Transforming the Online Workroom: Engagement and Empowerment

6 minute read
Michael Young avatar

In a 2009 study by The Ken Blanchard Companies, senior executives estimated their workforces as operating at only 60 to 65 percent of their potential, with the average organization forfeiting about US$ 1 million annually in untapped profits. Years later, a lack of employee engagement and low productivity continues to be a real concern for enterprises.

Intranets, our modern day workrooms, are crucial to enhancing the worker experience and improving employee productivity. Today’s collaboration platforms offer a breadth of tools to entice users into a dynamic, engaging virtual workspace -- however, they often lack the ability to pull people into a unified experience and are disconnected from traditional web content.

Modern portal platforms that include collaboration, web content and integration capabilities are gaining ground by simplifying IT infrastructures while enabling end users.Enterprises should look to implement three themes:

Create the Power User

Enterprises are dependent on development teams to build their web content and solutions.This dependency causes new business requirements to take a great deal of time to implement (slowing competitiveness) and usually means individual business requirements (where many innovations originate) go ignored unless shared by an entire business group.

Several applications such as modern portals provide an excellent resolution to these problems by enabling users with collaboration applications, and providing the ability to build simple web pages. Users can visually define simple web forms and process workflows without needing to understand a programming language.

Additionally, the growth of enterprise software marketplaces is playing a revolutionary role in enabling the end user. Users can easily assemble a web site using predefined web content templates, adding social applications such as a wiki, and adding applications from the marketplace such as an events calendar.

Poorly designed UI can slow down intranet engagement. It is not surprising that intranet users make use of only a very small percentage of available pages or applications, with some of the highest activity coming from new employees who mostly use them out of absolute necessity.Enabling end users to build web content and solutions allows them to become power users, and means more people are doing more things within the intranet, leading to increased productivity and innovation.

Empower the Informal Organization

Corporations consist of informal organizational structures where teams assemble across departmental lines in order to accomplish common tasks.But enterprise content and applications are often implemented to only support the formal organizational structure, while most of the demands for new content are from the informal organization.

A growing body of evidence supports the notion that company support for these spontaneous, organic groups can accelerate productivity and complement the more visible, top-down formal structure. An article in Fortune magazine, “The Hidden Workplace,” described a survey of 390 people working at large U.S. companies in which a third of the respondents said they ignored the structured rules when they found a better way themselves.

In addition, companies with management that supported informal employee networks boasted workers who were three times more likely to describe the environment as positive, according to the survey, conducted by consulting firm Katzenbach Partners.

Many organizations are implementing social collaboration systems to enable these teams.These systems allow several basic features, such as the ability to create an individual account profile, the ability to create or join a team of individuals, and the ability to create a space where all team members can share alerts, messages, web content, documents and applications.Those systems that are the most simple and integrated into the users’ overall web experience will become the most used and effective.

Unify the Web Experience

While social collaboration systems have allowed some teams to better collaborate and to do so without the need of developers, they are often used only intermittently, and are often disconnected from the rest of the intranet experience.Intranet researcher Jane McConnell stated last year in a post, “… people will start using social media features to individualize their entry pages and overall digital workplace experience once social features are better integrated into intranets.”

Learning Opportunities

The problem occurs when a social collaboration system is implemented as a stand-alone service.Email was originally implemented as a unique system, where users had a unique user account, but later integrated into directory services, single sign-on, calendar services and then business systems.

If implemented as individual islands of information, collaboration systems will fail. When the user experience is integrated, individuals become more productive and the overall effect of the user-driven content and activity becomes multiplied.

One reason to implement a unified solution is that policy defined for the formal organizational structure can be used to control activity within the informal organization, e.g., a team developing a new secret aircraft wing design should require a member to have a top secret clearance which comes from their formal organizational role.

Another reason to implement a unified system is that when collaboration systems are used in combination with other systems, the overall productivity gain is greater than the sum of the parts.Example, a support team can create a site where they discuss common issues in a forum, add shared policy documents in a document repository, and review tasks from an integrated trouble ticketing system.

Modern portals with built in collaboration are web platforms, and thus are specifically designed to support integration into the existing enterprise architecture for ERP, CRM, BPM, identity management, security, accessibility and more.

One of the most important goals of the modern Intranet is to enable non-developers to build and share content on their own without time-consuming IT intervention. Enterprises should look to implement strong collaboration services that allow teams to naturally form and effectively share information and tasks.However, enterprises must ensure they implement these systems such that they are fully integrated into their existing systems and architecture to ensure the most effective use of the entire intranet.

Title Image courtesy of Miguel Angel Salinas Salinas (Shutterstock).

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About the author

Michael Young

Michael Young is the Chief Technology Officer at Liferay, Inc., a leading open source enterprise portal provider. He manages all integration and technology partnerships for Liferay and leads the development of core features for Liferay Portal.