The case for creating an employee “digital twin”

Now is the time to advance technologies that boost workforce satisfaction and well-being

Creating digital twins for your workforce can help improve employee satisfaction and well-being.

Creating digital twins is an established product quality-assurance technique for manufacturers and engineers to identify and eliminate design flaws or performance problems prior to deployment. What if we applied the same concept to any organization’s most valuable asset: its workforce?

Think of an employee digital twin as a virtual simulation of its human counterpart. Employees agree to participate in the program, in which software analyzes their behavior and work patterns to create a virtual counterpart. Organizations use insights gleaned from digital twin simulations to create better employee experiences and services.

For example, a digital twin simulation suggests that its human counterpart might improve their performance if they took training classes tailor-made to their strengths and weaknesses. Or the program advises the manager to reduce an employee’s workload because the digital twin appears to be heading toward burnout.

Tuning into employee experience

The time is now to advance technologies that increase employee satisfaction and well-being, as a growing pile of data suggests that people around the world are less likely than ever to remain in positions that don’t work for them.

A recent global report by EY found that more than half of the people it surveyed said they would consider leaving their jobs if employers did not offer them flexibility in where and how they worked.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said they wanted better technology in the office, including faster internet and videoconferencing, while 48% demanded companies upgrade at-home hardware such as extra monitors and headsets. In the United States, a recent report by job search site predicted a “Great Resignation,” with an astounding 95% of workers surveyed indicating they are considering a job change, and 92% saying they are willing to switch industries to find the right position.

In this environment, companies intent on retaining their best talent should proactively respond to the needs and behaviors of its employees, and developing a dynamic digital twin offers an innovative way to do so.

Origin of digital twins

A digital twin—the computerized version of something or someone—allows data to flow between the real object (or person) and the twin, to test performance under various simulated conditions, stressors, and so on. The digital twin allows companies to make adjustments in real time to the physical object based on changes to the digital version, and vice versa.

Think of an employee digital twin as a virtual simulation of its human counterpart.

In 2002, Michael Grieves, then a researcher at the University of Michigan, pioneered the concept of a digital twin as a way to improve the quality and efficiency of manufacturers, and the technique has since become a global standard.

Boeing, for instance, creates a digital twin of each of its aircraft to simulate the performance of various aircraft parts over the product’s lifecycle. Unilever, a multinational consumer goods manufacturer, used a digital twin of its facilities to spot potential production bottlenecks and improve overall efficiency.

Improving services and experiences

We have the data necessary to develop digital twins of employees.

For example, companies can track employee schedules and calendars to monitor their workloads. If the digital twin suggests that an employee might be overextended or at risk for burning out, managers could be made aware and adjust the employee’s workload, suggest taking time off, or a similar substantive response.

The system could even suggest to the employee a stress relief program included in the company’s benefits package, such as yoga and meditation classes, gym memberships, and access to a therapist through the Employee Assistance Program.

Companies can input data from employee surveys, manager evaluations, and promotion and salary history into a digital twin to determine which employees are receptive to job offers from competitors.

A digital twin could improve performance by providing employees with relevant training. If the digital twin struggles with communication or computer skills, then the system suggests to the actual employee programs that focus on writing and public speaking or perhaps a quick tutorial on productivity platforms.

A digital twin can help the employee in more subtle ways. The program notices that the employee tends to arrive in the office earlier than others. So it recommends the office stock more coffee in the breakroom. Or the program alerts IT to be on heightened alert because the employee has scheduled several virtual sales meetings near the end of the quarter on his calendar.

Useful, not creepy

Tracking employee behavior can make the company seem like the Nanny State. Or perhaps just creepy. Therefore, a digital twin program must be voluntary, at least at first.

Any suggestion the program offers an employee must also be useful. Otherwise, the employee will just ignore it or drop out of the program altogether.

It’s also important to remember that a digital twin is a dynamic, two-way program that managers must constantly monitor and adjust. For example, what works for the digital twin might not always work for the actual employee.

Digital twins might offer companies the same benefits the concept gives manufacturers and engineers: the ability to dynamically improve something on the fly via predictive data and simulations.

The concept could also help companies better understand employee priorities and needs during a time of great turnover in the labor markets due to the COVID-19 pandemic.