How AI can boost employee engagement and the employee experience

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a topic that continues to dominate headlines and generate huge levels of interest, particularly since ChatGPT was released in late 2022. Many senior executives and operational teams are actively considering how they can best use AI within their organisation to boost efficiency and improve processes, as well as support wider business objectives.

HR functions, digital workplace teams and internal communicators can see the exciting potential for AI to help in a variety of different ways. Many of them are already using AI with specific products and are now looking to deploy the next set of generative AI tools.

One question we are getting increasingly asked is how AI can be used to support employee engagement and making organisations a better place to work. We believe AI can certainly contribute to a better overall employee experience and has a role to play. In this article we’re going to explore some of the ways in which AI can help employee engagement and boost digital employee experience through the digital workplace.

What do we mean by employee engagement and employee experience?

Employee engagement is a term that describes the relationship between employee and employer, and how connected the employee feels to an organisation. It is usually measured by surveys that canvas the opinion of employees. While there is broadly a consensus around what engagement is at a high level, some people have differing and more specific definitions of employee engagement.

Employee experience is a broader term that describes the overall experience of work employees have across their daily touchpoints with their employer as well as key moments across the employee lifecycle.

Many different factors contribute to both employment engagement and experience including leadership, strategy, mission, workplace environment, role, pay levels, flexible working, opportunities for growth and development and even the experience of workplace technology.

Can AI really boost employee engagement and experience?

AI can help boost employee engagement and experience in different ways, including saving people time, supporting people in their role, improving communications and removing daily frustration. Below we cover some of the key ways AI can make a positive contribution.

However, some perspective is needed. There is a tendency by the media and some solution providers in their marketing material to paint a picture where AI can solve any problem. Employee engagement and employee experience are complex with many different elements. Using AI is neither a magic ingredient or panacea that can change employee engagement or employee experience over night; moving the needle on employee engagement requires strategic thinking, strong leadership, cultural change and a wide range of tactics employed.

AI has a valuable role to play in supporting some of the tactics that can boost employee engagement and employee experience, but it is not a replacement for the wider strategic changes that are required to really engage employees.

Six ways that AI can support employee engagement and experience

As AI solutions become more sophisticated it is likely that they will contribute to employee engagement and the employee experience in an increasing number of ways.

1. Automate repetitive tasks

In recent years a direction of travel for the digital workplace has been to increase automation in order to automate those repetitive tasks that take up time for employees and are often dull and frustrating. This has generally been referred to as “Robot Process Automation.”

AI is now being used to increase the number and sophistication of tasks that can be automated, helping making better use of employees time and potentially making their working day and role more interesting. For example, AI can be used to automate some of the more mundane tasks relating to meetings –scheduling meetings, sending out invitations, and even summarising minutes and actions.

Digital workplace teams that are able to automate frustrating and time-consuming tasks and give employees back time to carry out more interesting and valuable activities, are helping to contribute to employee engagement.

2. Use chatbots to drive employee self-service

Chatbots are now one of most commonplace uses of AI across the digital workplace, usually supporting employee self-service and relieving pressure on busy IT and HR helpdesks. A chatbot can answer common employee questions, help find particular information and even complete simple transactions, empowering employees to get things done more quickly so they can get on with their busy day, Again, this gives more time back to employees and helps avoids the frustration of not being able to find the right information or complete a task.

Recent advances in generative AI means that the performance of chatbots is highly likely to improve going forward and be increasingly accepted by employees as a good option to find information and get things done.

3. Better content targeting to support engagement

Intranets and other digital communications channels help employees stay informed, but also feel more connected to their organisation and leadership. Communication channels support effective messaging so employees can find out about a company’s overall mission and relevant activities. They can also connect to other colleagues, supporting the kind of relationships that generate a real sense of community.

AI has a role to play in helping employees better connect to the content, communications, campaigns and people that improve employee engagement and experience. Many organisations are complex with extremely diverse workforces, and it can be difficult to connect employees to truly engaging content that is relevant to a person’s role, location, division and interests.

AI can help by making more intelligent suggestions to a person for content they might be interested in, by automatically translating content into the right language, by automatically tagging content so it matches the right employee profile and even making suggestions to improve content to make it more engaging. All these can support more effective digital communications that underpins improving employee engagement.

4. Target learning and development opportunities

The ability to better target the right content to people can also apply to learning opportunities, with AI making suggestions for relevant learning material and courses to individuals across a very diverse workforce. Increasing support for learning and development, and making relevant training more visible that drives personal, professional and career growth, can again support wider efforts around engagement and employee experience.

5. Helping people in their role

AI is going to have an increasing influence on different aspects of our daily work, supporting different processes throughout an organisation. Ultimately AI should help people in their role and make them more effective, allowing them to overcome barriers and achieve more. For example, generative AI is already helping people write better text, solve coding issues, identify insights from data and more. Specific AI-powered solutions can make complex tasks like recruitment and sales activity that much easier. Naturally, when people are better supported in their role, this can influence their daily experience of work.

6. Sentiment analysis and identifying pain points

Successful interventions and initiatives to improve employee engagement and the overall employee experience rely on data about how employees are feeling about specific aspects of working life; for example, where there are pain points then some kind of action will be required. However, even though there is an increasing amount of data across the digital workplace that can yield valuable insights, spotting trends relating to employee sentiment is far from straightforward.

AI can play a role in more accurately identifying employee sentiment and trends across multiple datasets as well as unstructured content. It can uncover insights that might otherwise remain hidden, spot early trends and provide clues about wider issues, that can ensure HR and employee experience teams can then take the necessary actions.

Using AI to boost employee experience

AI will continue to play an active role in the workplace. While AI cannot transform employee engagement and employee experience on its own, it can help boost engagement in several different ways. If you’d like to discuss the role AI could play in your efforts to improve employee engagement and employee experience, then get in touch!

Find out more about using AI to benefit your digital workplace...

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The ultimate guide to Microsoft learning management systems

Introduction

Within every organisation, learning and training is a key activity. It’s a factor in both enabling employees to perform their role to the best of their ability, but also in engagement, with learning opportunities regarded as an element in the overall employee experience.

Learning takes many forms including gaining experience on the job and more “social learning”, but also offering formal opportunities to take classroom and online-based courses. Within most organisations, employees take a variety of courses in order to learn new skills, gain professional qualifications, meet compliance needs and support personal and professional growth.

Acquiring a Learning Management System (LMS) is essential in supporting more formal learning opportunities through the organisation. An LMS allows employees to view and take courses, access a record of their learning and does much of the heavy lifting on the administration of learning throughout the enterprise. However, despite its importance, the LMS can sometimes be peripheral to the digital workplace, and have a poor user experience. Moreover, not every organisation has chosen to invest in an LMS.

However, increasingly there are opportunities to integrate the LMS much deeper into the everyday digital workplace and flow of work, particularly if the LMS is based on Microsoft technologies such as SharePoint. In this article we’re going to do a deep dive into Learning Management Systems, especially those based on Microsoft.

We cover what an LMS actually is, its essential features, and the benefits of using an LMS. We then explore the kind of LMS solutions that are available and the advantages of using an LMS based on Microsoft technologies. We also cover Microsoft Learning Pathways and Microsoft Viva Learning and how these relate to your LMS.

What is a Learning Management System?

A Learning Management System is a platform that helps to manage, administer and deliver learning through capabilities such as learning registration, course discovery, e-learning, course creation, automation and more. It also provides analytics and reporting, and often is the system of record for a person’s learning and training within an organisation. An LMS is sometimes called a Learning Platform.

Who uses a Learning Management System?

Most medium and large enterprises choose to invest in an LMS regardless of their sector. Many smaller organisations may also choose to use an LMS, particularly if learning is a key part of their employee experience or they have mandatory training that employees need to take. The good news is that many LMSs are flexible and can support the needs of very different types of organisations, regardless of size and industry sector.

What are the essential features of an LMS?

There are a number of common features of an LMS that help to deliver a strong learning experience and also support learning teams in administering training.

Course catalogue

At its core, an LMS offers opportunities to provide a course catalogue for employees to access where they can search or browse to view different training opportunities available through the organisation. This can include e-learning, classroom-based learning and even formats like webinars, and also cover learning created internally or externally.

Course registration

As well as viewing training, an LMS should also handle the registration process for training, allowing employees to book their place, and for administrators to view who has registered, manage the numbers and even provide additional features like waiting lists.

E-learning

An LMS will generally also provide an environment for users to carry out e-learning within the platform, usually via the desktop or through a dedicated mobile app.

Learning records and required learning

An LMS will have the ability for users to view their learning record, covering the training they have already taken. The LMS may be the system of record for learning. The LMS should also include details of any learning they need to take, for example covering courses that are mandatory.

