Making the case for a better employee experience

by Claudia Quinton, Head of Workplace Transformation

A happy employee is a productive employee: one likely to stay with you for the long term. I think we can all agree with that sentiment. But what does it take to make your employees happy?

In a new opinion paper on HR transformation and employee experience*, I consider the commercial impact of keeping your workforce engaged and yes, happy. I look at the business case for the HR and business process transformation needed to put your employees at the heart of today’s increasingly digital workplace. And I ask whether the enabling technologies underpinning this transformation are worth investing in.

The truth of the matter is that, in the battle for talent, a heightened employee experience is everything. I argue that with outcomes such as improved productivity, reduced employee attrition rates and an empowered workforce committed to your customers, the transformation business case pretty much writes itself.

Re-designing services demands teamwork

But pulling together all the different elements of this business case is not just the task of HR. The outcomes are clearly strategic, so the onus is on HR to work with business, finance and technology leaders. Together, they must balance the cost of what it will it take to deliver re-designed services (process automation, self-service, etc.) with the commercial outcomes. And the scales are weighted in favour of those outcomes.

As an example, let me take the reduction in employee attrition resulting from people feeling empowered by simple, standardised processes that are easy and quick to engage with. One estimate suggests that UK organisations alone are losing £340bn from employee attrition. Thus, the longer you can retain talented employees, the better for your bottom line. Here we can see HR (employee retention) combining with business (improved productivity), technology (automation) and finance (the bottom line) coming together within a single business case.

Using technology to improve processes

Outcomes are pivotal in all of this. For example, the deployment of robotics, automation and process improvement can reduce HR Back Office administration by 50% or more. HR managers freed up by robotic process automation taking over labour-intensive tasks, or robots (chatbots) handling simple queries, can play a more strategic role in the business. And, a process by which an automated artificial intelligence (AI) tool checks a leave request against a team’s booked leave will give an almost real-time response to the employee, enabling people to better manage their time.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. I believe that by using automation, smart tech and AI, it’s possible to help smooth the flow of processes and remove unnecessary manual activity, making people happy to come into work. But these outcomes must be clearly communicated and understood across the organisation. This will ensure, firstly, that there is board-level acceptance of the need to invest in change, and second, that those people using the improved, automated process and enabling technology – your employees – understand the impact (and value) of this transformation on their own workplace experience.

For more on this, read my opinion paper ‘A transformation business case that writes itself – download here.

Trip of a lifetime

Tyler is one of Sopra Steria UK’s Volunteers of the Year. As Volunteer of the Year 2017, he will travel to India to visit our international award-winning Community programmes run by our India CSR team. Each year, Sopra Steria India CSR programmes puts around 70,000 children through school, while also providing free lunches, access to drinking water and toilet facilities, and a huge number of other educational and social benefits.

Tyler Quote

It’s been just over two months since I was chosen to be a Volunteer of the Year and despite all the planning, bookings and visa applications, the feeling that I’m leaving in less than a week to a place that is more than five thousand miles away is still yet to sink in.

Last year I gave over 450 hours of my time though two voluntary roles. Most of this time is spent as a Special Constable with Northamptonshire Police. A role of great variety. I often take on the role of a Crime Prevention Officer, working with the victims of fraud, particularly cyber and online scams, helping them to be safe and confident online and on the phone. I also volunteer with the British Red Cross as an Emergency Responder attending to both small and large emergencies. Thankfully large-scale emergencies are rare and most callouts are to domestic floods or fires, where I provide practical and emotional support to who lose their homes and possessions in what can be their greatest hour of need.

I’ve known for a while that Sopra Steria’s Social Responsibility program has been doing great work with young people in India. Community Matters week passes all to quickly in the office and besides a bit of fun, a good conscience and light feeling in my wallet; I wasn’t all too sure of the difference it went on to make. Starting this journey, I did not realise the sheer volume of good we are achieving because of events like these. Each year 70,000 children are sent to school by the program; the brightest of which are sponsored through University. We operate clean water initiatives, run career development centres, offer self-defence courses for young women and a thousand other schemes for good besides.

