Designing Tools for the Multi-Generation Workforce

Jeremy Ashley, Group Vice President, Oracle Applications User Experience

Jeremy Ashley, Group Vice President, Oracle Applications User Experience

The workforce of 2020 will include five generations, meaning employee preferences and demands—from workplace tools to culture—will likely span an even wider range. While generational stereotypes often overstate differences (no, not all Boomers are tech averse or millennials mobile-only workers), members of each generation do sometimes communicate and collaborate with their peers in different ways. Do certain workers prefer in-person versus virtual communication? Flexible work hours and mobile-based interfaces, or a reliable 9-to-5 at a desk? Does research about engagement levels and tech aversion ring true for the vast majority of demographic groups? Or are we stereotyping?

“The R&D behind effective tools is indicative of whether they will positively impact each generation and individual employee”

Regardless of how deep-seated these inclinations are, varying preferences of different generations can pose challenges when companies implement or upgrade universal tools and systems. For example, HR applications impact every employee in an organization. Yet different generations are accustomed to engaging with HR professionals and programs in varying manners.

How do leaders—from CHROs looking to implement new systems to CIOs working to integrate all business applications—best understand and meet the needs of their ever-widening employee base? And what is the broader role of the HR department in understanding and addressing employee needs?

The Common Ground: Humanistic Approaches to Tech Tools

All generations, no matter how “tech averse” their label may indicate, benefit from technology tools. But not all tools are created equal, and according to a recent study conducted by Oracle only 44 percent of workers say that their company uses the latest technology to enable them to perform their role. The R&D behind effective tools is indicative of whether they will positively impact each generation and individual employee. As user experience experts know, workplace tech tools are about more than user interfaces and mobile-friendly platforms. At the heart of user experience is psychology—an understanding of our behavior in the workplace—rooted in careful research and observation. This humanistic approach helps in making the tools just that—human!

User experience research and design can make workplace tech tools more usable for all employees. Tools that are designed to integrate into—rather than change—workplace behaviors will be most successful in positively impacting employees and providing experiences that naturally bridge generational gaps.

And the benefits go beyond users. Tools designed with the user in mind hold the most potential to enhance productivity, collaboration and efficiency for workers of all types, creating tangible, measurable improvements to overall business operations.

Behind the Curtain: User Experience Design

As we now know, user experience is much more than the user interface. In fact, a user experience designer works to make the user interface disappear, allowing the user’s interactions with the system to occur more naturally. These interactions match human behaviors and habits that span generations and job functions—working to seamlessly accommodate how, where or when they like to work. Tools that feature visual, cross-platform, community-driven attributes, while providing intuitive interfaces, will modernize and humanize user experiences and encourage participation.

User experience design principles span applications and business groups—from finance to sales to HR. While HR professionals will ultimately select the tools applicable for HR-related employee tasks—compensation, benefits—HR departments are also concerned with overall employee satisfaction and engagement—qualities that can often be linked to the workplace tools that employees are provided. Given the central role of HR in workplace user experience, what features should HR pros be aware of when selecting tools to best meet their employees’ needs?

Simplicity: At the core, user experience experts focus on making work tasks simpler to complete. Intuitive interfaces, efficiently organized information and tools with a clear purpose may seem like basic features. Yet often these are lost, especially in workplace tech. Consumer-like experiences that are instinctive and convenient enhance user patterns and help users more naturally and simply complete tasks.

Centralization: So often HR applications are dispersed and duplicative. Information about payroll, compensation, benefits and more can be found in different locations, requiring multiple clicks and creating confusion and duplication of efforts. For employees using HR applications only sporadically throughout the year processes and tools can be forgotten. For HR professionals, tracking, analyzing and updating de-centralized human capital information can be tedious. Centralized HR systems eliminate complexities for both groups without having to “teach” new user behaviors.

Mobility: Despite stereotypes, seamless experiences that flow from device to device are not only favored by millennials. Experiences that work across whatever devices an employee chooses to use—desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone or wearable device—provide employees the seamlessness needed to focus on the work task, not the tool or environment.

These factors influence usability. Combined, usability and engagement have a direct tie to efficiency and productivity, impacting the business bottom lines by moving the needle on productivity, engagement, collaboration and employee satisfaction.

Workplace of Tomorrow

The tools of today’s workforce make up only a part of the UX designer’s focus. Workplace opportunities, challenges and the tools that address them never stand still. Beyond today’s applications, the guiding principles of user experience will continue to direct user preferences and tools as emerging technologies infiltrate the workplace in the near future. New tools that embody and address universally true user needs and preferences will continue to enhance employee communication, productivity and satisfaction.

The HR department will have a pivotal role in this vision of the future. HR professionals not only deliver tools that touch every employee, they also have a keen pulse on employee behaviors and preferences. Therefore, HR professionals are, and will continue to be, instrumental in advocating for user experiences that meet the needs of all workers—from Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y to Millennials, and the coming Generation Z employees.

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