Five Microsoft collaboration tools every business should be using

Supporting collaboration is one of the main objectives for any digital workplace, helping to drive a range of benefits from increased productivity to inspiring innovation, supporting the hybrid workplace to better customer service. Collaboration is very important as a source of competitive advantage, and is often reflected in digital transformation strategies, company values and more.

In this post, we’re going to explore the world of collaboration tools and why Microsoft 365 is a strong collaborative platform. We’ll also explore the different Microsoft tools which support collaboration in more detail.

Collaboration tools and the digital workplace

Enabling collaboration is high on the agenda for any digital workplace team. The good news is that there is an enormous range of different digital workplace tools out there to enable collaboration.

One of the reasons that there are so many is that  multiple types of collaboration  occur every day in organisations: collaboration across teams and projects, wider collaboration across communities, document collaboration, online meetings, user workshops, synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, brainstorming, ideation – the list goes on. In practice, different tools are needed to best support these different forms of collaboration.

Microsoft and collaboration software

Because of the wide variety of tools needed to fully support collaboration, many organisations choose to deploy Microsoft 365, which provides an excellent collaboration platform for several reasons:

  • There are multiple tools suited to different types of collaboration, covering the majority of most companies’ needs
  • Microsoft is continually investing in the collaboration capabilities of the suite, so you’re future-proofed
  • The tools integrate together seamlessly to support more advanced collaboration and related use cases
  • The quality of the tools is high, with well-designed interfaces, useful features and ready-to-go support resources
  • Considering the breadth of features you get, the cost per user is reasonable
  • Many organisations already have Office 365 or Microsoft 365, so many employees will have experience with the tools within them.
  • There are multiple other reasons why companies choose to go down the 365 path, so the decision almost becomes a no-brainer.

Having said this, the collaboration tools within Microsoft 365 tools are not perfect, and there is room for improvement. There is also some overlap between capabilities which can cause confusion.

Let’s look at some of the key Microsoft 365 collaboration tools that businesses should be using.

1 Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams

When most people consider “collaboration” and Microsoft, they usually think of Teams. Teams is a unified communication and collaboration platform encompassing multiple capabilities that can be used for collaboration, including:

  • Online video meetings
  • Hybrid video meetings enabled through an ecosystem of Teams-friendly audio and visual equipment
  • Group audio calls
  • Group discussions and messaging for both real-time and asynchronous collaboration
  • Wider community collaboration using discussions or embedding Yammer feeds
  • More advanced collaboration tools, such as whiteboarding
  • Embedding other forms of collaboration, including documents that people can work on simultaneously
  • Additional Teams apps that connect to non-Microsoft tools can also support collaboration.

One of the most powerful aspects of Teams is its sheer ability to cover so many collaboration and related communication scenarios all from one place, with seamless alternation between the two and the ability to work in parallel. An online video meeting, for example, can  incorporate a discussion thread to help the flow of collaboration.

Teams is also set for the future of collaboration, with support for Mesh – Microsoft’s mixed reality platform that may see collaboration increasingly using augmented and virtual reality.

2 Yammer

Yammer

Yammer is usually regarded as a social collaboration platform or even a social network that is bundled into most Microsoft 365 and Office 365 licences. It is now relatively mature and provides a good tool to support more enterprise-wide or community-wide collaboration through Communities of Practice, Communities of Interest and Employee Resource Groups, for example.  You can add documents into Yammer, but its main function is to facilitate discussion threads, with the ability to do @mentions and #hashtags.

Some internal communicators use Yammer more as an engagement and communication channel than a collaboration platform, and the truth is, it can be  a good tool for discussion-based collaboration for working teams and project groups, as well as more of an engagement channel for wider communities. There are also tools within Yammer that support scenarios like embedding polls and giving praise (engagement), or marking best answers (collaboration and knowledge sharing). Another powerful feature of Yammer is the straightforward ability to embed feeds into SharePoint pages and Teams tabs.

3 SharePoint

SharePoint

Before Microsoft Teams, the main engines for collaboration were SharePoint team sites, which were often used by project teams and other working groups for  everyday collaboration. Team sites are still used today through SharePoint modern, and provide a good way for teams to connect with each other and share documents through a document library, supply news updates, share discussions via threads and keep on track through the task management feature.

SharePoint further supports collaboration in a number of ways:

  • Providing opportunities to gather feedback and input from wider groups through commenting, allowing for more community-led or even enterprise-wide collaboration
  • Embedding content and information that supports collaboration best practices or helps people connect to different collaboration spaces and communities
  • Embedding Yammer feeds that support more community-led collaboration
  • More specific collaboration processes that might utilise SharePoint features like lists.

We explore all of the above and more in a post dedicated to how to use SharePoint to support collaboration.

4 OneDrive and document collaboration

One Drive

Collaborating on documents is a common, and thus critical, activity for most organisations, and Microsoft 365 provides lots of opportunities for multiple people to work on the same document simultaneously. It’s hard to argue  which specific Microsoft tool facilitates document collaboration. OneDrive provides an opportunity for individuals to share a document with others, while  Microsoft Office apps like Word allow online access to the actual file. Features such as commenting and track changes also support such collaboration.

Sometimes, collaborative documents are also stored in SharePoint libraries that are  accessed through Microsoft Teams. Although collaboration might happen in real-time on the same version of a document, document versioning within a SharePoint document library also supports collaboration.

5 Microsoft Viva

Microsoft Viva

Microsoft Viva is an employee experience platform rather than a collaboration platform, but there are elements of it that support collaboration. Viva Connections surfaces posts from Yammer groups, while Viva Topics can encourage people to connect with subject matter experts. Viva Learning facilitates seamless access to Microsoft Learn resources that provide tips on how to use collaboration tools. Meanwhile, Viva Insights supplies analytics and insights into meetings that will suggest better practices.

Microsoft collaboration tools

Microsoft 365 has a great set of tools to support different kinds of collaboration. Within these are specific features that will meet most use cases. If you’d like to discuss how Microsoft 365 and the Microsoft stack can support your collaboration strategy, then get in touch.

How to use SharePoint communication sites

Sharepoint’s communication sites are one of the platform’s most-used templates, and have become a key part of the digital communications landscape in many organisations. It’s not uncommon for there to be hundreds of communication sites across any SharePoint tenant. An intranet may also lean heavily on communication sites, and Microsoft Viva Connections will allow communication sites to be surfaced through Microsoft Teams.

In this post, we’re going to explore SharePoint communication sites in more detail, along with their key features, the benefits you can generate from using them and more.

What is a SharePoint communication site?

A communication site is a modern SharePoint template that is designed to help people communicate to wider groups about their project, group, team or topic. Microsoft themselves say a communication site is there to “inform readers – primarily for them to read, not create”.

What are the main features of a communication site?

A communication site is made up of a main home page and a number of different pages branching off from it, as well as potential additional elements like a document library. Each page is made up of web parts, all of which are effectively different features that you can arrange on the page.

A default communication site home page has a number of standard web parts, but you can easily add new ones – the communication site template is just the starting point for whatever you want to build. There is a huge variety of different web parts available straight out of the box, so your site can be highly versatile.

There are too many web parts to describe them all in detail here, but there are some common parts and components which are usually found on communication sites.

News

Communication sites are about communication! At the centre of this is the News web part, keeping your audience up to speed with what is going on. The News web part is attractive and easy for publishers to use, so can help support a decentralised publishing model.

Hero area

The Hero web part sits at the top of a communication site, providing focus and some visual interest to the page. Typically, this features five tiles of attractive images (which can be added by the site owner), with each tile linking to pages, documents, news items and more.

Pages

A communication site will consist of a number of different pages with varying purposes, including conveying reference information or engaging your audience, among others. Each page can contain further web parts.

Document library

Many use SharePoint for its document libraries, and your site will likely include a library of any documents that need to be shared for reference. You can use different web parts such as Highlighted Content to link to and highlight documents, and even embed a document using the File Viewer web part so it can be viewed within a page. The Recent documents web part can also display recently added documents.