I’m truly humbled to have been chosen as a Volunteer of the Year and to be able to take this trip of a lifetime. I will see the opening of new schools; dine with University graduates that Sopra Steria has sponsored since their very first day of school. I will meet teachers we have trained in technology and computing to prepare the next generation for work in the modern world and understand how we are challenging social factors to stop these young minds being plucked from school and put to work. In just a few day’s time I will be travelling across India to see the inspiring good work that we, as a company, are doing and the difference it makes to lives of real children elsewhere in the world.

Volunteer of the Year

Robert is one of Sopra Steria UK’s Volunteers of the Year. As Volunteer of the Year 2017, he will travel to India next week to visit our international award-winning Community programmes run by our India CSR team. Each year, Sopra Steria India CSR programmes puts around 70,000 children through school, while also providing free lunches, access to drinking water and toilet facilities, and a huge number of other educational and social benefits.

Robert - Volunteer Quote

Having been an active volunteer for many years, supporting schools, colleges and universities as well as many STEM events through the #IET and #STEM Ambassador program, I’m really looking forward to visiting the #Soprasteria India CSR programs and learning first hand how much benefit and life improvement the students gain from our support.

Sopra Steria have rewarded me with this excellent opportunity after learning about all the efforts myself and the #IETSwindon team have put in to our activity program each year, and in particular our prestige event of support for #RIAT and the technozone at the Royal International Air Tattoo hosted at RAF Fairford each year. Over 3 days we have between 4,000 and 5,000 visitor’s through our stand enjoying all the hands on activities to encourage students to learn more about science and technology subjects (STEM).


I will be heading to India on Monday 12th February to see the amazing work our Sopra Steria India Foundation does. I’m looking forward to learning more about the culture and helping the students with any tech questions they may have. As part of my volunteer work, I see first hand how important it is for students to have access to technology and how excited they are by seeing tech in action. It is by showcasing the opportunities tech can provide that we grow the next generation of STEM leaders.

Follow my journey on Twitter or be sure to check back on this blog for my write up post the 10 day trip.

Containers: Why the hype?


Now you might be wondering ‘why all the hype’ about containers?  The truth is you probably got to this blog from a container without even knowing it. As far back as May 2014, Google were proudly announcing that ‘Everything at Google runs in a container’.  Your searches, Gmail, Calendar, apps, all of it. In 2014 Google was starting over 2 billion containers a week, which if you do your maths, averages out at over 3,000 containers started per second!  And that was in 2014, can you imagine, with the growth of the mobile phone market, how many containers they start per second now?

Containers aren’t exactly new anymore, but they’re definitely a buzz-word of the moment. They are of extreme importance in both our industry, and to the IT world at large, so let’s take a look at where they came from.

Where did they come from…

Containers started back in the early noughties, when Google donated the cgroups technology to the Linux Kernel and it was accepted.  Combining the segregation/aggregation capabilities of cgroups with network namespaces, and LXC or LinuX Containers were born.

Containers back then, however, required an expert level of tech knowledge to utilise, and sat on the back burner until start-up company Docker was formed. Docker took the approach of creating a standardised API, and promoted ease of use to the community to build libraries of containers which were portable. This is when container technology really became accessible, interesting, and started to grow.

Why they are cool…

The true power of any technology to become fully utilised in the market is for it to seamlessly replace older ways of doings things, without the major populace being aware. Containers have definitely fit this bill at Google, and many other companies around the world are doing the same.


I’ll be touching on what Containers can do and the orchestration for power in my next blog piece. Follow Richard Hands on Twitter to keep in touch.

Programmed Perspective; Empathy > Emotion for Digital Assistants

Personal assistants are anything but personal.  When I ask Alexa what the weather is, I receive an answer about the weather in my location.  When someone on the other side of the world asks Alexa that same question, they too will find out what the weather is like in their location. Neither of us will find Alexa answering with a different personality or the interaction further cementing our friendship. It is an impersonal experience.

