Creating a User-Centric,Digital Workplace platform: Flexibility is Your Most Important Asset
Well-established studies have shown that the use of social technologies can have dramatic positive effects on measurable performance indicators such as employee satisfaction, retention and productivity, whilst simultaneously breeding an enormous potential for indirect benefits such as corporate innovation.
It seems that the path to achieving an increase in user productivity and company innovation involves the implementation of two fundamental concepts within a single system: a centralistic platform for the delivery of technology in the form of a single digital workplace, and taking a user-centric approach to focusing the delivered technology around the needs and use cases of the users and organization being supported.
On the basis of this hypothesis, it becomes quickly apparent that the “Digital Workplace” is not a static out-of-the-box, one-type-fits-all, ready-for-success product that can be installed in any company.
What is important for me today?
Employees and their tasks don’t exist in complete isolation. The organization itself and the broader external market are continually producing events containing a potential impact for the individual. User dashboards can address common questions such as:
- Where are my colleagues, and what are they doing?
- How are my projects progressing?
- What is the latest company communication?
- Which external events could influence my tasks?
can be classically addressed by user dashboards. The key is providing relevant information in the right place at the right time.
A classic editorial style intranet obviously has a tremendous disadvantage in this scenario, as intellectually and politically filtered information reaches the user too late and has potentially lost the elements of critical importance.
Modern platforms offer functions such as activity streams, live feeds, status updates, tasks, data aggregation over metadata and data aggregation over actions such as the number of downloads, likes, or user comments. Used correctly, these mechanisms can be highly effective in reducing user isolation by presenting relevant information in a timely manner and creating a rich context within which an employee can be informed effectively.
Where can I find it?
Digital workplace solutions can be used to great effect to aggregate information from multiple sources, provided the platform has the flexibility to integrate an enterprise search engine and support federated search mechanisms over multiple systems. Highly-integrated solutions based on a portal servers which directly contain multiple facets of the digital workplace such as document management, wikis, knowledge bases, and eLearning together with common metadata concepts such as taxonomies have a distinct advantage over solutions composed of individual systems tied together with a search engine.
Who can help me today?
If an employee can’t find particular information, then finding someone who could help is the next most effective step. The acceptance of the fact that an ideal situation in which all employees proactively document their knowledge will never completely exist highlights the need for a core functionality built around finding people and their skills.
The user profile is the classic tool used to facilitate people discovery. Over and above the standard user attributes (e.g., photo, name, qualifications, telephone numbers, and addresses), useful user profiles should contain information concerning the activities of the user within the system and their memberships in particular interest groups.
How can we work together?
Whether it involves a single task or an entire project, there are many business aspects that are better solved by a group of people than a single employee. Beyond the seamless integration of tools such as chat and video conferencing for the transient exchange of information, digital workplace solutions can be pivotal in allowing geographically-distributed employees to work together over longer time periods. Virtual collaboration rooms can provide closed dynamic spaces for projects. Such rooms should provide the concerned project or community with a wide palette of tools such as document management, task management, wiki and events, meetings and calendar functionality to encourage the concurrent efforts from a team towards a particular goal in a transparent manner. It should go without saying that higher level features such as activities, metadata, and search also apply in this situation.
How do we stay in contact?
Excluding email, digital workplace solutions are capable of providing more than enough methods for synchronous and asynchronous communication in one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many scenarios. Alerting, live chat, private messaging and conferencing are just some of the alternatives
The initial establishment of contact between two or more employees is usually an active needs or interest-driven event. Staying in contact with other employees using the previously mentioned classical methods is also an active process and requires constant repeated effort measurable in time units. In the modern short-lived world with ever-changing interests, needs and demands, the workplace platform should be leveraged to keep employees in contact even after the initial needs have been satisfied.
The need for change
This article has discussed five primary use cases for digital workplace solutions from a user-centric viewpoint. However, dictated by the requirement to put the user first, the exact implementation of these use cases is most likely unique for every organization.
Employee needs are not only defined by the job description of the employee, but also by the process and social maturity of the organization itself and greater socioeconomic influences of the marketplace.
Flexibility in the technological platform is mandatory
As we’ve established, building a digital workplace solution isn’t a single project, but rather an iterative process of providing and refining useful services and capabilities to your employees. As a decision maker, you face the situation of having to decide a technological platform today without knowing what you need tomorrow.
Good questions to pose when choosing a platform are:
- Is the product proprietary or open source?
- Does the product use standard, accepted, and well-understood technology?
- Is the product designed to be extended?
- Does the product use standard interfaces?
- Are you allowed to modify the product?
- Are extensions or modifications to the product affordable?
- Is the product supported by a large and active community?
- Is the product scalable, and can the product grow with your organization?
When making a decision over the technological basis for a workplace solution, your best asset is flexibility — the ability to do something tomorrow that you didn’t plan today.