Personalisation and targeting

An LMS needs personalisation and targeting to enable the ability for users to view relevant courses to their role, level or tenure.

Course creation

A comprehensive LMS will also have the ability to create courses within it, for example providing access to different materials, building quizzes and more. Ideally these should allow employees outside the learning team to create their own courses, effectively democratising learning and encouraging knowledge sharing.

Importing SCORM content

Many organisations choose to use third-party content in their LMS. An LMS should have the ability to import course material that is in the SCORM format, a technical standard for e-learning courses. Some LMS providers even have agreements with popular course providers to enable even easier access to third-party material, usually at lower cost than acquiring a separate subscription.

Automation and notifications

An LMS brings automation to learning administration, saving huge amounts of time and effort for learning teams and course administrators. For example, an LMS should automate tasks such as enrolling new hires on to mandatory courses, sending out notifications and reminders related to learning, tracking completion rates, requesting feedback on a course and more. Some of the automation relates to notifications sent to learners, another key feature.

Certification

Certification is another feature of an LMS, for example allowing for the issuing of certificates for mandatory learning passed, as well as managing an annual certification process.

Analytics and reporting

Analytics and reporting are critical features of a good LMS, ensuring there is reporting relating to course take-up and completion, tracking mandatory learning, gathering learning feedback from users and even performing an analysis of skills.

Learning paths

Learning or training paths allow users to take a series of connected courses that support a particular training path, for example related to a particular role, topic or career.

Mobile app

Mobile access to learning is important, especially for frontline staff who may not have access to a desktop during the working day, or for employees wanting to carry out training in downtime where mobile access is often more convenient. A good LMS should have a dedicated mobile app so it can be accessed on both corporate and personal devices.

Additional features

Different LMSs may also have additional features such as support for multi-language, gamification points, additional reporting features, the ability to integrate with different systems and more. Many LMS products are mature and feature-rich, having accumulated functionality over the years.

What are the benefits of using an LMS?

There are numerous benefits of using an LMS that have a positive impact at an individual, team and organisational level.

Easier administration

A LMS will significantly reduce the time and effort involved in administering a learning programme. For example, teams that have to use email and spreadsheets to manage course registrations and update learning records waste huge amounts of time and are prone to making incomplete or incorrect records. It’s also extremely dull and repetitive work. An LMS can automate the registration process, build learning records, report on course completions and more, freeing up learning administrators to spend their time on more valuable and interesting activities.

Supporting employee onboarding

An LMS can support employee onboarding by presenting new starters with a list of courses they need to complete based on their role. The LMS will automate registration, send reminders and more, and often proves to be an essential component of any onboarding programme that needs to scale. Again, it saves huge amounts of time and effort for the learning or HR team.

Mandatory training and compliance

Most organisations have mandatory training that needs to be carried out, sometimes on a reoccurring annual basis. This may have to be done for compliance reasons. An LMS does all the heavy lifting on mandatory training, including monitoring completion rates and reporting on these, including reporting required by third parties.

Standardising learning opportunities

In large and complex global companies, often the learning opportunities for staff can differ from location to location. An LMS can help standardise access to learning right across the enterprise, helping provide a level playing field for all employees regards to training and development.

A more skilled workforce

Ramping up training via an LMS supports a more skilled workforce that can lead to better performance in roles. Because an LMS can also help you to identify which training is being completed and spot potential gaps, it also means you can start to provide training where in-house skills are less prevalent, for example in various digital skills.

Faster roll-out of training

An LMS can help you to roll-out training quickly to meet urgent needs right across the enterprise, for example in how to use ChatGPT or for the sales team to get acquainted with a new product.

More targeted training

Personalisation is an important feature of an LMS as it allows teams to deploy targeted training to different groups based on role, division, language and so on. The ability to provide more targeted training means it is more relevant, increases adoption and ensures it has value.

Greater uptake

Because an LMS allows learning teams to scale up learning in their organisation by reducing the administration overhead and also presenting a wider set of courses, it can lead to a greater uptake in learning. Adoption also increases because it is easier for employees and their managers to view the learning opportunities available. An LMS will also tend to allow more e-learning to take place which is usually easier for employees to complete, so again this increases adoption of courses.

Reduced learning costs

A well-implemented LMS can result in overall reduced learning and training costs. This is usually achieved through time saving on administration costs through automation, reporting and other management features. Overall cost savings can also be as a result of using the LMS to introduce more e-learning to replace inefficient and costly classroom-based training.

Knowledge management (KM)

By providing an easy platform for employees to access learning but also for internal teams to create specific courses, some LMSs can end up becoming very effective platforms for knowledge sharing. For example, a product team might create a new product and then create learning to introduce it to the rest of their organisation, or a sales team might create learning around best practices. An LMS allows this process to be far more straightforward, supporting knowledge sharing and KM practices.

Employee engagement

Opportunities for learning are attractive for employees, and can be a factor in engagement, as well as retaining and attracting talent. Learning is also generally regarded as part of the overall employee experience. An LMS can help formalise learning and training opportunities, which in turn supports efforts to improve employee engagement and provide a great employee experience.

A culture of learning, development and growth

Over time introducing an LMS can support an overall culture of learning, development and growth. This has huge benefits across any business, leading to a commitment to continuous improvement, sharing knowledge and investing in people, with multiple benefits flowing including improved customer experience, innovation, high performance and more.

What different Learning Management Systems are on the market?

The LMS market is very mature, with a huge amount of choice to suit a different range of needs and budgets. Products include:

  • Highly established dedicated enterprise learning management systems such as Cornerstone.
  • An LMS that also come with bundled with opportunities to subscribe to e-learning courses, for example Skillsoft.
  • Learning modules that are part of a wider HR system such as SAP, PeopleSoft or Workday.
  • Smaller and more flexible learning management systems that are often designed for smaller and medium-sized companies.
  • Learning platforms that are based on SharePoint and Microsoft 365 technologies such as LMS365.
  • Different learning apps like Microsoft Viva Learning that aren’t actually learning management systems but complement deeper learning platforms.

What are the advantages of using an LMS based on Microsoft 365 technologies?

The LMS market includes solutions based on Microsoft 365 technologies. For example, LMS365 is a solution that is built on SharePoint and ensures all data sits within your Microsoft 365 tenant. Using a Microsoft-based learning management system has a number of advantages.

Seamless integration with a Microsoft 365 digital workplace

An LMS that is based on SharePoint such as LMS365 has the advantage of seamless integration with any Microsoft 365-powered digital workplace, making it much easier for employees to access courses, for example through a SharePoint intranet or Microsoft Teams, It can also integrate with Microsoft-powered search, Power BI dashboards and more. This means that learning can be in the flow of everyday work where employees spend all their time, helping to drive up the usage and take-up of courses.

Using a Microsoft 365-based LMS also means you can create a more consistent user experience across your digital workplace. For example, some teams that implement LMS365 create a SharePoint page on their intranet as the entry point into the LMS, with users not even knowing that they have entered a different application.

Configure and customise the system to your needs

SharePoint and Microsoft 365 are incredibly flexible, so a Microsoft-based LMS allows you to configure and customise the learning experience to the needs of your employees. For example, you may want to add additional custom workflows using Power Automate or add additional webparts to provide additional access to SharePoint content or Viva Engage / Yammer discussions.

Include Microsoft-based files

Most course material for e-learning is in SCORM format, but using a SharePoint-based product like LMS365 allows you easily provide access to existing Office files such as in Word or PowerPoint formats through the LMS, effectively lowering the barrier to course creation for non-learning professionals.

Easier governance and compliance

Because a SharePoint or Microsoft 365-based LMS can sit within your Microsoft 365 tenant it means it is much easier to comply with your existing governance, security and compliance requirements that are already in place for your Microsoft 365 digital workplace. For example, access for starters and leavers to your LMS will align with your existing Microsoft 365 set-up.

Use Active Directory profiles and groups

A huge advantage of a Microsoft-based LMS like LMS365 is that it can leverage Active Directory profiles and groups for learning enrolment, targeting for learning opportunities, and providing seamless and frictionless access to courses.

Better placed for future changes

Microsoft continues to invest in Microsoft 365., Microsoft Teams and the Microsoft Viva suite of employee engagement tools, including Microsoft Viva Learning. Having a SharePoint-based solution ensures you are future-proofed to continue to integrate with other tools across the digital workplace and take advantage of other features such as the Power Platform to enhance the learning experience.

A happier IT function

Many IT functions are committed to a Microsoft 365 digital workplace and Azure hosting, with the relevant tools, governance, processes and knowhow in place. Most IT functions are very comfortable with the idea of an LMS that is based on SharePoint or Microsoft 365, as it will be much easier to implement, manage and support. Our experience is that they also are more likely to sign-off on any business case for it. A solution like LMS365 leads to not only a happier learning team but also a happier IT department.

