Hot off the press that one of our clients, Korn Ferry, has won the prestigious Nielsen Norman Group annual intranet design award, we thought it might be an appropriate time to share some of our learnings from deploying ever more capable digital workspace solutions on the Microsoft 365 platform.
With the rise of Microsoft’s astonishingly successful Office 365 and Azure cloud services, the tools available to us to build digital workspaces that really work have evolved at a rapid and sometimes dizzying rate. With six of the ten winning intranets in the Nielsen Norman Group awards having been developed on Microsoft’s platforms and based on the incredible interest we’re seeing in the market, it’s clear that many organisations are looking to Microsoft’s cloud platforms to deliver their next digital workspace experience.
And what a great set of tools Microsoft has provided us with. But with such capability comes risk. The breadth of tools available can cause confusion and make adoption a considerable challenge. A digital workspace with limited users is of very little value, so hiding complexity whilst making best use of the capabilities of Microsoft’s toolset has become the cornerstone of Atlas, our people-first digital workspace solution based on Microsoft’s cloud platform.
The full Nielsen Norman Group report runs to a substantial 543 pages and goes into great detail about general trends and gives specific insights into each of the ten chosen intranet winners and I recommend you buy a copy if you’re in the market for a new digital workspace, but if you’re pushed for time then here are some of the insights we have picked out of the report and which we have seen reflected in our engagements with a broad range of clients over recent years.
What constitutes a digital workspace in 2020?
The first thing to say is that the digital workspace is bigger than the intranets of old. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, it’s clear that the digital workspace delivers on a few things that have always been challenging or totally missing in intranets.
Firstly, there’s recognition that intranets were mostly about broadcasting and too little about collaboration and interaction. It’s difficult to remain engaged with an intranet if the content changes infrequently or is of limited relevance to your daily existence. Equally, if you have no way of contributing to the debate, share your knowledge or understand others’ viewpoints, the experience is likely to be bland. Collaboration and social features not only make intranets more engaging; they mean that there is much more relevant content that tends to dig down to a deeper level of understanding, which in turn provides more relevance to search results.
Search is perhaps the second key difference between an intranet and a digital workspace. Search has been the holy grail of intranets for many years, but the experience has always been second rate. Increased knowledge sharing and collaboration creates more relevant search terms using terminology that’s specific to smaller groups of users. By tapping into the terminology and the increased breadth and depth of content encouraged by making content creation simpler, search results improve in relevance, which creates a virtuous circle as more users find relevant content and contribute more knowledge through simplified contributor functionality.
Delivering a digital workspace in 2020
So, you like the sound of this new breed of digital workspace, but how do you go about delivering one successfully and, maybe, even challenging for a Nielsen Norman Group award? Nielsen Norman and ClearPeople have found similar cornerstones to success. Nielsen Norman has created a snappy 24-point list of factors, but I’ll pick just a few that we feel are particularly important.
VisionStart with a vision. That vision can be as wide or as narrow, as distant or as close as you need, but it needs to be clear and easy to describe to the team entrusted with the project. That team will change over time with members coming and going, third parties engaging and disengaging, and the vision needs to be the guidance that ensures that, despite the changes, the project continues in the right direction.
Of course, it’s important that the vision matches your budget, team size, resource availability and corporate objectives. If even one of those measures is out of step, then the chances of success are compromised.
To ensure the vision is as good as it can be, you’ll need to engage key stakeholders and distil sometimes unfocused objectives into understandable nuggets. This can be surprisingly difficult and time-consuming unless you have the skills and experience to run the required workshops. This is an area where our UX consultants can really help by running workshops that have been proven to elicit outputs that can clarify objectives and help create an overall set of objectives that can be communicated clearly and attractively across the relevant stakeholders. And when we talk of stakeholders, while it’s important to engage senior stakeholders who may have an important vision for change, don’t ignore the people who really make your organisation tick. These people may not have senior titles but they’re the ones who get around the inadequacies of corporate processes through their working networks of people who ‘know’.
