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We aren’t thinking about digital employee experience nearly enough according to Brett Caldon, CEO of Workgrid.
It’s not just the work you hired an employee to do. It’s all the work around their core work as well. Every part of the company, from HR to productivity is covered in digital tools.
But companies haven’t done a good job planning out this experience. They simply keep investing in new technologies, which unintentionally results in a fragmented experience for the employee.
Don’t chase consumer experiences
Brett warns digital leaders to not get trapped thinking that the consumer experience is the right way to go. We have dozens of apps on our phones, all with overlapping functionality and different UIs. We can learn a lot about user behavior from consumer apps, including their ability to focus user’s intent and deliver simple and intuitive experiences.
One platform to rule them all?
Brett talks about the era of ERP systems when they tried to do everything for the employee. They were capable of delivering a lot, but were extremely hard to navigate and alienated a lot of non-technical employees.
So, the pendulum went towards having a few dozen unconnected point solutions. Each one solved a particular problem better than the ERP system, but having so many tools is unbearable for employees.
The future of the digital employee experience is intent, according to Brett. For example, when someone wants to take a day off, they currently might need to log into a handful of different tools to request the day, and update their status. However, with a well designed system, the intent of requesting a day off should be able to trigger several actions inside separate apps that relieves the burden on the employee.
Reduce the digital noise for better productivity
There are so many digital tools now, employees find it hard to stay productive. Brett says, “…productivity to me from an employer’s perspective is the amount of focus they can have on really what they were hired to do.” Many of the digital platforms leaders give to employees actually make them less productive because they pull away their focus. We should focus on removing the noise, keeping work in context, and enable employees to do less context switching.
Welcome back to The Digital Workplace podcast. Today our guest is Brett Caldon. He is the CEO of Workgrid. Hey, Brett. How you doing today?
Doing well, Neil. How are you?
I’m excellent. Very happy to have you on the show. Excited to talk a little bit more about Workgrid and about the future of work and all sorts of great things. But before we do that, let us check in with a CAPTCHA question to prove that you are a real human. So your question is, if you could get the phone number of any celebrity, whom would you choose?
Oh, boy, that’s a good question. I would say Kevin Costner. I grew up watching all his movies. Big baseball, I played baseball in college, and the early baseball movies, how can you not love Field of Dreams? Brings a tear to my eye that last scene where he’s playing catch with his dad. I think if I had anybody, I’d probably look him up because I’m into the Yellowstone series right now.
That’s cool. That guy has had a very interesting arc of a career. You can appreciate people that just keep at it like that. It’s really cool. Kevin Costner is definitely a human answer so you are approved to be on the show. So welcome to the show, Brett, officially. Tell us a little bit about yourself and about Workgrid.
Yeah, so I’m the CEO of Workgrid Software. We’re an interesting story, as we are born out of intrapreneurship and innovation that occurred at a Fortune 100 company. We’ve been focused on digital solutions and improving the experience and productivity for a company of 50,000 employees, that we found a lot of crossover benefits to other companies who are much like us and employs their employees. So we invested and took to market what is Workgrid Software, which is an employee experience platform. So I’ve been leading that company for the last three years as we’ve gone to market.
Excellent. So we’re talking about the idea of employee experience. How do you feel like that term, I feel like has meant a lot of things to a lot of different people over the years, how would you describe the shift, and really what that term means now in terms of actual software?
Employee experiences is broad. It’s not just about the software piece of it. It’s about everything around your experience at a company, whether it be the physical environment, which obviously now is a little more challenging, but also, it’s about who you are as a person and how you relate to that company. Digitally, though, I think what you’ve seen is just a massive expansion in digital capabilities that have really impacted how employees are more required now to interact with digital capabilities because it’s more and more of their job, and not necessarily even the job that they’re doing that you’ve hired them to do, but just more and more of how they interact with the company in a whole, whether that be with HR and IT, the benefits aspects, as well as other systems that they interact with. So I think what you’ve seen talks about employee experience being brought, I think you can cut it down to multiple factors, but the digital employee experience is a big component of it.
