The Impact of Design on the Employee Experience

Jeff Gelfuso, Workday’s chief design officer, discusses the importance of delivering seamless end-to-end experiences for employees, and how Workday is making it possible.

Workday’s first Chief Design Officer Jeff Gelfuso believes that when it comes to technology, enterprise software and consumer software shouldn’t be qualified or justified as different, it should just be great software experiences. Period. He and his team are focused on applying this principle to the Workday experience through deep understanding of customer needs and transforming the way we innovate, design, and develop products. This not only encompasses user experience, but how we seamlessly and securely help organizations deliver an engaging employee experience through our open and connected architectural approach.

Prior to Workday, Jeff led multidisciplinary design and product teams for top technology brands such as Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. Most recently, he was the executive director of design and user experience at Facebook, where he was responsible for the end-to-end customer experience, usability, and company-wide design systems and tools. Now Jeff leads the experience design and development group at Workday with the sole purpose of making work effortless by delivering an engaging and inclusive experience for our customers. More specifically, he’s working to simplify the experience for all types of users by making it more useful, more usable, and more valuable for every employee in an organization. 

We recently chatted with Jeff to learn more about his experience design vision for Workday; below you can find highlights from our conversation. 

Software apps have come a long way in recent years. Tell us how user expectations have changed and how organizations can apply these new design principles. 

A lot has changed in the workforce, especially since the beginning of the global pandemic and resulting shift to hybrid and remote work. The pandemic has truly accelerated cloud adoption, which has gone from a convenience to a necessity. For example, look at Zoom; so many people had no idea what Zoom was two years ago and now use it daily. CIOs are responsible for enabling this technology, and now they are closely collaborating with their organization’s HR leaders to roll out cloud-based experience technologies for their workforces. 

We’re working to eliminate the complexity that often accompanies these efforts. By thinking about the entire end-to-end user experience as part of a larger, more open, and connected ecosystem, we can provide a secure, best-in-class experience for Workday customers. Our ultimate goal is to enable people to communicate, access information, and complete tasks in Workday from any digital workspace in their natural flow of work.

In addition, employers are realizing that in order to attract and retain the best people, they need to have the right infrastructure and tools in place that allow employees to work from anywhere, including their mobile devices and other software platforms. Today’s workers, regardless of their roles, have much higher expectations due to their daily interactions with technology. 

The lines between life and work have blurred, and the current assumption is that all software should just be great, whether you’re using your phone to order dinner delivery or submit an expense report. This standard creates the opportunity to reimagine enterprise design to evolve with changing expectations and deliver an intuitive and elevated experience. 

Here are some principles we consider when it comes to modernizing experiential design:

  • Deeply know your users. 
  • Democratize data to empower autonomous teams to work independently and collaboratively. 
  • Understand the key jobs to be done and meet users in the natural flow of their work.
  • Empower managers to best serve their employees and teams. 
  • Increase the pace of innovation through rapid iteration, more frequent releases, testing, and learning through continuous improvement.

You mentioned that knowing your users is key in guiding product design. How are you using customer feedback to shape Workday’s design experience?

Over the past year, I’ve met with more than 100 customer executives and listened to their feedback. What we’ve learned is that while they love the powerful capabilities Workday provides, we still have opportunities to do more to simplify and transform the experience. We’re on a mission to make work effortless, and are laser focused on the following areas in the next year:

  • Simplification. We need to simplify, simplify, simplify. We’re focused on helping users get the jobs done that are most important to them. One of the flaws with most enterprise software applications is that they present everything to users all at the same time. Users don't want that; they want a simpler experience where they only see the task or job they need right now.

  • Personalization. We need to deliver more tailored, relevant, and targeted experiences based on persona, user types, and roles. This is especially important in mobile and other digital workspaces. 

  • Connectedness. We must create seamless connections across experiences. Users should be able to move from features to flows and from individual products to integrated experiences effortlessly. 

