a very very orange room with a single door in the shadows
PHOTO: Natalia Y

A real challenge for digital workplace, collaboration and intranet teams is how to help employees keep on top of all of the collaboration activity which takes place across different sites.

Given the many different types of collaboration, multiple tools and numerous workspaces (consider the options just within Office 365 for example), aggregating collaboration-related updates and providing a single point-of-entry for collaboration is no easy task. And because email may still be the default alerting tool for many employees, digital workplace teams can find themselves going blue in the face trying to get users to adopt to new tools and channels which act as a portal for collaboration activity.

However, some organizations are making advances in this area in designing and delivering appropriate solutions. In Step Two’s 2018 Intranet and Digital Workplace Awards a recurrent theme was how organizations are trying to meet the challenge of aggregating collaboration sites and updates. As is often the case with the awards, the winning entries often reveal wider trends in the intranet space.

Building a Collaboration Portal

At one end of the scale, some organizations are building dedicated collaboration and project workspace portals to act as a hub for collaboration activity.

At global engineering company Ramboll, headquartered in Denmark, standardized project management approaches are critical for successful client delivery. Each project uses a bespoke workspace to manage collaboration, documents, milestones and more.

As part of a wider, ambitious digital workplace program, the team rebuilt a project portal in SharePoint Online which not only provides a personalized, single point of entry into project workspaces and a place to view updates, but also allows for external collaboration with third parties, with optimized views on mobile and search capabilities across current and archived project spaces. 

Following the success of the project portal, the company is planning a similar portal to act as an aggregation point for other collaboration spaces. Interestingly this will cut across different types of collaboration spaces, including Microsoft Teams.

Other companies also built portals with similar aims. Russian media and technology provider Rambler Group also built a custom portal for project management, available via their intranet, which provided access to different project-level spaces. Similarly, Vodafone Ukraine built an overview dashboard of the top 50 projects within the company, giving management and employees a critical and convenient window into project progress, but also a place to jump into the project spaces themselves and start collaborating.

Related Article: How Intranet Home Pages Anchor the Digital Workplace

Personalized Toolbars

Other companies are taking a more lightweight approach, using a personalized toolbar or similar which is accessible from every intranet page but aggregates collaboration activity.

Innovative manufacturing giant 3M helped aggregate collaboration activity via a well-designed toolbar on a new global intranet based on SharePoint Online. By clicking on a “Collaboration Sites” icon, a personalized list of key collaboration sites built in SharePoint is displayed, plus a feed of the latest documents added and recently updated discussions. A link also gives users access to a list of all the sites they belong to.

Landing Pages

A similar approach is to provide a landing page with access to sites. As already mentioned, 3M provides people access to all sites they're already a member of. Other companies take a slightly different approach by offering a collaboration or community landing page where employees can explore all the different available groups, usually with easy options to join individual groups.

For example, UK-based utility company Scottish Water has a “Discover Groups” facility where employees can browse through the various Yammer groups (both project and community-focused) in operation and request to join each group.

Related Article: What if We Used Collaboration Tools to Rethink How We Work?

Search and Other Approaches

Other approaches focus specifically on the search for collaboration content. For example, Ramboll’s project portal content appearing in search can be isolated via a tab, while 3M has integrated other more ‘social’ collaboration content such as Yammer and Salesforce into the main enterprise search available on the intranet.

Activity streams and email notifications also provide updates on collaboration activity. Insurance company Liberty Mutual takes a more innovative approach with its microservices-powered digital assistant, which could easily incorporate updates from collaboration spaces in the future.

Supporting Collaboration

One advantage of most of the examples mentioned here is they are generally dealing with one technology or platform. Challenges will remain for those companies who struggle with collaboration governance and have several different platforms in operation. However, providing a single point of entry may help to encourage adoption of say Microsoft Teams over Slack, if that is a desired objective.

However, with several options available — including personalized portals, toolbars and improved integration of collaboration content into search — we can expect this to be a corner of the digital workplace where an improved user experience will help provide better support for collaboration going forwards.

Related Article: Is Microsoft Teams the 'Portal' We've Been Looking For?