When we talk about personal assistants, we want them to know when we need pure expediency from a conversation, when we want expansion on details, and the different way each one of us likes to be spoken to.

I would like to propose two solutions to this problem – emotion and empathy.  I’d like you to see from my view why empathy is the path we should be taking.



An emotional assistant would be personal. It would require either a genuine internal experience of emotion (which is just not possible today), or an accurate emulation of emotion.  In the same way that we build up relationships with people overtime, starting from niceties and formality, to gradually developing a relationship unique to the two parties that guides all their interactions.  Sounds great, but it’s not all plain sailing.  I’m sure everyone has experienced a time where we’ve inadvertently offended a friend in a way that has made it more difficult for us to communicate for some time afterwards, or even damaging a relationship in a way that it’ll never repair itself.

We really don’t want this with a personal assistant.  If you were a bit short with Alexa yesterday because you were tired, you still want it to set off your alarm the next morning.  You don’t want Alexa to tell you that it can’t be in the same room as you and to refuse to answer your questions until it gets a heartfelt apology.


Empathy does not need to be emotional.  Empathy requires that we put ourselves in the place of others to imagine how they feel, and to act appropriately.  This ideally is what doctors do.  A doctor must empathise with a patient, putting themselves in their shoes to understand how they will react to difficult news, and how to describe the treatment to ensure they feel as comfortable as possible.  Importantly though, the doctor should be removed emotionally from the situation.  If they are to personally feel the emotion with each appointment it could become unbearable.  Empathy helps them to add a layer of abstraction, allowing them to shed as much of the emotion as possible when they return home.

This idea is described in Jean Paul Sartre’s ‘Being and Nothingness’.  Sartre describes two types of things;

  • Beings in themselves – An unconscious object, like a mug or a pen.
  • Beings for themselves – People and conscious things.

In our every day lives we are a hybrid of the two.  Though we are people, and naturally become a thing for itself, we adopt roles like doctors, managers, parents and more. These roles are objects, like a pen or a mug as they have an unspoken definition and structure. We use these roles/objects to guide how we interact in different situations in life. In a new role we ask ourselves ‘what should a manager do in this situation’, or ‘what would a good doctor say’.  It may become less obvious as we grow into a role, but it’s still there.

When you go into a store, we have an accepted code of conduct and a type of conversation we expect to have with the retailer.  We naturally expect them to be polite, to ask us how we are, to share knowledge of different products and services, and that their aim is to sell us something.  We believe that we can approach them, a stranger, and ask question upon question in our preamble.

Sartre states ‘A grocer who dreams is less a grocer’ (to paraphrase).  Though the grocer may be more honest to themselves as a person, they’re reducing their utility as a grocer.  It’s easy to imagine stopping to buy some vegetables, and getting stuck in an irrelevant conversation for half an hour.  It might be a nice break from the norm, and a funny story to tell when you get home, but in general we want our grocers to be…. Grocers…

If we apply this to personal assistants, it really comes together.  We want to receive the kind of personal service that we would get from a person who is really great at customer service.  We want it to communicate information to us in a way which works best for us.  By making an empathetic assistant over what we have today we gain personalisation and utility

If we go fully emotional we gain more personalisation, but the trade-off is utility.  What we don’t want is an emotion assistant, which becomes depressed, and gets angry at us.  Or even on the other extreme which becomes giddy with emotion and struggles to structure a coherent sentence to us because of the digital butterflies in its stomach.  That’s both deeply unsettling, and unproductive.

So, let’s build empathetic assistants.

How the Equality Act 2010 affects you

Most of us use online services such as banking, travel and social media everyday with little thought as to how we can access or use them. However, this isn’t the case for many users, including employees.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 legislation, which previously provided protection against direct discrimination, has been updated to the Equality Act 2010 (except Northern Ireland). The Equality Act became legal on 6 April 2011, and changes the law to brings disability, sex, race, and other types of discrimination under one piece of legislation.