SharePoint list

SharePoint lists are one of the most powerful elements of SharePoint, and are an excellent way to store information and data which is often referred to but frequently changes; the list provides one source of truth. SharePoint lists can be formatted in different ways and even be involved in workflow. You can embed a List web part in your communication site that could display reference information like a list of first aiders, approved suppliers or office locations, for example.

Quick links

Linking to essential sites, documents, apps and websites is always very useful, and the Quick links web part allows you to add frequently-used links to your communication site.

People

The People web part means you can display a summary of key contacts, and links to their profiles. It can be used to introduce a team, display a page contact, show who the leaders of a function are and more.

Events and group calendar

You can use the Events web site to promote upcoming events, while a Group calendar does just what it sounds like – displays events, milestones and other dates such as upcoming national holidays.

Deploying a different communication site template

When you create a communication site, you can choose from a number of communication site templates geared towards different use cases. Each have slightly varying designs and default web parts. At the time of writing, the following templates are available:

  • Topic (the default communication site template)
  • Crisis management
  • Department
  • Leadership connection
  • Learning central
  • New employee onboarding
  • Volunteer centre
  • Showcase
  • Blank (a blank site with no web parts).

Additionally, you can see a number of different designs for your communication site through Microsoft’s SharePoint look book where you can get inspiration for multiple use cases, and then actually deploy the template that catches your eye.

What can I use a communication site for?

A communication site has lots of use cases for businesses – here are some of the most typical ones.

Digital employee communication from a function, division, location or team

Communication sites are a great way to distribute news and provide updates to the rest of the organisation from individual divisions, teams, functions or other groups. This facilitates a flow of “local” employee communications throughout an organisation without necessarily involving the busy internal communications team who might prefer to focus on messaging from the centre.

Information on a topic

Communication sites provide a great opportunity to disseminate comprehensive information and resources on specific topics. This “information hub” or “one stop shop” approach could cover a topic such as wellbeing, a client team, a project or a process.

A portal for a particular group

A communication site can also be a great information resource aimed at a particular group of employees. For example, it could provide a hub for new starters, with information, checklists and even welcome videos to help them settle into their new role.

Acting as a hub for senior leaders

The “Leadership connection” communication site templates created by Microsoft acts as a place for leaders to interact with employees. This is a good use case for a communication site, fostering transparency and dialogue, providing opportunities for leaders to be more visible and collating feedback directly from employees. There is also the potential to embed a Yammer community for further conversations.

Learning resource

A communication site is also a good place to collect learning resources, such as advice on how to use Microsoft 365 or guides to help your intranet publishers.

Intranet building blocks

A SharePoint intranet, either using SharePoint straight out of the box or in conjunction with an “in a box” product like LiveTiles, can act as the foundation of your intranet, with each communication site consolidating “microsites” relating to different regions, functions, departments and even topics like wellbeing.

SharePoint home site

A communication site can be turned into your SharePoint home site, which might equate to your intranet home page (and could actually be that) and will act as employees’ default starting point, as well as defining some of the default settings for other communication sites. It can also power Viva Connections, which requires a home site to be enabled. Note that currently, only one home site can be declared per SharePoint tenant.

SharePoint communication site or SharePoint Team site?

A question we’re often asked is whether it’s best to use a SharePoint communication site or team site. This rather depends on what you are going to use the individual site for, but as a rule, communication sites are better for when you are communicating with a larger audience – potentially the entire organisation – while a team site is designed to serve the needs of a particular team or group who are working together.

For example, let’s say I’m the finance department in a company. We might set up a communication site to provide information about what we do and keep employees up to date about finance topics and related financial procedures. But we’d use a team site just for the people in the finance department to help track and co-ordinate our work, share documents and so on.

A similar argument applies if you are using a Microsoft Teams space rather than a SharePoint team site; unlike a SharePoint communication site, Microsoft Teams is utilised more for internal team collaboration and communication across a distinct group. In an old analogy often cited in the intranet world, a communication site is used for your shop window content, while your SharePoint team site or Microsoft Teams space is more like the stock room or staff room.

Need advice on using SharePoint communication sites? Get in touch!

SharePoint communication sites are highly versatile, and can be used for a variety of communication needs. They are an important part of any SharePoint or Microsoft 365 digital workplace. Need help or advice on getting the best out of your SharePoint communication sites? Then get in touch!

What is business process automation and how can it benefit my business?

Automation is an attractive option for businesses which want to drive efficiency and improve their processes. It can even be a focus for digital transformation. But what exactly is business process automation, and what benefits can it bring? Furthermore, which business processes can actually be automated?

In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into business process automation and answer some of the key questions that often arise.

What is business process automation?

Business process automation can be defined as using technology to automate one or more steps within a process that previously had to be done manually or were reliant on human intervention. This automation leads to greater efficiency and scalability. Business process automation can be applied to very simple processes with limited steps, as well as far more complex, multi-step processes.

A common theme in simpler business process automation is “robot process automation (RPA)” – automation of very simple, repetitive tasks and workflows. Platforms like Microsoft 365 and Nintex help to introduce RPA at scale. Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, intelligent process automation might use artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) to automate more complex processes.


How can business process automation benefit my business?

Business process automation can have a significant positive impact. Let’s explore some of the key benefits.

Increase productivity

Business process automation ultimately helps to drive productivity by reducing the time employees need to spend on simple, repetitive tasks. This time can then be redirected to more meaningful and value-added activities, supporting an increase in productivity and helping everyone optimise their time.

Reduce costs

Automation can also reduce the resourcing required to carry out unnecessary manual tasks, supporting a reduction in costs.

Increase speed of process completion

When you automate simple tasks within a process, you reduce the potential for bottlenecks and delays in that process. For example, you no longer have to wait for people to manually complete a step. This often leads to quicker process and task completion. For example, if a request to unlock a company mobile phone is either partly or wholly automated, an employee doesn’t have to wait for the help desk to complete the request.

Reduce employee frustration

Having to complete mindless, repetitive tasks can be frustrating for employees who would rather be getting on with more interesting things. Automation can help reduce this frustration, improving employee experience in the process.

Support customer service

Automating business processes that involve customers usually means they are carried out faster, helping promote better customer service. For example, a customer requesting documentation on products and services can have them automatically sent out.

Support data accuracy and reduce risks

Automation can often involve adding or updating data automatically across multiple systems, supporting better data accuracy and reducing the risk of mistakes occurring. Manual data entry inevitably leads to errors and missed steps, while automation greatly reduces inaccuracies and supports better overall data integrity.

Trigger process redesign

When you automate steps in a business process, it often increases the possibilities around what you can do to improve that process, or stimulates ideas for redesigning it altogether. Process owners can see new ways of doing things, allowing business process automation to inspire wider and more far-reaching process design. For example, automation processes which were previously completely internal could now directly involve customers.

Scale processes

Automation means it is far easier to scale a process that previously required greater human intervention.

Standardisation of processes

Businesses usually want to standardise processes to drive efficiency, support compliance and ensure standards are met. Business process automation can help ensure a process is standardised across the enterprise, being applied across all locations and regions in a large global company, for example.

Better compliance

The digital steps carried out in an automated process can all be instantly recorded, thus ensuring you have data to show compliance. This can help with your compliance reporting.

Support digital transformation and innovation

Delivering business process automation at scale is a game changer, the effects of which can be felt at an organisational level. When delivered across a swathe of both simple and complex business processes, automation can help support overall digital transformation not only by digitising particular processes, but also by illustrating the potential for automation, which is then applied to a wider set of activities. Automation tends to stimulate more automation as employees see what is possible, and can even drive innovation with new products and services.


Automation in the workplace: which business processes can I automate?

There is a wide variety of business processes which can be automated. Previously, we covered 25 business processes that can be automated using Microsoft 365 and the LiveTiles intranet platform, although it’s possible to use other solutions like Nintex too. Let’s look at some of the major areas where business process automation can add value.

1 Employee onboarding

Employee onboarding often encompasses a complex set of processes that involve setting up a new person in a variety of different systems and asking the employee to complete a stack of paperwork. Invariably, there are a lot of moving parts involving workflows across multiple functions with tight deadlines. Employee onboarding is a great use case for business automation, ensuring the new starter has a smooth experience, and that everything works in a streamlined and seamless way.

