Digital Employee Experience (DEX): Navigating the Intersection of Technology and Work Life

Digital Employee Experience (DEX): Navigating the Intersection of Technology and Work Life

An interview with Arthur Braunstein

In today’s fast-paced corporate landscape, the concept of Digital Employee Experience (DEX) has emerged as a critical focal point. DEX encompasses the intricate web of interactions between employees and digital systems within their professional environment. But it doesn’t stop there — DEX also extends to employees’ relationships with their company, colleagues, clients, and partners. Arthur Braunstein, Vice President of Strategic Accounts at eShare, is here to provide insight through his background and expertise on the full aspect of DEX.

Q: Mr. Braunstein, could you kindly share your background and how you became involved in the DEX community?

A: I’ve been in security for about 20 years and joined eShare in 2023. eShare by the way is a SaaS governance platform for M365 that implements controls for internal and external sharing.  DEX interests me because it touches every part of the business, from IT and digital workplace to security, compliance, and the business.  DEX and the underlying technologies will transform the quality of work and collaboration when used fully. My job is to help remove constraints that inhibit the realization of its potential. Constraints like security, for example. Working with people in so many disciplines is fascinating. It’s rare with my profile – and rewarding -- to be able to do this-- and to be part of something so close and important to business outcomes.

Q: In your experience what does DEX encompass and how does it relate to digital transformation?

A: DEX stands for Digital Employee Experience. In essence, it represents the human aspect of digital transformation: the overall employee experience within the digital workplace, encompassing job satisfaction, well-being, and productivity. While digital transformation focuses on leveraging technology and data to enhance operations, with customers as the primary beneficiaries, DEX centers on the individuals who utilize technology in their roles. They are the direct recipients, while customers and partners reap the ultimate rewards.

A key principle of DEX is that technology serves crucial functions, such as delivering data to users, but it should be designed to minimize friction during use and maximize user agility. DEX is measurable, with user experience, sentiment, and productivity serving as key performance indicators (KPIs). Harmonizing DEX and digital technology is essential to realize the full value of digital transformation for the business.

Q: Thank you for breaking that down. Now what are the benefits of DEX?

A: Two categories stand out: practical and cultural. Employee welfare and productivity will both improve in a well-orchestrated DEX program. This will translate into close and higher Return-on-Employee (RoE), a central metric of the modern workplace, better retention, and better business performance. RoE is a new convention but for making the business case you can replace it with RoI: there is an improvement in business performance that you can attribute to DEX. The cultural benefits are an attitude toward work that incorporates continuous improvement, collaboration, and customer outcomes into processes and decision-making. It’s contagious. A DEX culture wants to do things well and thinks about ways to do them better.

Q: What are the drivers of a DEX program?

A: There is only one driver. It’s the business. IT may lead it and generally does. But the pull and a lot of the push come from business needs to engage with their ecosystem of fellow employees, customers, partners, vendors, regulators, and others at various stages in their journey across different silos of a business. In the most intuitive, natural way possible. To do that, functional systems have to be integrated, accessible, and usable; and data has to be available, correct, current, and useful. Anybody who has spoken with customer service or an airline reservations agent can feel the frustration of employees dealing with systems that don’t map to the customer journey. The words ‘I had to go to another system, and it’s slow booting up’ both annoy us and make us sympathetic to the employee struggling on the other end. In one sense, the goal of DEX should be to banish that sentence from our experience. The good news, by the way, is that we recognize when DEX is done well and place a high value on it. It’s visceral. And attainable.

Q: Now, let's focus on the other side of DEX. What are the common obstacles that hinder the successful implementation of DEX initiatives?

A: That’s a good thing to be aware of because little issues can have big consequences.  In general, digital friction is the enemy. Especially in the form of context shifting. Employees have to stop what they’re doing, do something else, and then resume what they were doing. This can be moving to another app, getting permission to undertake a next step, or obtaining help because a system hasn’t worked the way it should. Like stopping and starting a bicycle: it’s much harder than pedaling continuously.  Causes include knowledge gaps – the employee doesn’t know how to use some tool or system – and security, where well-meaning or obsolete rules may deliver more context shifting and disruption than security value.

Context shifting triggers a cascade. The employee is affected, but so are others, as they grant permission, provide ad hoc training, troubleshoot problems, or come to the rescue in some other way. When one context is shifted, others may already have shifted to force it; or will shift in due course to remedy it. It’s cumulative and pernicious. And we almost always know it when we see a process where there’s a step that looks like the tail is wagging the dog.

Q: So, as you can imagine, our next question is about context shifting. Is there any way or ways to avoid it?

A: As a practical matter, some context shifting is inevitable. You can’t rebuild every system and process from the ground up. But lean thinking and techniques reduce it considerably, especially when DEX is factored into design. Without descending to modern Taylorism, talk to the business and map the customer journey – or whatever journey the process involves, such as a vendor interaction, for example. True north is an employee, enabled by data, completing a process for a customer or vendor. The employee should be able to navigate the journey with as few apps and steps as possible, including access to data that will be needed. Identify and document the context shifts – spend time with real-world users – and design them out. Also, leverage muscle memory. If employees have natural ways of doing things, they adapt systems and processes to them. Simplify wherever possible. You want to reduce cognitive load, so employees apply their creativity and knowledge to the ‘what’ of a task, not the clicks and tricks of the ‘how’.

Q: Can you provide an everyday example of an opportunity for DEX thinking? Just to have a clear understanding.?