Yeah. And I think that’s something that I want to get a little bit deeper into with you. I think the first wave of digital employee experience was, I think we can all say, a little bit bumpy, trying to just force employees into systems, specifically when you’re talking about HR systems, or other things that have to do to take a time off request or to do a purchase order or something like that. But now we’ve tried to maybe find a middle ground. Where do you see us in terms of the digital employee experience? Have we matched the consumer experience yet? Or do we still have a long way to go?
Yeah, I think it’s a work in progress. I don’t think we’ve fully matched the consumer experience. And at some level, it’s like, I say we don’t want to at some level. I mean, let me ask you, how many apps do you have on your mobile phone?
I mean, I probably have, let’s say, two dozen.
So quite a few apps that are all sitting there. So that’s still a consumer experience, I think there’s still complexity in the broadness of how we interact with technology at the consumer level you don’t necessarily want to replicate. I think to your point, when you start to look at how many systems employee touches, during their day, or their month, it’s quite substantial. Each one of them is different. Each one of them has a different level of institutional knowledge, I need to know the URL, I got to click here, I got to understand how many screens to go to do that one click I want to do, and it’s really that type of frustration that is getting compounded. And what I see though, over time, as we go back to, companies would buy these ERP systems, right? They tried to buy the one system to rule them all. You might like 80% of it. You got to deploy it on site, and then manage it and you customize the heck out of it, right? And then you rename the system and it becomes X and Y.
But all those systems tended to be bought by the influence of the back end user, right? The person who’s in there every day, because they’re really solving business needs in the HR case, right? It’s facilitating the hiring and onboarding and all these other things that are really at an administrative view and the buyer people were really those administrators, and all the influence on what you selected for software was done with that perview. So then you roll it out, and it lands on the larger employee base. And it’s not designed for them. So it adds to the frustration, complexity of navigation, and all those things. So sometimes it makes getting menial things done hard, right?
What I see now, though, is it’s flipping. With SAS offerings, it’s actually getting more complex, because you’re able to select these experiences that are so pointed, I’m just looking for expense portables, I’m just looking for travel time management. And now instead of the large ERP, as probably convoluted as that was and hard to navigate, you’ve got even more applications across the enterprise, which adds that fragmentation. So I think where things are going is there’s a lot of flexibility in that and be able to buy those pointed services and those types of things. But we’re going to really start to see is another way of looking at it from the employee’s view up on the experience itself, and thinking about how do we enable the employee with intent in mind, and how do we abstract away from a lot of these systems and build a unified experience?
Yeah, I love that. As you come to that, looking at the arc of how the employee experiences looked, like you said, at the start, by the initial experience was one monolith system that everything was supposed to go through. And then it totally fragmented. And we have dozens of apps, each doing a different thing that specialize in, and now everyone wants to go back to what it was before, but not the same, like you said, bringing in that intent. Can you talk a little bit more about what you mean by the intent of the employee?
Yeah, we think about it as outcome driven. When an employee interacts with technology, they want to get something done. Time off is a great example. So a lot of companies, if you were to take the end to end journey of time off, it’s assessing my calendar, putting the time in, waiting for approval from a manager. And then beyond that, the other systems you might have to interact with in absence, I have to go into a time, if I’m billable, I’m going into a finance system to update that, project systems like JIRA, and those types of systems, Trello, you’re updating availability or updating on those types of things. And then even setting you’re out of office, those are all different systems when you look at it, but the intent of the outcome was I want to take a day off, as simple as that. We have the ability now to abstract away from that, and really just design interactions with an employee where they literally can put their time off in and set them out of office, do those things all within one interaction.
I think that leads into a point I’ve heard you talk about before, which is just called digital noise. So let’s talk about the digital noise that people face in their lives. How would you describe that?
Yeah, I think it’s pervasive, really. I always talk in terms of things like trying to kill the red badge, because as many apps as you have, just all those red dots everywhere, the more apps you have, the more communications you have, the more notifications you have, the more places to go. So a lot of it’s in terms of, yet another place to go or yet another thing to check off the box. In every application tends to have its own level of some level of communication, whether it’s notifications through email, or various channels. And that’s the other part, too, because the channels now are so much more complex, that to check off all the boxes, you’ve got those little red dots everywhere.