One major change is that the Equality Act 2010 now includes perceived disability and in-direct discrimination, making it easier for claimants to bring successful legal proceeding against businesses and public bodies.

What it means

The Equality Act essentially means that all public bodies or businesses providing goods, facilities or services to members of the public, including employees (For example: retail, HR, and councils) must make fair and reasonable adjustments to ensure services are accessible and do not indirectly discriminate. Being fair and reasonable means taking positive steps to ensure that disabled people can access online services. This goes beyond simply avoiding discrimination. It requires service providers to anticipate the needs of disabled customers.

Benefits of compliance

UK retailers are missing out on an estimated £11.75 billion a year in potential online sales because their websites fail to consider the needs of people with disabilities (Click-Away Pound Survey 2016).

In addition, 71% (4.3 million) of disabled online users will simply abandon websites they find difficult to use. Though representing a collective purchasing power of around 10% of the total UK online spend, most businesses are completely unaware they’re losing income, as only 7% of disabled customers experiencing problems contact the business.

How to comply with the Equality Act

The best way to satisfy the legal requirement is to have your website tested by disabled users. This should ideally be undertaken by a group of users with different disabilities, such as motor and cognitive disabilities, and forms of visual impairment. Evidence of successful tests by disabled users could be invaluable in the event of any legal challenge over your website’s accessibility.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is the international organisation concerned with providing standards for the web, and publishes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), which are a good indicator of what standard the courts would reasonably expect service providers to follow to ensure that their websites are accessible.

WCAG provides three ‘conformance levels’. These are known as Levels A, AA and AAA. Each level has a series of checkpoints for accessibility – known as Priority 1, 2 and 3 checkpoints. Public bodies such as the government adhere to Priority 2 – Level AA accessibility as standard.

According to these standards, websites must satisfy Priority 1 – Level A, satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement and very easy to implement. Priority 2 – Level AA, satisfying this checkpoint will remove significant barriers for customers. Finally, Priority 3 – Level AAA, is the highest level of accessibility and will ensure most disabled customers can access services, and requires specific measures to be implemented.

Read the Equality act 2010 quick start guides to find out more about how this affects you.

Accessible Innovation

Innovation is a word that cannot be missed in any part of our lives today. Technological advancement has touched the lives of people in the most remote parts of the world – we are all better connected, better aware and better resourced. Who could have imagined touch-based devices could become every day commodities in practically every corner of the globe! Innovation has the power of true societal transformation. Accessibility is one topic which has been affected directly by such trends in technology. For example, hand-held devices have heralded as a game changer for disabilities including visual impairment. The rise of AI (Artificial Intelligence) gives more hope to disabled users to be empowered by technology.

There has been a glowing example to demonstrate this idea called ‘Humanitarian Hands-on Tool’. This fully accessible app aims to address the idea that in case of an emergency, a disabled person is likely to be the worst affected. The app aids workers by providing step-by-step guidance on how to implement an inclusive emergency response. This includes easy access to key information including emergency shelter, health services, distribution of essential items etc. Through easy to use task cards, the aid workers are provided with clear, practical and detailed instructions, which help them assist people with disabilities better. Such exemplary tools are to be celebrated for their thoughtfulness and trendsetting nature – and also for putting accessibility in the heart of innovation.

Followers of the popular Television program ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ will distinctly remember the recent awe-inspiring performances of Jonnie Peacock, a celebrated Paralympian. His participation in the famed dance competition was hailed as a sign of disabled people well and truly entering the ‘mainstream’. It is time we bring that spirit to innovation as well. Accessibility cannot be a marginal idea. It has to be the driver of a thought, a development or even a movement! Come, be a part of it – let us innovate for everyone!

To read another of my pieces on accessibility, click here.