Can I use an LMS with Microsoft Learning Pathways?

Microsoft Learning Pathways is a valuable collection of course material provided by Microsoft that can help users get the best out of Microsoft technologies and support adoption. This ready-to-go material can usually be made available via an LMS – this is especially easy with an LMS based on Microsoft technologies.

Can I use Microsoft Viva Learning as my LMS?

Microsoft Viva Learning is a module within the Microsoft Viva employee experience suite, that is designed to open up easier access to learning materials from Microsoft Teams. While the number of features within Viva Learning are increasing, it is worth nothing that the application is not designed to be an LMS in its own right, and is not really an alternative for it.

In fact, Viva Learning works better when it is implemented alongside an LMS, providing easier access to the course catalogue and related e-learning opportunities. Microsoft has also worked with leading LMS providers including Skillsoft, SAP Success Factors, Cornerstone and LMS365 to deliver out-of-the-box integrations Viva Learning and these learning management systems.

What is LMS365?

LMS365 is a leading learning management system that is built right into Microsoft 365, SharePoint and Teams. It is a mature, feature-rich platform that has everything learning teams and employees need to manage and access learning across the enterprise. It is also very reasonably priced. Content Formula has partnered with LMS365 to offer this robust and popular solution.

Because the platform is based on of Microsoft 365, it can also integrate seamlessly with the rest of your digital workplace, which provides a range of additional benefits, some of which have already been explored above.

How can Content Formula help me?

Our experienced Content Formula consultants can help you in a number of different ways.

Implement LMS365

LMS365 is a leading learning platform built on SharePoint that integrates seamlessly with your Microsoft 365 digital workplace. Content Formula has partnered with LMS365 to provide a full implementation of this mature, feature-rich LMS.

Integrate learning into your digital workplace

Access to learning should be a key ingredient of every digital workplace, but that is not always the case. We can help integrate learning into your Microsoft 365-powered digital workplace so it is in the flow of work, starting by defining a strategy and roadmap, and then supporting your  implementation.

Microsoft Viva Learning

Microsoft Viva Learning is an exciting module within the Microsoft Viva employee experience platform that can open up access to learning through your digital workplace through Microsoft Teams. We can help you to implement and launch Viva Learning, making it work with your existing LMS including with LMS365.

Build custom learning solutions and integrations

Some organisations have particular learning needs, for example integrating a particular LMS with their SharePoint intranet, or requiring custom workflows or dashboards. We can help build custom solutions and integrations across your Microsoft 365 digital workplace or SharePoint intranet that can elevate learning for employees.

Knowledge management strategy

A platform like LMS365 can also prove to be a highly effective knowledge sharing platform. We can work with you to define a knowledge management strategy that can use LMS365 in conjunction with other Microsoft 365 tools such as Viva Engage and SharePoint.

Find out more about LMS365...

Request a call back with one of our experts, for a free consultation about how LMS365 can benefit your business.


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Designing an intranet homepage: seven must-have web parts

Intranet teams often ask us questions about how to design an intranet homepage and which web parts (widgets) or features they should include on it. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer; no two intranet home pages are the same, and depending on the needs of your users, the web parts to include will vary from organisation to organisation.  However, it’s also safe to say that there are some web parts that are extremely common to find on a homepage, with some appearing on the majority of intranets.

In this post we’re going to look at seven must-have web parts or features that appear on multiple homepages. To help illustrate these, we’ve included a screenshot (with dummy content) of a global intranet based on SharePoint Online.  Let’s explore seven of the key web parts or features that are featured on the intranet, and are likely to feature on your homepage too.

1.Personalised greeting

Many intranets now choose to display a personalised greeting at the top of the page. For example, in this screenshot “Good morning, Kelly” is displayed. This personal greeting has three main functions; firstly, it helps to make the intranet feel less formal and corporate, with a friendly greeting. Secondly, it confirms to the user that they are authenticated into the intranet and it recognises who they are, critical if a user is expecting some level of personalisation. Thirdly, it can also be a place for some hyper-local content that perhaps sits less well elsewhere – a link to the local weather forecast, for example.

 

2. Hero area

Virtually every intranet homepage has a hero area which will display major news or campaign items – this should be a much sought after spot to promote and spotlight important content. This intranet contains four items, but other intranets can display five or six. In some intranets this has been displayed as a news carousel in the past.

Using attractive images in the hero area helps to draw attention to these pieces, but also gives some balance to the overall intranet design. In many organistions, the news or content presented in the hero area is relevant for all employees, although it can also be personalised to ensure relevance.

 

3.Personalised news feed

Personalisation is key to the success of an intranet in a global, large and complex organisation. A news feed for personalised news (“My news”) should aggregate items that are the result of content targeting based on user profile, but also include additional items subscribed to by a user. Subscriptions might be extra additional targeted content that a user wants to see – for example for another division or location – as well as topic-related items that are of interest. In the screenshot, labels on each story show their intended audience. Other metadata to consider displaying here can relate to engagement including the numbers of views, likes and comments of each news item.

 

4.Other communication feeds

Sometimes you’ll also want to display other kinds of news on your homepage that you want to distinguish from the more general items. In this example there is a “People focus” area with items that are more focused on highlighting the specific work of different teams. But in your organisation this may be product news, something relating to your values, more blogs and user-generated content, customer success stories or perhaps something else entirely.

 

5.Links to apps and sites

A major use case for your intranet is as a convenient gateway to all the apps and sites that people need to access during the week to complete tasks and carry out their role. When intranet teams ask a user what they rely on their intranet for, this feature is always near the top of the list.

Including useful links is a must-have for any homepage. In this example there are links to “My tools” and also “My sites”. Ideally, users should be able to configure their own list of links, with the aid of a central directory of apps to choose from to help them, and existing default links to get people started, ideally personalised to different sections of the organisation to ensure relevance.

 

6.Content spotlights and promotions

Intranets are there to guide people to the most important content, so content spotlights and promotions that reflect priorities and campaigns are a common part of any homepage. These might be an organisational priority (COVID-19 updates) or be important because they are timely (Black Friday deals for employees).

 

7.Yammer / Viva Engage feed

Many intranet teams choose to include a feed from their social collaboration platform on their homepage. This could be a general personalised feed for users, or from a specific community, although the latter will usually be company-wide if appearing on a homepage.

Including a social feed helps to encourage adoption of the social platform, supports the role of the intranet as the “front door” to the wider digital workplace and also brings the employee voice into the homepage to balance more “top-down” internal communications messaging.  With a SharePoint intranet including a feed from Yammer (now being rebranded as Viva Engage) is super easy with web parts that are available out of the box.

Need help with your homepage or looking for web parts to help you build your intranet?

lightspeed modules
Find out more about Lightspeed modules

How Lightspeed Modules adds most of the web parts you need

Content Formula’s Lightspeed Modules is a product from Content Formula that adds many of the custom web parts that you need for your intranet, effectively extending the value of SharePoint, and filling many of the gaps in functionality.  Lightspeed’s web parts are based on the work we’ve done across hundreds of projects over the years. These are easily added to your tenant and can then be added by your content editors just like all the other standard SharePoint web parts

Because intranet and internal communication teams now have a more complete set of web parts to support a SharePoint Online intranet, it can prove to be highly cost effective, because it reduces the need to purchase a more expensive “in-a-box”  intranet solution.

Examples of some of the most popular Lightspeed web parts include:

  • A page tour, highlighting key intranet features for new staff.
  • Branding customiser, extending branding and theming options for SharePoint.
  • Share price, allowing teams to embed a stock price on the homepage.
  • App launcher, allowing users to personalise their own links to apps.
  • Tabs, allowing multiple web parts to be displayed in a tabbing format to save page real-estate.
  • Table of content to appear at the top of a page to support findability for long-read content.
  • Site provisioning, to embed the provisioning process for different Microsoft collaboration sites including Teams.
  • External social feeds from different sources.
  • Floating search, providing the ability to add a contextual search anywhere on a page.
  • Feedback, allowing structured feedback on the intranet and its content from any page.
  • Welcome bar, for personalised welcome messages to users to create a more engaging experience.
  • Noticeboard, for employee classified adverts and notices.
  • And more!

Want to know more about web parts? Get in touch!

Web parts are one of the elements that make SharePoint such a valuable and flexible platform. If you want to know more about using web parts, or want more information on our Lightspeed Modules offering, then get in touch!

Find out more about our intranet services..

Request a call back with one of our SharePoint experts, for a free consultation about your business.