2 Marketing automation

Marketing automation is a good use case for business process automation, and can help support a great customer experience when you have a small, time-pressured marketing team. For example, marketing automation might automatically send a follow-up communication to someone who has interacted with your website showing responsiveness, or send tailored messages to support the sales funnel.

3 Basic IT and HR processes

Business process automation can support some basic IT and HR processes, such as ensuring a change in the HR system is triggered across different systems, addressing basic IT processes like requests for access to different systems or provisioning new collaboration sites. This automation helps support busy IT and HR helpdesk teams who can then focus on resolving more complex issues.

4 Content management

Content management involves multiple processes which are ripe for business process automation, including automated content reviews and relative workflow, archiving and deletion, the application of metadata to different content and documents and more.

5 Reminders and notifications

Reminders, notifications and approval workflow requests can happen across multiple systems. Keeping on top of these can be overwhelming, and doing so via email is often very inefficient with items getting missed. Business process automation to consolidate these into one aggregated experience can help users keep on top of their tasks and improve overall efficiency.

6 Functional and Line of Business processes

Different functions, teams and lines of business throughout your organisation will have a plethora of individual and specific business processes that they carry out. For example, in-house legal teams might be creating contracts at scale, engineers will be carrying out site inspections and sales and business development teams are building proposals for new prospects. All these processes may entail opportunities for automation that could instigate significant improvement.

7 Procurement

Procurement processes can be quite complex, frequently involving a variety of steps and a wide number of stakeholders to review potentially areas of risk. Consider a typical RFP process or performing due diligence on a new supplier, and the quantity of people and systems usually involved. Business process automation can help do some of the heavy lifting here, ultimately completing the processes more quickly and efficiently.


How Content Formula can help with business process automation

We often find business process automation to be a component of our digital projects which helps to bring rapid and tangible value for businesses. Generally, we help businesses in three ways.

Ascertaining what to automate

Stakeholders within your business often have a long list of what they would like to potentially automate, but teams don’t always know where to start, or can’t see where there are opportunities for automation. We help identify what you can automate and suggest priority areas, often through a discovery process.

Working out the technology solution for automation

We help to identify the best underlying solution to support your business process automation. Often, this is Microsoft 365 and the Power Platform, but we also work with Nintex.

Helping you implement automation

Finally, we help you implement automation, often on an ongoing basis to support continuous improvement. Our role can differ, either completing the technical configuration and development, or working with your IT function as technical advisors.

Need help with Business Process Automation? Get in touch! Business Process Automation is an exciting area that can bring real value to your business. Need any help or support with your automation programme? Then talk to us.

The best MS Teams apps: leveraging Microsoft’s in-built Teams apps

Microsoft Teams is increasingly becoming the heart of the digital workplace for many organisations – a single environment where users can digest content, view data and perform transactions from right across the digital workplace without having to visit multiple disparate applications. The introduction of Microsoft Viva is driving this trend further, supporting a better employee experience.

In organisations where Teams use is very high and some employees are spending their day in and out of Teams, it makes sense to give employees the power to access more information and complete tasks directly in their flow of work, helping drive productivity and reducing information and app overload. One of the elements powering this is the ability to deliver a library of Teams apps across companies; digital workplace teams now need to consider their Teams apps strategy in order to support the best possible employee experience.

Apps, apps and more apps

One of the issues here is that there is a growing number of apps available, and more than one option to deliver required capabilities. Options include:

  • Leveraging Microsoft’s in-built Teams apps
  • Adding apps from other Microsoft 365 applications
  • Adding third-party Teams apps and connectors from an ever-expanding library
  • Using community-driven apps available on GitHub
  • Creating custom apps to meet your organisation’s specific needs
  • Using Microsoft Viva Connections (currently for the mobile experience)
  • Delivering integrations via bots
  • Providing access to “micro-apps” built into SharePoint, and delivering them via Teams
  • And more.

As you can see, accessing apps through Teams is an exciting and evolving area. In this post, we are going to look at some of the out-of-the-box apps which are built into the fabric of Teams.

Microsoft’s in-built Teams apps

Microsoft’s in-built Teams apps come out of the box within Teams (they may not be available for all Microsoft licenses, so it is important to check the small print and make sure an app is available to you). There are a multitude of options, including bookings, lists and shifts, that can meet a number of use cases. Below, we look at the different in-built Microsoft Teams apps that are currently available, what they do and the value they bring.

Bookings

The Teams Bookings app allows for the scheduling of appointments, either in-person or virtual (via Teams) and for both internal and external audiences. While this is useful for arranging meetings with colleagues, it can also be used by people managing diaries to co-ordinate touchpoints with customers and third parties. Multiple diaries can be involved, so this is very useful for co-ordinating meetings and appointments across a busy team or department where scheduling can be extremely complex. The app is especially useful if you are predominantly running virtual meetings in Teams itself. Naturally, everything is synced with Outlook.

Screenshot of the queue view in the Bookings app in Teams

Lists

At Content Formula, we’ve had a long-time crush on SharePoint Lists. It is one of the most powerful and underused elements of SharePoint; recognising this, Microsoft has made Lists available as a separate app. The Lists app for Teams brings the power of Lists to the Teams experience, establishing a great place to keep track of things like assets, inventories, supplier lists, locations and more.

Lists can also be a smart way to store information that is used in other workflows and automation, acting as the source of truth for information that is updated within other systems, for example. The app allows users to create new lists (using templates or even an expert from Excel) or access existing ones (even from different SharePoint sites), all from within Teams.

Tasks

Task management is a key element in project management and driving personal productivity. The Teams Tasks app helps both teams and individuals manage their tasks. Currently, tasks can be set and managed using both Microsoft Planner and Microsoft To Do – the Teams App brings tasks from both into one place, within the Teams environment.

The app can help employees prioritise tasks, view deadlines and drill down into the details. The app delineates between tasks for individuals (My Tasks) and for the team (Shared Tasks), with the latter showing who the task has been assigned to, supporting transparency and accountability. Anything that helps employees keep on top of their busy schedule and stay co-ordinated will drive value, so this app can prove popular with both employees and managers.

Praise

Employee experience is a currently a major focus for the digital workplace, and the Praise app is a nice way to support this. It facilitates a way for employees to show their appreciation for their peers by offering praise to a named colleague or colleagues, as well as providing a range of badges from “Achiever” through to “Thank You”. Note that these badges are set – it’s not possible to set-up custom badges, although this was available in the past.

These shout-outs are a good way to celebrate success and promote a positive organisational culture. The Praise app is available within Microsoft Viva Insights, while a stripped down “praise” feature is also available in Yammer. Although we like it, the Praise app is not always suitable for every function or department, so it is possible for central admins to enable its use for specific groups and not for others.

Approvals

Many organisations still rely on emails for approvals of a variety of different processes: ordering a laptop, submitting a budget request, approving a training course and so on. Using email is inefficient as it wastes time, is difficult to track and is not able to apply any multi-step approvals. Digital workplace tools that use workflow provide an alternative to email that is far more efficient, ensures requests don’t get lost and aggregates everything in one place.

The Teams approval app brings simple approvals into Teams, allowing administrators to set up a range of approval types and associated workflows, and approvers to be notified of requests, then view and act upon them Aggregating and streamlining approvals is always a good use case, and it makes sense to do this in Teams as it is one of a number of options to create approval workflows across Microsoft 365. Note that to use the Approvals app, your organisation will require a Power Automate license which is used as the workflow engine for the app.

Shifts

Shifts is an app designed to co-ordinate rostering and shifts for frontline employees, such as those working in customer service, call centres, retail operations or in manufacturing plants. It’s primarily designed to be available on a mobile device. Team leaders can create rosters, message employees and share news and documents, while frontline staff can view their schedule and request to change or swap shifts.

Currently, Shifts can only be used by staff (rather than guests), and everyone needs to have Microsoft digital identities which isn’t always the case with frontline staff. Overall, shifts and rostering is a great digital workplace use case for frontline employees, so used in the right way, this app can drive real value and adoption for Teams across this group.

