Now or never: Why it’s time to digitize employee workflows

Long-term business resilience depends on automating more employee tasks

Nearly every business made significant—if not permanent—changes in 2020 in response to the pandemic. Even still, a surprising number are still clinging to old ways of working, especially when it comes to employee experience.

Through the first seven months of the pandemic, for example, 60% of organizations said they still lacked a system to digitally manage workflows for employees, according to research by ServiceNow and Wakefield Research. Compounding that issue, 90% of executives at these companies say routine business processes—such as document approvals, tech support requests, or performance reviews—are still conducted completely or partially offline.

Another global survey from ESI ThoughtLab offers a roadmap of sorts for companies that aim to catch up. In five major verticals featured in the survey—financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, public sector, and telecom—companies that have invested the most in digital EX show where they are making the most headway with digital workflows.

While every sector has varying needs when it comes to which tasks are best to digitize, one post-pandemic rule of thumb is that productivity should transcend location, says Earl Newsome, CIO of the Americas for Linde PLC, a global industrial gases and engineering company.

“Whether it’s mobile app-based technologies, access-based technologies, remote operations-based technologies,” says Newsome, “all those things are being brought to bear to help employees and employers realize that work is something you do rather than a place that you go.”

Invest in the right tools

Surveyed executives report making considerable progress in digitizing some employee experience functions, including:

  • IT support (75%)
  • Gathering employee feedback (63%)
  • HR functions (59%)

Yet they lag behind in other areas. Before companies sent home employees en masse last March, for example, most were ill-equipped to support them. Just 24% said they had made significant progress with remote working platforms, while a similar number (27%) were just as behind on implementing digital collaboration tools. Only a third had automated basic processes such as employee benefits enrollment.

One way CIOs can play catch-up is to invest in technologies that offer the biggest payoffs in digitizing employee workflows. Companies are over-investing with certain technologies, but under-committed with others, according to survey data.

While investments in cloud platforms (30%) and RPA (29%) syncs closely with the ROI cited by surveyed organizations (32% and 28%, respectively), the same cannot be said for tools such as chat-bots, remote apps, or mobile-enabled work experiences. Surveyed executives reported that they underutilized those investments at a rate of 2X–-3X relative to their potential benefits.

No going back

As much as the pandemic shifted the mindset and operational strategy for many companies, a surprising number of other organizations still view the health crisis as a brief diversion. Surprisingly, nearly half (47%) of executives in the ServiceNow/Wakefield study said they are planning to return operations to pre-pandemic status quo.

That’s the wrong approach, says Dan Wright, president and chief operating officer of DataRobot, an enterprise AI provider. Companies that hope to hire the right people for the “new normal” need to plow ahead with digital workflows.

“Executives are trying to figure out, how can I automate more workflows?” says Wright. “That’s not going to slow down. It’s going to accelerate.”