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8 great examples of intranet homepage design

8.Great examples of intranet homepage design.

Posted on 27 July 2023 by John Scott

Intranet homepages are important. To achieve a truly successful intranet that keeps users on the site and engaged, in addition to serving information in an intuitive and user-centric way, both design and user experience (UX) elements must come together seamlessly. Which is why we have put together 8 great examples of intranet homepage designs to inspire you...

One question we get asked frequently is how should I design my intranet homepage or what should be on it?  Invariably our answer is it depends, as there are a lot of variables to consider. One of the reasons for this is that the intranet homepage fulfils a number of different roles including a place to drive internal communications, the starting point for finding information and launching apps, a reflection of organisational culture, a place to stay on top of collaborative activities and tasks, and more.

No two intranet homepages are the same

Also, no two intranet homepages are the same. Sure, there are similarities, but intranets come in different forms; the design, layout, capabilities and scope are heavily influenced by the organisation they serve and the objectives of the intranet.

This is usually evident from the intranet homepage and its design. For example, in an organisation with a more laid-back culture or where the primary aim of the intranet is to engage and connect employees, you may have more social features on the homepage in prominent positions. If an intranet is serving a traditional law firm, perhaps there might be more of an emphasis on formal, corporate communications.

The importance of the intranet homepage

Intranet homepages are important. They are usually the place employees pass through to other pages or apps and also where news is consumed. They can also make or break your adoption; have a really confusing or ugly intranet homepage and employees are far less likely to want to go and use the rest of it. Basically, you need to your intranet homepage design right.

Of course, the technology platform you are using will also heavily influence and dictate your homepage design but most intranet software (and also SharePoint Online) will give you some flexibility to configure your intranet homepage in the way that will work best for you.

Below are seven eight great intranet designs that we hope will get you inspired. Weve selected each of these as they have a different emphasis or flavour. Which one would best meet the needs of your organisation?

1. The intranet homepage that is “everywhere”

Gone are the days when employees would have to open their web browser to get to the intranet. In the modern digital workplace, it’s important to be where the employees are – surface your news, guidance and search to people in the apps they spend most of their workday.

For desk-based information workers, Microsoft Teams is quickly replacing email as a primary location to get work done, so why not serve your intranet content there? The intranet below is available within Microsoft Teams on desktop and mobile, but also in the Yammer app too.

Even if you are not on Microsoft platforms, the aim should be to reach your internal customers where they most often reside.

Read more about Entains modern digital workplace intranet here.

2. The personalised intranet homepage

Personalisation allows for an intranet that is truly relevant to an individual and the way they work. Leveraging profile data via Active Directory data, permissions and site memberships, preferences and subscriptions, means that a person can have a homepage that is full of content that is truly relevant.

This is very important in large and complex organisations with a very diverse workforce, where there is also  content that is targeted to their role, division,  location and native language. It may also be relevant where there is potential information overload and employees have a lot of tasks, or collaboration sites to keep on top of.

For example, in the homepage below:

  • There is a news feed with targeted content based on different criteria that could match to a user profile; the keyword for each is displayed
  • To the right there is a large personalised area that helps employees keep on top of what they need to do, including:
  • Updating their profile (with progress bar)
  • Mandatory reads
  • Favourite collaboration sites they are a member of
  • Recent documents worked upon.

3. The operational intranet homepage

Intranets can contribute to the smooth day to day running of operations within your company. By keeping employees informed about critical updates and of any required actions from right across your company, as well as giving them an overview of the status of different types of operation, the intranet plays an important role in daily work.

This design contains a number of useful features that can help employees keep on top of operations, including:

  • A noticeboard feature that includes a roll-up of updates from different functions and sites right across the organisation
  • A data dashboard that could display real-time data, for example on sales, health and safety record, percentage of issues met or something completely different
  • A Red Amber Green system status board, for example that could cover the status of IT or other operational systems.
  • An embedded social media feed that can show conversations and posts with customers, again in real time.

Read more about Bibbys global intranet here.

4. The engaging internal communications intranet homepage

If your primary aim is to drive engagement through internal communications, then a more news-focused intranet homepage is likely. However, if this is too text heavy it can look vey drab. Having a high number of photos or images as well as colour blocks can really help your intranet homepage look far more appealing and also often drive the number of visits to particular items.  The example below is a good example of presenting multiple stories in an attractive way.

5. The findability-focused intranet homepage

Findability is a key task for intranets, helping employees find information to carry out their daily role and get things done. The homepage design shown below is very different and encourages employees to find what they need with a large search box dominating the page, as well as a series of icons that could lead to either apps or critical areas of the intranet.

In this case the search is geared towards finding files from projects and research. Additionally there is a shortcut to upload content in the top-right – making the process of sharing information as straightforward as possible.

If your primary aim is to drive engagement through internal communications, then a more news-focused intranet homepage is likely. However, if this is too text heavy it can look vey drab. Having a high number of photos or images as well as colour blocks can really help your intranet homepage look far more appealing and also often drive the number of visits to particular items.  The example below is a good example of presenting multiple stories in an attractive way.

6. The balanced intranet homepage

Sometimes intranet teams find they have a high number of use cases for the intranet homepage or a large number of stakeholders with conflicting views on what the intranet homepage should look like. In these cases it can be good to sometimes go for a more balanced homepage that gives equity to a number of different elements.

For example, in the screenshot below there is a nice balance between internal communications, evergreen task-orientated content, social updates and even external news with:

    • A prominent hero area with news items and also a separate web part with events details

    • A feed of all the latest employee blogs, with user-generated content balancing corporate communications

    • A How do I section offering information on how to complete tasks, with operatioinal information balancing more corporate updates

    • A list of external website updates, again with an external focus balancing the internal focus of the news

Read more about RSSBs intranet here.

7. The uncluttered intranet homepage

Because intranet homepages carry out so many different functions, sometimes there is the temptation to pack a lot of information into a homepage. This can result in a cluttered and even overwhelming user experience that can be off-putting. Some teams, often influenced by the user experience on a mobile device, choose to create a less cluttered user experience, for example in the design below.

8. The Office 365 front door intranet homepage

Many of todays leading intranets are based on SharePoint Online. One of the advantages of these intranets is that they can easily integrate with Office 365 and its constituent tools which can then be displayed as web parts on the homepage.

This has some real advantages in that it can help drive the adoption of Office 365 tools; for example, you might want to put a list of MS Teams spaces or team sites that a person is s member of. Embedding a Yammer feed on the homepage is also popular. In this way the intranet homepage acts a front door for Office 365 tools, both by surfacing and aggregating activity but also enabling employees to easily reach different parts of their Office 365 digital workplace.

For example, in the screenshot below:

  • There is a people search that could uncover Delve profiles
  • There is a personalized list of My Workspaces that could be team sites or MS Teams
  • There is a Yammer feed where people can also post
  • There is even a promotional item for Office 365 training.

lightspeed modules
Find out more about Lightspeed modules

Introducing Lightspeed Modules

If your wanting to create a great looking intranet that covers both the design and functional element, then we highly recommend Lightspeed Modules. 

Lightspeed is a product from Content Formula that adds custom web parts to your intranet, effectively extending the value of SharePoint, and filling many of the gaps in branding, design and functionality.  

Because intranet and internal communication teams now have a more complete set of web parts to support a SharePoint Online intranet, it can prove to be highly cost effective, because it reduces the need to purchase a more expensive “in-a-box”  intranet solution.

Examples of some of the most popular Lightspeed web parts include:

  • A page tour, highlighting key intranet features for new staff.
  • Branding customiser, extending branding and theming options for SharePoint.
  • Share price, allowing teams to embed a stock price on the homepage.
  • App launcher, allowing users to personalise their own links to apps.
  • Tabs, allowing multiple web parts to be displayed in a tabbing format to save page real-estate.
  • Table of content to appear at the top of a page to support findability for long-read content.
  • Site provisioning, to embed the provisioning process for different Microsoft collaboration sites including Teams.
  • External social feeds from different sources.
  • Floating search, providing the ability to add a contextual search anywhere on a page.
  • Feedback, allowing structured feedback on the intranet and its content from any page.
  • Welcome bar, for personalised welcome messages to users to create a more engaging experience.
  • Noticeboard, for employee classified adverts and notices.
  • And more!

What intranet design works best for you?

Hopefully, we’ve given you some ideas for intranet designs and some of the factors to consider when designing your homepage. What one works best for you? If you’d like to talk to us about intranet homepages and intranet design, then why not get in touch?

Find out more about our intranet services for your organisation...

Request a call back with one of our intranet experts, for a free consultation about your business.

Get in touch to discuss your project


SharePoint vs OneDrive: what is the difference and when should I use each?

Sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with Microsoft 365 with its multiple tools, features and capabilities, as well as its continuous roadmap of improvements. That’s hard enough for administrators, but also for users too; one of the main roles of a digital workplace team is to be able to help users understand how they can use Microsoft 365 and get their heads around its different elements.

One of the biggest areas of confusion is the difference between SharePoint and OneDrive. Both can be used to share documents, and sometimes it can be hard to know what the difference is or when to use which tool based on different scenarios. Searching for documents across both SharePoint and OneDrive can also cause some confusion.

In this article we’re going to do a deep dive into the differences between SharePoint and OneDrive. We’ll explore what each is, we’ll look at the similarities and differences, and then which is the best system across different use cases. We’ll also look at the relationship between the two systems.

 

What is SharePoint?

SharePoint is a very mature collaboration and communication solution from Microsoft that can be used across a variety of different use cases, including building intranets and employee portals. Microsoft itself describes SharePoint as a platform that allows you to “share and manage content, knowledge, and applications to empower teamwork, quickly find information, and seamlessly collaborate across your organisation.”

SharePoint is highly flexible and feature-rich; it includes multiple different capabilities and components, including pages and document libraries. Every SharePoint page is made up of a series of different “web parts” – effectively the building blocks of SharePoint – that can be put together in ways that support communication as well as collaboration. There are many useful features in SharePoint including SharePoint Lists, support for video via Stream for SharePoint, and more.

SharePoint is also highly integrated with other key elements of Microsoft 365 including supporting document sharing on Microsoft Teams. 

 

What is OneDrive?

OneDrive is a file storage system that is bundled as part of Microsoft 365. It can store Word, PowerPoint and Excel files, but also other file types too.  Microsoft itself describes it as a “Microsoft cloud service that connects you to all your files” allowing access and sharing, including across different devices.

There are essentially two different types of OneDrive – one intended for personal use that you might use at home, and another for work or school. In this article we’re mainly going to focus on the version of OneDrive we might use at work.

 

What are the similarities and differences between SharePoint and OneDrive?

The main similarity between SharePoint and OneDrive – and often the point which causes confusion for users – is that they are both used for accessing and sharing files, principally Microsoft 365 files including Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents.  You might access a file that is stored on OneDrive or SharePoint and then proceed to edit it, for example.

The underlying Microsoft technology that supports OneDrive and SharePoint is also the same – and both are using Microsoft’s servers to store the relevant data and files.  And just to make things complicated, it is also possible to view SharePoint document libraries that you have the rights to access, within OneDrive.

 

What are the differences between SharePoint and OneDrive?

However, fundamentally SharePoint and OneDrive have different business uses and are different platforms. SharePoint is a much broader collaboration and communication solution than OneDrive and is principally used across organisations and teams. OneDrive is used only for file storage – you can’t build intranets with it

Secondly, OneDrive is essentially a personal document library for each individual user. Every Microsoft 365 user in your organisation will have their own OneDrive to store files. While overall Microsoft 365 administrators do have power to view somebody’s OneDrive, none of your colleagues can see what’s on your OneDrive, unless you choose to share an individual file or folder with them.  OneDrive is essentially a personal file repository.

However, files on SharePoint are not personal to the user. Files in SharePoint libraries are meant to be shared with a wider audience, for example across a team, department or even entire organisation. These files might be accessed through an intranet, a communication site or through Microsoft Teams, ideally providing “one source of truth” for documents that need to be accessed by groups of people.

When should I use OneDrive rather than SharePoint?

Typically, OneDrive will be used for personal documents that are not intended to be shared with a wider audience – for example:

  • files that you are working on and are in draft, such as an early version of a presentation.
  • files that only you use, such as a spreadsheet to keep track of your expenses.
  • files that you have downloaded and want to keep on referring to, such as an analyst report or whitepaper
  • files that you want to keep for future personal reference, such as older useful documents that are no longer available in SharePoint.

OneDrive is also very useful when you want to share a document with another person, or just a handful of people, for example when:

  • you want to share a draft report or work-in-progress presentation for comment.
  • a confidential document that cannot be shared with a wider group.
  • you need to share a document with people outside your organisation (if this is permitted).
  • you just need to share a file that is only intended for a small number of people.

 

When should I use SharePoint rather than OneDrive?

On the other hand, SharePoint should be used when a document or file needs to be shared with a wider group, beyond just a few people. This could be a team, a working group, a community, department or even an entire organisation. It may also be a document or file that needs to be accessed on an ongoing basis, for example through your intranet. 

Examples of the type of files that would be shared using SharePoint rather than OneDrive might include:

  • a policy that needs to be referred to, for example relating to travel.
  • a user guide to an application.
  • digital assets such as a presentation template.
  • working documents as part of a project that several people are working on.
  • any document that is accessed via the intranet, communication site or Microsoft Teams space.

 

SharePoint vs OneDrive: Issues for digital workplace teams to watch for

As already noted, there can be some confusion between SharePoint and OneDrive, and digital workplace teams need to be able to support users who have questions about it. Typically, you may also need to explain the difference in any communications relating to “which tool to use when”, which is often part of a Microsoft 365 roll-out or ongoing support site.

 In particular, there can be issues where:

  • users don’t realise they are sharing a personal document in SharePoint to a wider group when it should actually be in OneDrive.
  • when users see personal OneDrive documents come up in a search and they believe a wider group of people can see this, when that is not the case.
  • when the link to documents shared in OneDrive expires, for example after a month.
  • when a person leaves an organisation and OneDrive files that have been shared wit.h a wider group of people are no longer accessible
  • when users are also accessing SharePoint folders via the OneDrive, and the differences are harder to convey.

 

SharePoint Vs OneDrive

SharePoint and OneDrive are both critical parts of Microsoft 365 that employees are likely to use each day. We hope this article has helped you understand the difference, or help you explain to users.  Still confused about the difference or want help in explaining the difference to your employees? Then get in touch!

Find out more about using SharePoint for your organisation...

Request a call back with one of our SharePoint experts, for a free consultation about your business.

Get in touch to discuss your project


Related articles...

The power of SharePoint lists: 5 reasons why they are better than spreadsheets

A SharePoint list is one of the most powerful and flexible features of SharePoint, but its potential is often overlooked. One of the reasons for this is that lists are often regarded as a feature that only IT professionals or those with sufficient technical knowledge are able to exploit, but actually, SharePoint lists are not that difficult for power users and citizen developers to utilise.

Another potential reason that lists get side-lined is because they have been around for so long and are not really the focus of attention. SharePoint lists are far from being shiny and new, but used in the right way, they can deliver great value and play a key role in business apps and solutions. Read more about SharePoint lists and the key benefits and features, in our article: SharePoint lists: The Beginner’s Guide.

SharePoint lists vs Excel sheets

A SharePoint list is simply a collection of data that has some kind of structure to it: it is essentially like a table, a spreadsheet or a simple database. It can include many different types of information including numbers, text and even images.

Within organisations, information that is regularly updated by a number of people and also acts as a wider reference point is often managed on an Excel spreadsheet. Typically, this might be a list of suppliers, a list of employees who are qualified to give first aid or a list of business publications that an organisation subscribes too. Excel is a great solution that we all rely on, but there are times when a SharePoint list provides far more value for storing, managing and visualising information.

Lets explore five reasons why SharePoint lists can work better than Excel spreadsheets.

1 Ensuring there is one source of truth

When a team or a number of different users enter data into a spreadsheet, there can often be issues with version control. Even when Excel online is being used, users are still liable to save local versions onto their own drives. Sometimes, to avoid these issues, one person ends up being responsible for entering data into the spreadsheet, with different people emailing that person with updated information. This long-winded process is inefficient and prone to errors.

A SharePoint list avoids many of these issues; it is online so there is only ever one version and therefore one source of truth. Multiple users can update information as required without the danger of creating multiple copies.

2 Maintaining control over certain areas

Excel spreadsheets can get complex, for example with formulae in particular cells, or with various different formatting. People also want to sort data and potentially manipulate it within the spreadsheet. With multiple users involved, it can be easy for an individual to inadvertently delete a cell or make unwanted changes, maybe even ruining the spreadsheet or altering information that might not be noticed before problems arise down the line.

Part of the problem is that it is impossible to assign permissions to different parts of a spreadsheet – people can either access everything or nothing. With a SharePoint list, you can designate permissions for each item in the list and protect any formulae or controlled lists, helping to ensure you do not lose valuable information or compromise the lists integrity.

3 Guiding users to enter the right data

With a SharePoint list, you can also nudge and guide users to provide the information you need by creating a form as a more user-friendly interface for data entry. Instead of adding information directly into cells on a spreadsheet, users can be presented with explanatory text, help options, drop down lists, validation criteria, custom error messages and so on.

