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Can IT Help Build A Better Workplace Environment?

Forrester's "employee-centric design" process brings IT and business leaders together to improve on how employees do their jobs.
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IT Pros: 10 Ways To Boost Your Business Credibility
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Today's business leaders are competing to recruit and retain top talent, and an engaging workplace that sparks productivity is a big part of the appeal. However, IT's traditional role of providing flexibility to higher-ranking employees doesn't do much for the wider workforce that has access to iPads and Skype at home.

In fact, a recent Forrester survey shows that only 37% of employees are satisfied with the service that IT provides. What's more is that only 41% of employees would recommend a job at their company, and 44% would recommend their company's products.

Not surprisingly, those who feel supported by managers, respected for their efforts, and encouraged to be creative are more inclined to recommend the company and work harder. We're seeing a debate within the upper echelons of organizations on how to best create meaningful workforce experiences. It's critical that the CIO is at the table during these debates. Why? Regardless of the management strategy, technology will be necessary to help unlock workforce potential.

[ Your IT team can play a key role in retaining top talent. Here's how: 3 Ways IT Can Support Talent Strategy. ]

My colleagues at Forrester and I maintain that to build a positive workplace environment that drives profit and superior customer experiences, firms must take a holistic view of the workforce and design specific experiences for all the different worker segments, not just the executives. We call this process "employee-centric design" -- and it's used to align the business' technology strategy with how employees actually do their jobs.

Employee-centric design requires that companies do the following:

1. Observe how employees work and discuss their challenges with them. True needs and opportunities come to light when a business leader spends time watching and speaking with an employee. These observations should not only take into account the employee's tasks themselves, but all the surrounding elements, including the devices the employee uses, employee mindset and motivations, and how third-party products impact his or her work experience.

2. Describe employees' specific business context and evaluate how to meet their needs. Once the research process is complete, the observations must be distilled into frameworks that give IT and business leaders a common understanding of the employees' needs, motivations and challenges.

3. Brainstorm ways to address employee issues and critique these ideas. This is an opportunity for IT leaders to have an open conversation with business leaders and employees. During the redesign of Biogen Idec's Intranet, for example, the developers had brainstorming sessions with groups that were regularly publishing content on the site -- human resources, corporate communications, lines of business and IT. The development team also actively sought employee feedback, which had the dual benefit of helping sort through design concepts and showing content creators ways to sharpen their messaging.

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4. Create prototypes to vet the ideas. It's essential to turn the concepts into a set of mockups to help IT and business leaders visualize ideas. For example, Verizon Wireless transformed a cumbersome manual sales tracking process into a dynamic mobile app that gives in-store staff real-time sales performance data on their iOS and Android devices. The design, created by Cynergy, was built around observations and interviews with store staff. To get buy-in, Cynergy demonstrated the prototype to key Verizon stakeholders to give them a vision of how the tool could help workers.

5. Test the prototype's functionality with users. The final step in this process could be the longest, as IT must make sure that the tools are usable and useful. Biogen Idec's Intranet development required several rounds of user acceptance testing prior to its launch. This process also gives executives the chance to see if the business can support the tool. Take Waste Management, for example -- corporate communications staffers had discussions with the different regional and departmental groups to ensure that they could update and manage content on their pages successfully.

Employee-centric design will not happen overnight. To be successful, firms must clearly define whether they are improving an existing experience or creating a new one, build a consensus for what the business wants to achieve, and define the metrics used to determine when success is met.