Article

How we work: the employee experience reimagined

Every organisation is working out the next new normal, whether that’s a return to modified office life or a long-term version of working from home. As employees' needs and expectations rise, HR leaders must reimagine the employee experience of the future – today.

By Mechele Neeley-Scholis, VP, Head of Global HR Business Partnering

Published October 1, 2020
Last updated October 8, 2020

At Zendesk, my team and I are going beyond adjusting for the new normal. We are taking this difficult time as an opportunity to completely reimagine how we work.

COVID-19 has forced us on a journey to re-envision and realign our practices, tools and services. This is no small task, either in terms of logistics or impact: As Gartner predicts, 'the habits that employees and managers are forming now will have a long tail and influence the way in which organisations operate for years to come'. Reimagining how we work is a massive undertaking. Where do you even start?

A guiding principle: digital first, virtual everyday

We are grounding our efforts firmly in the idea that digital and virtual are now key drivers for our workforce, our workplace and how we work. To be digital first and virtual, we have to evolve our mindsets and our services. Automation, tools and technology are allowing us to create a level and transparent access point for all employees globally – 24/7.

How infrastructure and our people practices line up

Our focus on the new human interactions between leaders, their teams and the business is an outcome of amazing tools: The work of Human Resources Business Practices has shifted. We are in the midst of aligning our infrastructure and our people practices to reimagine and define how to go from synchronous to asynchronous. When we think about asynchronous, we’re considering the big picture:

  • Everyone may be remote, working in different places and time zones, alone
  • Yet communication and collaboration are the lifeblood of any successful company
  • How do we make sure that it all comes together?

The types of tools required by employees

We are looking at our workplace – collaboration centres, our work evolving from process drivers to allowing tools and automation to function so that we can focus on innovation and being creative. Collaborating employees must be able to use tools, systems and automation – to be able to carry out analysis, or whiteboarding, or far-reaching brainstorming. Tools that are needed are always on, making them easy to use and acting as a record to listen to our employees and customers. To create this environment, digitising our work is essential.

Onboarding, reborn

As new employees have joined, we’ve had to shift from a process based on face-to-face interaction to digital first – these days, we are no longer handing someone a laptop and sending them off for two days of orientation in a conference room.

We’ve further strengthened the partnership between our workplace and IT teams to ensure a smooth workflow, straightforward processes and a seamless experience for new employees. This means that:

  • We start the provisioning process with details that are automatically populated from the human-resources tool, Workday
  • Training of new employees is now done virtually via an online learning platform, augmented by institutional knowledge captured in the employee knowledge base, built with Zendesk Guide

With these shifts, the onboarding process has taken on a new uniformity and employees are better equipped to get the help that they need on their own.

Zendesk products support Zendesk employees

We also use our own products to provide ongoing support.

  • Employees can use our AI-enabled chat bot to find answers in the knowledge base
  • They can file a ticket in Zendesk Support to get assistance from 24-hour shared-services teams across the company
  • Built-in workflow automation and tracking tools let everyone involved see who’s responsible, who’s a stakeholder and what the status of the ticket is

Collaboration and learning: transparent and democratised

Teamwork no longer hinges on contact with the person you sit next to. Formal learning and institutional knowledge are being shared mainly via informal Slack and Zoom calls. As we develop this concept of digital first and virtual everyday with remote as a core, one of our requirements is having systems and tools that allow everyone around the world to have the same experience.

'We have to democratise access to institutional knowledge – this will be a critical driver of productivity.'
- Mechele Neeley-Scholis, VP, Head of Global HR Business Partnering

In the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Survey, 2020, 75% of organisations surveyed say that creating and preserving knowledge across evolving workforces is important, or very important, for their success over the next 12 to 18 months.

Peer-to-peer knowledge sharing: centralised

Employees simply need a single, central place where they can go to find answers. We can’t have random Google docs going out via email that will inevitably get lost, especially if these emails contain important information such as back-to-work policies and new benefits for employees.

Core to what we do across our People and Places teams: we lead teams that engage with our global employees to advance our culture and to create amazing experiences for our employees.

'HRBP roles are evolving to a place where we are intimate in understanding our employees' needs and career aspirations so that they can grow with the shifts of the teams and the growth of Zendesk.'
-Mechele Neeley-Scholis, VP, Head of Global HR Business Partnering

A laser focus on what matters

We have time to work with our leaders to advance their approaches to align with the new way of working by focusing their engagement on:

  • outcomes
  • employees' wellbeing
  • flexibility

We are not looking at how long you spend at your desk to assess growth and value. This in itself is a shift: we are learning to move away from using meetings to communicate information and, rather, use meetings to have the necessary discussions that drive collaboration, and the time to innovate and create. We are no longer meeting to review slides.

'We are not looking at how much time you spend at your desk to assess growth and value.'
-Mechele Neeley-Scholis, VP, Head of Global HR Business Partnering

This also means reducing the number of meetings. When we come together as a company or team, the purpose must be crystal clear. With the new distribution of our workforce in the office and home, flexibility is a must. It is a requirement to help with the new way of working.

Slack and Zoom: the new office

In support of these aims, we are using Slack more, to inform and to make engagement more meaningful. Slack is the new office and has become the new, cool place to hang out. It is in that living space that we now catch up with colleagues to have those watercooler chats – only virtually, of course. Zoom, like Slack, has long been a part of our work lives at Zendesk, but we have upped the bells and whistles available to us.

For instance, more reactions. We’re learning how to create emotion via Zoom. More and more, we’re exploring ways to use tools in a way that’s deeper and multi-dimensional. Engagement in the big, company-wide or department-wide meetings of the past was minimal. There’s more awareness now. Many more of us have now played the role of the presenter – and from those positive and also uncomfortable experiences, we’ve learned how to interact better virtually. When we meet in these virtual rooms, we need to be mindful and enable individuals to be heard, as well as seeking out voices with differing opinions. This helps build psychological safety and trust, which is especially critical when staff are remote and distributed.

The power of self-service

Here, we also use our own software for housing answers to employees' questions – including a one-stop shop built on top of Zendesk Guide, our Help Centre software – for all the employee resources available to support them through these times. These include wellbeing allowances, mental-health resources and links to learning opportunities. The actual humans on the Employee Shared Services team are still resources, but we want to give employees the ability to find answers themselves, especially regarding the types of questions that many employees tend to have about time off, benefits and the withholding of pay, without having to contact anyone else. One benefit of enabling our employees to find answers themselves is that all roles across our People & Places organisation are better able to evolve. The business partners can focus better on our leaders’ strategies, the requirements of our teams and the wellbeing of our global employees.

How AI helps employees

Answer Bot, Zendesk’s AI-enabled chat bot, uses machine learning to answer employees' questions with content from our knowledge base.

  • At the moment, Answer Bot is able to answer 3% of all employees' questions
  • Putting Answer Bot to work also helps us understand what content we are currently lacking – and thus what content we need to develop
  • In adding to the knowledge base, we further enrich our resources for employees

At home and at work

Our strategy around digital first and virtual everyday will help us move our engagement with leaders and employees alike into a more creative and collaborative space. This evolution is critical for employee satisfaction. It’s also critical for the scale of our business and the requirements of our customers.

People’s lives are no longer demarcated by home and by work, separately – they're at home and at work. They're in different countries and in different time zones. If you don't create a consistent employee experience, you'll have chaos.

But if we pull it off – and we are making that happen – we're setting the standard for a new way of working that keeps our employees and our customers at the forefront of our minds.