While some of these features are available on a spreadsheet, there is no comparison when it comes to easily creating a form to help users and ensure you can control the data that is entered into the SharePoint list.  Here, values in drop down lists and validation criteria can be targeted to different AD groups and even reference other SharePoint lists, allowing you to manage sophisticated data collection processes online with a level of control that is largely lost when you use a spreadsheet.

4 Better data integrity

The combination of permissions, forms, targeting, and data validation which can be applied to different parts of a SharePoint list, along with the ability to collate one source of truth, means that, overall, you can manage data integrity better via a SharePoint list than an Excel spreadsheet. This is also supported by audit trails for each item in the list with an edit history for every single item in it, as well as related version history.

5 Integration with Microsoft 365

A SharePoint list also has the ability to easily integrate with the rest of the Microsoft 365 suite in ways that can deliver more value than Excel. For example, it is very easy to integrate a SharePoint list with Power BI to feed custom reporting, as well as trigger workflows defined within Power Automate based on values that are entered into the SharePoint list. It is also straightforward to present the data in visually appealing ways in your SharePoint intranet.

When you start to combine these elements, a SharePoint list can be at the centre of a business app or solution, where it provides an easy place to maintain dynamic information that in turns powers a data visualisation layer with Power BI, and a data processing layer with Power Automate. Find out more about integrating SharePoint lists with other components within the Microsoft 365 suite in our article: Should I synchronise SharePoint lists with SQL server database?

 

Use cases

There are numerous use cases for SharePoint lists, often involving the intranet. For example, a  SharePoint list is perfect for keeping an often-changing list of suppliers up to date, with different functions adding information, and the results available for everybody to view on the corporate intranet. Another key use case might be maintaining a central catalogue of apps used throughout the enterprise.

A potential more sophisticated use case that could be powered by a SharePoint list relates to managing the reopening of offices during the pandemic. Here, employers will need to keep a record of everybody who attends an office in person for the purposes of any track and trace processes in case anyone tests positive for coronavirus. In this circumstance, a SharePoint list can potentially provide:

  • A place to manage a dynamic set of data with numerous people regularly adding information
  • The potential to provide multiple views of the data – by location, division etc.
  • The ability to provide overall reporting of working patterns through a Power BI dashboard
  • The ability to have a check-in form with approval workflow so that employees require approval of plans to visit the office, providing a simple structure through which to manage strict limits on numbers
  • The potential to extend this form to a PowerApp available on a mobile device
  • Having one source of truth for all this critical information with audit trails etc.

Here, a fully working business solution is seen with a SharePoint list right at its  centre.

We love SharePoint lists!

OK, we know it sounds a bit geeky, but here at Content Formula, we really do love SharePoint lists, and you should too. They are simple to use and provide an excellent way to keep control over and present dynamic collections of information that are frequently updated by a wide group of people. They can also power various Microsoft 365-based apps and solutions. If you’d like to discuss how you can use SharePoint lists in your organisation, then get in touch!

Find out more about using SharePoint lists for your organisation...

Request a call back with one of our SharePoint experts, for a free consultation about your business.

Get in touch to discuss your project


What is Microsoft Copilot and how will it impact the digital workplace?

©Microsoft

The introduction of ChatGPT has created both huge levels of excitement and concern about the power of generative AI and its potential to change the way we work. Generative AI will bring profound changes to the digital workplace and its future evolution. Digital workplace teams have an important contribution to make in helping organisations and employees get the very best out of the new technology, while navigating the risks.

A significant first step in bringing generative AI into the digital workplace will be the launch of Microsoft Copilot, a way for users to use ChatGPT within an array of Microsoft products to drive productivity. We’re set to hear a lot about Microsoft Copliot in the next few months. Even though it hasn’t really launched yet, there is a lot of anticipation. In this post we’re going to explore what Copilot is, the benefits it will bring, how it will navigate risk concerns and when it is going to be released.

 

What is Microsoft Copilot?

Microsoft Copilot is basically an integration of ChatGPT with different Microsoft technologies, bringing the power of generative AI right into the tools and apps most of us use each day. It is an outcome resulting from Microsoft’s $10bn investment in Open.AI, the company behind the development of ChatGPT.

Specifically, Copilot will be embedded in an array of tools from Microsoft Word through to the Microsoft Power Platform. It will take advantage of the GPT-4 Large Language Model (LLM) but also the data inside Microsoft Graph.  There will be an experience called “Business Chat” that allows users to achieve different tasks using natural language. The specific example Microsoft cite is being able to ask for an update on product strategy and then it generating a status update based on meetings, emails and chats.

Copilot will be launched across multiple places – Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, Dynamics, Microsoft Viva, One Note, Outlook, the Power Platform and more. In May Microsoft also announced some specific examples of what Copilot will bring to a number of different Microsoft tools. This includes:

  • Copilot in Microsoft Whiteboard, allowing users to generate ideas, organise ideas into themes, summarise whiteboard content and even generate designs.
  • Copilot in PowerPoint, will automatically integrate the Dall-E image generator (Open.AI’s image generation tool) so users can create custom images for their PowerPoint slides.
  • Copilot in Outlook will offer sophisticated tips to improve writing emails.
  • Copilot in OneNote will help create plans and lists, and automatically organise notes for you.
  • Copilot in Viva Learning will allow users to create their own learning journeys that include suggested resources and even scheduling time in the diary.

 

©Microsoft

 

What are the benefits of using Copilot?

Copilot is going to bring a range of benefits to employees and organisations with a Microsoft-powered digital workplace.

1. Productivity

Copilot aims to supercharge employee productivity by automating simpler tasks, helping generate some content, and providing insights to further drive productivity gains. Microsoft are positioning Copilot as a tool that will allow employees to speed through the kind of basic work such as drafting minutes of meetings that can be highly time-consuming and then refocus their time to more creative and valuable activities.

2. Generate content

Microsoft Copilot will help employees to generate content within an application itself – drafting an article within Word or a presentation within PowerPoint, for example. This not only saves time, but also can also support creativity.

3. Unlock insights

Copilot works with a customer’s own data within the Microsoft Graph. The combination of the GPT-4 LLM and Graph has the potential to be very powerful, unlocking insights from data and interactions, while also protecting privacy. These insights will help decision-making and even unearth trends that were previously hidden.

4. Lower barriers to adoption

As Microsoft Copilot will be powered by natural language requests it lowers the barriers to entry in using more of the sophisticated tools of Microsoft 365 such as the Power Platform. Copilot may enable organisations and employees to get more out of the tools they already use and increase adoption, while effectively upskilling employees.

5. Process improvement

Copilot will be used in different ways across different tools, for example in Microsoft Dynamics. We expect that it will lead to multiple specific process improvements across areas such as personal growth and development, customer service, internal communications, and more.

6. Things we haven’t realised yet

ChatGPT and generative AI are set to advance, and therefore so will Copilot.  Change is likely to be rapid and exponential. It is possible that Copilot will be helping us in ways that we don’t know about yet.

 

What will be the risks of using Copilot?

Understandably there has been a lot of focus on the risks of using ChatGPT, particularly around data privacy, the protection of intellectual property and increased threats around Cybersecurity. Microsoft are certainly aware of the associated risks and are making sure Copilot navigates around at least some of these challenges.

Copilot will be embedded within Microsoft tools that already have multiple security, compliance and privacy features built in, so whatever privacy policies are implemented across your existing Microsoft tenant then they should also apply to Copilot.

It’s also important to note that data entered into Copilot stays within your Microsoft tenant; it is not being fed into the general GPT-4 LLM which is what often makes risk departments nervous about the use of ChatGPT.  As Microsoft notes, Copilot only “generates answers anchored in your business content .”

Microsoft are also keen to stress that Copilot also respects existing tenant, group and individual data, using any existing permissioning model. Microsoft know how important this will be for Copilot’s success and widespread adoption so we’re confident they will have put the right guardrails in place.

Wider still, Microsoft says it is building Copilot along defined ethical guidelines, aligning with a wider set of defined AI principles.

 

When will Copilot be released?

Although Copilot was announced in March, at the time of writing this article there still isn’t a confirmed release date for Microsoft Copilot across applications such as the Microsoft Office suite, Teams, Outlook or the Power Platform. However things are moving forward; an early access program was announced in May, building on earlier testing with enterprises like Avanade.

We can expect more announcements and reveals in the coming weeks and months, but it seems very likely that that Copilot will be more widely available later in 2023.

 

How can Content Formula help?

We’re excited about the potential for Copilot, ChatGPT and generative AI, and the way this will transform the digital workplace. We’re already working with several clients on leveraging the power of Azure Open.AI services that will bring generative AI to your custom business processes.

