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Creating a modern digital workspace using SharePoint for intranets

Dan Navfield
Employee Experience

SharePoint intranets are a productivity tool, helping employees do their job. Post-pandemic they must support the new ways of working and be employee-focused to remain relevant and useful.

Organisations had been embracing new ways of working long before the pandemic. But the last couple of years have supercharged the pace and scale of those changes.

The most obvious change is the rise of remote and hybrid models. The mix of employees working in the office or at home is in constant flux. However, the increase in time away from the office has also seen a reprioritisation of employee well-being and engagement.

Perhaps surprisingly, the technology to enable hybrid work has performed remarkably well. Organisations have been able to cope with the sudden increase in employees working remotely. The shift to virtual meetings and online chat in Microsoft Teams or Slack has been largely painless - perhaps because that's how many of us engage outside of work anyway.

But this is the bare minimum. To truly meet the changing demands of modern ways of working, your SharePoint intranet needs to get more employee-focused.

Location visibility

Does Kevin work from home on Tuesdays? Or is that Louise? Keeping track of where co-workers are on any particular day can be fraught.

A simple indicator on Kevin's SharePoint profile can let his co-workers know instantly whether he is working from home or is in the office.

A SharePoint profile showing Kevin is working from home.

This might be from simply knowing that Kevin is online but hasn't swiped into the building yet. But we can get a lot more sophisticated. Integrate a desk booking system and now co-workers can see which desk Kevin is sitting at.

A SharePoint profile highlighting Kevin is at Desk 24, on level 4.

Desk booking

There is perhaps no more stressful way to start a day in the office than trying to find a desk. We are creatures of habit and we have a definite preference for that desk in the corner overlooking the green space.

Being able to book a desk in advance relieves much of that stress. Of course, in advance can mean days, weeks or even months ahead. It can also mean sitting on the bus on the way to work: a "yikes, I forgot to book a desk" moment.

A booking app should:

  • integrate with Microsoft 365 products (for booking from Outlook or Teams)

  • have mobile-friendly access (for booking resources on the bus)

  • allow desk check-in (with automatic cancellation after a defined period to release the desk)

  • provide wayfinding assistance (to find co-workers)

  • handle a range of resources, including desks, rooms, lockers and parking spaces

  • expose a comprehensive API (to power our "where's Kevin?" scenario).

We use Robin and have implemented AppSpace for clients. Both have excellent integration with SharePoint, meet those listed requirements, support digital signage and manage visitors.

A SharePoint profile displaying a map with Kevin's desk highlighted

Helping build relationships

As anyone who tried to onboard during the pandemic can attest, one of the biggest challenges with hybrid work is building meaningful relationships. There isn't a virtual equivalent of the proverbial water cooler simply because impromptu is almost impossible to replicate online.

But that doesn't mean that organisations shouldn't try and provide employees with the opportunities to connect.

Microsoft has relaunched Yammer as Viva Engage, a platform designed to encourage interactions through:

  • communities - built around interests, job-types, departments

  • announcements

  • conversations - from one-to-one to whole of department

  • virtual events - hosting and attending

  • knowledge sharing - via questions

  • storylines - longer form posts

  • leadership - aggregates content from leaders as well as the ambitious Ask Me Anything feature.

Like many of the social platforms employees use outside of work, Viva Engage encourages participation by asking questions, responding to polls, shouting out co-workers and voting on answers.

Image courtesy of Microsoft, of the Viva Engage communities landing page.

By allowing like-minded employees to connect, Viva Engage's community building features are also useful tools for driving an organisation's diversity and inclusion policies.

All of this is great, but rolling out Viva Engage needs to be carefully planned and managed. At the very least you need to consider:

  • whether you have enough buy-in from your organisation's leaders to roll out the leadership functionality

  • how you can prevent knowledge sharing from being scattered across the intranet

  • the "terms of engagement" for employees.

Be genuinely employee-focused

The expedited shift to hybrid working means your intranet needs to be more employee-focused.

That might sound odd. After all, aren't all intranets supposed to be employee-focused? But is a weather widget employee-focused? Or those photos of the senior leadership team on the home page? Or those never-read admin circulars masquerading as news? Or that site navigation that reflects the organisation's view of itself rather than what an employee might need to do their job.

Pre-pandemic, most intranets were designed for employees who were in the office. This worked as newcomers could be onboarded in person, desks didn't need to be booked, and asking a co-worker a question was as easy as swivelling a chair through 180 degrees or grabbing a coffee together.

Post-pandemic, intranets need a change in approach. Employees' situations have changed, often significantly, and intranets must be designed to meet those changed needs.

Common features of employee-focused intranets include:

  • easy access to common tasks

  • relevant news and information

  • visibility of where team members are working

  • easy access to relevant policies, procedures and guidelines

  • easy to manage resource bookings

  • quick lists of upcoming meetings and appointments

  • to-do lists and reminders

  • opportunities for employees to provide feedback.

You'll notice that the feature list is a mix of new apps, additional simple functionality, some design changes and a refocus of the content strategy.

If you are considering an overhaul of your organisation's SharePoint intranet then you must consider how it will support new ways of working. But these are not wholesale changes and any SharePoint intranet should be able to provide most, if not all, the employee-focused features.

Contact us today to help deliver your employees a better experience