And I think when you think about the entire work experience, you are split into different parts that you have to do. There’s one part, which is you have to participate in these systems with all these forms you have to fill out and everything you have to do. That takes up a considerable chunk of your day or week. You also have just engaging with other humans, being collaborative, being social to some extent, probably more so when you’re in the office than out of the office. And then you have this other part that’s like actually doing the work that you’re supposed to be doing. And it just seems like it’s difficult to pull those in. And sometimes we think that these digital tools are there to make work better, but really, they just add more digital debt onto things. What do you see as a solution to that?
I think you really got to start being contextual about it, and personalized in what really matters. You might not be able to remove all the noise, but what of that noise is really important? And then being able to zone in on that. The context switching and all those things that drive the productivity is to be lessened for employees. It’s trying to remove the noise, if you will, and ease their day. So when you start looking about all the notifications you might get in all the interactions you have, what of those are really important that you know at least priority wise that you need to focus on, and bringing those into a place that’s singular so I don’t have to go hunting for them all or I don’t have to be digging through all of my app portfolio and emails to find things that are meaningful and in the moment. So it’s really about abstracting across all that complexity, identifying what’s meaningful and contextual and bringing those to the top.
Tell us a little bit about how you guys work internally at Workgrid when you talk about contextual collaboration. Do you encourage people? Do you use a chat function? Or do you have say, hey, everyone, just communicate in project boards or use email? What do you do inside at Workgrid?
Yeah, it’s a little bit of potpourri even in that aspect, just based on again, the nature of the work, or the nature of the actual communication, whether it’s social versus working on a project. I would say the collaboration piece, we’re using the same tools as most people in industry, Teams and Slack, those type of things. And certainly leveraging the project management capabilities support agile processes, but the collaboration piece is done, you said it, it’s a little different now that it’s all this hybrid work, or for the most part, more remote. A lot of that is digital interactions, whether it be through the Team’s channels, Slack. But we’re also using the worker platform from a cultural engagement piece because we can reach everybody targeted, as well.
Let’s zoom out a little bit and talk about the idea of employee productivity. I feel like that term is going through a renaissance, a new definition of what that means, especially as we move into a digital age. It seems like we’re more capable than ever of being able to track things and put metrics on numbers. But it always seems harder to figure out, okay, what does employee productivity mean in different contexts? So just that word, what does that mean to you in your life?
Yeah, I think that productivity to me from an employer’s perspective is the amount of focus they can have on really what they were hired to do. And even if it’s setting themselves, continuous learning and those type of things, it’s more of a value add component of it that relates to productivity where it’s not wasted time or time that didn’t affect any, moving the employee forward and moving the company forward. So when you look at that, again, it goes back to some of those interactions you might have with systems that just take 10, 15 minutes to transact, where it shouldn’t have to take that. So they’re losing the time that the value that they can get with what you hired them to do.
So as you consider looking 5, 10 years into the future, when you think about employee productivity, and what you’re wanting people to do, you’re talking about, more and more complex things, you’re going to hire humans to handle issues that systems can’t necessarily do on their own, and by nature are more difficult to track. Where do you see is the future of that combination between employee experience, technology, and then also measuring to make sure people are doing a good job and getting what they want to get done?
Yeah, I mean, you always track things like adoption rates of technologies and the usage, and those are pretty much table stakes. I think what you’re going to see more and more of is convergence of experience and automation, and not automation as a back end tool, but integrated with experiences and things like workflows in different ways. You look at onboarding, for example, especially the time we’re in now. We have people on our team who haven’t met each other in person because they’ve been newly on boarded into the company during this time. And then you lose a lot of that institutional knowledge. You can’t spin around in your chair. There’s no water cooler. I think you have digital tools that are going to evolve to support those types of connectivity and processes more fluidly. Again, with onboarding, to me, as a whole employee, as much like you were saying earlier, right? There’s my job that you’re paying me to do. There’s department level stuff, maybe role based, but there’s company wide stuff, which makes me an employee of the company that touches various pieces of it. And they all cross a bunch of silos. But from this goes back to that outcome driven process thought model, in that, even though they’re cross bunch of silos, in the end, to the employee, it’s really just what I need to get done to be an effective employee. And I don’t need to know that it’s an IT system, a finance system, HR. Then on top of that, I go into the automation piece, what in that flow example can be automated, so that I don’t have to deal with it at all?