Using Microsoft Teams apps

We think using apps within Microsoft Teams is only going to grow, and Teams app strategy and selection will become one of the key considerations for digital workplace teams. The Microsoft in-built apps described in this article all provide value. If you’d like to discuss options for Teams apps in your digital workplace, your overall Teams apps strategy or a specific app, then get in touch!

13 essential elements of SharePoint intranet governance

SharePoint intranet governance covers three of our favourite topics: SharePoint, intranets and governance! Governance is one of the key elements for the success of any SharePoint intranet – it covers the policies, processes and roles that ensure your intranet works optimally, keeps its strategic value and contains great content.

In the past, we’ve written extensively about the elements you need to include in your intranet governance framework, as well as governance for other 365 tools such as Microsoft Teams. In this post, we’re going to explore some of the primary elements you need for SharePoint intranet governance, although there may be additional elements needed depending on what you use your SharePoint intranet for.

1. Strategic bodies and cross-functional groups

A SharePoint intranet is a strategic, enterprise-wide investment that has both direct and indirect stakeholders. When driving buy-in across the organisation and ensuring alignment with corporate strategy and other initiatives and roadmaps, involving cross-functional groups in your SharePoint intranet governance has real value. Typically, this might include members of Comms, HR, IT, Knowledge and other support functions.

Depending on your size, culture and needs, as well as the maturity of your intranet, there could be two groups: a higher level steering group that discusses strategy and meets, say, quarterly, and an operation-focused working group that meets more regularly. There is likely to be information flows and escalation of different issues and decisions concerning the intranet between the two.

2. Information architecture, site scope and hierarchy

Information architecture is always a critical part of any intranet, for example, in defining the navigation. It’s also very important in determining the different SharePoint sites that comprise your intranet, and, if you are using SharePoint Online out of the box, the hierarchy of hub sites and ultimately the home site that can define your SharePoint homepage.

You may also need to decide on the scope of the intranet if you have existing SharePoint sites that sit outside the intranet estate. Card sorting exercises and further testing are a good way to ensure that your information architecture is user-centric. For your SharePoint site hierarchy, how you want internal comms news to roll up to different hub sites within your intranet can also have an influence.

3. Search and taxonomy

SharePoint search is increasingly being used for your intranet search, and it definitely needs governance to scope its limits as SharePoint search can extend right across your 365 tenant. Sometimes, this can lead to issues if files on SharePoint sites outside the intranet aren’t security-trimmed with the right permissions, as they can be suddenly exposed via search.

You may have some taxonomy items that are controlled via the SharePoint Term Store that contribute to findability; the definition and management of these terms will also need to be part of your SharePoint intranet governance framework.

4. Relation to other M365 channels

Office 365 and Microsoft 365 tools are increasingly integrated, and have some overlapping capabilities. In terms of governance, it helps to map out the relationship between SharePoint and other tools and channels in terms of integrations, user experience and which tools gets used for what content and communications. For example, you may want to delineate between when Teams gets used for more local, team-focused content and when your SharePoint intranet gets used for content that is of wider interest.

You may want to clarify the relationship between Yammer and SharePoint – when do you use SharePoint commenting, and when do you use Yammer? How are Yammer sites integrated? The future relationship between your intranet and Viva Connections may also need to be decided, as well as how you evaluate and introduce future additional tools and features to the 365 suite.

5. Personalisation and targeting

A successful SharePoint intranet will rely on personalisation and audience targeting to deliver a relevant experience with related content. The approach to personalisation and ensuring the integrity of your data needs to fall under your governance framework in terms of which groups to target, how this relates to other Office 365 groups, how the right metadata and tagging is added to content and how your Active Directory data is kept up to date, for example, by synchronising with your HR system of record. The tagging you use will also need to be aligned with your information architecture; this falls under how you control your taxonomy.

6. Approach to customisation, plug-ins and integrations

Many intranet teams are now choosing to use SharePoint Online straight out of the box, although others will use an additional “in-a-box” product like LiveTiles. In both these scenarios, some limited customisation might be in place to enhance design or add new features. Plug-ins might be utilised, and most intranets will also introduce some integrations.

In order to ensure there is tight management of the platform’s upgrades, as well as to ensure a good user experience, there needs to be governance in terms of control over what level of customisation is allowed, which plug-ins are in use and the integrations that are employed

7. Roles and responsibilities

A central part of any SharePoint intranet governance framework is working out all the different roles and responsibilities, relating to both central team and distributed roles. This needs to cover the management, content and technical aspects of all your intranet operations. Having clarity here means everybody is far more likely to meet expectations and carry out the tasks they have agreed to do, helping the intranet to run optimally. A RACI matrix (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) is a good way to establish the different roles and responsibilities your framework should cover at a high level, including:

  • Strategy
  • Day-to-day management
  • Managing the intranet homepage
  • Central communications and content
  • Technical support
  • Development and integrations
  • Adoption and engagement
  • Design and branding
  • SharePoint administration
  • Search and taxonomy
  • And more!

There are many other important roles related to content governance which are also included below, and which support decentralised publishing on your SharePoint intranet.

8. Content strategy

At the root of intranet governance is a detailed content strategy that establishes what you want your intranet content to do, the benefits it will deliver, how you intend to deliver that content and how you will keep it up to date. This can cover elements such as the role of news and communications, different content types and buckets, the utilisation of imagery, how metadata is being used and even how you intend to measure success. You content strategy will be closely aligned with your digital communications strategy and your intranet strategy. From here, you can then define other content-related elements of your SharePoint intranet governance.

9. Publishing standards

Although there are many aspects of SharePoint intranet governance, ensuring the quality of your content is essential. An intranet with poor content is an unsuccessful intranet. Defining and documenting publishing standards will help ensure your intranet content is engaging, well-written, timely, up-to-date, accurate, purposeful and on-brand. Intranet teams who work with a decentralised publishing community should have detailed published guidelines available, as well as a more succinct summary of the main points to help content publishers maintain good content.

10. Content roles and responsibilities

Another key element of SharePoint intranet governance is the associated content roles and responsibilities. This might include establishing who is responsible for central content areas like your homepage, news centre and lists of apps and tools, as well as detailing the responsibilities and tasks of local publishers and individual page owners at a site or section level. Part of establishing content roles is ensuring there is clear and visible ownership of every page, driving accountability for your content.

11. Content lifecycle management processes and approvals

There should be several content processes within your governance, including any necessary approval workflows, author reviews of content, translations of content, action on user feedback about content and more. These should cover the entire content lifecycle, including archiving and deletion.

12. Terms of usage and other policies

Any SharePoint intranet governance framework is likely to need a terms of use policy for users about what they can and cannot post. This might cover acceptable usage, GDPR and privacy elements, posting copyrighted materials and also what happens if employees do not follow the terms of use. There are likely to be further related policies and processes, such as what happens when a person reports a piece of content or when content is archived.

13. Templates and webparts

You might establish site and page templates to help your publishers maintain their sites and drive consistency throughout your intranet. You may also want to restrict the use of particular web parts, although this is not always easy to do with SharePoint Online out of the box.

SharePoint intranet governance

SharePoint intranet governance can help create a successful and sustainable intranet that supports employees, drives value and provides great content. We’ve outlined some of the main elements in this post, but there will likely be other processes and policies to consider. If you’d like to discuss SharePoint intranet governance, then get in touch!

7 ways to use SharePoint to support employee onboarding

An important use case for any digital workplace or employee experience platform is employee onboarding. When a new hire first joins a company, there are lots of forms to complete, team members to meet and information to absorb. A successful onboarding initiative helps make that process for new joiners more efficient, less overwhelming and as welcoming as possible. Typically, an onboarding programme might continue from when a person is hired through their first 90 days or so, but can last longer, even sometimes extending up to a year.

Employee onboarding is an important element of employee experience. Critically, there are a plethora of statistics that show a successful onboarding programme can significantly reduce employee turnover and support talent retention.

Over the last few years, there has been more and more attention paid to how the digital workplace supports onboarding. Since the pandemic, the digital side of employee onboarding has become even more important as companies have been forced to design virtual onboarding programmes during lockdown. Thankfully, SharePoint, with some additional integrations from across Microsoft 365, can support employee onboarding in several ways. Let’s explore seven of these.

