Global marketing agency Wunderman Thompson used Microsoft Power Apps to build an immersive application to help employees manage their work experience and drive better outcomes, says Vidhi Thakker, the company’s Global Senior Manager for Talent and Organizational Development.

Dec 04 2023

How to Optimize the Digital Employee Experience

The right mix of tech drives engagement and productivity.

Employees at Wunderman Thompson, a global marketing agency with 20,000 workers, told the company in surveys several years ago that they didn’t know how to discover and access opportunities for advancement within the organization. Company leaders realized there was no central portal where employees could get feedback on their work, where managers could get the data they needed to coach their teams and where workers could position themselves for new opportunities.

So, the company built it.

“We explored existing tools, but they didn’t allow us the level of customization we wanted, and they were incredibly expensive,” explains Vidhi Thakker, global senior manager for talent and organizational development at Wunderman Thompson, which is new part of the newly merged VML. “Then we came across Microsoft Power Apps, and we realized we could build it from scratch.”

The result, an app called THRIVE, has transformed the way employees establish and track their professional goals. Staffers can set their own priorities for the year, then connect with their managers periodically to review progress. Employees can also nominate colleagues to provide feedback through the app, and 80 percent of those requests are fulfilled.

Adoption has been swift. In the second year after the THRIVE app launched, 72 percent of Wunderman Thompson employees used it — double the number from the first year.

The app and other tools have had an impact on employee engagement, with a 10 percent uptick in employee survey participation. Thakker says company leaders also hope the app will help with employee retention. “We’re hearing from employees that they want to use THRIVE to get feedback even more often,” she says.

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How to Use Tech to Promote Employee Engagement

Forrester analyst Andrew Hewitt notes that technology has become an increasingly important part of the employee experience, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, which thrust digital solutions into a central role for many workers.

But it’s not enough to merely adopt technologies, Hewitt says. Employers must be intentional about implementing tools that will make it easier for workers to do their jobs rather than frustrating them.

“We know that technology has a decisive impact on not only productivity but employee engagement as well,” Hewitt says. “Collaboration is a huge part of the overall digital experience. If you get collaboration right, you’re much more likely to reach higher levels of engagement. But if you get it wrong, it has one of the highest impacts on burnout.”

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Wunderman Thompson is mostly standardized on Microsoft Teams for collaboration, and employees also access THRIVE through the Teams platform. Unifying the digital employee experience promotes adoption and engagement, Thakker says.

“If employees need to log in to a new application and figure out a new tool, they might not be motivated to engage, and a lot of time can get wasted with the technical side of things,” she says. “But because this app comes to employees through Microsoft Teams, it’s already in the flow of their work. We want to meet our employees where they already are. We don’t want it to feel like they have to do something for the company, but rather that the company is doing something for them.”

Vidhi Thakker
We want to meet our employees where they already are. We don’t want it to feel like they have to do something for the company, but rather that the company is doing something for them.”

Vidhi Thakker Global Senior Manager, Talent and Organizational Development, Wunderman Thompson

How to Support Seamless Collaboration for Your Organization

Arlen Love, senior program manager for consumer support and launch excellence at T-Mobile, says employees “will write you symphonies” if they’re equipped with the digital tools they need to do their jobs. However, when workers are left to wade through a morass of clunky solutions, he says, they quickly become discouraged.

“When technology doesn’t run smoothly, people feel like they’re working hard to work hard,” Love says. “That’s when frustration sets in. Especially for a communications company, where we’re working to connect other people, the technology should really fade into the background.”

Several years ago, T-Mobile was supporting several different collaboration solutions. That forced employees to switch platforms frequently depending on who they were working with. Employees complained that the disparate solutions led to a poor experience, sometimes taking 10 minutes or more just to start a meeting.

EXPLORE: Find out the advanced technology networking tools that support modern work.

To streamline the wireless company’s environment, IT leaders standardized on Webex by Cisco. The move has made T-Mobile’s workforce feel more connected than ever, Love says. In addition to supporting Webex calling and meetings on employee devices, T-Mobile has invested in hundreds of conference rooms and huddle spaces outfitted with Cisco displays, cameras and audio equipment.

In his own work, Love says, he often uses Slido, a Cisco tool a Cisco tool within the Webex suite that lets meeting organizers engage their audiences with live polls, Q&As, quizzes and word clouds. “One of the most frustrating pieces when you’re supporting large calls with complex information is collecting and managing the Q&A,” he says. “Slido is a game changer.”

Love also heavily relies on Webex’s whiteboarding feature. “I don’t think for a moment about the fact that I’m not on my physical whiteboard,” he says. “It’s just: I have this thought, I need to get it out and I can use the technology to do it. It just feels normal.”

63%

The share of HR leaders who say they are looking to technology to bring managers and their direct reports closer together

Source: Applaud, The 2023 Digital Employee Experience Trend Report, February 2023

How to Help Workers Create New Connections

CBRE, a global provider of commercial real estate services, faces communications challenges proportional to the company’s 115,000-employee roster. Company leaders need to effectively spread messages to large swaths of its workforce, but employees must also forge more personal connections within and across teams and locations.

To enhance the digital employee experience, CBRE adopted Viva Connections and Viva Engage from Microsoft. Connections is an intranet hub that helps employees quickly catch up on organizational news, tasks and resources. Engage allows them to ask questions, share knowledge, and extend their social and professional networks within the company.

READ MORE: Six tips every IT leader needs to know about creating an agile digital experience.  

“The integration with Active Directory lets us target specific audiences,” says Wendy Sherwood, CBRE’s vice president of global corporate communications. “We have a lot of communications that go out to employees based on their location, their job function and which part of the business they’re a part of. The ability to take those communications and target them so that employees are getting a relevant feed of news and information that is customized and tailored to them was really important to us.”

Luke Morris, vice president of digital and technology at CBRE, says the tools’ integration with the company’s existing Microsoft solutions allowed the IT team to move from a small pilot program to a global deployment in just six months. “Having this experience within Teams has been very advantageous,” he says. “From a technology standpoint, it makes it easier to manage the policies. But also, from a user standpoint, we only have to ask our employees to install one app.”

Sherwood says that employees from around the world are connecting via Engage, discovering common interests ranging from pets to astrophotography. “You have employees in Dallas sharing their passions with employees in India,” she says. “You simply cannot make those connections outside of the digital space.”

FIND OUT: Learn why IT asset management is essential to modern work today.

Photography by Jon Enoch
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