Once you have a vision you need to think about how to deliver the project. Nielsen Norman Group has highlighted a trend towards agile working over recent years with all of this year’s winners having used an agile project methodology to deliver their solution. Why agile? The rise of agile has perhaps been stimulated by the availability of strong digital workspace products that provide the core of your platform. Nielsen Norman Group reflect on the fact that most of their winners deployed a sizeable chunk of functionality and then iterated on features to improve the user experience and to act on feedback. The key is that there needs to be enough useful functionality in the initial release to ensure that first impressions are favourable.
Our Atlas product gets you off to a great start and means you can get some quick wins and early user buy-in. It’s important you have a plan to capitalise on this initial enthusiasm as all the Nielsen Norman Group winners recognised that their platform is a journey, not a short-term project – the average project took 1.4 years though all of them would have derived value long before that point and all will still be evolving beyond that period. Ensure you have resources available to gather user feedback and to create a growing backlog of ideas that can be developed in agile sprints. Using agile sprints enables users to see rapid progress against their ideas and to help shape and refine the resulting solutions to ensure they’re more likely to be relevant and valuable. Continued buy-in and adoption are key objectives and agile working helps secure both. ClearPeople’s Client Success Managers can help you engage your users, sift through feedback and help find and implement the hidden gems quickly and reliably.
Procuring and budgeting for success
To deliver a substantial chunk of functionality followed by a stream of agile-developed improvements can mean challenging your procurement and budgeting process since a successful intranet is not a one-off project with nice clear start and end points, but an on-going commitment to deliver a platform to maximise the efficiency, satisfaction and knowledge of all or many of your organisation’s employees. Just as you wouldn’t stop investing in training, tools and career progression, it’s important to treat your digital workspace as a continuing and vital investment in delivering excellence in your organisation.
Launch – you only get one chance
Make sure you launch your intranet with a bang. All of the Nielsen Norman Group winners and our most successful clients have put a lot of effort into launching their new digital workspace and ensuring that it’s relevant to as many of the initial users as possible. Developing a champion network in the lead-up to the launch means that you’ll have lots of useful ideas about relevant functionality and a team ready to evangelise about those ideas and their implementation in your new platform. Stage events and contests and offer rewards for engaging in the new platform. Continue to raise awareness as new features come online post the initial go-live. Don’t under-estimate the value of physical media to promote the new platform and give it a name that’s meaningful and engaging.
Find the hidden gems
Don’t forget to continue to engage your users through your champion network. Your new digital workspace must be an evolving and lively place and the best ideas are likely to emerge some months down the line as users really get to grips with the capabilities of their new work environment. Whereas in the past most focus was paid to efficiency, modern, collaborative digital workspaces can also contribute significant value by highlighting great ideas that would otherwise remain the domain of a handful of people. Sharing those ideas and supporting their implementation across the organisation could result in financial benefits many times greater than the investment in the platform. Find the ideas, celebrate their success and create a virtuous circle of sharing and evolution.
Finally, never overlook the importance of governance. Just as Google’s search platform relies on an army of humans behind the scenes to make results relevant, remove unwanted content and to finesse search results, your digital workspace will require similar effort. This time needs resourcing and budgeting for and is often overlooked. ClearPeople can provide tools and guidance to reduce the burden, but don’t underestimate the time and effort required throughout the life of your platform.
Talk to us about how to become a future award winner
Hopefully these high-level insights will be of some value to anyone planning their new digital workspace. The Nielsen Norman Group report is well worth investing in and uses its 543 pages to go into explicit detail about each of its ten award winners. We’re very proud to have delivered an Atlas-based digital workspace with Korn Ferry that has been recognised as one of the best in the world and we believe the skills and knowledge we’ve gained combined with the amazing capabilities of our Atlas digital workspace platform will provide you with the best chance to deliver a successful outcome just like Korn Ferry and, who knows, maybe your intranet may be recognised in a future Nielsen Norman Group Intranet Design Annual award. We’d love to join you on the journey.