"This system is so bad, I might as well not use it."
Sound familiar? If you’re an employee who works with any kind of software to get work done, I’m sure it does. Your company’s intranet is so cluttered, inefficient, spotty and disorganized that it’s not worth the hassle of actually using it. Your organization’s digital collaboration tools sap your productivity and create cognitive overload because the experiences they deliver are so fragmented. The result is that email traffic — and calls to the IT team — increase dramatically. So does your level of frustration.Today, as workplace demographics shift, chances are your employees want more engagement, more purpose and more personalization at work. And they have every right to ask for it. After all, the competition for talent is fierce and highly engaged business units produce 21% greater profitability. Yet still only 7 to 18% of organizations possess the digital dexterity to adapt to these new collaborative, mobile and technology-driven ways of working. The key to an effective digital workplace stems not from your IT team rolling out a new project or making quick fixes to your intranet. Rather, human-centered design — bottom-up, feedback-oriented, outcome-oriented methods that put the employee’s experience at the center — is the best way for businesses to keep pace in an evolving marketplace.
According to a Forrester report commissioned by IBM, design thinking has doubled project teams’ design and execution speed and more than 80 percent of business leaders using design thinking also reported their teams were more aligned and focused. According to a study by the Design Management Institute, design-centric companies have maintained significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 211 percent.
“Empathy” gets thrown around a lot, but true empathy doesn’t just mean listening. It means hearing someone for the individual they are, gathering insights in doing so, and having a structure and process in place to actually apply those insights.
When leaders of a large non-profit medical association sought to update their intranet, for instance, they didn’t just thrust new technology onto their workforce. Instead, they began by surveying employees to help define the challenges they faced. They then did extensive interviews and workshops with a diverse cross-section of employees to create four user personas, highlighting the motivations, behaviors, interactions, needs, and goals of typical employees engaging with the intranet. Doing this at the outset ensured that these very human needs were embedded into the development of the ultimate product.
Despite the obvious benefits of a digital workplace, many organizations still see it as simply something to get done: The powers that be set aside a budget for a new tech rollout, the IT team takes the lead, and that’s that.
But design thinking isn’t a one-off, top-down process. And success isn’t simply “getting it done.” With the project goals, employee personas, and feedback in hand, the medical association could begin a collaborative, iterative process of redesigning their intranet. They held design sprints with various stakeholders (e.g., members of the marketing, design, and product teams, as well as firm leaders) to sketch out what the experiences might look like for various personas; they then developed an interactive prototype using rapid iteration that could allow employees to provide feedback in real time. Throughout, they nurtured a build-fast, fail-fast environment that let them work out kinks — and connect with a wide range of employees.
Human-centered design does not mean just creating assumptive user personas (i.e., personas that stakeholders devise in a boardroom without undergoing validation research). It also doesn’t mean just collecting feedback from validated personas groups during the upfront design process. A human-centered design approach means remaining committed to gathering and incorporating user feedback throughout the inception and life of the digital workplace. If (and preferably so) a team is engaging in an agile development process, taking a human-centered design approach means that user groups are continuously engaged during the implementation lifecycle.
This article originally appeared in CMSWire.