commuters working on a train
All of your digital workplace efforts will go down the drain if it comes with a poor user experience PHOTO: Daniel Lobo

At the heart of every successful digital workplace is a great, engaging experience, one where team members forget about the technology. 

If your users prefer to communicate via the digital workplace instead of via email, phone or face-to-face meetings, and everything is running smoothly, then you’re doing something right.

Poor UX Drags the Digital Workplace Down

On the flip side, a bad user experience can have the opposite effect, making collaboration difficult and perhaps even leading people to pursue siloed approaches — the very problem the digital workplace is supposed to eradicate. Poor user experience (UX) can be measured in terms of engagement metrics. The vitality of the digital workplace can be viewed in terms of things like how easily users can change their own data and content, how easy is it to find, discover and connect with new colleagues, and how easy is it to say what they need to say — and do all of that quickly. If any of those things are challenging, users will simply switch off.

Factors Leading to Poor UX

Here’s a look at some challenges that, left unaddressed, can lead to poor UX.

Poor Accessibility

To avoid a scenario where you deploy a feature only to learn that it offers terrible accessibility for people with disabilities or challenges, you should think about accessibility from the very start of the design process. Look at things from the perspective of users with accessibility issues to determine whether they will be able to access the same information as those without. If you foresee challenges, consider ways to overcome them — by using visual annotation or labels, for example.

You should also consider the use of color and whether the application is keyboard-navigable. The interface should not use color as the primary means of conveying information, and users should be able to use the keyboard to tab to the various functional elements of the application.

Review all new pages or content using screen reader software to see how it interprets the information. That will help determine how easy it is to understand the new content. Similarly, if there is any audio content, think about how it could be interpreted or presented visually.

It can be difficult to get accessibility right, but a platform or site that is more accessible for people with disabilities or challenges is more accessible for everyone.

Lack of User Engagement

If you’re introducing a new feature, you need to get users engaged with it if you want it to succeed. Steps you can take to foster engagement include starting with limited rollouts to pools of influential users, perhaps even getting them involved at the beta stage, so they can act as internal advocates who will get wider buy-in from their colleagues. 

When you’re ready to roll out functionality to the entire enterprise, it’s important to lead from the top in terms of use and engagement. Spread the word and talk up the advantages of the new system — and be open to honest feedback from across the organization.

User Pain Points

f your users find your digital workplace tools inefficient, frustrating or annoying in any way, then engagement will fall flat. Here are some common user complaints about digital workplace platforms:

  • Login is not automatic.
  • The system requires yet another new password.
  • The search tool is inadequate.
  • It takes too much time to find regularly accessed tools or content.
  • There’s no way to interact with a human being.
  • It’s poorly designed, with no photos or video.
  • Some employees are on it, but others are "locked out."
  • It’s filled with bad data (for example, when people who left the organization years ago are still on the org chart).
  • The accessibility features are inadequate.
  • It doesn’t work well on mobile devices.

If your users regularly report they are encountering challenges, or if all of the above are regular complaints, it's time to review your digital workplace to overcome those obstacles.

Lack of Senior-Level Engagement

Improving collaboration in an organization starts at the top. If leadership is not engaged in the use of a new digital workplace, it will be difficult to encourage anyone else to use it — except perhaps for purposes that senior leadership did not originally intend.

If senior executives are engaged, then who owns the collaboration strategy? Who are the senior stakeholders involved? At a minimum, the IT, communications and HR departments should actively use the digital workplace platform in order for the system to be as well managed as possible.

Finally, speak to end users. From beginning to end. Get them excited and talking about the digital workplace. Find out what they want through discovery processes and user testing. Their feedback is incredibly valuable, and will be critical to the success and vitality of the collaboration platform.

Long-Term Success Requires Continual Improvement

If you really want to understand how well a collaboration platform is working, looking at the end user’s day-to-day experience is a great place to start. Does everyone login at least daily? If not, why? Have many end users updated their profile pictures? If so, when? Have they updated their skills or hobbies in their personal profiles? How many colleagues have they connected with or followed? Do they follow other teams or content? How many posts, comments or other types of social activities have they engaged in? And can end users see these kind of data points about other end users and teams in a gently gamified way, with business intelligence, dashboards or graphs?

A picture of positive and regular interaction with a platform points toward success, but organizations should maintain a commitment to regular review, gathering user feedback and refreshing the platform in line with business and user needs.

Think of your digital workplace as an ecommerce platform. A business like Amazon, for example, becomes successful by embarking on a program of continual improvement — regularly tweaking its site, functionality and features in line with the evolving needs of customers. 

The same thing should happen within a digital workplace. A digital workplace should be set up to adapt as organizational needs change, so it meets current and future needs and is seen as an enduringly vital tool for collaboration, productivity and engagement.