Why Building Technology for Employee Needs is Different
Before we found our niche in workforce transformation, RevUnit built digital products primarily for consumers.
That was our first identity and remains a huge part of who we are today — we continue to build digital tools that are durable, build relationships with users, and iterate along with user expectations.
Over the last several years, we’ve narrowed our focus and applied these best practices to one of the largest technologically underserved populations in the world: the front-line employees of the Fortune 500. We’ve learned that only 38 percent of employees feel satisfied with their work-related tools.
These employees have access to the best consumer digital experiences available when they search, shop, travel or otherwise. But while on the clock, this population encounters tech that is easily 8-10 years behind the curve of their everyday experience as consumers. Interfaces are clunky, devices are low-performant, and the overall user experience is largely fragmented and frustrating.
At RevUnit, our mission is to provide these employees with usable, engaging technology that helps them work better.
In doing so, we’ve learned designing and building solutions for this population is different from building consumer-facing experiences in several key ways.
Extremely Broad User Definition
Enterprise UX (user experience) design is different from consumer UX because we generally cannot ignore any part of the employee population. We’re not targeting just millennials, women or techies as our primary users. Our job is to capture and serve the entire group. Serving the entire group means an inordinate amount of research across a number of personas.
Persona development is a matrix of multiple demographics across multiple job roles. Research in this sense usually involves a lot of time on-site, job shadowing different users, and talking with people from different segments of the population who hold similar job functions. It includes user journey mapping for different roles to understand what is upstream and downstream from our product in their daily use. It means understanding the different physical environments of our various users. It means significant user testing to ensure the product is approachable and provides value to each persona.
Great enterprise technology serves a broad audience and uses widely known design conventions to feel familiar to as many users within the population as possible.
As broadly defined as the user base is, the actual user population is finite. A commonly accepted approach in consumer product development is to churn through early customers to find product/market fit. With a nearly endless source of users in the world, a consumer app can afford to make a lot of mistakes and wayfind to product fit even if they lose a good portion of those early customers to get there.
An employee population is more constrained and doesn’t afford the same style of trial and error. There is no way to get more than we have now. There are no throwaway users. The margin for error is much smaller.
A defined employee population doesn’t mean enterprise products don’t wayfind. They absolutely do. User learning and validation happens with smaller pilot groups, and communication must be managed carefully. We’re not going to learn from our users with an emotionless, purely analytical study of user drop-out and funnel leakage. We’re going to partner with them, get in a room with them, listen to their feedback and be transparent about needing them to make it better. We do all this because in the end, each one of these first users needs to be an internal advocate for the product. We want them to see their fingerprints on it and be an ambassador to their peers.
One common mistake when designing enterprise apps is assuming that we’re teaching users how to do their job by enforcing specific workflows or processes through the technology. Sometimes this notion comes from an opinionated corporate team who (with good intentions) wants to enforce a specific way of doing things.
Governance through technology is a real objective sometimes. Corporate partners need to be careful not to play too heavy of a hand here. The ultimate goal should be to win adoption of the product because it enables the user to do their job better. Winning broad adoption often means a less opinionated product that gives users room to use the app in a way that makes the most sense to them. Tactically this can mean less structured data, fewer entry fields and more user-generated input.
Remember this population is full of experts who have been performing their job without this tool for a long time.
There is often a jaded view of ivory tower tech that ends up making the job harder. Employee product experiences should give them room to do it their way wherever possible.
Behavior change requires intentionality
When designing consumer apps, existing behaviors are far less entrenched. New ways of doing things, whether it be booking a flight, buying headphones, or hailing a cab feel less jarring because change is a constant in consumer tech.
Not so in the enterprise. Enterprise tech may be proposing a change to a process or workflow that has been the same since that person was trained ten years ago. There is a natural resistance because people know performance matters and changing what has “worked” in the past can feel threatening or unnecessary.
These feelings shouldn’t dissuade us from improving employee experience and productivity through technology. It does require a level of intentionality around behavior change. This is a multi-faceted strategy. It means explaining the why. It means training the trainer and finding advocates throughout the workforce. It means user advisory boards for each product and providing feedback features within the tech itself. It includes delivering an in-app training experience that walks users through the how.
While so many of the fundamentals of great product design and development remain, enterprise employee populations are their own beast and require a unique approach. At RevUnit, we specialize in these user types and pride ourselves on our capabilities in this particular flavor of application development. In many ways, enterprise UX is a very new frontier. We’re excited to push new boundaries, share what we learn and absorb knowledge from those who are experimenting in this space.