Let’s talk more about that automation side of things. Because in the past, if you needed an automated process, that was like, all right, go to IT, raise up a request, and they’ll get to it, maybe never, but maybe one day, they’ll get into it. Now you’re seeing more citizen development tools that are out there that are easier for people to create. But it also raises the issue of what happens when you have these inter department processes that cross lots of functions. Do you need to have one person that’s in charge of all that? What do you see as the future of that idea of citizen development?
I think there’s going to be a lot of value in that. You’re hearing a lot about it in the industry right now, the low code, no code apps, putting the power of development into the hands of the business with less of that restraint, like you said, on IT. I think there is a lot of value in that. It opens up the ideation funnel, the innovation funnel for companies, but also increases time to value from the business perspective because, you know as well as I do, it takes time to build apps in the way the apps were being built. I think there’s a lot of value in having the citizen community and being closer to the business to build these apps. But the other side of this is without strong governance around that, that could lead to some serious problems in the enterprise as far as supportability and those types of things. Now I’m in awareness of just general capabilities that, if you’re building a lot of apps, and they’re sitting in various spots, it’s almost like that shadow IT type model where the support that they need for all of the other things, we need to look at citizen development, the app development piece is one of it. But there’s still a core piece on scalability, on security, on those other aspects that need to be taken into account and be very strong on the governance model, so that even though apps are being developed more on the front line, that they are being done right.
Are you implementing any of this inside your own company in terms of people making their own apps, their own automations, and connecting those together?
Yeah, we are. We have a strong focus on trying to remove obstacles to getting apps building in leveraging. Specifically, for ours, we have, I guess we would call it a no code knowledge build up, it’s really the ability for the business to create interactions on the chatbot without IT intervention. So they can automate HR help desk questions, IT help desk questions, any little service types questions that would deflect some of those level one calls to the help desk, which goes back to your point you said earlier, allows the people you hired to solve problems to be solving the right problems, not the noise and easy ones. We allow that all to happen and the bot trains itself on the learnings from what comes out of those interactions, but there’s no code involved in that. And we are moving into more of the app build with low code. So more of that drag and drop pulling processes together, whether it be, for example, I have a service now ticket to order a computer, and then following that there’s system access to put that in one streamline, one piece without having to have the IT moment.
What do you feel like within your own company, just think about the different departments, different roles that are there, where do you see things moving more towards being more reliant on, technology, bots, AI, and what things are you going to lean and double down more on to humans and how they’re going to lead and solve problems?
Yeah, I mean, it’s a good question. It’s pretty broad when you look at that in the full topography of technology and where it’s going. AI, for one thing, there’s immense opportunities there. Honestly, I don’t think the adoption is mature just yet. And we’re getting there. I mean, a lot of people speak in terms of AI as NLP and less about really taking advantage of going after your unstructured data to make predictions and assumptions and insights. We’re seeing more and more of that. I think those are the things that are going to move the employee forward based on understanding who I am and what I do, and be able to provide those insights. Beyond that, from the digital landscape perspective with the chatbots and those types of implementations, I think what you’ll start to see is more of a crossover between that pure interaction at a channel perspective, when you’re talking about asking questions and getting answers, but bringing in together actions and being able to transact as well. So I think you’ll see the channels evolve beyond what’s the typical chatbot today, but to be more omni-channel within a channel, if you will.
Yeah, that makes sense. But let’s shift a little bit and talk about leadership. That’s a new thing today, I feel like, it means to sit back and redefine, which is actually something I want to get your opinion on. Based on the last year and a half that we’ve been through in this pandemic time, do you feel like people who were extremely effective leaders earlier in their career, did they have the right skill set to continue to be effective in the same way? Or do you feel like leaders that are going to lead in the digital age just have like a totally different mindset, and you have to start from zero and build up this new skill set? What do you see is the trade off?
