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Customization for a Modern Digital Workplace: Focus on People, Not Technology

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When customization focuses towards bespoke workflows and cultural nuances, the result is a workplace with the needs of employees front and center.

Not too long ago, in a world before SaaS software was the norm in the enterprise, the term “customization” was met with eye rolls and an almost instinctual checking of the budget to see how many zeroes had been allocated for this line item. As IT leaders and digital workplace owners thought about customization, visions of drawn-out timeframes and multiple rounds of mock ups danced menacingly through their heads. The concept of “‘customization” in the employee collaboration space has long held negative connotations. It’s been associated with the launch of custom SharePoint templates, hiring expensive design firms, and shelling out more fees every time a piece of software receives an upgrade. “Customization” has been the four letter word of the digital workplace for years.

On the other hand, the polar opposite of customization arose with the concept of SaaS-based “intranet in the box” solutions. These were fully automated, highly generic plug and play toolsets for collaboration that were promoted like “just add water” gelatin desserts. All a company needed to do was click a few buttons and, like magic, a customization-less hub for work and productivity would appear. As companies revolted against expensive, customized platforms weighed down with over-architected feature sets and designs, SaaS vendors thought the antidote would be exactly the opposite. They were wrong.

Digital workplace leaders, here’s a reality check: this isn’t an either-or conundrum. There IS a middle ground for customization: one where the software is simple, standard yet flexible, and where the concept of customization happens on the back-end, integration level as well as in the lexicon developed for each unique company. Customization of the digital workplace is both necessary and relatively easy, intricate and valuable. You don’t have to choose between design or cost, or between usability or adoption. Modern collaboration vendors are getting the experience right — but the real secret sauce is how companies are investing in the wants, needs and behaviors of the people who power the organization. When the concept of customization shifts away from shiny design and toward bespoke workflows and cultural nuances, the result is a digital workplace with the unique needs of employees front and center.

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It’s All About the People

What do your people do all day? What industry do you practice in? Who are your customers? These types of questions are the cornerstone of a modern digital workplace customization program. The best way to think about customization is to start with the behaviors, needs and habits of the people who will be using the platforms you deploy. Are they in a professional services industry, creating documents and collaborating in meetings all day? Or, is your retail organization highly distributed with sales teams and shop-floor attendants connecting in a few times a day on their mobile device? Once you have a set of solid answers, you can begin to customize your digital platforms to meet the various needs of your people.

To get this data, it’s important to embark on a period of user discovery — actually talking with and hearing from employees at all levels. So often companies hire expensive outside consulting firms to map “user experience journeys,” but the result is often an over-processed and anonymous representation of the workforce as seen through the consultant’s lens.

The best feedback is authentic feedback — straight from the employees’ brains and into your customization plan. With their myriad needs in mind, from faster access to certain systems or better connectivity with regional leadership, smart companies will attack digital workplace customization in the following ways:

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Learning Opportunities

Unique workflows based on role - What kinds of digital activities will be most beneficial for the individuals and teams using the platform? How can we customize “getting work done” so that each person from a VP to a shop floor associate can work smarter on their tasks every day?

Workflows based on your company’s product, services, and business goals - How can our digital workplace solution showcase the outcomes of our work? Can it automatically surface customer stories, competitive intelligence, and corporate news to keep everyone informed about how their work is making a difference toward company priorities?

Cultural nuances and language that resonates with employees - How do we talk about our digital workplace, and how do we visually and textually articulate what the platform is for? Simple visual indicators like logos, brand colors and official photography can go a long way to make a digital workplace feel “safe.” At the same time, the way that companies talk about the digital experience matters. Is it “social” or “collaborative?” Are we “sharing” or are we “talking?” From your user discovery, pick up on the language nuances of your employees and use these to customize how you discuss digital work.

Recognition and rewards for achieving target outcomes - How can you recognize employees for a job well done? “Good work!” is the most generic form of recognition, but it doesn’t really help a person feel valued for their contribution and its meaning. Make sure you find ways to customize the praise and thank-you messages in your digital workplace so that they tie into the company’s goals and performance targets. Generic trophy icons are nice, but targeted recognition makes an impact.

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Tying it All Together

How do digital workplace leaders move from these big ideas to reality? Choosing a digital workplace platform is of course a critical piece. If you’re going to take advantage of a SaaS platform, make sure that it is extensible with strong APIs and a good SDK. Whether you in-source or outsource the workflow customization components, the resulting experience is only as good as what can be built on top of the platform. But more importantly, bring together stakeholders from across the organization to give input, share ideas, and offer feedback. Don’t just focus on the “usual suspects;” instead gather multiple opinions from a representative sample of your workforce. Together, technical customizations alongside a customized narrative and value proposition will create the most engaged workforce on the perfect platform for every individual across the network.

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