Intranet design is becoming more lightweight

As light as a feather
Another day, another article by Steve Bynghall, but this time from this own blog Two Hives. In the article called Intranet design is becoming more lightweight Steve looks at a trend amongst intranet design to build intranets that are very "lightweight"

In the context of intranets lightweight means having less clutter and more simplicity of design and is a result of the increasing use of mobile devices and probably also requests from user, who are used to see very clean and clutter free consumer applications and expect to see something similar within their workplace.

What's interesting about Steve's article is that he doesn't just look at what lightweight design is an what it means for intranet, he looks at why intranet homepages have become so cluttered.

Actually when you think about it's obvious, over the years intranets have moved from being places where people just dump documents or post new stories to very complex sites, that perform a number of functions, from the very traditional to more cutting edge like allowing individuals to collaborate and communicate with one another. As a result the intranet homepage is expected to display more information, but it was never designed to. Steve gives the example of an activity stream, which can be very long and take up a large amount of real estate on an intranet homepage.

Steve also mentions the demands placed upon the intranet homepage by those individuals wishing to communicate news stories and that often it can be multiple stakeholders vying for real estate on the intranet homepage.

So whilst intranet homepages have become much more complex mobile devices and mobile applications have become much simpler and easier to use. As Steve says mobile devices and the applications on them are focused on the task in hand which is why most users enjoy using them so much.

We're now beginning to see mobiles influence how intranets are designed, so this might mean making the intranet simpler and easier to use and it could also mean using responsive design principles to provide an experience that is similar to that when using a mobile.

Steve then provides some example of lightweight intranet design, which are well worth taking a look at. For any intranet manager this will be an interesting article, especially if you're currently or are planning on updating your intranet homepage.

Adding value to intranets using dashboards

I'm a big fan of the articles Step Two write and one of their latest articles by Steve Bynghall provides some very interesting insights into the latest thinking around how intranets can provide value through the use of dashboards.

I've talked on a number of occassions about how intranets can support the display of analytics and increasingly big-data through the use of dashboards and this article looks in detail at the value and some of the challenges associated with doing so.

Whilst it would be nice to think you could just create a dashboard on an intranet homepage or other page and it will work perfectly, there are a number of issues intranet managers need to bear in mind. These are outlined by Steve in his article as follows:

  • presenting a large quantity of data so it clear and not overwhelming
  • presenting different types of data in a consistent way
  • choosing appropriate data visualisations for the right impact
  • delivering a beautiful and attractive user experience
  • prioritising which data to display
  • dealing with sometimes sensitive data which needs to be permission-based
  • integrating different systems in the back end
  • addressing information management challenges
  • presenting views for mobile devices

The article then look at some of examples of how organisations are using dashboards on their intranets and some of them are very impressive. For example the IPC Hospitalist Company has created a metrics dashboard, this has been made interactive so users can create reports on the fly.

Another impressive dashboard is the HR portal built by Telstra, their "Me Page" provides employees with a personalised dashboard of key HR information pulled from different systems. As Steve says, the challenge here was not only making it look nice, but the technical challeneg of integrating content from multiple systems.

There are other examples within the article, but I thought these two were particularly impressive. I believe the use of dashboards, especially those that can be personalised as in the IPC Hospitalist Company example are going to become more ubiquitious as organisations looks to push more of the analytical information they're gathering to intranet homepages.

Intranet success webinar - Communicating with a distributed workforce

A few weeks ago I was invited to attend a webinar hosted by Elcom called "Communicating with a distributed workforce" while I didn't manage to attend the live webinar, they have made the webinar recording available for anyone to view.

I've embedded it below if you don't want to navigate away from this blog. Elcom have also published a blog post, on the topic of how intranets can improve collaboration, which may also be of interest.

Anyway back to the webinar, in it the presenter looks at 4 areas that organisations need to think about when using intranets to communicate with a distributed workforce (individuals who might not sit at a desk, but are on the road or work remotely). These four areas are:

1. Key challenges organisations face in communicating with a distributed workorce
2. Key challenges employees face as remote workers
3. Best practice techniques to improve your organisations productivity
4. How technology and your intranet play an important role

The webinar then focuses on each of these areas in turn:

Key challenges organisations face
  1. Knowledge sharing - becomes more difficult to share knowledge when you work remotely. No conversations over a watercooler.
  2. Collaboration - easy to walk over to someone's desk, not so easy to do this when you work remotely.
  3. Need to engage both internal and external employees to make collaboration effective.
  4. Employee engagement - remote workers cant take part in social activities
  5. Company culture is key

Key challenges employees face
  1. Working in isolation - don't have anybody to interact with
  2. Limited access to information and knowledge - cant just walk up to someone. Likely to spend more time searching for information.
  3. Difficult to built a relationship with your team - Easy to build a realtionship within an office, needs to be considered by teams and management
  4. Difficult to have a voice in project discussions - When you're on the phone it can be hard to participate and be heard