  • Meeting people where they are. We’ll bring the Workday experience to people in their natural flow of work across the platforms, devices, channels, and digital workspaces they use most. 

  • Test and learn. We need to measure what matters so we can experiment, iterate, test, and learn. Our Workday customer community is made up of more than 60 million workers. Half of those are hourly workers, and we’re committed to simplifying the experience and making work effortless for everyone.

We know software design is critical to engagement. How are you leveraging design to improve employee experience? 

Design is intentional by nature. It should always be at the center when we create end-to-end experiences for people by thinking about the form, the function, and the moments of delight. The workplace is now digital for many employees and, through people-centered design, we build understanding and empathy about what people need to easily accomplish in their everyday work. 

“Our ultimate goal is to enable people to communicate, access information, and complete tasks in Workday from any digital workspace in their natural flow of work.”

Jeff Gelfuso Chief Design Officer Workday

This is an essential element of our broader experience strategy, which consists of three primary pillars delivered across modalities and platforms: Workday Engage, Workday Everywhere, and Workday Empower. Our Engage initiative is focused on the top self-service tasks and essentials for all employees and managers. Workday Everywhere is focused on infusing Workday into other digital workspaces such as Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Viva Connections, Microsoft Viva Learning, and Slack to make work easier and more connected for everyone. We’re invested in bringing those experiences into the apps and workspaces where people spend most of their time. We’re seeing month-over-month engagement increasing, and users are loving these experiences in Microsoft Teams and Slack, so we’re continuing to expand and scale them for customers. And lastly, our Empower initiative is focused on automating repetitive tasks and personalizing the employee experience based on role, function, behaviors, and more, so individuals can spend their time focused on the things that matter most.

What role does data play in Workday’s experiential design?  

Data is critical to creating engaging and delightful experiences. It allows us to develop more integrated, targeted, and meaningful experiences by using data like behavioral history and preferences across channels to really understand our customers, and provide experiences tailored to their unique needs. With this type of information, Workday can securely personalize each individual experience so users can do what they need to do for their specific role. It’s hyper relevant, automated, and maybe even invisible, but it delivers the most value to our customers. 

I often ask people, “What’s a product or service you love? Why?” Then I ask the opposite question about a product or service they really dislike, and why. Many times the unfavorable experiences are with services where companies fail to make the connections for customers across channels and various touchpoints. On the other hand, relevant and personalized services often deliver more delightful experiences.  

For example, we can leverage data to uncover behaviors and patterns that will fuel decision-making. By understanding sentiment, we can help inform new programs and tailor experiences. We welcomed Peakon to the Workday family last year to help us improve the two-way dialogue between employees and employers about the issues most important to people. With Workday Peakon Employee Voice, we can keep a pulse on employees’ experiences, health and wellbeing, and sense of belonging. This allows us to factor in their concerns and feedback, deeply analyze their sentiment, and take meaningful action in real-time. 

Additionally, we’ve elevated our research practice within our experience design and development team that aims to deeply understand who our users are, baseline and measure the key dimensions that make for great experiences, and help achieve product-market fit so we’re delivering functionality that creates significant customer value.

What advice would you give to a design team that’s looking to improve its user experience? 

I’m fortunate that every day, I get to focus on the end-to-end experience our customers and users have with Workday, and how to make our products usable while creating  engaging experiences people love. As we come out of the pandemic and continue on in this remote/hybrid world of work, connected experiences that are simple to use and feel seamless are more important than ever before. It’s not about a single app’s functionality, it’s about engaging with employees and empowering them to be productive, healthy and well, and fully equipped to do their best work.

We all play a part in helping to transform the experience. Looking beyond products and technology architecture, that effort also includes how we communicate with and support our customers, how we engage in our communities and events, and how we show up as a brand. Being a world-class software company requires all of us to think about the entire experience together, and how we're going to elevate the experience.

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