Authored by Heather Barstow, Senior Manager, KPMG Customer and Lucy Pringle, Manager, KPMG People Consulting.
As countries across the world begin to ease restrictions in response to COVID-19, discussions of ‘phased returns to work’ crowd the news. All of a sudden, designing a ‘new reality’ which balances the triad of safety, productivity, and employee experience, is a challenging prospect facing many leaders.
This pandemic has meant that in such a short space of time, customer demands and organisations’ ways of operating have shifted more than in previous decades; and employees’ wants, needs and expectations have shifted with them. In order to survive this period and to maintain relationships with customers and employees, organisations must respond with speed and innovation like never before. They will require not one, but many, permutations of employee experiences that allow a phased transition to the ‘new normal’, and ensure a market leading customer experience is retained though-out. Design Thinking should be front and centre of the toolkit for driving this.
Design Thinking focuses on deeply understanding your users (whether customers or employees), and taking an experimental approach to rapidly develop, iterate and roll-out solutions. It is an invaluable approach in times like this, when the external environment is ever-evolving, and empathy towards employees and customers is critical to design. In addition to this, Design Thinking balances human-centricity with a focus on feasibility (technically possible) and viability (financially possible) of solutions, which is critical given the extreme time and cost pressure facing so many organisations.
A typical Design Thinking approach for an employee experience follows a number of phases from understanding through to delivery at a rapid pace:
The first key step is to really understand and empathise with your employees and customers and the problems they are facing. This helps to make sure you’re designing solutions to the right challenges, rather than assuming you know what someone is thinking or feeling.
In the context of return to work, your employees have faced unprecedented change and will all have their own challenges to cope with as a result. Using video interviews, virtual focus groups and surveys to gather insights on employee desires, frustrations, expectations, you can segment groups based on their needs and preferences and design accordingly. For example, are they parents or carers, do they rely on public transport, can their roles operate remotely? These insights will help with identifying the journeys most in need of redesign, based on where the biggest concerns, struggles and frustrations are.
Behavioural Science tip: The scarcity heuristic tells us that people place greater value on things they no longer have, which tells us employees returning to work will likely desire much more flexible ways of working in the long term after 2-3 months of experiencing this full-time.
As you analyse these insights, the core needs of your employee segments will become clear. These can be used to inform design principles, which later help guide key design decisions and ensure these remain in line with employee needs. One design principle may be the importance of allowing social distancing wherever possible, another might consider which employee segments will be prioritised in a return to work plan. Scanning the market to gain inspiration from how others have responded to similar challenges can also be invaluable in accelerating your ideation.
Behavioural Science tip: Herd Behaviour shows us that people are more likely to take an action if others have. Recognising what others in the market are doing is akin to considering what your employees friends and family may be experiencing, and this will impact their willingness to behave in a similar way (e.g. shifted working hours).
The design phase allows you to rapidly reach innovative solutions by focusing on wide ideation followed by rapid refinement through testing and prototyping. Involving end users in the co-creation of ideas is invaluable in keeping these in line with their needs. The key to success is ensuring ideation focuses on finding solutions to the pain points identified for each group. For example, if employees are worried about public transport but are happy to cycle, then ideating solutions for increasing bike access and cycle storage would be beneficial.
This is a key point to involve all relevant teams who have a role to play in the experience, including HR, Facilities, Technology and Line Managers. Combining the efforts of these teams into one coherent journey design will ensure a seamless experience for your employees.
At the core of Design Thinking is the assessment of potential solutions to confirm the right balance between what is desirable for users, what is commercially viable for the business (particularly given the extreme pressure COVID-19 is having on many businesses) and what is feasibly possible with the time and resource constraints faced.
Behavioural Science tip: The IKEA effect tells us that people place a greater value on something if they have helped to design and build it. Co-creating future experiences with your employees can lead to a much smoother and more positive implementation.
Once the new journeys are designed, speed is of the essence in getting solutions live and evolving as needed. Successful Design Thinking relies on an experimental approach, using piloting and prototyping to test, refine and implement ideas at pace. When designing for the New Reality this is even more critical to avoid scaling dysfunctional solutions, whilst also making sure designs become a reality before becoming outdated. And as you implement, ensure you have ways to continuously gather feedback and measure success, whether that be through pulse surveys, champion networks or other such monitoring of the situation.
Behavioural Science tip: The use of cognitive priming, where information and stimuli are used to prepare a user for a future experience, can help make implementation more successful. For example, sharing positive stories from those piloting a new experience will mean others approach it with a positive bias.
This is undoubtedly an extremely challenging time, but those who act quickly and design the future with their customers and employees front and centre, will be best placed to survive and grow in a very different world to the one we knew before.
This is also an unprecedented opportunity to engage employees in designing an experience that can inspire, engage and motivate like never before. The ways of working and behaviours embedded now will no doubt last far into the future.
Design Thinking is the tool that can help you do this at pace, whilst balancing employees’ needs with the operational challenges facing your business. Experimentation is key to success – explore, ideate, test and learn, and don’t be afraid to fail on the way. So, where we are navigating uncertain and unchartered waters – why not give this tried and tested approach a go to help you design your New Reality?
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