Yeah, I mean, I think fortunately for us, in our companies, we talk about the pandemic and the influences on remote work and maybe the leadership styles. But to me, I think, fortunately, we’ve approached that hybrid work long before the pandemic. I think there was a mindset there at least of inclusion and those types of things that were already set in stone a little bit before this. So our leadership has been fairly able to adapt to what’s been happening. I mean, I’m not to say that that’s the case across a lot of companies, especially when you are moving from more of a physical leadership environment to virtual, but like I said, we’ve always been hybrid welcomed, very diversity located companies. So better for worse, we’ve been in that mode period long before the pandemic,
If you’re bringing in somebody from outside Workgrid that maybe has only had in-office experience in leadership roles, what do you feel like are the key things they would need to be successful in a hybrid or a distributed environment?
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s more about that all became digital. I think the tenants of leadership remain the same. It’s a good point to say that there is a loss of that in-person piece. And if that was a pillar of your leadership style, it certainly was going to be challenging to flip that and become all digital, and maybe you have to take advantage of different ways of communicating and connecting, which is a growth thing. So I think, someone coming in with a physical mentality, that’s how I lead definitely probably had to change how they interacted with employees, and how they did touch points. So I think there was probably some challenges there, for sure. But I think generally, the leadership tenants stay the same.
What do you think, as you look at your company right now, what’s a thorny problem, an issue that you just don’t have a solution for? Maybe it’s not necessarily crippling your business, but you just are waiting for some more wisdom, some more experience to come about to help you solve that issue? What’s the thing that’s keeping you up right now?
I mean, I think right now it is a lot of that connectivity piece. I think what we hear from our teams, and this is probably consistent across a lot of teams, is that, even being hybrid before, connectivity in-person was always important. And I think that’s what’s been missing. We did a lot of things like probably most companies did at the early onset, the virtual happy hours, and let’s do an employee pet show. But those really weren’t sustainable. Now that we’re into month 18, I think that’s really the biggest part is these folks want to get together. They do want to see each other. And it may not be like in the futures, because they’re comfortable with at some level with the remote work. But it’s got to become to progress to be a mixture, right? They do want to meet when it makes sense and meet to be that social engagement aspect of it. And that’s been missing. And as much as we sit here, and like digital calls and can be face to face there, it really isn’t the same. And I don’t think there’s a solution for that yet. And I think that’s what we’re waiting for.
Yeah, it’s funny, I remember earlier in the experience of the pandemic, we saw some things come out, whether like, team engagement type things, or digital off site type stuff, and you look at it and you’re like, this is great for now. This is probably the best we can do at this point. But there’s got to be something better down the road in terms of being able to figure this out. I mean, obviously, time and space, it’s tough to figure out exactly how to cover all those things at once. But I do hope that there is a new era approaching us where we can solve those problems better. Brett, it’s been great to chat with you and to learn more about what you’re doing. Where can people go to learn more about you and your company?
Yeah, thank you for having me, Neil. It’s been a pleasure having a conversation. If you want to learn more about Workgrid Software, you can go to workgrid.com.
Excellent. Well, Brett, thanks for being on the show. We look forward to connecting with you again. Thanks for sharing everything that you know and for being on the show.
Alright. Thank you, Neil.
Brett is Head of Business Operations for Workgrid Software, a tech start-up and wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Mutual Insurance. In an era of disruption and evolving customer and employee expectations, he is responsible for solving for emerging business needs by delivering innovative technology and software products to support the enterprise.
Prior to Workgrid, Brett was the Senior Director of Software Innovation and Application Delivery at Liberty Mutual Insurance. Brett joined Liberty Mutual in 2001 following four years as an IT Consultant with Keane, Inc. His career in technology has included assignments as a software developer, IT project manager, operations manager, director, and senior director of Software Innovation and Application Delivery.
Brett holds a B.A. degree from Hartwick College and Master’s certificates from American University and George Washington University. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children. As a licensed hunting and fishing guide, he enjoys helping others to appreciate the great outdoors when he’s not creating intelligent solutions that deliver the simplified, intuitive experiences employees deserve.