If you’d like to discuss the upcoming Copilot release, using Azure Open.AI services or how generative AI will impact your wider digital workplace or Microsoft 365 strategy, then get in touch!

Find out more about using Microsoft 365 for your organisation...

Request a call back with one of our MS365 experts, for a free consultation about your business.

Get in touch to discuss your project


Why the Vision Pro will be a hit in the digital workplace

©Apple

First off, I really, really want one. Yesterday’s announcement was an exciting one, despite the media’s best efforts to spoil and downplay the worst kept secret from One Infinite Loop. Once again, Apple has designed another beautiful device. But it’s what they’ve imagined in the operating system and mixed reality user experience which really capture me. And most importantly, they’ve used their brand heft and showmanship to make a big deal of it. I don’t know much about the headsets already on the market, but it strikes me that they’ve not created any kind of a big bang. Apple has done that. This will get people talking.

Second, I won’t be able to hide my ambivalence about this product. The Vision Pro also troubles me. While I found the carefully crafted demo videos of the in-device experience very compelling, I thought the view from the outside – from the non-wearer’s point of view – was a sad and somewhat dystopian one. The slick demo showed a woman pretty much cut off from her surroundings, despite the augmented versus virtual reality promise of the device. She is wearing something that looks like heavy-duty ski goggles. At one point in the show, they show the user sitting on the sofa in her living room when her daughter comes in to interact with her. Mum comes across as completely zoned out and not really capable of interacting with her daughter at all as she was so immersed in her PowerPoint presentation. Worse was when she was watching a movie. The device signalled to her non-using daughter that Mum was not to be disturbed. It did this by making the device’s outer lens completely cloud over, making it look like Mum was undergoing some sort of deep brainwash and interrupting this would likely cause her a cerebral catastrophe.

©Apple

This mother-daughter non-interaction reveals what these devices are capable of doing to us. Indeed, in centuries to come, cyborg anthropologists researching primitive homo sapiens of the 21st century will deduce that a company called Apple built devices that were responsible for cutting people off from their fellow humans. They did this first with the iPhone, and then even more so with the Vision Pro. However, and on a more positive note, they will also deduce that Vision Pro was responsible for re-introducing white collar workers to the art of concentration, a skill lost to desk workers sometime at the turn of the millennium due to the popularisation of the internet, social media and the smartphone.

What scares me about the Vision Pro is thus its main strength and attraction. That it will be capable of engaging us so much more in our work and help us to concentrate. I can envision a concentration boost both in Teams meetings and in head-down work (or is it head-up?). It’s the immersion in the subject matter – coupled with the ability to switch off and hide distractions – that will help achieve this concentration boost. I expect developers working on new apps for the Vision Pro will work hard to enhance this effect even more. This will be a major win for worker productivity – so much so that companies might well be willing to pay the eye-watering price for the device.

It’s important to recognise, though, that this is definitely a work-from-home device. I can’t see anyone taking one of these to the office. In fact, I’d expect that pretty quickly office etiquette will dictate that wearing a Vision Pro in the workplace is a big no-no. Hopefully, users will also do the same at home. When you’ve got company, it has to be strictly goggles off.

How to use the SharePoint Lookbook

How to use the SharePoint Lookbook

Modern SharePoint is an extremely flexible tool that can meet multiple use cases to support communication and collaboration inside an organisation. This means intranet teams and site owners have a lot of choice in how they structure and design individual sites and pages. Recognising this, Microsoft has created the SharePoint Lookbook, a collection of site templates and designs that can be viewed and then actually deployed on to your SharePoint tenant. The Lookbook is an extremely useful resource that both provides inspiration and a way to give teams a head start in setting up a site.

In this post we’re going to explore what the SharePoint Lookbook is, why it is useful, the kind of templates it contains, and what to consider when using it.

The flexibility of SharePoint

One of the strengths of SharePoint is its flexibility and versatility to support multiple use cases, usually as part of a wider intranet. A strategy page for leadership communications, a departmental site for the sales function, a site for onboarding employees, a place for your volunteering community to come together. All these and more can be achieved using modern SharePoint.

One of the reasons for this flexibility is the ability to add, arrange and configure multiple web parts – the basic “building blocks” of SharePoint – on any given site and page. This means you can have multiple combinations on a page to create different experiences that meet various needs. It also gives intranet teams and individual site owners a lot of choice in how they design and structure individual sites, which are either standalone or sit within a wider intranet structure.

Of course, design flexibility has limits unless a site is customised, retaining some of the standard look and feel of modern SharePoint. While this means it’s not always possible to meet all design and branding needs, in our view this is generally not a problem, as modern SharePoint has an attractive, intuitive and consistent interface.

This flexibility can leave some teams wondering what the best structure and design is for their site. This is where the SharePoint Lookbook can act as a useful resource for both reference and deployment.

 

What is the SharePoint LookBook?

The SharePoint LookBook is a publicly available site provided by Microsoft that can be reached at https://lookbook.microsoft.com/.  As Microsoft itself describes it, it provides an opportunity to “discover the modern experiences you can build with SharePoint in Microsoft 365” and to “get inspired with these designs or add them to your tenant to start building your next stunning site with them.”

Within the Lookbook there is a gallery of SharePoint templates divided into different categories. You can explore the themes and view each template in more detail. As well as the showing the design on the page, the Lookbook contains template-specific information on site features, web parts used and content included.

There is then a call to action for administrators to deploy a Lookbook template to their tenant, an automated process which takes minutes, as long as an administrator has the necessary rights and your tenant meets the minimum system requirements.

 

What type of templates are available in the SharePoint Lookbook?

The Lookbook is divided into a number of different browsable categories that explore a wide range of useful use cases. However, the differences between some of the categories are pretty narrow, so it’s worth taking a look through the entire library of templates.

Current categories are:

  • Organisation: covering key organisation-wide types of communication site including initiatives for leadership communications, crisis comms, a news centre, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and more.
  • Department: examples of department-specific sites or hub covering areas such as sales, HR, training, marketing and even a key conference.
  • Team: this covers team-specific sites for four different use cases covering a project, a collaboration need, a product team and general team communication.
  • Community: this covers two examples of a community site, one being a brand and resources site, and another relating to a charity or CST initiative.
  • Solutions: templates for a range of useful business scenarios including providing Microsoft learning resources, employee onboarding, pre-boarding for new hires, workplace transformation, dealing with a freelance community and more.
  • Schools: templates for schools and colleges.
  • SharePoint Syntex: two templates covering key Syntex user cases including contracts management and promoting the use of Syntex inside your organisation.

 

What are the benefits of using a SharePoint Lookbook template?

There are a number of benefits in using templates from the SharePoint Lookbook.

Providing inspiration

As already noted, SharePoint is highly flexible and sometimes it is hard to know where to start when designing a site. The Lookbook is an excellent place to start because it provides tangible and achievable examples of site designs across multiple use cases and scenarios. If you need a place to simulate ideas and provide inspiration, then the SharePoint Lookbook is a great starting point.

Increasing speed to market

Using a Lookbook template gives any site owners a huge head start in providing a template that can be deployed in minutes and then modified to suit your needs. It can significantly reduce the “speed to market” if you need to get a site up and running quickly.

Supporting new and busy site owners

Site owners for many areas of an intranet (or for specific intranet sites) can lack confidence in using SharePoint or can be very time-stretched. They are unlikely to be trained communicators. The head start given by a Lookbook can support confidence and resourcing.

Encouraging good use cases and adoption

Lookbook templates reflect good practices and showcase the best of what SharePoint has to offer. They demonstrate the art of the possible and also highlight the range of different web parts that can be deployed. Using templates can help encourage using SharePoint for some use cases that might not have been considered, and generally support adoption from potential site owners across an organisation.

No costs involved

The use of the SharePoint Lookbook is completely free so does not come at any additional cost on top of your normal Microsoft 365 subscription.

 

Things to consider when using the SharePoint Lookbook

However, there are some considerations in using the SharePoint Lookbook and its templates.

A template is not a finished site

A Lookbook template is not going to be complete. It will likely need more work on it to truly optimise it to meet a particular business need within your organisation. For example, it might be missing a particular web part. However, site owners might consider a site “complete” because it is a Microsoft template and therefore reflecting best practices. It is likely that content owners still need additional guidance and support from the central intranet or communications team to complete a site.

Still needs to fit in with your Information Architecture and security

A deployed template site also needs to fit into your existing Information Architecture and align with your security policies, so any site generated from the Lookbook will need further configuration.

