fortune cookie that reads: "A plan you have been working on for a long time is beginning to take shape"
PHOTO: Elena Koycheva

Fun fact: 70 percent of employee communities lack approved, operational and measurable strategies, according to Rachel Happe of the Community Roundtable. That means that in our current climate of unprecedented access to data, the majority of digital workplaces continue to chug along on intuition and crossed fingers.

There’s a reason for this, of course. While most of us readily agree that stronger communication and collaboration are critical in today’s virtual environment, measuring the business value of these activities is not easy. We can create endless reports showing how many people viewed a blog post or “liked” a video, but tying those metrics to quantifiable business impact still presents a challenge.

What are the other 30 percent of organizations doing right? In my work, I’ve found that companies successfully measuring their digital workplaces leverage six common strategies.

1. Identify Business Goals

Defining your objectives is the first step of nearly any business process. It’s tempting, though, to focus on the KPIs instead of the outcome they’re measuring. Before you begin a benchmarking initiative, map each of your objectives to the quantitative and qualitative metrics that will track your progress, as well as your assumptions about how you’ll get there. For a typical collaboration platform, that might look something like this:

chart of business goals aligning with collaboration platform

Related Article: How to Prime Your Digital Workplace Strategy for Success

2. Rethink ROI

With these objectives defined, you can start to rethink ROI. In its excellent report, Calculating Community ROI, The Community Roundtable states that, “Because ROI is often seen as simply an outcome calculation, the focus is often placed on getting a number. In many cases, that means trying to calculate ROI based on the numbers you can easily access, rather than those that actually demonstrate value.” Further, many companies make the mistake of using all of their numbers in a complex equation intended to account for all the ways a digital workplace can benefit an organization.

Resist the urge. Choose an ROI model that simply represents your digital workplace’s most powerful value driver. You could start, for example, by measuring the health of your collaboration platform. Community Roundtable suggests measuring how well a community is asking and answering questions by analyzing data such as the number of answers, number of searches, and the financial value of an answered question. This won’t necessarily demonstrate the ROI of your entire digital workplace, but it can help pinpoint what value means to your business — and that’s a crucial first step.

3. Begin Benchmarking Before You Launch or Update Your Digital Workplace Initiative

Benchmarking strategies gain their insight from demonstrating change over time. That means that to execute successfully, you must apply the same framework to your current state and future states in a consistent way. The first step here is to build that framework. For each of your objectives, choose three or so metrics that you can measure today and down the road. Then choose your time interval (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.). If you have historical data, you can pull that in, too, to show how these factors have trended over time.

It’s tempting to skip the “before” benchmarks. They can be tough to get, especially if your digital workplace is a net-new initiative, and it’s hard to know what to measure before you’ve even launched your project. But to truly show your progress, it’s necessary to know where you started. Yes, it’s hard to get those “before” numbers, but you’ll be glad you did.

Related Article: Intranet Measurement Isn't Simple Cause and Effect: Find the Metrics That Matter

4. Choose the Right Data Points

Most collaboration platforms provide a wealth of reports about your digital workplace. The tricky part is choosing the data that accurately represents business value at your organization. This challenge is compounded by the fact that we’re talking about people. Collaboration, relationships, ideation: many of the most important aspects of a community hub are hard to quantify.

For this reason, the “right” data points tend to be both quantitative and qualitative. For example, if your objective is increased employee engagement, your quantitative metrics may be employee interactions (connections, contributions, shares); consumption of corporate news or executive communications (views, likes, shares); and employee retention rates. (Note that this last one would need to come from a different source, which is also important to keep in mind. Not all of your relevant data will come from the same place.)

On the softer side, you may run a survey to assess employee sentiment, asking people how strongly they agree with indicative statements like those in the “qualitative” section of the chart above. Your community gurus or advocates can help here as well. Ask your most engaged members for anecdotal evidence to bridge the gap from numbers to the real world.

5. Think Across Personas

Another strategy for ensuring meaningful analysis is to look at your digital workplace experience from multiple points of view. Ideally, your measurement framework should account for all of your most critical user categories. Different personas may require different data points, which can admittedly complicate matters, but also give you the most comprehensive view of the success of your platform.

A customer support rep, for instance, spends all day at his computer and needs to find answers quickly and easily, while an executive works primarily from her tablet and needs a clean, clear mobile experience. By considering the varied members of your community, you can assess its impact on the company as a whole — not just a small subset.

Related Article: Employee Experience Isn't About Mapping Journeys, It's About Bridging Organizational Tribes

6. Roll It Up

The key to a successful benchmarking project is connecting proof points to your defined business objectives. But it doesn’t need to stop there. Once you begin to identify clear trends in digital workplace usage, you can extrapolate all sorts of additional interesting information. As mentioned earlier, this works particularly well when you combine analytics from your collaboration hub with data from other parts of the business, like human resources. Insights you may uncover could include:

  • Are millennials more likely to contribute?
  • How involved are our leaders?
  • What levels of the organization are more or less engaged?
  • How influential is middle management?
  • What behaviors qualify an influencer?
  • Does geography impact engagement?

This type of insight demonstrates why ROI is so difficult to calculate. It’s almost impossible to put a number to the value of this knowledge, but it is certainly valuable.

Which brings us back to the 70 percent of communities without a measurement strategy. If you’re one of them, never fear. Start small. Keep it simple. Choose your most important goal and its three supporting data points. Run the numbers, then do it again next month. When you’ve got that down, expand. Benchmarking will always be an iterative exercise, and that’s okay. Your measurement strategy doesn’t need to be perfect to show just how impactful a digital workplace can be.