A: One is M365, Microsoft’s cloud productivity suite. It has the functionality to transform end-user computing and enterprise collaboration. But many users don’t know how to get the most out of it – often they don’t even know what apps they have – or they face organizational obstacles that make it difficult to get the value. Security policies that restrict external sharing are a common obstacle.  M365 is not Office 95. But if you train the same as you did for Office 95 or use security strategies like the ones for Office 95, you sort of end up with Office 95 in the cloud.  For example, when an M365 tenant is closed, or users need permission to share from SharePoint or OneDrive – which is essentially the same as a closed tenant -- you’re seeing security strategies that are maladaptive for M365, undermine DEX, and institutionalize cascading context shifts.

Q: In that example, doesn’t security have a point?

A: It’s actually evidence that users and DEX practitioners need to work closely together and challenge constraints on user experience. In this case, users can send files as attachments in email anyway. So why not let them share files – the same content – efficiently, directly from SharePoint or OneDrive or wherever they’re already working? Along with the benefit of security, you have visibility and retain control over it because it’s still with your tenant. In fact, it’s more secure than legacy practices like email DLP.

An Office of DEX can identify and characterize these sorts of things, which are opportunities to make things better for both the business and security. It involves looking at the entire process, with the user at the center, and the interaction with data as the goal, and calling out any chain of context shifting that’s embedded in any process.

Take traditional DLP, which M365 is upending. With links, that is. Links are powerful tools for collaboration, both internally and externally. They retain data in a sender’s tenant, assure a single source of truth, cut data duplication, and more. But they nullify traditional DLP, which is based on scanning content before it leaves your perimeter. Paradoxically, DLP-nullification has upside, since it’s an invitation to leverage native data classification and control access automatically without the overhead or technology debt of traditional DLP. And it gives the user more control in a simpler way. These are steps toward DSPM, data security posture management.  

The bottom line is if you’re emailing files and not links, your paradigm is hostile to DEX. Silent security should be the goal. That is, employees should be able to share info via links from any cloud productivity app they’re using with anyone, externally or internally, directly from the app, at any time. Security should be applied to the operation in the background, automatically.

Q: You mentioned an Office of DEX. I have to ask. Is this necessary to operationalize DEX?

A: DEX is a conceptual abstraction from the tooling that underpins it. It spans many functional organizations: IT, security, business users, customers, customers, vendors, and regulators, to name a few. Delivering value to all and avoiding the gotchas takes coordination. A separate DEX function is in the best position to do this. It can consider the interests of all stakeholders, reconcile conflicting priorities, and set the tempo for the program. DEX is measurable so a DEX function can define KPIs, communicate which of the five DEX maturity levels the enterprise is at, and lay out the roadmap for progress toward the next. Not to mention incorporate DEX thinking in the culture. The commitment to a program of DEX precedes a separate DEX organization. There are other ways to approach it, but a separate function should certainly be considered for something so important and comprehensive.

Q: What are the key strategic considerations for an Office of DEX?

A: A program should be people-centric, biased toward giving autonomy but encouraging collaboration and teamwork. The program team should communicate obsessively, making sure its emphasis is on enabling human interactions.  Training and feedback to users are imperative.  Giving tools isn’t enough and learning should be immediate and personal. It should also be driven by data, starting with KPIs used to gauge attainment and guide progress across the five stages of DEX maturity. Analytics should include behavior, security and business performance. It also ought to be aspirational. It’s a journey and aspirations sustain enthusiasm and become part of the culture.

Another is that a DEX office can guide digital transformation by underscoring design principles. There should be a single source of truth, for example. Users should handle and use data, not manage systems. Bolt-on solutions, like file sharing, should be discouraged. They cause context shifting and hide simpler ways of doing things. And investment should go more into transformation than into maintenance.  DEX as the conscience of digital transformation can make sure these principles are top of mind.

Q: Living in the AI era, I have to ask. Will AI be positive or negative for DEX?

A: Positive. It’s delivering value today. If we take M365 as a reference point, there are already use cases for Copilot there and more will come with time. Feedback is a good one. Not only do AI systems document and digest interactions. They can also provide feedback and suggestions that are personal, contextual, and confidential. Issues for DEX arise though if governance is not in place before AI adoption. 

The net is: AI is positive for DEX. But potential negative impacts will include data sprawl and oversharing that will overwhelm legacy controls. So modern governance to address this is needed, partly for its own sake, partly because if it’s not in place legacy controls will undermine DEX, discourage adoption, and prolong unrewarding activity.

Q: You mentioned governance. What are some governance considerations?

A: Follow the rules. Rule # 1 is that governance must enhance employee experience, not undermine it. Rule # 2 is that you should never give 3rd parties custody of your data. Rule # 3 is monitor and log everything. If you follow these, it becomes evident that a strategy of guardrails will work better than a strategy of locks and vaults.  Users should be able to collaborate freely with data – internally and externally – with a policy applied to link-sharing in the background, automatically nudging them back onto the roadway if they drift. Security contributes more by operationalizing data classification and policies, coupled with automation and reporting, than by setting up roadblocks. Link sharing should be encouraged, and file attachments should be discouraged. Links enable modern governance.

Q: To close our interesting discussion, could you please make a prediction? What should we expect from DEX in the long term?

A: It’s a significant movement. In a knowledge economy, where the combination of cognitive and emotional engagement is the source of competitive advantage, we should expect outcomes similar to those we saw from earlier movements like Lean Six Sigma in manufacturing.

Thank you so much Mr. Braunstein for sharing your insights on Digital Employee Experience (DEX) with us.  We really appreciate your time and look forward to more great conversations in the future!

Arthur Braunstein

Arthur Braunstein
VP Strategic Accounts

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Don Winter

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