Five key takeaways from digital workplace projects

One of the brilliant things about working at Content Formula is you can get involved with clients who are innovating and experimenting with the digital workplace. Even when implementations are more straightforward, theres often a fresh perspective or a new twist somewhere in the project. Sometimes you experience something new, while at other times you get fresh insight into things you already knew. There is always an opportunity to learn.

Over the past couple of years so weve been doing a lot of work with Wizdom intranets, building custom digital workplaces in Office 365 and SharePoint, implementing Microsoft Teams and deploying chatbots. Weve been busy! Here are five key lessons and takeaways from some of our projects.

1. You need to train your bot

Weve been very proud of our work at UK accountancy firm, Haines Watts. We helped the team introduce a new custom-built intranet based on Office 365, where all the content is tagged with controlled keywords. Our latest project has been to introduce a new chatbot named after the firms founder, Cyril  Watts. Employees can access Cyril via every intranet page and through Skype for Business. They can ask it key operational questions, to find information, and even discover a fact or two about the company.

One thing we have learnt is that you need to spend time to train your chatbot. Because the bot uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve performance, the more you talk to it, the more phrases it understands. We worked with the team at Haines Watts to train Cyril to respond to the natural language phrases used by employees. It was important to get Cyrils understanding up to a sufficient level, so that employees can see the value in using the bot, and drive adoption so Cyril keeps on improving. Training your bot is a critical step in any chatbot project.

2. Always plan for the unknown

A key tenet of project management is always to plan for the unknown, for example ensuring you have a little contingency in the budget and flexibility in your timeline.  Weve found that to be true for digital workplace projects.  With Office 365 such a reliable platform and with a mature, stable platform like Wizdom, its always tempting to assume everything will work like clockwork. And, to be honest, on the technology side of things, theres rarely an issue. But digital workplaces and intranets can be complex and sometimes theres an issue thats hard to spot until youre knee deep in the project.

For example, we recently worked with one client to upload policy information into a central policy library. But the metadata on the documents meant that we had make some modest development changes to make the content migration work.  Similarly when we worked with Moving Made Easy to help them build  their complex digital workplace, we needed to add additional elements to the design to ensure we ended up with the best possible solution.  Luckily both clients made provision for changes and we were able to deliver additional but critical enhancements without troubling budgets and timelines.

3. Carry out a soft launch

In the past there has always been an emphasis on making a big splash when you launch your intranet and digital workplace. And while its great to make some noise, in recent years there has been a move away from big bang releases to more iterative approaches.

I would urge clients to consider a soft launch now. Its just a more intelligent way to launch a digital workplace. We recently worked with UK iconic fashion accessory brand Mulberry and the intranet was initially launched to a much smaller set of users. Seeing the soft launch go smoothly gave confidence to key stakeholders and gave extra time for content owners to finalise their sites.  It also gave us very valuable feedback from users and on the back of this we made some tweaks and added a couple of new features which really made a difference.  The soft launch also resulted in a ready set of ambassadors whom were more likely to recommend using the intranet to their peers. The result was a better intranet and a head start on adoption.

4. Use offline channels for promotion

Because were producing digital workplaces we tend to think of digital channels as the best option to promote new sites and drive adoption. Were also setting a good example by exhibiting the type of digital behaviour were advocating.

Of course, you must promote digitally, but weve learnt along the way that offline channels can be the best way to promote a digital workplace.  For example, when we implemented a new intranet at global technology company Johnson Matthey, the intranet team carried out a highly effective roadshow to promote the intranet in places like China and the US.

Employees get bombarded with emails and information, and it s easy for them to get message blindness. Having a stand in the staff restaurant which tells you about the benefits of the new intranet can sometimes have more impact and drive awareness and adoption.

5. Always do your research

Getting a good understanding of how employees use the digital workplace, what their pain points are and how they work is essential to produce a successful intranet or digital workplace. You must spend time interviewing users, running workshops, observing working patterns and running surveys. Every single project Ive been involved in has always reminded of the importance of this.  There are usually some very specific points uncovered in interviews with users and stakeholders which lead to a key detail in how we design the solution.

In virtually all our projects at Content Formula we run a thorough discovery process where we carry out a lot of interviews, crunch the data and gain some insights. This has two additional benefits to driving good requirements. Firstly, it creates trust and engagement with users who feel they are being listened to, and which can directly impact adoption after launch. Secondly, having data can silence uninformed stakeholders who might want to make design decisions based on their assumptions. Again, Im always glad weve undertaken a thorough period of user and stakeholder research.

Learn with us!

As we go forward with Office 365 and the digital workplace therell be more to learn in the coming months. If youve planning a Office 365, intranet or SharePoint project, why not get in touch and benefit from our extensive experience? There may be opportunities to learn together and try out new approaches. The futures looking exciting in the digital workplace!

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