Employee-Centered Digital Community Spaces
Building a culture of open communication and knowledge-sharing through Teams and Sharepoint modernization
“Many silos, senior management decisions are never disclosed, not even the agendas discussed, what other teams are doing is mostly unknown.
Overall, people are not put in the center of what we do.”
Our client, a global IT services company, sought out our help to steer their department leads through applying design thinking to better understand their flight-risk workforce and roll out employee-centric initiatives to improve the overall employee experience. We conducted extensive mixed-methods research including secondary survey analysis, exploratory interviews with the leads, and focus groups. Learn more about our research process here.
Our research uncovered an internal communication and knowledge sharing problem amongst the departments:
Top-Down Communication: Employees reported feeling out of touch with the business vision due to little or no communication from senior management. Since email was the primary communication channel, there was little weighting of importance of information, which meant an announcement email from the Global Departmental Lead could easily be lost in inbox clutter.
Bottom-Up Communication: In the same vein, due to the hierarchical structure of the departments and regions, there was a sense that the Global Leads were disconnected from their employees’ accomplishments and success stories on the ground.
Lateral Communication: Knowledge sharing largely only took place peer-to-peer in immediate networks, or across email distribution lists. A few regional department sites had been spun up unofficially but these were soon abandoned when the initiator moved on. This led to fragmentation and confusion with valuable assets being lost among dozens of separate spaces. Many employees felt overwhelmed trying to find the simplest of information, negatively impacting the time that could be better spent on profitable project work.
Outdated information: Adding to the confusion, there was a lot of irrelevant, outdated information on the main intranet portal. This was deterring users from returning to the intranet portal as the go-to spot for information at times of need.
“Finding information is impossible. After asking for help in the company, people pinpoint to the locations where that input can be found. This however isn't shared during town halls and therefor purely depends on someone’s own effort. I definitely have access to lots of content, structuring that to pick the best is up to the individuals.”
As part of a multi-year roadmap to transform the employee experience, we decided to tackle these issues through modernizing our client’s corporate intranet. The organization was already an Office 365 subscriber but had not been leveraging SharePoint Online to its full potential. Our goal was to build the platform and set the stage for campaigns which would encourage a culture of open communication and knowledge-sharing. We wanted to lower our lead time to measurable outcomes by setting up the Teams groups, releasing the essential Sharepoint structure for the departmental sites quickly, and adding content organically over time through the change campaigns.
An intranet cannot create a great company culture by itself, but can play a fundamental part by supporting the communication, relationship-building, and advocation needed to nurture a positive workplace culture. According to Step Two Designs (global thought leaders on intranets), there are 5 main purposes to the corporate intranet – each of which helped inspire our goals for the project:
Deliver relevant content quickly
The primary purpose of a corporate intranet is to provide employees quick and easy access to the company’s resources and information in a secure and centralized location. Therein lies the main difference between the design of intranet sites vs websites: employees using intranet sites aren’t browsing like they would on the internet – they are most often there to find something very specific as fast as possible, and then return to work.
Experience Principle 1: Make it easy for people to find what they need, even when they do not know what they are looking for.
2. Be a key communication tool
One of the main problems we were looking to mitigate using the intranet was the communication gap between employees and leadership. We intended to use the departmental sites to broadcast strategic priorities and goals from leadership, as well as to shine a spotlight on employees for outstanding work.
Experience Principle 2: Bring people closer together by breaking down silos and evoking a sense of community.
3. Enable collaboration and socialization
The intranet would be a platform for delivering tailored news from leadership, but employees would have the ability to comment on, like, or add to news articles, making it a conversation rather than a one-way channel. In addition, employees could post questions in the social channels to spark ideas and insights from unexpected corners of the business, resulting in the forming of relationships and new ways of working. In this way, they could find people they did not know, but needed to work with across the far-reaching organization.
Experience Principle 3: Give everyone a voice (by adopting a decentralized authoring model and enabling social/collaborative options).
4. Create efficiencies through supporting business activities
If we were able to address some of the internal communication bottlenecks through intranet usage, employees would have more time for productive work instead - thereby improving time-to-market measures for the business.
Experience Principle 4: Simplify and automate internal administrative processes and work practices where possible, so employees have more time for productive work.
5. Strengthen culture
With a quality intranet platform, businesses can reinforce their culture and the overall message they want their employees to receive. Our research into their employee experience directed our client’s desire to cultivate a culture of open communication and knowledge sharing. It was imperative then that we return to those business measures often to make sure our change campaigns were having the desired effect.
Experience Principle 5: Involve employees in the process as much as possible (through releasing the MVP quickly, getting feedback early and often, and adding content organically over time through the change campaigns).
Our main challenge was in gathering input from a diverse stakeholder group across 15+ departments and 24 countries, and aligning them around a cohesive vision. With such a globally distributed workforce, our research needed to be fully remote.
Once the global department leads had shared their vision for the digital community spaces, we translated them into high-level goals. We then set to work on establishing a Governance Committee. It initially consisted of department leads (or their proxies) and representatives from various stakeholder teams (IT, Branding, etc.), but grew to include volunteers from the workforce. The purpose of this dedicated steering committee was for key members from our client organization to be actively involved in the decision-making process and take internal accountability for their intranet’s success.
With the Governance Committee, we outlined the roles, responsibilities, and rules for managing the Teams and Sharepoint spaces, including:
Who are the owners and moderators for the community spaces?
Should we build Communication or Teams sites? utilize Yammer or Teams?
Who should be able to add new content?
Do we need an approval process for reviewing content?
What are the guidelines or standards for contribution?
What should the policy be for archiving outdated information?
Microsoft 365 Audit
With most of the strategic planning (vision, goals, governance committee) in place, we started a detailed audit of the existing Teams/SharePoint structure, using analytics to pay attention to which content was in demand, as well as search history (aggregated and anonymized) from the main intranet portal to get an idea of what information was lacking. This content would feed into the start of our Information Architecture mind map.
From our Employee Experience research, we had been able to identify clusters of employees based on common circumstance, motivation, and needs. These personas were useful as a communication tool for our stakeholders to digest and take action on.
We had continued to revise these artifacts the richer our understanding of each persona became; consequently, we were able to leverage them here as well to spark a deeper understanding of the people behind our client’s employee base. For our discovery workshops in the next section, as an example, the personas were instrumental in making sure we had representative attendance and in guiding the conversation on how our intranet design could be adapted to better serve each group.
Based on the size of the department and the direction provided by the lead, we either hosted discovery workshops with 6-10 persona representatives or distributed a survey to the entire department.
Historically, we’ve gained nuance and perspective into our clients’ thoughts, feelings, and actions through physically being present with them and engaging in discussions in the same conference room. On this project with globally dispersed departments, getting together presented a bit of a challenge.
The purpose of the workshop was to begin envisioning what the internal employee space could look like in the future, both in pragmatic and aspirational terms, to become the best possible resource for the employees.
Discovery Workshop Outcome
Details coming soon!
Details coming soon!
IA Mind Map
Details coming soon!
Details coming soon!
Knowledge Sharing Competitions
Global Departmental Lead Weekly Digests
Spotlight on Regional Success Stories
Share Webinars (post covid)
Knowledge Sharing Competition Entry
Details coming soon!