Digital Workplace Design

The digital workplace is not a website or the intranet. If designing the digital workplace was as easy as throwing together new graphics, you could buy a template or hire a graphic designer. The digital workplace is infinitely more complex, disparate, and decentralized.

Firstly, the digital workplace is not a destination or an app or platform. The digital workplace is the sum of all your digital tools. We have all worked in and off the digital workplace for decades. The more digital tools and apps we work with, the more it expands. The more apps, the more disjointed in can be without a cohesive design and standards applied to all the tools in the digital workplace.

There is no single technology or platform for all the digital workplace, although Microsoft 365 comes close and is the de facto digital workplace ‘home’ for many organizations.

Digital workplace 'home' at Prescient Digital Media

The most important tools and destinations in your digital workplace include:

  • Intranet
  • Website
  • Email (e.g., Outlook)
  • Productivity suite (e.g., Microsoft or Office 365)
  • ERP (e.g., PeopleSoft)
  • CRM (e.g., SaleForce)
  • HR apps
  • Finance apps
  • Marketing apps
  • Operations apps

Redesigning the digital workplace requires a completely different approach to design than a consumer website (or mobile site, or mobile app). For starters, typical websites are primarily marketing vehicles, created with the purpose of selling a product, a service, an idea, a concept. Never make that mistake with the digital workplace or intranet. Employees do not want a sales pitch.

The intranet however is a vital component of the digital workplace. In the most effective digital workplaces, the intranet is the hub, the gateway to all the digital tools and apps an employee needs. The intranet is the obvious home or gateway for the digital workplace, and the launching pad to all the digital tools and apps that comprise the digital workplace.

Employees use the digital workplace and intranet to find information, as fast as they can, to do work. And management wants to use the digital workplace to engage employees in the business – often with highly relevant, targeted communication.

Your focus as a digital workplace or intranet manager must be on speed, access, and content. Employees want information fast. They want it on all their devices. And they want it tailored to their specific situation. Often, less is more. If your digital workplace or intranet home is one monstrously long scrolling page like Amazon.com, then you have failed. Remember: the digital workplace is not a retail website, its focus must be on supporting employee work, not sales and marketing.

However, do not overlook the visual look-and-feel. The visual look of the digital workplace is the first thing companies seek to change; it is the first thing people notice; it is also first thing users complain about.

 

BUSINESS DRIVEN, USER-CENTRIC DESIGN

The digital workplace is not a website or a platform. It is not a glossy brochure, or a marketing campaign. The digital workplace is a business ecosystem for working, communications and collaboration.

The designer’s focus for a typical internet website or consumer app is to create a strong, dynamic, visual identity while reflecting the company brand and style guidelines. Applied to the digital workplace, the design approach must be strategic and account for and support the goals and objectives of the company, the organization and management. It must represent the culture and the needs of employees; recognizing that design must help achieve measurable goals for the business, with speed of access. Simply put, digital workplace design must facilitate the usability of the site and aid employees.

People tend to think that if they just change the colors, the font, and add a photo, their intranet or digital workplace becomes a winner. Is that what employees really want or need? Or do they want more reliable, timely content, and better, faster retrieval of content? Unless there is a clear understanding of the purpose and the desired audience – the strategy - the digital workplace will not be a success.

The digital workplace must focus on facilitating the quickest possible access to information and tools that help employees do their jobs. There is no need to sell employees, they already work for the organization. Forget about glitz, glam, flash and bang that you might use on a website. Give employees what they want as quick as possible.

For example, if employees mostly use HR and sales apps, those most frequently used apps must be front and center on the intranet home page (or whatever you are designating the launch pad for your digital workplace).

The risk of having a web-designer with only website experience attempt to redesign an intranet or digital workplace is often obvious. They focus on creating a highly visual design, but often overlook the core online behaviors that drive digital workplace value: business process, workflow, usability, personalization.

And do not forget about mobile design. The digital workplace or intranet home must render properly on any phone or mobile device.

 

REDESIGN PROCESS

When redesigning the digital workplace, the organization should begin with the intranet and move outwards. Develop an umbrella set of design standards and guidelines, often consolidated, and encoded in a Style Guide, should apply to all digital entities (all digital tools, apps, intranet sites and websites). However, obviously that not all apps are under your control: most apps are in the cloud and hosted and controlled by others. Of course, the design process and application need only apply to those tools you own (but every externally hosted tool, app, or content, should have a splash or launch page on your own intranet).

Your organization must follow a design process grounded in assessing the current digital environment (not the least of which are senior management concerns and needs, business requirements, and user needs), and then plan accordingly. The digital workplace plan begins with strategic planning (vision, mission, measurable objectives, KPIs), governance (ownership, management, policies), and moves into functional planning (Digital workplace features), information architecture and wire-framing – all before any designer starts to put pen to paper (mouse to screen).

Prescient recommends following our digital workplace methodology, which establishes the strategic elements long before it is time to consider applying graphic design and color to the digital workplace. Detail your organization's business requirements, undertake extensive user research, apply best practices, and then develop detailed plans. Among the plans to create prior to engaging a graphic designer or digital workplace design consultant, is the creative brief with detailed design elements including color palettes, font types, etc.

 Digital workplace project methodology by Prescient Digital Media. 

Digital workplace redesign methodology by Prescient Digital Media

By listening to your users and stakeholders you may implement content and tools that will provide employees with what they need to do their jobs, which in turn will help your digital workplace achieve its goals. Of course, the best way to know and articulate any achievement is to define performance measures that established, measured, and evaluated on a regular basis. When you know and intimately understand employee and business needs, and how the information architecture and functional planning of your digital workplace must address these needs, then you can worry about the creative process of applying colors and images and design elements.

The digital workplace is a complex web of digital tools and apps owned by no one person or group within any organization. Though the intranet is the natural home and gateway to the digital workplace, every organization needs a plan, a rule book, a style guide, for designing, deploying, and organizing these tools into a cohesive and navigable digital workplace experience for employees.

Continue reading How to Hire a Digital Workplace Consultant

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Toby Ward is the founder of Prescient Digital Media, a digital workplace and intranet consulting agency, and the founder and chair of the Digital Workplace & Intranet Global Forum conference series.