three co-workers looking at a laptop
PHOTO: John Schnobrich

The ROI of a digital workplace investment can be challenging to measure, but one of the primary metrics to look at is employee engagement. Definitions vary, but for this article we'll define employee engagement as the willingness of people to adapt to new tools and processes because they care about an organization’s success. The user experience of the software in your digital workplace directly impacts engagement, but how can you guarantee your software is structured to ensure a positive UX? The answer is putting the end-user’s experience first through the use of employee-driven design.

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What Is Employee-Driven Design?

Fellow contributor John Zimmerer defined employee-driven design (EDD) as, “incorporating a design thinking approach that views employees as essential customers whose input is key to designing ‘a productive, meaningful customer experience through solutions that are simple, compelling and enjoyable.’” In my years of building portals, intranets and collaboration environments that create a digital workplace, EDD represents the ability to create a workspace so powerful employees establish new technology habits. When using EDD to build digital workplaces, we focus on three key components: systems unification, engaging content and personalization.  

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Systems Unification

Arguably the most important aspect of an EDD is the recognition that employees constantly access many systems to do their work. The best digital workplace will put all of the day-to-day tools an employee uses at their fingertips, and should be able to answer all their questions. We call this systems unification, where an intranet is not just another system but the system that employees want (and need) to interact with in order to get work done.

Chances are system consolidation will only be partially possible, especially if you use business-specific platforms. You may have customer management systems, transactional systems or financial systems that are external to your intranet, but your digital workplace can still be the unified launching point to access all these other systems and their functionalities.

This also applies to a highly overused system that is essential to most organizations for communication: email. To truly unify your employees’ access to systems and information, make sure leadership is only disseminating important information through your intranet. This further reinforces your intranet as the single source of truth. Furthering your employees’ engagement, they are now exposed to the ability to add comments to articles, converse about areas of interest, read corporate news, access important forms, discover relevant people, contribute knowledge based on their expertise and, of course, collaborate in the unified digital workplace.

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Engaging Content

Content is king, and that won’t ever change. By unifying your systems you’ve given employees access to what they need, but now it’s time to use your intranet to build culture and deepen their engagement. This is especially important as organizations expand their office locations and remote workforce. It’s time to build content that will pique interest and bring employees to the intranet because they want to find information.

Informative and engaging content takes many forms, but we’ve found that providing easy access to organizational press releases, reinforcing policy updates, generating awareness around events, sharing reminders or announcements, or highlighting other pieces of organizational accomplishments are some standard items employees value. Again, however, the intranet must be the only place where this information is found. Luckily in systems like Microsoft 365 where email and intranets are closely bound together, you can still pull people into the intranet through their email habits. Also, when you’re talking about culture, we like to connect employees to each other. Sharing employee birthdays, anniversaries, retirements and awards are some common ways to build rapport across an organization.

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Okay, so you’ve identified areas of interest, you know who your employees are, and you’ve built an information architecture to supply engaging content to them. Now it’s time to take employee-driven design one step further and personalize the content. Have you ever searched to buy an item and all of the sudden it pops up on every future website you visit? You can design your digital workplace to function the same way, in a much less annoying fashion.

As a company, you can provide a similar user experience for all employees (a unified place with pertinent information), but that experience can be personalized at various levels by department, role, etc. Using distribution lists, and/or attributes from an employee directory, each user will have a unique experience that’s tailored to them, so they can consume the content they care about most. To be clear: you’re not hiding information from anyone. All employees can access the latest news or events from any department or region, but when a page can only display a finite amount of information, you want to ensure what’s shown is the most relevant for that user.

With EDD you’re looking at building the most valuable and engaging digital workplace possible. This allows your organization to build culture and take advantage of technological investments. By focusing on systems unification, building engaging content and personalizing that content for employees you are creating a long-term employee engagement platform that is adaptive to changing organizations and technologies.

Related Article: How to Personalize Your Intranet