This year, we conducted our own employee experience research. With ambitious plans to rapidly grow the Orange Bus team, we knew that we may face challenges in our current employee experience. But where, and how, would we begin? Here we outline the approach we took to begin to improve our own employee experience and how this can be adapted to any workplace.
Where to start?
In order to look at the whole employee experience, we had to take into account all staff and teams within the business - from the programs and applications used daily, the working environment, to staff morale. This begged the question - which of these areas are most important and where do we start?
We decided to do what we do for our clients and begin a UX discovery phase. The aim of this was to uncover the areas that we needed to prioritise and look at first. We knew that we wanted to involve as many employees as possible, we wanted to conduct face to face research and we wanted to hear authentic stories of what it was really like to work at Orange Bus.
Headquartered in Newcastle, we also have offices in Edinburgh, Sheffield and London - as well as staff working on collaborative projects onsite within multiple HMRC offices. As a digital agency, we also have a lot of departments and 130 staff - which includes: UX, Design, Development, DevOps, QA, Client Services and support staff that make the agency run smoothly. There were a lot of perspectives to cover.
To begin, we worked with Team Leads to generate a sample size of people that we could engage with. This helped make the number of participants more manageable. Within this sample, there were various levels of experience - from those who had just joined the business, to people who had been with us for years, and people who had had significant life events whilst working at Orange Bus, such as having a baby, or changing positions within the company. Having a wide range of perspectives ensured the sample was representative of the whole workplace.
Step 2 - Workshops
The next step for us was to hit the road. Myself and one of the User Researchers in my team, Dr Miriam Boyles, went to the different offices around the UK, and over the period of two weeks held workshops with groups across all locations.
We asked participants to do their homework so we weren’t just going into workshops cold. Presenting them with worksheets and an experience map to fill out what their time at Orange Bus was like. They drew the line of positives and negatives and marked key events ahead of time. People also expanded on this, bringing notes with them to explain to us: what they were feeling at that time, what led up to it, what the outcome was and who else was involved - so they began to tell us their stories.
To ensure the research was inclusive, we also provided an optional anonymous feedback form participants could complete instead. As I’m on the leadership team, we considered the potential barrier of staff feeling uncomfortable giving their honest feedback in face to face interactions. Only one person chose to complete the form, and in the sessions we received very honest feedback and a lot of insight and information, meaning this was a very effective method of communication. When conducting your own research, make sure to offer alternatives as employees and different workplaces may prefer different methods of communication.
Step 3 - Gathering insights
During the workshops, we continued to use the experience map layout to gather insights, as participants were used to them and it also showed them how we were collecting information they were giving us and transferring it into a more anonymised data sample set. As well as pinpointing events on the experience map, we also looked at the worksheets everyone had brought with them. This helped us facilitate a discussion, with each person sharing their own story and others in the group adding to the point, or providing a conflicting opinion or different perspective.
From these conversations, myself and Miriam were able to capture the positive and negative experiences from each team. As you can imagine, this generated a lot of post-it notes, and a lot of data! We took over an entire room in our Newcastle office and laid out all the experience maps that we had created. We then looked for common themes and started to group insights together. There were common themes that we expected to find, such as those based in different offices noting different experiences. There was also feedback that we didn’t anticipate - this was mainly team specific - and it was really interesting to hear that separate teams within the same office could have completely different employee experiences.
Step 4 - Communicating findings
After each session we received very positive feedback, with people saying things such as “that felt like therapy!” and “that was amazing, I feel so good about myself now”. This proves that just doing the research in the first place was actually having a positive impact on the employee experience, which felt really good.
The next challenge that we faced was how to communicate our findings. We had so much insight and so many personal stories, and we didn’t want to lose sight of the personal element, or the momentum we had created with the project. The first thing we did was hand over team specific items to our HR Manager, who had been following the process closely. She helped manage specific team feedback and we managed the rest of the information.
This stage was where we changed our process. Our planned approach was that we would book an offsite day with all Team Leads, where we would present back our insights and brainstorm ideas together of how to improve the employee experience. However, as it was such a positive experience doing the research, we decided to take the opposite approach and involve the entire company instead, asking for their ideas and input into how we could improve the experience.
At Orange Bus we host weekly Beers with Ideas events, where at Beer O’Clock we get together as a company - with beer and snacks - to discuss certain topics or ideas. This was the perfect platform for everyone to have their say.
To ensure we didn’t lose the emotional aspect of the data, and to keep the data anonymised - we decided to tell a story. We created a fictional character named Olivia, which allowed us to take all of the personal information out and create an anonymous platform. Using storyboards we told Olivia’s story, including quotes which summed up what people were feeling at key events along the way. This helped to provide context and added an element of empathy that everyone in the business could relate to.
In the Beers with Ideas session we asked everyone to help improve Olivia’s experience. Using a fictional character made it generic enough for everyone to get involved in the exercise. From discussions about how we could build up on the positives, negate the negatives, or turn negatives into positives, we received an abundance of ideas. We created an experience map for Olivia, and all staff members worked in teams to place post-it notes of ideas onto the story.
Once we gathered all the ideas, we were asked to hold another session as it was so popular. Everyone wanted to contribute their ideas. At that point we prioritised the ideas and the quick wins that we could implement straight away. In the meantime, we have also implemented wider projects to help turn the experience around and make it more positive for all employees.
Step 5 - Taking action
We understand our employee experience is something we need to continually work on. To support the wealth of insight we achieved through discovery, so far we have:
- Ticked off some quick wins which help improve our employee on-boarding experience straight away.
- Created an employee ambassador programme to begin to work through the key themes that surfaced in our research, creating mini projects and changes within the business.
- Commenced significant internal projects around career progression and opportunities within the company.
- Introduced a regular company-wide retrospective to continue to provide a platform for employees to shape and contribute to their experience and ways of working.
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