Posted: 02 Mar. 2021 4 min. read

Why you need to embrace the human experience at work

Solve virtual work problems with a human centered workplace

Are you among the 85% of US workers who had never worked from home, prior to the pandemic?

If the answer is yes, odds are that you’re reading this from a makeshift home office—may be a second bedroom, a couch, or even a closet—and are feeling more isolated and disconnected than ever before due to virtual working.

Unsurprisingly, 56% of US workers say virtual work has made building camaraderie with their colleagues more difficult, and employers across industries are struggling to find ways to cultivate human connection and improve collaboration through screens1.

Virtual work is also highlighting a generational divide between those who grew up as digital natives—such as Millennials and Gen Z—and older generations who lead many organizations. Years ago, marketers recognized that digitally fluent customers expect the organizations they buy from to provide a user experience with digital platforms that is consistent with what they are accustomed to in their personal lives. Today, marketers recognize that they have eight seconds to capture customer attention in digital formats—less than the attention span of a goldfish.

Every human in today’s workforce, as both customer and worker, carries those same expectations to their employer. It begs a few questions:

What if it’s not the screens that are the problem, but how we are using them? Plenty of organizations have been fully virtual for years, with thriving cultures and positive worker experiences—and generations that grew up digitally fluent seamlessly cultivate relationships through digital social platforms.

What if the thrust into fully virtual ways of working simply highlighted culture and connection issues that have been there all along? The rise in social consciousness following George Floyd’s murder placed a spotlight on systemic and unconscious bias that has been present but unrecognized in organizations for decades—and organizations were grappling with massive worker disengagement long before the pandemic hit.

What if our traditional approaches to solving talent challenges no longer resonate? Several organizations recognized that the lines between customers and workers have blurred and are applying what they’ve learned about customer behavior to their workforce strategies—some, such as Adobe, are combining HR and marketing functions in new ways.

Kevin Roberts, retired chairman of advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi, estimated that roughly 80% of our behavior is driven by emotion: “People are about 80% emotional and 20% rational. It turns out choice is emotional, more emotional than we ever dreamed.” Yet in business we operate with a left-brain bias, favoring logic and data at the expense of emotion and intuition.

Attempting to improve experiences without accounting for human emotions inhibits organizations from meaningfully solving pressing human-centered problems and driving transformative change. Our virtual context demands new ways of working that that must be designed with the human experience in mind.

Organizations have been keenly aware of this from a customer experience perspective for quite some time; now they are challenged to consider the human experience at work and deliver on experience for all humans, their employees included.

Human-centered design has been used for years to improve customer experiences, and applying it to worker experiences is how organizations will navigate today’s culture and connection issues. It’s effective for several reasons: It places the human at the center of the problem, suspends biases and assumptions, builds empathy, and gets to the root of what’s driving negative experiences.

Human-centered design can help with the following common virtual-work problems:

Problem: Video meetings are putting people to sleep.

When you place the participants of a meeting at the center of this problem, instead of the leader, it brings a fresh lens on what’s making it such a snooze-fest. Considering that the average working human has an eight-second attention span, constant pings and texts, and lots of demands on their time, numerous areas may be worth exploring: Is the objective of the meeting clear to the participants? Do they have an indisputable stake in the meeting’s goals? Is there an equal opportunity for all participants’ voices to be heard, and for eye contact to be made with every other participant?

Asking open-ended questions that get to the emotional drivers of how a worker behaves in virtual formats will uncover a wealth of information of what to do differently in planning, structuring, and facilitating something as common as a video call.

Problem: Virtual teams lack trust and loyalty to one another.

According to MIT research, smart teams that achieve their goals allow even participation, and demonstrate social-and-emotional intelligence—both are factors that cultivate psychological safety and contribute to positive emotional experiences like trust. When teams take the time upfront to establish norms and ways of working that allow every voice to be heard, expect socially and emotionally intelligent behavior, and build psychological safety, they are more creative, collaborative, and likely to achieve their goals2. It’s important for employees to build bonds and feel comfortable showing up as their authentic selves.

A “ways of working with me” discussion as a team is formed or new members join is an opportunity for each member of the team to reflect and build self-awareness, and adjust to the needs, preferences, and working styles of others on the team.

Problem: Sales-focused roles struggle to build virtual relationships.

In today’s world, with very few exceptions, a distinction no longer exists between online businesses and brick-and-mortar businesses. A digital presence is necessary to serve nearly every market and customer type, demanding a new set of sales skills. Placing the customer at the center of this problem, instead of the salesperson, illustrates this shift well. Humans buy based on emotion, not logic—and building trust through screens requires skills like service orientation, authenticity, and problem-solving.

As your organization faces experience-based issues, challenge your own biases and assumptions in your approach to solving them. Know that it’s often not the screens, but how you’re using them—amplified by culture and connection issues that likely predated the pandemic. Organizations that are thriving in the midst of this pandemic—and will continue to do so in the future—take a human-centered lens on human issues and lead with human connection in everything they do.




1 2020 health care workforce trends | Deloitte Insights

2 Hu, J., Erdogan, B., Jiang, K., Bauer, T. N., & Liu, S. (2018). Leader humility and team creativity: The role of team information sharing, psychological safety, and power distance. Journal of Applied Psychology