1 Provide a secure SharePoint site before day one

When a person first confirms that they are accepting a position, there is often a lot of paperwork they must complete before their first day, as well as information to provide and reading to do. Completing this before their first day usually helps get everything prepared, including setting them up on different systems, ordering IT equipment and so on. It can also allow them to learn about the company and even meet their new colleagues.

Creating a secure SharePoint site that new hires can access before their first day is a great way to provide all the necessary information and documents, as well as create all the forms they need to complete. The latter can use embedded Microsoft Forms with workflows from Power Automate to help IT and HR functions complete all the pre-first day tasks. A specific, secure SharePoint site can prove to be far more efficient than using email and helps a new hire make a flying start when they join, rather than spending the first day filling out forms and reading documentation.

2 Create a hub for your new hires on your SharePoint intranet

A SharePoint intranet often contains valuable information that new hires need to know regarding the company and its processes, its strategy and values, tools and apps, how to get things done and so on. Intranet teams often choose to create a new hire hub which highlights all the content that is valuable for a new starter, as well as adding specific resources for the new starter community. This might include checklists of things employees need to do, a welcome video from the CEO or presentations which feature in onboarding and induction sessions. It might also display a calendar of all the milestones an employee needs to be aware of in their first 30 days.

A hub can also contain links to some of the elements mentioned below, including a task list, a Yammer community, policies and learning resources. Ideally, a new hire hub should have web parts that are targeted and personalised to ensure resources and links are relevant to the individual and their location, department and role.

3 Build a custom set of personalised tasks with automation and workflow

When new starters join a company, there are a lot of tasks to complete, including forms to fill out, policies to read, learning to complete and courses to attend. Aggregating all these tasks into a targeted list can be extremely helpful in making sure the new starter keeps on top of what they need to do. Creating a set of personalised tasks that appears in your SharePoint intranet can be done through customised development, taking advantage of Power Automate to deliver the right workflows. Building this into your intranet homepage can also ensure they are front of mind for the new starter.

4 Get mandatory reads on your policies

When a person joins a company, there is often a lot of reading to get through, some of which might be mandatory. They may need to read a professional conduct policy, an IT policy, a social media usage policy and a range of other HR policies. There may also be some mandatory risk compliance procedures they need to read and digest, and which managers or HR functions need to monitor to ensure they have been read and digested. SharePoint can help with both disseminating information and monitoring mandatory reads.

You can use SharePoint document libraries to distribute companywide policies that need to be read, and also add some personalisation, customised development, Power Automate flows and Power BI reporting to create a targeted mandatory reads capability where the new starter confirms they have read a particular policy. A team manager or HR function can then monitor completion through reporting. This mandatory reads feature is so popular that we created it within our Xoralia policy management solution for SharePoint.

5 Create learning for employee onboarding using LMS365

Learning is usually a huge part of the onboarding experience. As part of the induction process, a new starter may need to take a series of courses or training programmes so they can settle into life at their new company and carry out their role. Some of this learning is likely to be mandatory. Typically, it may include:

  • An introduction to the company, its strategy and core processes
  • Health and safety
  • How to use technology platforms
  • Specific role-based training, often technical or specialist in nature
  • Mandatory compliance training across different areas.

The best way to incorporate learning directly into your SharePoint environment is to use a learning platform like LMS365; this integrates seamlessly with SharePoint and Microsoft 365 because it’s based on SharePoint itself. Some organisations choose to put a SharePoint page or site ahead of LMS365 in order to create a compelling entry point into the system or make it part of their intranet experience (most employees might not even be aware they are entering a different system). Given its power, many teams have established a whole onboarding programme within LMS365.

6 Create a new hire community

Meeting people and networking helps new employees settle quickly. Creating a community for new starters is a strong element for any onboarding programme, and is a good way to engage new starters. New hires can support each other, as well as connect with HR and other support functions to ask questions. With SharePoint Online and Microsoft 365, a Yammer community with an embedded feed in your new hire area on the intranet can work very well, although some organisations might prefer to use Teams for community interaction.

7 Get feedback on your employee onboarding programme

An important method of improving your employee onboarding programme is to make sure you ask for feedback from the new hires who have just gone through it. Getting specific feedback and input can help identify issues that need fixing, highlight elements that are working well and elicit ideas for improvements.

There are multiple ways to get feedback using SharePoint. You could embed a Microsoft form to ask specific questions or seek more detailed feedback, or you could embed a Yammer community on a SharePoint page to generate a discussion. You can also use SharePoint commenting to generate comments and ideas. However you do it, getting feedback can make all the difference, and sends a positive message that feedback from users is valued.

Designing employee onboarding using SharePoint

Employee onboarding is a key process in employee experience, and can make a tangible contribution to talent retention. SharePoint is a strong foundational technology to design onboarding experiences and deliver related content and features. If you’d like to discuss using SharePoint for your employee onboarding programme, then get in touch!

7 objectives for your modern intranet in 2022

Every few months, we come across someone telling us that intranets are dead or are no longer relevant. As we start 2022, this is very much not the case. Organisations from small charities with under a hundred staff through to global household brands with a workforce of hundreds of thousands still choose to invest in intranets. Intranet software providers and intranet consultancies are also thriving, and Microsoft continues to extend the power of SharePoint to make it easier to create an enterprise intranet. Modern intranets are very much here to stay, and are a central pillar of the wider digital workplace.

One of the reasons that misunderstandings about the value of intranets persist is that some commentators aren’t referring to modern intranets. In the past, many intranets have been poor, with low adoption, bad findability and stale content; unfortunately, these issues are still prevalent today due to lack of TLC from intranet owners. Such repositories of out-of-date and hard-to-find content, often with a poor user experience, have given intranets a bad name.

Modern intranets are actually vibrant and valuable, come integrated with digital workplace tools, provide strong content and communications, evolve with employee need and are driven by user feedback. They are essential in supporting employees everyday work as they get things done.

If you have a modern intranet that is delivering value, that’s great. But this year is no time to rest on your laurels. Modern intranets can always improve and extend their success. If you’re thinking about some 2022 goals for your intranet, we’ve listed some of our thoughts on what you should focus on.

Here are seven 2022 objectives for your modern intranet.

1 Deliver on your modern intranet strategic objectives (or revisit your strategy)

A great ambition for 2022 is to make sure you are delivering on your original intranet strategic objectives. But do you even know what your modern intranet strategic objectives are? Do you have a clear intranet strategy, or at least a strategy that has been reviewed more recently than when you originally set up your modern intranet?

It’s always good to revisit your intranet strategy to make sure it is relevant, provides value and is moving forwards in alignment with wider strategic goals. If your strategy is no longer relevant, you may need to redraft or reconsider your strategy, which might require further discovery or user research. Whether working towards a new strategy or reviewing your old one, it can be an excellent frame of reference and starting point for working out your modern intranet’s priorities and objectives going into 2022.

2 Make your content better

Having good quality content is essential for your intranet; it drives both value and employee trust, therefore underpinning adoption. Every piece of content on your intranet should be:

  • Purposeful
  • Accurate
  • Timely
  • Engaging
  • Findable
  • In accordance with publishing standards.

This is hard to achieve when you have a decentralised publishing model, which is the norm for most intranets. Unless they have been freshly launched, the vast majority of modern intranets have room to improve their content.

In 2022, a great commitment to make for your modern intranet is improving your content. Unless all your content creation and publishing is centralised, this can only be done by doubling down on content governance. This usually entails a variety of approaches and measures, including defining your publishing standards, establishing automated content reviews for authors, conducting annual site reviews involving the central intranet team, providing more training and resources across your content community and establishing approval workflows where necessary. Executing a combination of these tactics reaps rewards, improving adoption and increasing trust.

3 Be the front door to your wider digital workplace

A key role of a modern intranet is to provide the entry point into the wider digital workplace. Making the intranet a personalised front door and single pane of glass to the enterprise’s portfolio of applications is an excellent use case which is popular with employees. If it isn’t already, making your intranet just that front door should be a strong priority for any intranet team.