Best Practices
  1. Search - make sure your intranet has a powerful search to support the needs to remote workers
  2. Mobile friendly - how will your distributed workforce access your intranet. Make it responsive or adaptive (not the best choice) Engage with your employees no matter where they are.
  3. Social colaboration - Will increase knowledge sharing and help engage employees

The last area was really a discussion of how Elcom's product could support communicating with a distributed workforce so I'm not going to summarise that discussion here. This was an interesting webinar to listen to, which is supported by statistics from Gartner and others showing just how distributed organisations workforces are becoming. So if you're looking for an introduction to this area then this webinar may be helpful.

Taking the high road to getting work done - the benefits of integrated (collaborative) solutions

If you're interested in learning more about the evolution of collaboration within workplaces and what enterprise collaboration software is, then look no further than this webinar recording, which was recently published to the HighQ website.

The video recording starts with an introduction to enterprise collaboration from Alan Lepofsky and a definition of what he believe enterprise collaboration tools are, namely:
Enterprise collaboration software enables people to create discover and interact with the content, colleagues and communities, that can help them get their jobs done

Alan then looks at some of the differences between enterprise collaboration tools and the consumer tools that many of us use on a regular basis. In addition to this he looks at some the concepts wrapped up in the statement above so;

  • How we create and discover content
  • How we interact with other users
  • The type of content we're creating and uploading
  • What we're trying to achieve when we use enteprise collaboration tools

Alan then moves on to look at which of the many enteprise collaboration tools we should be using. Nowadays there are a huge number of tools that organisations could potentially use for enetprise collaboration. Unfortunately there isn't one single product that seems to provide ALL the collaboration tools or features that modern organisations now demand.

For any history buffs Alan next slide will definitely be of interest as he looks at the history of social software. So in the very mists of time we had tools like Lotus Notes and other groupware products, we then saw the rise of consumer social tools like Twitter. Unfortunately as Alan says it's not enough to simply provide a tool to users, you have to integrate the tool with a users work to ensure it is adopted fully. This is an important point and one that anyone talking about enteprise social tools will stress.

After a brief demo of one of the HighQ products, Alan then looks at some of the ways in which enterprise collaboration tools can replace or support some of the tools we currently use. So a big area where enteprise collaboration tools are having an impact is around "Social task management". This takes the best attributes of project management and combines them with the collaboration features of social networking tools providing users with a better way to manage tasks and projects.

Another area that Alan discusses is the use of social streams, adding status updates can be extremely valuanle in letting people know where you are and what you're doing, rather than just emailing everyone in your team. This is much more valuable and avoids inundating individuals with emails. Alan also mentions, and I think this is a valuable point, that it's important to think about how you can augment existing processes using enterprise colllaboration tools. In this way it becomes integrated into daily work practices and processes, which is a point mentioned earlier in the webinar.

The video does include some overviews of the HighQ products, but I think it's well watching for an introduction to enterprise collaboration tools and how these can be used to support existing business processes.

Building a digital workplace with Office 365

Can you build a digital workplace with just one product. That's the question some perople are aksing in relation to Office 365, which comes pre-packaged with a lot of capabilities that could support a digital workplace.

Not sure what a digital workplace is, then take a look at the excellent defintion of a digital workplace on the Clearbox consulting website. Not got time to do that, then here's the crucial bit from that post:
The digital workplace provides an organisation with five services or capabilitie
  1. Communication and employee engagement
  2. Collaboration
  3. Finding and sharing of information and knowledge
  4. Business applications (process specific tools and employee self-service)
  5. Agile working – the ability to be productive any time and place
To work well, these need the be supported by five management activities (the inner pie of the figure above):
  1. Strategic planning
  2. Governance and operational management
  3. Proactive support for adoption
  4. High quality user experience
  5. Robust, secure and flexible technology
So does/could Office 365 provide an organisation with the five capabilities listed above?

Well that's what is looked at in a CMSwire blog post called "Building a digital workplace with Office 365" In the article the author looks at the various tool that Office 365 provides and how they could support a digital workplace. On the face of it Office 365 would seem to have a wide number of tools that could be used to support a digital worlplace, they include:
  • Exchange
  • Lync
  • SharePoint Online
  • Yammer
  • OneDrive
  • Delve
If you're not aware of some of these products and their capabilities then this article is an excellent introduction to these and how they fit within Office 365. So could Office 365 on its own be used to support a Digital Workplace. Well there are certainly enough tools available and it looks like Microsoft is working hard on developing the newer ones like OneDrive, Delve and Office Graph to support the activities larger organisations want to undertake.