Might bypass governance processes

Many intranet, communication and digital workplace teams want to establish governance about the use of SharePoint sites to deliver business value, minimise duplication, ensure adherence to standards and support alignment with a content strategy. This often means having some kind of approval workflow on site provisioning to stop site proliferation.

Automatically deploying a template on your tenant could bypass provisioning and other governance processes, particularly if your IT function carries out SharePoint administration duties but has a different view on site creation to the intranet team. For example, it can encourage the creation of a lot of standalone sites that can start to get out of control leading to problems with findability.

Not aligning with custom branding

Some organisations want to establish specific designs for their digital workplace or intranet so choose to deploy custom branding or use an “in a box” product that extends the design options of SharePoint. A Lookbook template will not align with that branding.

 

Getting the best out of the SharePoint Lookbook

In our view the SharePoint Lookbook is an excellent resource that used properly can help save time, and encourage the best use of SharePoint.

However, to get the best out of the templates in SharePoint Lookbook there are other things you need to consider. We regularly help intranet and digital workplace teams in certain areas.

1. Strategy

Defining a digital workplace and intranet strategy, or a related content strategy, that can help define the use cases (and therefore templates) you’ll need in your SharePoint tenant.

2. Design

Helping establish the best design for sites, that can potentially leverage the site and page templates contained in the Lookbook.

3. Additional web parts

Providing the additional web parts that you need to add to Lookbook templates in order to drive business value. Sometimes these are completely custom, or are provided as part of our Lightspeed Modules package, a collection of high value web parts that fill many of the gaps in SharePoint.

4. Information architecture

We can help you design your information architecture to ensure sites created by Lookbook templates are truly findable.

Need help? Get in touch!

If you’d like help in using the SharePoint Lookbook and design, or want to discuss other aspects of your Microsoft 365 powered digital workplace, then get in touch!

Find out more about using SharePoint design for your organisation...

Request a call back with one of our SharePoint experts, for a free consultation about your business.

Get in touch to discuss your project


What are SharePoint web parts and how do I use them?

Web parts are one of the core elements of SharePoint and therefore of any intranet built on SharePoint. They are the basic building blocks that make up the different sites within SharePoint; every page can be broken down into a series of different web parts. If you are creating an intranet based on SharePoint or even just contributing content to it, it really helps to have an understanding of what web parts are and the kind of web parts that you can deploy to deliver your overall content and experience.

In this article we’re going to take a deep dive into SharePoint web parts. We’re going to cover what they are, the different kinds of web parts there are, what a custom web part is and the kind of value that custom web parts can bring to a SharePoint Internet.

What are web parts in SharePoint?

Web parts can be defined as the basic components of SharePoint. Microsoft themselves describe them as “the building blocks of your page” with the ability to “add text, images, files, video, dynamic content and more.”  

Web parts are a significant part of the editing experience in SharePoint. Web parts can be arranged in different ways on a page. Content editors in SharePoint modern can also add new web parts, selecting from a number of web parts that come as standard with the platform.

Web parts can display SharePoint content but can also integrate feeds from other Microsoft 365 tools including Viva Engage / Yammer and Viva Connections.  Each web part also has extensive configuration options around elements such as what to display or link to, how items are sorted or filtered, and how they are displayed.  The combination of the sheer number of web parts and configuration options is one of the factors which enables SharePoint to be a highly flexible tool that can be used across multiple use cases.

What kind of SharePoint web parts are there?

There are currently around fifty SharePoint web parts that are available out of the box. These include everything from the ability to format calls to action or featuring a Power BI report to embedding a video or even a world clock. There isn’t enough space here to go into all the web parts that are available, but some of the most popular include:

  • Connectors: provides options to bring in different feeds from external services based on the connectors available.
  • Document library: displays a SharePoint document library.
  • Events: displays upcoming events with the ability to click through for more information for each event.
  • File viewer: the ability to embed a file such as a Word or PDF document to read within a page.
  • Hero: displays up to five items at the top of a page, usually on a home or landing page.
  • Highlighted content: a flexible web part that displays a dynamically generated list of content based on its type such as documents, videos or images, and other salient criteria.
  • List: displays a SharePoint list, again another very flexible way to display and manage information.
  • Microsoft Forms: embeds a Microsoft Form, and can be used for forms, polls and surveys.
  • News: displays news items with different formatting options.
  • People: displays details of a selected group of people, such as a team or key contacts, with links to individual profiles.
  • Quick links: the ability to display quick links to other pages, apps, external sites and more.
  • Yammer (Viva Engage): embed a personalised Viva Engage / Yammer feed on a page, for example to support a community.

Standard web parts and gaps in functionality

Despite the high number of web parts and the ability to configure them, in practice there are still some gaps in functionality and features that can be particularly frustrating for intranet teams and internal communicators who want to deploy a high value SharePoint intranet or site with strong adoption.

Sometimes these “gaps” relate to branding and design options around the look and feel of a web part being limited or not quite right. At other times, it might be that there simply isn’t a web part available out of the box that delivers particular functionality. For example, a popular intranet feature that is not available in SharePoint out of the box is the ability for users to add their own personal links to frequently used apps that can then be displayed on an intranet home page.

Sometimes there also might be no web part available that delivers content from a different external system or application, where there might need to be an integration, and there is no current connector.

What are custom web parts?

When there is gap in functionality, organisations have the option to deploy a custom web part. A custom web part is one that has either been custom developed from scratch or has been modified from a standard SharePoint web part. A custom web part therefore can be considered to be any web part that is not supplied by Microsoft as standard and has involved some degree of additional coding. Custom web parts are often designed to give you functionality and features that is very specifically suited to delivering a great intranet experience.

Custom web parts tend to fall into two types:

  • Those developed specifically for the needs of an individual organisation.
  • Those provided more generically by intranet software vendors that fil the gaps in SharePoint.

Here at Content Formula, we produce both types, regularly creating specific custom web parts as part of an intranet build, but also now delivering a standard set of custom web parts as part of our Lightspeed Modules service.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of custom web parts?

Custom web parts both have advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, they complement SharePoint and complete the gaps, adding value by:

  • Enabling “classic” intranet features that have been overlooked by Microsoft in SharePoint when its used straight out of the box.
  • Supporting richer options for internal communicators.
  • Delivering more engaging and flexible design options.
  • Supporting additional integrations not supported by out-of-the-box connectors that drive a more connected digital workplace experience.
  • Supporting specific business processes and automation, helping raise productivity and efficiency

The disadvantages of custom web parts include the additional cost involved. If you choose to develop your own individual custom web parts then this will involve development resources and effort; however, if you choose to purchase customised web parts that have already been developed by a vendor, they will be considerably cheaper than developing your own, following the usual rules around “buy vs build”.

The other disadvantage comes with customisation in general. Most IT functions want to limit custom development as much as possible because they create technical debt, makes upgrades harder and can require ongoing management. However, buying additional custom web parts from a vendor that are completely managed removes this issue.

lightspeed modules
Find out more about Lightspeed modules

 

How Lightspeed Modules adds most of the web parts you need

Content Formula’s Lightspeed Modules is a product from Content Formula that adds many of the custom web parts that you need for your intranet, effectively extending the value of SharePoint, and filling many of the gaps in functionality.  Lightspeed’s web parts are based on the work we’ve done across hundreds of projects over the years. These are easily added to your tenant and can then be added by your content editors just like all the other standard SharePoint web parts

Because intranet and internal communication teams now have a more complete set of web parts to support a SharePoint Online intranet, it can prove to be highly cost effective, because it reduces the need to purchase a more expensive “in-a-box”  intranet solution.

Examples of some of the most popular Lightspeed web parts include:

  • A page tour, highlighting key intranet features for new staff.
  • Branding customiser, extending branding and theming options for SharePoint.
  • Share price, allowing teams to embed a stock price on the homepage.
  • App launcher, allowing users to personalise their own links to apps.
  • Tabs, allowing multiple web parts to be displayed in a tabbing format to save page real-estate.
  • Table of content to appear at the top of a page to support findability for long-read content.
  • Site provisioning, to embed the provisioning process for different Microsoft collaboration sites including Teams.
  • External social feeds from different sources.
  • Floating search, providing the ability to add a contextual search anywhere on a page.
  • Feedback, allowing structured feedback on the intranet and its content from any page.
  • Welcome bar, for personalised welcome messages to users to create a more engaging experience.
  • Noticeboard, for employee classified adverts and notices.
  • And more!

Want to know more about web parts? Get in touch!

Web parts are one of the elements that make SharePoint such a valuable and flexible platform. If you want to know more about using web parts, or want more information on our Lightspeed Modules offering, then get in touch!

Find out more about using SharePoint webparts for your organisation...

Request a call back with one of our SharePoint experts, for a free consultation about your business.

Get in touch to discuss your project


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