Again, there are multiple ways to achieve this, including creating a central directory of apps that employees choose from to create personalised links, integrating other platforms and apps to enable simple transactions to be completed or data to be viewed, or enabling a navigation or search that allows users to reach other digital workplace tools and content.

4 Improve findability

Poor search and findability is often the number one complaint from intranet users. One of a modern intranet’s key roles is to help employees find the content, apps and people they need to carry out their role. But all too often, finding what they need is more painful than it should be, resulting in wasted time and effort.

Even strong modern intranets usually have room for improvement when it comes to search and findability; moving the needle on this important aspect of a modern intranet is a great new year’s resolution to make. Here, a coordinated combination of approaches is needed. Findability is not just about search, but also about the content you’re searching for, as well as your information architecture.

Approaches to consider include tagging your content, training content authors to make their content more findable, regularly analysing search metrics, reducing the amount of content, adding best bets, re-jigging your intranet navigation and even creating directories of information such as apps and sites.

5 Support a better employee experience

The past couple of years have seen a real focus on employee experience for intranet and digital workplace teams. Products like Microsoft Viva are firmly positioned as improving employee experience, and some intranet software is being branded as employee experience platforms (EXPs).

Intranets have a role to play in improving employee experience through content, features and services. They can increase productivity, save time, reduce frustration and help employees get things done, as well as facilitating learning, supporting well-being and providing access to data that aids better decision-making. They can also engage the workforce by driving connections and community.

Employee experience is a wide term, so one of the secrets of ensuring your intranet promotes better employee experience in 2022 is to actually work out what this means to you and your employees. Here, having conversations with users, inviting feedback from employees and examining the results of your employee engagement survey, as well as working with partners in HR and learning, can help yield results while simultaneously showing that you are committed to improving your workforce’s experience.

6 Support hybrid and remote working

Hybrid working and how best to support it was a huge issue during 2020 and 2021, and will continue to be throughout 2022, especially as organisations start to encourage the return to the office and are figuring out the longer-term future of hybrid working.

As core channels in the digital workplace, modern intranets play a major role in supporting hybrid working, for example, through providing content on the best tools to use for new ways of working. Integrations can help with the return to the office, co-ordinating communication between those on site and those working remotely. Intranets also provide a forum for employees to air their opinions about hybrid working, which is crucial while it’s still a fast-moving area where listening is critical. We think hybrid work support will be a strong priority for any modern intranet this year.

7 Continually improve

Continual improvement is a concept that many intranet teams aspire to, but which can be hard to put into practice. Committing or recommitting to continual improvement in 2022 (and following through with it) will certainly reap value in terms of adoption, impact and perceptions of value.

Continual improvement is usually underpinned by multiple approaches, including:

  • Using measurement to inform changes, and then re-measuring to ascertain the relative impact
  • Using agile methodologies and sprints to drive a series of iterative improvements
  • Committing to a roadmap of new features and content areas
  • Seeking employee feedback and acting on it; this often means creating feedback loops to drive changes across your intranet
  • Driving a mindset of continual improvement in the core intranet team, but also across wider intranet roles and your content community.

Improving your intranet in 2022

Modern intranets have an important role to play in 2022, driving strategic value for your organisation and assisting employees in their day-to-day work. If you need help meeting your intranet objectives in 2022, or deciding what those priorities should be, then get in touch!

15 intranet content ideas that support employee engagement

Modern intranets have many objectives. They help employees get things done productively and support a good employee experience. They deliver internal communications so employees stay informed and up-to-date. They provide access to content and information to help people carry out their role. They facilitate collaboration and provide access to knowledge and learning. And they reflect and nurture organisational culture and support employee engagement.

Employee engagement itself is a complex subject that often gets caught up in debates around definitions and measurement. There are also multiple factors which impact engagement. Intranets can successfully support employee engagement in several ways, including:

  • Reflecting and amplifying the positive aspects of organisational culture
  • Celebrating and recognising company, team and employee successes
  • Providing more information about company values, missions and purpose
  • Giving employees a voice and providing a platform for listening and dialogue
  • Establishing effective communications for senior leaders
  • Connecting employees and driving a sense of community across an organisation
  • Supporting personal development and career growth
  • Amplifying a one company identity and brand.

More specifically, there are numerous content ideas that support engagement and help make a company a great place to work. Let’s explore 15 intranet content types and features that support employee engagement.

  1. Feedback polls

Using polls on an intranet is an excellent way to get a snapshot of employee sentiment on different topics. It can also drive intranet adoption through adding a light-hearted feature to the intranet homepage, especially if visitors can see the results once they’ve voted. Intranet polls play their part in driving employee engagement by making employees feel they are listened to, thereby supporting an open and relaxed organisational culture.

  1. Customer success stories

Customer success stories are a staple of external-facing websites, but are not always featured on intranets. Success stories help to celebrate overall company success as well as individual team and employee contributions, and reinforce the message that employees make a difference, adding context to everyday actions.

  1. Examples of living the values

Most companies have values or a mission statement. Let’s be honest, these can be pretty generic and are not always taken seriously by employees. News items or stories that actually provide examples of how an organisation is living its values and putting them into action are more likely to resonate than something more general and woollier. Content that helps an employee feel proud to be working at the company is going to support employee engagement.

  1. Shout-outs and thankyous from peers

Peer-to-peer recognition is a strong way to celebrate individual achievements, generating a positive culture and sense of community. This is often done through shout-outs and thankyous from individuals to their colleagues, recognising contributions that reflect organisational values or instances where people have gone the extra mile. There are dedicated peer recognition solutions, but praise and shout-outs can also be delivered very successfully through social platforms like Yammer. Surfacing these on your intranet homepage can support engagement and culture amplification initiatives.

  1. Employee blogs and photos

Having visible user-generated content on your intranet can raise adoption, but also demonstrates that the employee voice is valued, again underpinning engagement efforts. When you give everybody a voice, it sends out a strong message that opinions are valued. There are multiple ways to surface user-generated content on your intranet, but employee blogging is an excellent way to tick the box on engagement and generate lively content. Including photos submitted by employees even via a simple photo of the day feature can also be effective for engagement.

  1. Podcasts

Podcasts are currently a very popular content format which are increasingly being used inside enterprises. Podcasts on particular themes can be a highly effective way to deliver targeted content to specific audience segments, supporting wider employee engagement. Podcasts have the advantage of being popular across different demographics, including frontline employees.

  1. Authentic leadership comms

CEOs and other senior leaders have a major influence on employee engagement. Most intranets showcase leadership communications, but these can sometimes still come across as formal and corporate. Leadership communications that are more honest, personal, informal, authentic and even vulnerable, showing the real person behind the job title, are more likely to resonate with the workforce and better support employee engagement. During the pandemic, some CEOs started to communicate through informal videos shot at home which have been generally well-received, and which can work on the intranet too.

  1. Q&As with senior leaders

Another good way to drive transparency and open communication with senior leaders is to publish questions from employees with relative questions and answers, or hold Ask Me Anything sessions and publish the related recordings or discussion threads on the intranet. Again, the more open and less sanitised these Q&As are, the more likely it is they will engage employees.

Q&A

  1. Crowdsourcing input from employees

Modern intranets and social collaboration platforms provide opportunities for dialogue. Having two-way channels where employees are asked their opinion by senior management and, most importantly, where this results in action can positively influence employees feelings about their employer. Specifically, crowdsourcing input and feedback from employees to influence decision-making is key here; we’ve heard examples that range from the tactical (getting input on new uniforms for customer-facing staff) to the strategic (asking for input into new strategies). Surveys, polls, discussion threads and commenting can all be used to crowdsource employee input.

  1. Internal opportunities

High levels of internal talent mobility and opportunities for staff career paths are highly desirable for organisations, as they help retain the best talent and reduce recruitment costs. Advertising internal opportunities on your intranet, including new roles, secondments and training schemes, is a common way to drive awareness of these positions, as well as promoting employee engagement through demonstrating the opportunities for career growth available to employees.

  1. Access to learning

Employees ability to access resources that will help them in their personal development and career growth is an underrated source of employee engagement; it demonstrates an investment in and commitment to people. Being able to search and discover courses, learning material and training assets is a strong use case for any intranet. This is becoming increasingly possible with the tight integration between learning platforms like LMS365 and SharePoint intranets.