However the author finishes the article with the following:
These key concepts enable the Digital Workplace but as with any technology, it is up to the organizations using the tools to formulate a strategy to implement the capabilities of the Office 365 platform that best suits their needs now and for the future.
That's definitely a key point and one that is supported by the Clearbox blog post.

My Parkrun journey!

A couple of weeks ago I completed my 50th Parkrun at Shone Woods Parkrun, for anyone not Parkrun's are free 5km runs held in (you wont be surprised) parks. Parkuns take place pretty much everywhere in the UK and are now held globally, so if you're on holiday somewhere, there's no reason why you cant get 5k done early on a Saturday morning.
familiar with them

Shorne Woods Parkun has been going for about 2 years and on reaching my 50th Parkrun they asked me to write a short piece for their midweek update, below is the text of that update, with some minor updates to reflect a slightly different audience on here :-)

For a change it was a pleasant Saturday morning e.g. it wasn’t a ridiculously low temperature, there wasn’t ice all over the course and we were running the well run B course. Shorne Woods has an A, B and even a C course, which can be used dependant on the conditions.

I was full of good intentions and was hoping to get as close to my PB as possible having improved considerably during the last few weeks. Whilst I was a few (!) seconds outside of my PB, I was
delighted with my time and was grinning from ear to ear, especially with all the congratulations I was receiving!

However unlike some others my Parkrun journey began sometime before the 1st and ultimately my 50th Parkrun at Shone Woods had even been run. This is because I was involved in the very first meeting held at Shone Woods in February 2013 to discuss holding a Parkrun at Shone Woods. I remember the day distinctly because it was a freezing cold March day, with plenty of ice (much like recent course conditions) and it started snowing quite heavily during the course of the meeting.

The meeting was full of very excited and generous people who were not only prepared to brave the conditions to get to the meeting, but were happy to take on the various roles that were “up for grabs”. Unfortunately the volunteer training that was due to take place in the following weeks was cancelled (again due to snow) but this didn’t stop the first Shone Woods Parkrun taking place on the 28th of March 2013. This is a remarkable achievement given that the first meeting took place at the start of March!

I vividly remember the first Shone Woods Parkrun, as I marshalled, somewhere near the back end of the course if I remember correctly, and was encouraged by the number of runners that had turned up. Since then I’ve volunteered a couple more times, but have mostly been focused on running sub 22, an achievement I am yet to reach sadly.

I will keep on trying and I expect Shone Woods Parkrun to go from strength to strength, especially with the great team they have and the runners that turn up week after week irrespective of the conditions, pleas though NO SNOW!

So there you go, I'm delighted to have reached my 50th Parkrun milestone. I think it might take me a bit longer to reach 100!!

The new age of intranets!

A flying dolphin...that's definitely new age!
CMS wire has written an article called "The new age of intranets: Planning & Corporate Communications" which I think will resonate with anyone who currently manages an intranet.

In the article the author describes the following situation:
When the corp comms group owns the intranet — as is true for many enterprises — they aim to provide an intranet filled with engaging, relevant content that truly enhances the experience for employees. On an easy-to-use platform that lets the team focus on communications and not the hassles of daily updates.

Those of you who are actually in charge of intranet content as part of your job are laughing right now. That’s a unicorn, right? No such thing.
I think a lot of intranet managers would agree that yes, this is a unicorn. So how can those individuals who are involved with corporate communications and marketing work effectively with the (intranet) technology they have available to them and present an intranet that contains both engaging content and works well for users?

The author suggests you start by asking yourself several very simple questions and these would be useful not just for communication professionals, but for intranet managers:

  • What is the current state of your internal comms tools? Think beyond your intranet.

  • What are the guiding principles? What is the purpose you wish your next intranet to serve? 

  • What tasks do you need to start doing to achieve the vision? Often these are cultural questions. 

  • Similar to the previous point, what do you need to stop doing, to achieve this new vision of the intranet? How are you getting in the way of yourselves?

By asking your users these questions, you can quickly identify whether your current intranet is actually doing what it's supposed to be doing and perhaps more significantly whether your intranet strategy matches your organisations strategy.

The author then looks at the next steps organisations can undertake when thinking about a new intranet, these include the following:

  • Think bigger -  Give yourself a little distance from your current day-to-day experience with your intranet
  • Be creative -  If you can get a clear picture of what you want and need, you will have a significantly better chance of getting there than if you start with everything you can’t do — whether due to technology, time constraints or costs. 
  •  Ignore technology, at first - Definitely don't start by picking your platform.
  • Build the team - make sure you have the right team members in place
  • Take things step by step - Break any intranet project into phases

These are some great suggestions for how you can improve an intranet, and the corporate communications are in a great place to promote the benefits that an intranet can bring!