Creating the Best Portal Starts With Empathy

If your company is currently going through digital transformation, having an employee portal to help manage the culture shifts is incredibly important. Many of the top challenges in digital transformation have to do with change management and empowering your employees, two things that well-designed employee portals can support.

The current trend of employee portals is often called the social intranet, or intranet 2.0. Rather than static information sites, today’s best examples incorporate social features such as blogging, instant messaging and commenting. This shift has often been credited to the new audience of Millennials, who are used to having these new forms of communication available at all times.

To create solutions that this audience of millennials will actually use, IT teams should treat employees as their customers when designing a new intranet or employee portal. Customer experience is just as important here as it is on your public website. The development team needs to stay open to feedback and improvement. The payoff for this work will be evident in improved employee retention, which could be seen as the ultimate measure for whether your employee portal is a success.

Six Questions to Ask Before You Start

There are two things every employee portal needs to take into account from the very beginning of the project.

The first is accessibility, meaning that it must be easy to use so that people don’t get a headache trying to get their work done.

The second is relevant content so that the portal has enough draw on its own that people will actually use it. Ideally, the site would gain enough momentum that employees are regularly contributing content and making use of its tools on their own initiative.

To address these two areas, here are six questions you can ask to get you started on building an employee portal that people will actually use:

#1 Why do we need an employee portal?

If you don’t have a solid vision for your portal, the design process will quickly lose focus. Companies often cite the following reasons for building an employee portal or intranet:

  • Increased productivity
  • Unified corporate communication
  • Streamlined business processes
  • Easier knowledge management and collaboration
  • Digital onboarding and training

#2 What’s the ROI?

The clearest ROI is often in eliminating inefficient processes, such as employees spending time searching for documents across multiple repositories. Laying out your best opportunities for ROI will help you prioritize development during later stages of the project.

#3 When we look at our current tools, what doesn’t work like it should?

This question begins to develop that empathy for your end users. For instance, most companies have at least one process that relies on a couple employees manually entering data into an Excel spreadsheet. That system might work for a small amount of data, but it isn’t scalable as the company grows. Or you might discover that employees never use the search feature in your current intranet because it doesn’t return the right results.

This is where you start your design plan. By fixing a frustrating process, you can earn credibility and buy-in early on in the project.

#4 What do our employees have to do?

People don’t like change, even if you promise that the new portal you’re building will make their lives easier once they get used to it. The first roll out of your employee portal should take the tasks people have to do — logging timesheets, requesting vacation time — and place these functions completely within the new solution so that employees have to use it. That may seem forceful, but it should hold IT accountable to making a portal that is actually efficient, reliable and easy to navigate. Despite most of the advice for intranets you find online, designing the best employee portal is not about making something pretty. It’s about making something practical. This, if done well, drives usage and engagement.

#5 Which tools do our employees like?

Modeling your User Experience after tools your team already likes can help build early engagement, because the experience of the portal will feel familiar. If your employees love using Facebook pages to plan company events, then create an internal social platform that includes those same features.

#6 How do our employees collaborate?

Effective collaboration through a portal is difficult to get right, but it promises some of the biggest gains in increasing productivity and facilitating communication. If you can achieve a deep understanding of the pain points around collaboration, you position yourself to develop a portal with significant ROI. Spend time researching how your users get a project done from start to finish, making note of every tool they use in the process, from sticky notes to whiteboards to text messages.

The Best Employee Portals Pay for Themselves

Ultimately, the best employee portal is the one that takes the least resources to manage, while having the most impact on efficiency and engagement. Your solution should be something that employees feel confident using, and there should be enough buy-in that you are receiving a healthy amount of feedback and requests for new features. However, it should also be supported by a portal platform that can implement these new features without a huge commitment of resources. The right balance depends on your organization’s goals, but in most cases, the benefits of a solid employee portal more than pay for themselves.

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