LMS365

  1. Health and wellbeing themed content

Health and wellbeing is a significant theme in employee experience, and demonstrates an organisation’s commitment to its employees. An intranet can support wellbeing in numerous ways, providing health & safety information, tips and tricks, factsheets, health-related communities and more.

  1. Events

An events calendar is a useful addition to any intranet homepage, especially if employees can register for specific events and add the details to their personal calendar a feature available in SharePoint Online. Event calendars also work very well to promote both learning through knowledge-based webinars, for example, and wellbeing sessions on topics like mindfulness.

Events

  1. Ideation platforms

Ideation platforms are highly mature, and are becoming a common part of the digital workplace landscape. They work by inviting employees to submit ideas usually on a particular theme or responding to a specific challenge with the ability to vote on the best ones. A company may then choose to take some of these ideas to fruition. A snapshot of the latest ideas submitted, as well as the ones that are being actioned, shows employee ideas are being taken seriously.

  1. Communities

Online communities on both work and non-work themes help drive connections and foster a real sense of community and engagement within your organisation. These can range from professional Communities of Practice, to Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), to Communities of Interest on non-working themes. Whether a forum for discussing highly specialist engineering techniques or a place to swap cat videos, communities drive employee conversations and connections.

An intranet supports online communities in different ways; for example, your core intranet features may support communities or include feeds from a social platform like Yammer. A central directory of groups can also help users discover and join communities they are interested in.

Yammer

Engage your employees

Employee engagement is key, and the content and features you include on your intranet can make a real difference. If you’d like to discuss how you can use your intranet as part of your employee engagement strategy, then get in touch!

7 reasons to use SharePoint for policy management

Pushing out mandatory policies and tracking reads is perhaps the most requested feature in policy management. But before we get into that, let’s look at the other commonly requested features and examine how SharePoint (and Office 365) addresses these.

Having one source of truth for key policies, procedures, forms and other key organisational documents is important. Employees and managers need to regularly access information such as your staff handbook, IT usage policy, holiday request process, social media guideline or supplier due diligence checklist and more and be confident that these are accurate and up to date. In regulated industries such as financial services there can also be strict guidelines for interaction with customers or processes which must be followed to reduce risk.

Most organisations provide access to policies via their intranet but all too often these are:

  • Scattered across different department sites and are hard to find
  • Do not get updated with the very latest version
  • Simply do not get read, even if they are mandatory to read
  • Are not trusted by employees so they request a copy or rely on a version on their own file network or inbox, that may not be up to date.

Policy management is important. Not managing your policies and procedures carefully or making them easily available in one central place leads to risks for organisations and individual employees, as well as inefficiencies. Sometimes it can also be an requirement for industry regulators or other external third parties, and may even be the subject of an external audit.

Seven reasons why SharePoint policy management is the best approach

If your organisation is using Microsoft 365 or SharePoint on-premises, then it makes sense to leverage the power of SharePoint to help better manage your policy documents.

1 SharePoint is likely to be your existing and secure document management solution

If you use SharePoint or SharePoint Online, then that is likely to be at the root of how most people manage documents their documents and files in your organisation. Documents can be easily shared, collaborated on and there is also effective version control, meaning that you can avoid issues such as duplication and ensure there is one source of truth; this is a critical factor in manging your policies. Leveraging SharePoint for policy management also means that your existing users will be already familiar with the system in place used for managing documents. Of course, SharePoint will also be fully secure.

2 You can automate lifecycle management processes

Lifecycle management is absolutely key to successful policy management. For example, you need to make sure that policies have owners who regularly review the documents they are responsible for. SharePoint is excellent from this perspective and you can leverage its integration with Active Directory as well as Power Automate (Flow) to create clear ownership, notifications and workflow to ensure polices are kept up to date and also create views that show admins the status of policies.

3 You can get a complete audit trail

As well as lifecycle management you can also get a complete audit trail of updates to your document, showing when and by whom. This transparency is very important for minimising risks, underpinning accountability, and even for external auditing purposes.

4 You can easily provide access to all

It is critical to provide easy access to policies for your employees. As most organisations already use SharePoint for their intranet or for communication sites, it is easy to integrate a policy document library into the channels that employees already have access to.

5 You can integrate it into your search

Policies also need to be findable and discoverable. Again, most organisations are leaning in on SharePoint or Microsoft search options to allow employees to find what they need. Using SharePoint for policy management means that these documents will be included in your main search, perhaps through the intranet.

6 It can integrate with your wider Microsoft 365 ecosystem

If you are on Microsoft 365 you will likely be using a wide variety of different collaboration and communication tools such as Yammer, Microsoft Teams, Outlook and SharePoint team sites. The obvious integration between a SharePoint-based policy library and the rest of the Microsoft 365 platform means its easy to embed and share key policies from the library in the places where every day work happens.

7 You can track usage and get data

Using SharePoint for policy management means it is also possible to track usage and get data on different policies, for example numbers of views or when they were last updated. By leveraging integrations with Active Directory and PowerBI you can also start to create reports and track critical data such as whether a mandatory document is being read and by whom.

Book a demo

But what about mandatory policies and tracking reads? Introducing Xoralia Policies

Overall, using SharePoint for policy management is the way to go. Having deployed many policies libraries on SharePoint and intranets over the years, we decided to combine all our knowledge into an app which can help customers fast track to a secure, user-centric and robust policy management library.

Xoralia Policies is a brand-new app designed, developed, and managed by Content Formula. It provides organisations using Microsoft 365 and SharePoint Online a quick-to-deploy central policy library than can be accessed via a SharePoint-based intranet or SharePoint site. Xoralia Policies can also be installed by on-premises SharePoint customers.

The app is a simple but complete solution that provides:

  • Easy, central access to the latest version of organisational policy and procedure documents for all staff
  • Robust policy management with assigned content owners and regular reviews across different departments and functions
  • The ability to track the progress of mandatory reads for particular documents, as well as other useful analytics
  • All you need for auditing purposes.

How it works

In a nutshell, Xoralia Policies works in five simple steps.

Policy management software - SharePoint, Office 365 & MS Teams

Main features

1 An attractive, central policy library

Xoralia Policies acts as a central policy and procedure library that can be reached via a SharePoint-based intranet or via a SharePoint site, such as a communication site. When accessing Xoralia Policies users are presented with an attractive and intuitive interface that has been designed to help employees find that they need.

Each policy is listed with salient details including the title, the owner, the document format, the date it was last updated and any related instructions, such as whether it must be read. These instructions are personalised to the user. A handy summary at the top of the page also lets a user the number of policies that they have to read.

2 Complete auditability

Organisations may need to demonstrate to regulators or other external bodies that they both have robust processes in place to manage their policies but also that all employees have read policies that are considered to be mandatory. Xoralia Policies leverages the power of SharePoint to provide a complete audit trail of document changes, and also shows clear review policies in place with the ability to track these. This should satisfy both your own internal and external auditing requirements.

Xoralia Policies also has the ability to ensure employees are carrying out mandatory reads. If a policy is mandatory to read, employees can access the document within the app and then make a simple declaration confirming once it has been read. In-built analytics show policy owners and admins the percentage of those who have read the policy.

3 Robust policy management with automated notifications

At the heart of Xoralia Policies are robust policy management features to ensure that documents are kept up to date and your library remains the one source of truth for policies. Each policy has an identified owner and a defined regular review period.

Notifications ensure that owners are reminded to review the policies they own; Xoralia Policies also has a simple dashboard that shows a policy owner their policies that are due for review or have expired. Transparent ownership and review information displayed on each policy also encourages accountability.

4 Analytics for mandatory reads and more

Xoralia Policies also comes with powerful analytics. Xoralia Policies shows policy owners the percentage of users that have read a policy, while administrators can access a more detailed analytics dashboard showing the status of all mandatory reads as well as other salient analytics relating to document status, for example. There are options to use Power BI for more detailed and custom reporting.

These analytics can help teams to prepare for audits, making interventions where necessary, but also get a better understanding to building engagement with employees.

