoming meeting. 
  • Your teammate sends you an online message: “Did you see my mail?” 
  • HR publishes a message from the internal communication portal: “Today is the last day to enter your KPIs!” 
  • Your data entry software: You have been idle for a while, do you want to continue? 
  • Your online training portal (LMS) where you follow in-house trainings: Have you made your training choices? 
  • Your in-house HR application where you follow the performance process: You have employees to evaluate! 
  • Your teammate requests access to the file you're working on: Pop up! 

Imagine this list goes on and on. 

Research shows that the digital noise that comes with this application complexity naturally reduces the efficiency and productivity of the employees. Because this disconnected employee experience resulting from an array of applications in order to do the job is distracting and far from holistic. 

Have you heard of the famous Hungarian Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's “Flow Theory”? 

According to the flow theory, which is frequently encountered in the game industry, if the job we try to do is below our skill level (easy), we get bored with that job after a while. If the job stays above our skill level (difficult), then our anxiety level increases and we quit the job. But if the job runs along that fine line that we can only barely do with our current skill level, this time we both get the job done and get carried away with the effect of that delicious dopamine floating around in our body along with the sense of accomplishment. 

Moreover we get so caught up in ourselves that we do not realize how time has passed, if we were hungry or thirsty. It's as if everything outside of what we're doing fades into the background. 

But of course the important thing on the part of the organizations is to eliminate the disturbing distractions, which disrupts the experience, as much as possible to keep the employee in a state of flow. In other words, to provide a smooth, holistic working experience that will flow from end to end. 


Digital Employee Experience for Remote, Flexible and Hybrid Working Models 

Let's tie the loose ends so far in our article on Digital Employee Experience that gives the impression of talking about different topics. 

Do you remember the expression "meeting the employee where they are" we mentioned in beginning of the article? There is a question I often ask the participants in trainings: "Do you think that the employees you sent to the their homes before the pandemic and the employees you now call to the offices are still the same people?" 

Because they are not. At least due to the demands, expectations, interests, desires and needs that arise in their current conditions we are now looking at a different target audience, or more precisely, personas in the jargon of experience. 

In the dynamics of the changing business world, especially with remote, flexible or hybrid working models, employees now want to perceive and experience digital offices, which in a sense have become a physical working environment for employees, in a quality experience just like a physical space. 

It is quite risky for the organizations to ignore this employee feedback, which we refer to as the voice of employee (VoE), and instead keep on providing employees with outdated, old-fashioned, dysfunctional, far from user-friendly, unpleasant, inefficient technologies and digital applications. 

Research shows that 73% of candidates who evaluate job opportunities in an organization say that if the technology, digital applications and tools offered by the organization to get the job done is up-to-date and flexible it will increase the chances of their application and job acceptance. This rate rises to 77% in younger generations. 

The same research shows that today 95% of IT teams think that they provide all the technologies that their employees may need to get the job done, but only 42% of the employees agree. 

In other words it is obvious that today HR and IT teams need to work more closely and frequently in the technology layer which is openly demanded not only for the work to be followed in the physical, on-site working model but also in the digital, remote and flexible working model. 


So What does a Good Digital Employee Experience Look Like? 

It would be a good start to have different technologies, applications and tools running in the background within the organization talk to each other in a way that the employees do not feel this confusion on the front-end. 

For example, when you apply for a job on LinkedIn, imagine that you use the easy application feature and the application pulls all the necessary information from your profile. With one click, the huge form fills up before your eyes. Pure magic!  

However, when you are directed to the application page of the organization in the next step, you are now expected to fill in all the steps of the previous form, which were magically filled, one by one, and this time manually. What a frustrating experience don't you think? 

The employees should be able to easily access the critical applications they will need from the first day of employment and be able to install them effortlessly and without the need for technical assistance. 

Imagine that you spend hours on technical support on your first day of employment. Setting up your mail, accessing the screens you need to use, downloading and installing the applications needed for the work... How do you think this arduous effort would create an impression on you about what kind of experience is expecting you during your career at this organization? 

Keeping employees in a simple, practical, user-friendly and integrated application cloud while following their work routine during the working day will definitely reflect positively on the experience. 

When you start work in the morning, imagine that you open a single digital platform and do all your work, from mailing to meetings, from training to interviews, without ever having to change the screen? If you think it's not possible, I suggest you take a look at digital office applications such as Teams, Discord, Slack etc. 

It should be possible for the applications required for the job to be so user-friendly that the employees can learn by themselves and, if possible, without the need for additional training. 

Have you ever had someone teach you how to use your online banking app? Or any of the other apps you use to order food home? Why shouldn't such applications, which you can start using as soon as you launch them, be included in the technological setups used for business? 

Just like the customization opportunities offered to the employees in the physical environment, allowing a certain degree of customization freedom to the employees in the digital environment can provide a great opportunity for you to differentiate from other employers in today's world where personalized experiences are so important. 



Even if you can't do anything, you can start by offering simple customization options such as dark or light background, text size, background options that can be used in meetings, quick access panels, work modes such as do not disturb or only accept messages from selected people. 

In short, the digital layer has taken its place in our lives as an integral part of the employee experience today. If you want to increase the efficiency, productivity, work pleasure and happiness of the employee you have to focus on the quality of the digital experience you offer as an organization. 

We're not just talking about individual efficiency and productivity, or just global scale corporations that do business on an enterprise scale. All businesses, from start-ups and scale-ups which have the speed and flexibility as their main competitive advantage in today's agile business model to global corporations need a digital layer that will run like clockwork to provide healthy collaboration between teams, to boost the efficiency of cross-project teams and even to track big goals across the organization. 

It should not be forgotten that in the data-based world of the future, every process that has been transferred to the digital environment can be measured more easily with analytical tools, monitored efficiently and optimized to provide the best possible experience. 

In this article from Pisano Academy, we made a journey together to a different environment, the digital layer where the virtual experience flows as a part of the total employee experience. We talked about the role of technology in business life and its impact on the experience where the digital experience is now an integral part of the holistic life experience in our communication and relationship with brands. 

Follow our series to learn more about the employee experience and understand its data-driven potential, methods, approaches and tools.  


Orçun Irfan

Orçun İrfan is the first and only EX Professional accredited by the leading EX Organizations in the USA and UK. He is the author of the first and only reference book written and published in Turkish and the Founding President of the Turkish Employee Experience Society. Orçun has over 20 years of HR experience and is currently working as the Employee Experience Director for Pisano.