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The ‘out of the box’ digital workplace – how do you design yours?

(Image credit: Image Credit: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock)

The Hybrid workplace is here to stay for most. A Deloitte survey found that 42 percent of employees would like to work in a blend of in the office and at home, long-term while in a recent BBC poll on 50 of the biggest employers in Britain, employing over 1.1 million UK workers between them, management say they have no plans to bring employees back into the office full time. 

This news may not be surprising after a year of working from home for the majority and with many organizations and employees alike benefiting from the flexibility of a hybrid way of work. But for the in-house IT team, this news is much less welcoming. 

Giving everyone access to the infrastructure and files they need remotely is a basic essential of any digital workplace to thrive but now, employees demand and expect much more from these virtual spaces. A space that creates a culture of togetherness, collaboration, supports wellbeing and enables teams to work with extreme efficiency, no matter where they are. These growing cultural expectations for a hybrid way of working can be a major headache for the IT department, not at least if you’re having to move from on-premise to the cloud. 

To build a virtual workplace that’s all-inclusive and accessible to all, one that keeps pace with the ever-evolving collaboration tools and ‘employee experience’ platforms, comes with growing implementation and financial pressures. From tools like the virtual commute apps that encourage time for reflection and mindfulness, virtual coffee machine tools that create social moments by encouraging ‘time out’ to converse virtually with colleagues, or to employee advocacy templates where employees can quickly and easily share positive company news on their social networks - the digital workplace is positively transforming the employee experience, creating stronger workplace cultures of belonging and togetherness. All great for the employee experience, but the issue for IT teams and business leaders is how to achieve this without the scalability, investment and technical know-how that’s often required when transitioning to a digital workplace? 

Intranet growth 

The answer for many has been the ‘out of the box’ intranet which has seen a surge in popularity since the start of the global pandemic. 

The intranet has become the digital workplace. With flexible working now here to stay, companies are turning to their intranets to keep their internal cultures strong and foster community among employees in a remote and hybrid workplace. A unified employee experience platform where people can collaborate and share with colleagues, where they are supported from the moment they’re onboarded, and through their continued education within the company. So, no matter where or when they work, they always feel part of the organization and culture. 

Essential features  

With the mass deployment of cloud solutions like Microsoft 365 there are many ready-to-use intranet solutions which can be used swiftly and cost-effectively, but understanding the different options can be perplexing. Here are some key things to consider when choosing your out of the box intranet: 

  • Look for an out-of-the-box intranet that is quick to deploy without the need to write a single line of code, so deployment takes hours rather than weeks or months. Has it got a user-centric portal with profiled information and business app access? Some come with an instantly accessible set of features as standard - vital for corporate communications in a hybrid workplace such as flexible desk booking systems, time-off requests or job offers.  
  • Having a library of site templates is a great feature of out-of-the-box intranets as it makes creating an intranet easier especially if you don’t know where to start in your design, and avoids the ‘blank page effect’. If you change your mind, it also means that reorganizing the digital workplace can be done in hours or days rather than weeks or months.  

Check these are re-useable templates of sites and pages so they can be customized to suit specific departments and sectors such as onboarding templates for HR to onboard new joiners remotely in minutes, Request for Proposal templates for sales teams to swiftly respond to a new business lead, or employee advocacy templates where colleagues can share relevant content externally as brand advocates of the company.  

  • Is it easy to scale up or scale down? Are there optional features that you can ‘add-on’ as and when, to continuously enhance the employee experience as the business grows such as a virtual water fountain where people can gather and socialize? It’s important though that any employee experience tools or platforms give people the option to choose to take part - as forcing people to be involved in social moments can be just as damaging to a culture.  
  • Ensure the intranet is easy to customize with web parts and widgets. For example, connectors for Twitter, LinkedIn, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, PowerBi, and more. Does it enable you to pick a feature, drag and drop into position and so you’re ready to go? 
  • It’s essential that your intranet is all-inclusive otherwise there’s little chance of maintaining a strong company culture in a hybrid workplace. It must be mobile-friendly and accessible. Consider those front-line workers who aren’t traditionally working at a desk or in an office such as those on the production line or out in the field with customers.  
  • Check in the browser that the intranet has a mobile responsive design. Ensure it has a native app for Android and iPhone with company-specific branding and quick access to main portal functionalizes and notifications, and that it is natively multi-device and compatible with the latest generation of browsers: Edge, Safari, Firefox and Chrome.  
  • For security and compliance,  ensure that company data and user identities are stored and managed in a cloud service trusted by your IT organization such as Microsoft 365.  

There’s little reason today for IT to opt for full custom intranet development with the intranet in a box providing so many advantages out of the box. Organizations can have full control to design and configure feature-rich digital workspaces in minutes that engage employees and inspire leaders, all at less expense and without having to write a single line of code – a win-win for everyone. 

Matthieu Silbermann, Chief Product Officer, Powell Software

Matthieu Silbermann is Chief Product Officer at Powell Software, a global digital workplace platform vendor, and has over a decade in IT, having previously been product lead for Microsoft.