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Digital Workplace Complexity Is Slowing Down Your Workforce

February 25, 2021 Digital Workplace
cristian salanti
By Cristian Salanti

Work is becoming increasingly more complex for knowledge workers. Everything is evolving, from external factors driven by customer and regulator demands, to the internal environment which includes colleagues, knowledge and software tools.

To help employees handle these challenges, companies have been providing them with an increasing array of digital tools which further complicate the digital environment. After a while, this complexity starts to have a negative effect not only on employee productivity, but on customer interactions. Over the years I have often traced operational or customer experience problems back to poorly designed digital employee experience.

In short, workplace complexity is one of the biggest challenges for modern workers.

How Companies Tackle Digital Workplace Complexity

How can a company cope with such an environment? There are two approaches:

1. Raise the staff abilities to meet the new requirements

One approach involves hiring employees with stronger skills while also making a continuous effort to motivate, train and supervise existing staff. Management has always taken this approach and, if required, will do so again.

While this approach is common, it simply puts more pressure on the employees and lowers the company financial results.

2. Simplify the digital workplace complexity

Instead of trying to raise employee skillsets to meet the current level of complexity, you can re-architecture your digital workplace to make it easier to navigate and consume.

This approach, if done right, saves the company money across the board. Hiring becomes easier, existing employees will require less training and support, and, above all, customers will get better service.

Related Article: Overloaded and It Feels So Good: How Information Overload Affects Us Today

What's Causing the Overload?

The digital workplace is a collection of silos that consist of software tools (ERP, CMS, HRIS) and corporate information (the intranet with its sections for news, procedures, knowledge bases and more).

The higher the number, the volume and the internal dynamic of these elements, the harder it is for the employees to keep up. Each component of the digital workplace is built in isolation, and assumes the employee is fully trained and informed of the latest news, policies, or product details.

It is often assumed that the employee’s brain is like a sponge that will absorb anything (training, email, a post on the intranet) thrown at them. To run with the sponge analogy, I'd say it is more like a saturated sponge — it can only absorb too much.

Related Article: The Digital Workplace in 2021: What Can We Expect?

How Do You Simplify Workplace Complexity?

Simplification happens when you organize all of these disparate components in such a way that whatever task you throw at the employee (even if they are unfamiliar with the subject at hand), they are able to quickly find all the required resources, both the required app and the supporting information.

You need to get three things right:

  1. For each task, build a page that gathers all of the related resources (or links to them). Think of it as a cockpit dedicated to that task that is about the types of resources required to optimally support a task.
  2. Navigation to task pages is simple, consistent across the entire digital workplace.
  3. Searching must be optimized as well, so that whenever one searches for support for that task, the task support page will surface first.

Related Article: Poor Information Architecture Is Hurting Your Business

How Do You Identify the Tasks?

Gerry McGovern does great work, but in this case I think the Top Task approach isn't the best fit for an organization looking for high efficiency. Think of a mechanical watch, where pretty much all of the inner parts must work well for the watch to indicate the right time. When it comes to intranets, it should be “all parts” rather than “top parts.”

I always say that each employee task is someone else’s service, meaning an internal service owner. To improve task execution across the board, you must do the following:

  • Find all of the internal service owners.
  • Make them responsible for the way their internal customers consume their service.
  • Create a catalog of services.

Related Article: Can You Mass Produce a Great Intranet?

What Information Do You Put on Each Task/Service Page?

The Why, How, What model can be effective at uncovering information needs. It is important both at an organizational level, but also for each task the employee must perform.

The Why

As a rule, for each action one must take in an enterprise, there is a higher purpose. If your employees understand that purpose, they are more likely to do it faster and better. While it might not be as important for small, trivial tasks, it is the kind of information that is often overlooked when it comes to tasks of higher importance.

The How

Several types of information fall under this category.

At a minimum, each service would include the following types of information:

  • Forms, procedures or instructions.
  • Support contacts (can be a person, a shared email address or a phone number); this type of information in particular is missing in most cases I know of.
  • Feedback contact (this would be the details of the service owner, or, even better, a smart form that would collect the feedback and inform the service owner).

You might want to include other, optional types of information such as:

  • Related news: If something happened recently, the user is aware of that specific news or change right at the moment they have to perform the task.
  • Training resources: Finding out there is training material available for the task at hand might incentivize the employee to go through that resource.
  • FAQs: Support teams often hear the same question over and over again. This is an effective way to reduce support costs.

The What

There are two categories here:

  1. A deep link to the exact screen/module within an app. In cases of more complex applications, don't make your users click around until they do (or don't) find the right screen.
  2. Tasks or notifications coming from the app (extract them with the help of an API or data export).

Related Article: Practical Dreamers: Connecting the 'Why' and the 'How' in Technology-Driven Innovation

Does This Mean You Have to Redesign All Your Apps?

Microservices

An approach that's growing in popularity is redesigning apps with microservices and then integrating them into the intranet.

While it's nice to have all apps integrated into the intranet to support seamless user experience, I would say this falls into the “nice to have” category, because it also eats up an incredible amount of internal resources that can be put to better use.

Since we typically have dozens of apps on our phones, from various providers, we use them with little or no problem. I believe having a uniform user experience across most/all apps should not be a priority for most organizations.

Deep Linking

Each app should allow deep linking, thus enabling quicker navigation to a specific screen or functionality.

Aggregation of Tasks and Notifications From All Apps

Your digital workplace should be able to consolidate tasks and notifications from all the apps within the company.

Should the List of All Applications Disappear From the Home of the Intranet?

Not necessarily. Most employees will have shortcuts to their frequent apps. What's important is to let them know that there is one easily accessible place to find all the resources related to the task at hand.

Access to Support Resources From the Apps

Typically, when using an app, you have access to a help section. The limitation of this help section is that it's only focused on technical aspects of using the app, while in most cases users need to know how to perform a task in their specific corporate environment. So, I would enhance this help mechanism by having in any screen of an application, a backlink to the support section from the intranet.

I am confident that designing a digital workplace with the above recommendations is likely to simplify the user experience, but just as importantly, it will transform the way various business functions interact with each other and with your customer.

How would you approach this subject? Let me know!

About the Author

Cristian Salanti is working as a Digital Employee Experience Architect at Zenify.net. He has been developing Intranets for the past 20 years. He is advocating for a more practical, managerial approach to Digital workplace design.

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