Mapping the hybrid employee journey

A tool from pre-pandemic times can help create a culture and employee experience to meet the needs of today’s distributed workforce

The shift to remote and hybrid work is fundamentally reshaping the workplace, making running a business more complex than ever. Fortunately, a familiar pre-pandemic tool—employee journey mapping—is coming up aces as companies adopt flexible working models.

Employee journey mapping: Employee journey mapping is a visualization of the entire employee lifecycle, from recruitment and onboarding to offboarding. Similar to customer journey mapping, it helps companies pinpoint “moments that matter” to optimize talent recruitment and retention by removing pain points in the employee experience.

Journey mapping has long been a valuable tool to gain insight into employee experience just as it is for customer experience. To create a map, human resources teams craft “personas” segmented by job roles, then collect feedback from employees in those roles during every stage of their tenure, from onboarding to exit. The goal: to pinpoint “moments that matter” in order to improve employee experience and boost talent retention.

But many of those moments used to happen in the office, where fewer and fewer employees spend their time. Pre-pandemic, 60% of employees whose jobs could be done remotely worked in-office full time; today only 22% of remote-capable workers are full time in the office, with almost 50% at home part-time and 30% fully remote. The new hybrid workforce isn’t cookie-cutter: Any portion of the staff might work remotely for any portion of the time. All that makes it harder to suss out this new class of worker’s journey.

Employee journey mapping has become a critical tool for unlocking insights into hybrid workers’ experiences.

And it’s not just the “where” of work that has shifted as employees spend all, part, or none of their workweek at an office desk; it’s also the “how,” with technology continuously transforming our work lives. Amid these upheavals, employee journey mapping has become a critical tool for unlocking insights into hybrid workers’ experiences.

Graphic showing that 60% of remote-capable employees worked in-office full time pre-pandemic and 22% do post-pandemic

“If you look at your engagement data, you can see where different personas are thriving or falling off the track that you want them to be on,” says Emily Connery, vice president of people and talent at people analytics software firm ChartHop. “You can slice the data to see if remote workers between six and 12 months from their hiring are more unhappy compared to hybrid and in-office, and more importantly, why.”

Those learnings can make the difference between a new hire jumping ship after a month or remaining as a valued employee for years. Journey mapping is a useful tool for better understanding and supporting hybrid workers.

How hybrid ‘moments that matter’ are different

An employee journey map charts key stages of the employee lifecycle: recruitment, onboarding, growth, recognition, and offboarding. For each phase, the HR team pinpoints critical moments, positively or negatively, based on feedback from employees. Big moments include experiences such as job interviews, onboarding, and performance reviews. In our hybrid world, all of these remain key, perhaps even more so than before.

Graphic of the key stages of the employee journey map: recruitment, onboarding, growth, recognition, offboarding

In the old-school in-office work model, a multitude of smaller moments colored employees’ experiences, too, from a watercooler chat to a birthday celebration for a teammate. But such encounters are naturally rarer for hybrid workers, and nonexistent for remote workers. For hybrid and remote workers, technology plays a bigger role in every interaction.

“During the pandemic, we were all isolated,” says Kevin Barnard, deputy chief innovation officer at ServiceNow. “The relationship building and collaboration that would have naturally occurred if, for example, we were all working on the same floor, or bumping into each other while getting our afternoon coffee, was simply impossible.”

The upshot: The employee lifecycle hasn’t fundamentally changed—as before, every employee is hired, onboarded, and eventually exits—but with fewer in-person interactions, the number of moments that matter has shrunk, and their weight is heavier. What’s more, they’re heavily intertwined with technology in ways that go beyond useful tools that every employee uses.

Take, for instance, the onboarding stage, which can determine whether a new hire stays or leaves within their first six months and which is chock-full of meaningful moments. Consider these substantial differences between the experiences of traditional and hybrid workers on Day One:

A comparison of day one for in-office employees (12 meaningful social interactions) and hybrid employees (6 interactions)

For most new hybrid hires, virtual onboarding is lackluster. A recent Eagle Hill Consulting survey of hybrid workers—49% of whom were onboarded virtually—found that most companies’ onboarding falls short, with 71% of new hires ending up feeling socially isolated, and 62% saying that the culture doesn’t match what was presented to them before they accepted the job.

Benjamin Granger, chief workplace psychologist at Qualtrics, says this is because of “the modality of how people connect. Hybrid journey mapping has shown us that some of these experiences, like onboarding, are better done in person.” But with many hybrid workers in another city, or across the globe, in-person onboarding usually isn’t feasible.

It can be hard for HR teams to detect when hybrid critical moments fall flat, especially if employees are loath to share negative feedback on surveys. “When we were all in the office together, you could see how a new hire was doing. The lack of visual cues is challenging in terms of gauging how the employee journey is going,” Connery says.

Digital pain points in employee journey mapping

Journey mapping is making it clear that digital tools are often lacking in the hybrid employee experience. Only 30% of employees say that the technology their company has in place to support collaboration and communication meets or exceeds their needs, according to a Qualtrics study.

That means not only that companies must step up their technology game; they must also be more thoughtful in designing the moments that matter as digital experiences.

Digital tools are often lacking in the hybrid employee experience.

For one-on-one meetings and especially performance reviews, Connery advises that managers role-play the interaction before logging on. “If those moments fall flat, it’s really hard to come back from that, especially if somebody was hoping for a promotion and they’re not going to get it,” she notes.

ChartHop, Connery’s fully remote company, recently brought all employees together in person for an event designed to create a feeling of community. “In a hybrid context, you’ve got to clearly communicate your values when you’re hiring people and then deliver on them,” she says. “Otherwise, employees are going to leave.”

With 83% of workers planning to look for a hybrid work model at their next job, that communication might make or break whether a potential hire chooses to make the journey with your company.