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What are the priorities for returning to the office?

Jennifer Dunkerley

Credit: Devon via Twenty20.

Unleash Your People ServiceNow’s VP Gretchen Alarcon explains how Employee Journey Management can help HR leaders take an agile approach to future workplace disruption.

  • Employers’ return-to-office plans are already being disrupted as the Delta COVID-19 variant surges across the US.
  • HR leaders continue to prioritize the safety of employees.
  • Ensuring your HR tech offering is built to support the employee journey in a changing world is key for resilience.

“The world flipped off the switch – now is the time to dial back up again.”

That’s how Gretchen Alarcon, vice president and general manager at ServiceNow, describes the return-to-work revolution that’s happening across the US and Europe right now. But it comes with a caveat. 

Gretchen Alarcon, VP and General Manager at ServiceNow.

“Back then, no one had a choice. Now workplaces do have more choice. So it’s a case of dialing up and dialing down into that hybrid model when there’s a little bit more familiarity,” she says.

“It’s a great opportunity again to think about how technology can help us be agile.

“HR leaders and managers want to know where to go and what to do to find out the right situation for global teams, and facilitate a dialing back if – for example in India – the situation changes again.”

During the pandemic, Alarcon and the ServiceNow team successfully shifted product releases to regularly adapt and adjust to the changing needs of global HR teams.

“The pandemic really put the role of the employee front and center,” she says.

“When safety becomes a critical issue for the continuity of the business then employee engagement, experience and everything else becomes the priority. Organizations have to look at what they have from a digital perspective to support that fully.”

After transforming during the pandemic, many global businesses are now turning to HR technology once again as they prepare to introduce their future workplace model. 


According to ServiceNow’s 2021 Employee Experience Imperative Study that surveyed 3,000 employees at large enterprise companies in North America and Europe, 62% of employees believe COVID-19 will have a significant impact on their work experience for years to come.

In addition, 65% hope to have a hybrid approach to digital and in-person interactions when it’s safe to go back to the office.

With an increasingly distributed workforce, Alarcon believes companies must better connect processes, reduce bottlenecks, and simplify and streamline the way work gets done across the enterprise. 

“We’ve been having so many conversations with global leaders about what they need, and most now have return-to-office plans,” she explains.

“I think what we’re about to see, though, is a really big question around, how has the world of work changed?

“Not all employees are going to come back to the office five days a week; they’re going to do some for sure, but it’s going to be a hybrid.

“And that puts a lot more pressure on the frontline manager to be more engaged with the employee. Because now I have to know, not only what are they working on, but where are they working? And who’s working with whom.”

She continues: “What a manager needs to focus on has shifted. So that’s an opportunity for us at ServiceNow to say, “OK, what elements can we address with technology, versus something that you as a manager are just kind of keeping a spreadsheet on?”

“It’s one of those cases where the role of manager and the HR team just keeps getting more complex.”

This is where technology can be brought in to perform critical tasks for managers and HR teams, lightening their load, Alarcon adds.

SMART back to the office STRATEGY

Alarcon is currently planning a return-to-work strategy with her ServiceNow team in California.

She states: “There’s a really interesting conversation happening right now, which is what are you actually trying to do when you are all back together in the workplace? You’re trying to build culture, trying to collaborate.

“It’s about moments where you need to engage with people in less structured ways. If it’s a one-on-one meeting, there’s no reason why I couldn’t [continue to] do that over Zoom.

“But if I’m trying to build a new product and I need to brainstorm, it’s difficult to do that on the computer rather than in a room with a whiteboard.”

That is one of a number of major opportunities to automate processes, she believes.

“We need to think about what work can be digital, but also maximize time in the office to be about the culture and coming together to work as a group of people.”


Focusing on the employee experience is the purpose of ServiceNow’s latest launch, Employee Journey Management.

“We’ve been talking about lifecycle events and the moments that matter for five years,” Alarcon reveals.

“When we started working with our customers we found that when we think of those moments, most of the focus has been on standardization of the process from an HR perspective.”

Employee Journey Management is a new package of enterprise-wide capabilities focused on improving the employee experience as they navigate the moments that matter most in their work lives, including returning to work, setting up remote workspaces, transferring departments, and being promoted.

With Employee Journey Management, HR teams can craft a complete workflow that spans the enterprise, connecting disparate processes and siloed systems, with no coding required.

Managers can personalize these workflows with no-code tools to fit the unique needs of departments, teams, and even individuals.

Alarcon says: “For example, what are all of the various policies and procedures to get somebody from new hire to productive? What if someone’s leaving the organization, or on extended leave?

“Those are very HR-driven focuses. But what we found in talking with organizations was to think about the role of the manager.

“You know, onboarding finishes on day one, as a manager picks up and has 90 days or six months of trying to get this employee from ready-to-start to actually being productive.”

ServiceNow has identified that most organizations lack the systems to support such a strategy. This is opening the door to conversations about how to increase focus on, and boost support for, managers.

“We call [these products] “journey accelerators”,” explains Alarcon.

“When a new role is ramping up or winding down, it’s really about giving the manager the tools to do what they want so they don’t have to start from scratch every single time.

“When you wrap up somebody in January, and then you have a new hire again in July, it’s probably the same process, so can we use the tool to help that?”

SUPPORTING learning and development

ServiceNow’s Employee Journey Management also includes learning and re-skilling options, as well as listening posts to feed back on workflow.

Alarcon believes the ability to include learning in the process, available at any stage of the employee lifecycle, will be vital. 

“Think about my lifecycle as a manager joining an organization: if you train me on day one, how would you start planning my performance and goals?

“That’s the time to give me learning [support] so I’m most receptive to it. It’s impactful, it’s relevant to my job.”


The final piece of the Employee Journey Management tool is capturing feedback and empowering HR teams to process it.

“We call them listening posts,” Alarcon explains. “It’s about asking the employee how they feel about the process, focused on how HR groups the service experience.

“Based on the learning and listening post, HR leaders can spot trends in the onboarding process and feed back. It allows them to target what’s happening in the moment.

“All of our customers say the listening posts are the one thing that will really improve their workflow.”

Alarcon says the other big win from the roll-out of the tool is the ability to respond to the changing needs of the business, and understand how the workforce can level up their skills.

She concludes: “Employee Journey Management can help with rescaling, especially if you know what projects are coming in a few months’ time.

“You can use the accelerator to identify best-placed people, put them through the process and ramp up their skill-set – so when the project hits, they are ready.”

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