4 tactics to help CIOs improve the employee experience in a hybrid workplace

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Every industry is feeling the labor-shortage squeeze. But instead of obsessing over unfilled jobs, organizations may find more value in focusing on the employees they have, how their expectations are changing, and the role of technology in delivering better experiences across different work environments.

What specific technology challenges do CIOs face with a hybrid workforce, and what factors influence top talent retention and improve the holistic employee experience? That’s the question we asked the CIO Experts Network, a community of IT professionals, industry analysts, and other influencers. Here are the four takeaways from their responses.

1. Take an outside-in perspective of employee needs

Before upgrading or investing in workforce solutions, “CIOs need to listen to their employees,” said Debra Ruh (@debraruh), CEO of Ruh Global IMPACT and Executive Chair of Billion Strong. Other experts agreed on the need to gain perspective on what employees want and how they get their jobs done:

“I’ve had the opportunity to run some technology and healthcare burnout conferences over the past year. Almost unanimously the top reason employees leave enterprises is not money – it’s recognition. This is especially the case when the workload or workflow is excessive.” — Frank Cutitta (@fcutitta), CEO and Founder, HealthTech Decisions Lab

“The number one ask of top employees is for flexibility. This may mean allowing an employee to spend time with their aging parents. It might be approving a critical team leader to take a long weekend to drop a son or daughter off at camp.” — Peter Nichol (@PeterBNichol), Chief Technology Officer at OROCA Innovations

“CIOs have to dive into how people are working with apps, data, analytics, knowledge management tools, and workflow automation to consider a key question: Is it easy, fun, efficient, and intellectually rewarding when using enterprise and other technologies needed for their jobs?” — Isaac Sacolick (@nyike), President of StarCIO and author of Digital Trailblazer

Today’s digital environment provides opportunities beyond traditional employee feedback surveys to gauge how engaged and productive people are. CIOs should work with their colleagues in HR to determine new and better ways to capture insights on employee needs, using analytics to measure various forms of productivity or engagement.

“CIOs need technology that provides transparency into real-time data about top talent's wants, needs, and requirements,” said David Geer, cybersecurity expert with Geer Communications. “They need visibility into the same information from candidates not seeking employment with the given organization.”

2. Define and deliver the right digital tool set for the hybrid employee experience

Remote and hybrid work are here to stay. The EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey shows 72% of employers are considering or have implemented a policy to work from another location on a temporary basis, and 74% agree their company is prepared to hire employees with hard-to-fill or critical skills from any geography, and allow them to work from anywhere. These employer perspectives come as worker expectations have undoubtedly shifted: 80% of employees say they want to work at least two days remotely per week.

Within this context, CIOs should start by asking the basics: “Are laptops performing well? Are networks easy to VPN into?” said Sacolick. Those foundational challenges, many of which were exposed in the early days of the pandemic, are now shifting to address evolving hybrid work models.

“As workers return to the office, even for a couple of days a week, the challenges for CIOs in this hybrid environment will be even more significant than they were when switching to support a remote workforce,” said Gene De Libero (@GeneDeLibero), Chief Strategy Officer, GeekHive.com.

One of those challenges is ensuring the right balance between security and productivity:

“The days of employees working around poorly maintained and sluggish collaboration tools have to stop, because security and compliance stakes are so high. Now isn’t the time to shut an employee out of a Zoom meeting because their laptop is receiving updates.” — Will Kelly (@willkelly), writer and analyst focused on the cloud and DevOps

“The rise in fully hybrid, remote, and flexible working environments has contributed to the additional use of cloud applications and collaboration tools for employees to efficiently do their jobs. Insider risk, stemming often from the ubiquity of cloud collaboration tools, is a modern twist on an old challenge, but with new urgency.” — Jadee Hanson, CIO and CISO, Code42

3. Focus on automation to streamline and personalize employee activities

Addressing cloud, security, productivity, collaboration, and other challenges can lead to seamless and engaging worker experiences. Specifically, the experts focused on the need for holistic solutions and features.

“Anything a CIO can do to simplify and automate workflows by improving back-end tools and platform experience can help influence top talent retention and overall employee experience. Seek automated and self-serve solutions that handle the sundry tasks of security updates and new application installations without interfering with worker productivity.” — Will Kelly

“Automation serves to immediately build a shield around production apps and APIs to protect against runtime threats. It allows cybersecurity and development talent to adopt a more measured approach to identifying and fixing vulnerabilities, and effectively gain control of their inboxes.” — David Stewart (@approov_io), CEO, Approov

“Break away from one-size-fits-all technologies and look for ones that offer personalization, no-code capabilities, and easy-to-configure integrations.” — Isaac Sacolick

Personalization includes leveraging technology to support all employees, including those with special needs.

“Technology must be accessible to everyone, and the human-centric design improves the overall experience for everyone. CIOs: Be sure that all your internal and external tech and communications blend accessibility into the core. All ICT including AI must be accessible to humans. We know how to do this, so let’s lead our way forward.” — Debra Ruh

4. Find the right mix

At the end of the day, CIOs need to continue to prioritize IT solutions to improve, not hinder, how and when work gets done across a hybrid workplace.

“Providing technology and access anytime and anywhere while maintaining work/life balance is a top priority for executive leadership,” said Helen Yu (@YuHelenYu), Founder and CEO, Tigon Advisory Corp. “The right mix of connection, collaboration, creation, and celebration will improve the employee experience.”

CIOs can help to deliver the right mix by putting humans at the center of their digital transformation initiatives. A changing workplace requires technology solutions that are delivered quickly, at scale, and help employees work and collaborate more effectively. CIOs must work closely with HR leaders and other business stakeholders to determine the best path forward.

Learn more about how CIOs are enabling hybrid work with new technologies.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.