User experience (UX) design has never been as relevant as it is today. As coined by Dan Norman (author of the well-known book - The Design of Everday Things), when he was the Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple, UX has come to encompass all aspects of an end user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products.
While UX design is commonly applied to human- computer interactions, the principles are equally meaningful for the design of employee experiences. Within an organization, an employee interacts with the physical work environment; the digital/ technology ecosystem that he or she works with; and experiences its culture (including the leadership, supervisors, and peers).
Jakob Nielsen and Rolf Molich’s User Interface Guidelines serve as heuristics or thumb rules for design processes used by various organizations. This article explores how some of these principles can be applied to designing more useful, meaningful and delightful employee experiences.
Visibility of system status
Employees need to be aware of their progress/ stage of completion during their participation or involvement in a process or an initiative. In other words, real time feedback and ideation is important for building an iterative process. For example, if an organization is conducting surveys, running innovation campaigns or involving its people in pilot projects, it is important they are kept in the loop and/ or involved in the selection and implementation of those ideas.
The match between system and the real world
While designing a program or initiative, one should keep in mind the internal (work environment, work routine) and external context (demographics, needs, and motivations) pertinent to an employee. Any initiative which feels unnatural or misaligned to real world experiences is bound to fail. For example, a process that requires a lot of manual tracking and controls and is not supported by data or analytics is a no-no. Or imagine that in this day and age of instant gratification, can we afford to make employees wait in queues or navigate through layers of approvals?
User control and freedom
Employees desire greater flexibility, be it choosing learning programs, career paths or even the bouquet of benefits they receive. A design needs to build a choice framework for an employee to plug and play. Enabling these decisions to lead to greater personalization and a sense of control.
Consistency and standards
An employee experiences an organization in totality. For example, a great onboarding experience is negated if an employee is not integrated effectively into his or her role and project. This stresses the importance of designing processes and programs which are interlinked rather than standing as isolated silos. Also, there needs to be a common language and theme maintained in all employee programs and communications.
Error prevention and recovery
A process, program or service design should enable an employee to avoid errors and/ or take course-corrections if required. A good example is a practice of letting an employee work on pilot projects before choosing to specialize in any particular area of expertise. Or enabling an employee with beta environments to understand a new program or technology better.
Recognition rather than recall
It is criminal to expect an employee to remember and recall lengthy process documents, FAQs, and training decks. Short term human memory is capable of only remembering five items at a point in time. The cognitive load on an employee need to be kept at the minimum by designing real time enablers (chat bots?) as job aids. Also, to facilitate the adoption of programs or initiatives, one should create triggers closely linked to the employee's work and work environment. For example, mentoring programs can be more successful if both the mentor and mentee are made aware of logical checkpoints for discussions (role changes, learning interventions) rather than scheduled periodic connects.
Flexibility and efficiency of use
The talent in an organization is a mix of different career levels, years of experience, aptitudes etc. A design should allow those who are more experienced or tenured or skilled to be able to navigate faster through training, processes or programs. Designing the same standard experience for everybody leads to unnecessary frustrations. For example, tenured employees need not be taken through the basics of a program roll out each year, they should only be told about what has changed or is different. In the case of senior employees, the need is to communicate the role they will play in influencing the adoption of a program.
Aesthetic and minimalist design
One cannot sufficiently stress the importance of minimalism. With limited attention spans, nobody absorbs lengthy emails or communications. One should keep it simple, highlight what is most important and use day-to-day language (instead of fancy jargon).
In sum, it helps to see an employee as a consumer or 'user' of what the organization has to offer. In doing this, employee programs and initiatives can be designed to blend into how the employee experiences his/her work, workplace and the larger ecosystem. And in turn, this significantly increases the rate of adoption of the program or initiative.