5 Strong findability

Findability is critical. Employees want to be able to find the right policy quickly and effortlessly. The app includes a strong search facility where an employee can enter keywords to find the policy they are looking for. Additionally, employees can filter by different categories including mandatory and non-mandatory reads, the function who owns the policy (IT, HR, Legal etc.) as well as custom tags defined by you.

6 Easy set-up and deployment

The app is quick and straightforward to implement. Because Xoralia Policies can be applied to an existing SharePoint library it means you can convert an existing policy library to the app. It can also be deployed from within any SharePoint intranet or other SharePoint site.

Simplified Policies takes a few days to implement. Content Formula can handle the whole implementation or work in partnership with your IT function to deploy the app.

7 Options for customisation

If you have special requirements around managing and presenting your policies, there are options for customisation. Call us to discuss.

Book a demo

Customer case study

Policy management software example

Gama Aviation provides global business aviation services and support to individuals, corporations and government agencies. The global workforce require access to one source of truth for technical documents, polices and procedures. Building on the Wizdom intranet already introduced by Content Formula, Gama Aviation chose to upgrade their existing policy library to Xoralia Policies to take advantage of the improved UI, mandatory reads capability and decentralised policy management.

Content Formula worked closely with Gama Aviation’s IT function to enable them to carry out most of the implementation themselves. The new policy library is now accessed through the Wizdom intranet and is already getting good feedback and frequent visits.

Policy management software example

SharePoint is made for policy management

When it comes to managing your policies and ensuring your employees can find and access them, SharePoint is a strong option.

If you’d like more information about using SharePoint for policy management or about Xoralia Policies, and would like a product demo then get in touch!

What are digital experience platforms (DXPs) and employee experience platforms (EXPs)?

Digital experience and employee experience are terms that have become increasingly common in the digital workplace world, as well as in related fields such as digital customer experience and HR. Accompanying this are the concepts of the digital experience platform (DXP) and the related employee experience platform (EXP), both terms that are seeing ever-wider use. For example, Microsoft has gone to market using the term EXP to describe its Microsoft Viva suite of apps.

But there is some confusion about exactly what digital experience platforms and employee experience platforms are. In this post, we’re going to define and unpack these terms, as well as cover some of their key characteristics.

Defining DXPs and EXPs

As with terms such as digital workplace and employee experience, there is no consensus on the exact meaning of DXPs and EXPs, although there is a broad understanding of their general meaning. For example, when we wrote about What is digital employee experience?, we ended up covering seven different definitions!

The terms DXP and EXP are being used extensively in marketing material from technical providers, so definitions tend to be characterised by the features and capabilities of the product being promoted, meaning general definitions can be further muddied.

Gartner provides a decent definition of a DXP, describing it as an integrated set of technologies, based on a common platform, that provides a broad range of audiences with consistent, secure and personalized access to information and applications across many digital touchpoints.

These digital touchpoints can include websites, apps, portals and more. When sources use the term DXP, they are generally referring to external-facing channels aimed at customers who buy products and services, such as Sitecore, Adobe, Liferay and Bloomreach.

Using this definition, an employee experience platform can be considered as a specific type of DXP, but one that is firmly aimed at an employee audience and their needs. Josh Bersin, a well-regarded HR thought leader, wrote about EXPs back in 2019, categorising them as a new category of workplace software. Bersin described EXPs as meeting companies desire to integrate their entire end-to-end service experience, and as being platform that lets a company design [a] multi-step, multi-flow experience, integrate it with all the various IT and HR applications needed, and abstract the user from the complexity behind the scenes.

EXP is a term that is increasingly being used to describe software that can include the delivery of an intranet and related content across multiple channels. For example, LiveTiles has occasionally described its suite of products as an EXP.

Seven characteristics of a DXP and an EXP

Getting into a debate about the semantics of exact definitions of DXPs and EXPs can be a bit of a navel-gazing exercise. It’s more worthwhile looking into broader meanings by defining some of the main characteristics of the two. These match many of the key qualities teams are looking for when choosing a modern platform to build and deliver digital experiences for customers and employees.

Here’s our view of seven key characteristics of DXPs and EXPs.

1 They’re integrated sets of distinct capabilities

DXPs and EXPs are platforms. This means they are distinct from being standalone apps and will have a variety of distinct capabilities, features and apps (or the equivalent) that can be deployed, as well as allowing integrations to be built in. Although these features might be experienced separately, they should also be integrated so they can work together seamlessly. For example, we would consider SharePoint Online and Microsoft Teams as platforms, but our Xoralia Policy Management library might be viewed as an application. A DXP or EXP will therefore have multiple features that deliver different capabilities to make up one, coherent digital experience.

2 They’re multi-channel

A DXP or EXP can serve and be accessed through multiple channels, such as web browsers, web apps and mobile apps. An increasing number of EXPs can also be accessed through Microsoft Teams.

The aim for these platforms is often to deliver a consistent experience across different mediums to suit different user preferences and use cases. For example, the ability for EXPs to provide mobile access is important for frontline employees. As new channels emerge, DXPs and EXPs will need to keep up. The move for EXPs to be accessed through Teams, for example, is a trend we’ve seen over the past two years.

3 They have multiple use cases

Because DXPs and EXPs are platforms which can incorporate a wide range of features both native and through integrations they can meet a high number of use cases through a range of content and experiences. An EXP, for example, might be able to deliver internal communications, communities of practice, employee feedback surveys, peer to peer recognition, access to policy and procedure libraries, enterprise search, collaboration, wellbeing analytics, access to learning, HR self-service, employee onboarding, idea management and more!

4 They’re user- and people-centric

DXPs and EXPs are about experiences which are firmly focused on the user, and which deliver value to them. The front-end experience should be well-designed, intuitive, easy to use and make people want to return. The overall platform should be geared towards user needs and user journeys, ultimately easing pain points and helping individuals complete transactions, find information and save time. These might sound like obvious, foundational principles for all digital experiences, but it’s worth remembering that there are still a lot of poor digital experiences out there!

Because experience platforms deliver a range of capabilities and have multiple features, the user experience needs to be consistent, smooth and uninhibited across these, avoiding the ultimately confusing and frustrating fragmentation that happens when having to use multiple applications.

5 They’re a single pane of glass for integrations

A DXP or EXP should provide that single pane of glass for everything a customer or employee needs to do or find. This is usually delivered through a breadth of native features, but also through integrations.

A trending theme in digital employee experience is the ability to create one environment where employees can access all the information and applications they need for the working day. The idea of a one stop shop – the single pane of glass or front door to the wider digital workplace – is a persuasive one, helping to save time and reduce the number of different applications that employees need to visit which can be a source of pain and frustration. An EXP should be able to deliver this capability by allowing easy integrations with other applications which allow information to be displayed, simple transactions to be performed and notifications to be viewed.

Similarly, a DXP should provide one place for everything a customer needs to do, including viewing content, completing e-commerce transactions, asking questions and more.

6 Theyre personalised

A central tenet of modern digital experiences is that they are personalised to the individual user, whether they’re a customer or an employee. This means a DXP or EXP recognises the person accessing the platform, and returns content and experiences relevant to that individual’s profile and preferences. For EXPs, this means that content and experiences can be targeted to different employee groups, often based on their Active Directory profile data. It might also be possible for employees to configure their own experiences, for example, by changing the layout of the homepage, subscribing to content on different topics and adding their own favourite links. For DXPs that are aimed at customers, the personalisation element is not necessarily based on a person authenticating into the environment.

7 They are flexible, configurable, extensible and customisable

A DXP or EXP does not deliver a limited range of fixed experiences. They offer the opportunity to create a range of difference experiences by being flexible, configurable, extensible and customisable. You should be able to create excellent customer and employee experiences suited to the needs of your users, with benefits that will be felt at an organisational level.

Still confused? Get in touch!

There’s a lot of noise about Digital Experience Platforms and Employee Experience Platforms, but we think DXPs and EXPs as terms and concepts may be around for a while. While there are no agreed specific definitions, we’re seeing some common characteristics which we’ve detailed in this article. If you’re still confused and want to discuss anything relating to your DXP or EXP, then get in touch!

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