The DWG Technology and Research Institute brings together organizations, technology providers and experts to share knowledge, ideas and perspectives securely and confidentially, to significantly improve and reimagine the way we work today and in the future.
On March 4, 2021 DWG was joined by Maximo Castagno, Chief Product Officer, Beezy, to discuss optimizing employee experience, particularly in relation to the digital workplace, intranets, Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Viva.
Evolution in the digital workplace
The digital workplace and digital employee experience world, as well as the related technology landscape, continue to evolve and change. COVID-19, new consumer apps and product announcements such as the launch of Microsoft Viva, can all influence the technology we use for our work.
One of the aims of DWG Technology and Research Institute Technology Exchanges is to help digital workplace and intranet teams gain knowledge and some perspective on these changes. Our latest DWG Institute Technology Exchange, with Beezy’s Maximo Castagno, covered a wide range of different topics, including Microsoft Viva, and gave us some fascinating insights from a product-orientated viewpoint of the digital workplace and employee experience.
We were delighted to partner once again with Beezy for this Technology Exchange. Beezy is a leading intelligent digital workplace solution focused on employee experience, which powers many modern intranets. Maximo Castagno, Beezy’s Chief Product Officer, has been our guest on previous Technology Exchanges and Technology Labs, and always provides an insightful view into the past and future evolution of intranets and digital workplaces.
The recording of this session will obviously be useful if you want to get a sense of the Beezy platform, but there were many other takeaways that will be useful to all intranet and digital workplace teams too.
In this post we feature 10 insights that stood out for us.
1. The digital workplace never keeps still
Maximo started the session by talking about the evolution of the digital workplace and intranets over the past 20 years. From this, it was clear that the digital workplace never stays still, continually moving through different phases and taking on additional features and capabilities. Having this helicopter view of digital workplace evolution helps provide some context for current and future trends.
Maximo categorizes this evolution into four distinct waves:
- Information: digitizing and disseminating information for employees.
- Communication: focusing on news, articles and blogs from internal communicators, HR and others.
- Collaboration: the integration of social, collaboration and communication tools, with user-generated content an increased focus.
- Transactions: interaction with systems, AI and more.
2. Be aware of the main challenges in the digital workplace
Managing the digital workplace and intranets brings some real challenges; Maximo outlined the key issues he has seen through working with clients, including some that often get in the way of delivering a strong digital employee experience. These are:
- Too many disconnected tools creating a disjointed, inconsistent and overwhelming experience for employees, where they can have too much choice.
- A top-down approach that does not always have the desired impact for communications or bypasses the employee voice.
- Experiences that are not personalized and are therefore not relevant to highly diverse workforces.
- Not making it easy for content managers, meaning it can be hard to sustain a devolved publishing model.
- Simply not being very engaging for users, so then failing to compete with content and apps in the consumer world, particularly with so many of us still working at home.
In the subsequent demo of the Beezy platform, Maximo explained how the Beezy team had tried to combat some of these key challenges, for example establishing the ‘user experience layer’ and taking inspiration from consumer sites and social media in the design.
3. Separate the user experience (UX) from the platform
One theme that we have returned to in different DWG Institute Technology Exchanges is the idea of the ‘experience layer’, effectively separating the delivery of what the user actually experiences through the interface from the underlying platform that might feed the experience. This means that you might plug in different applications in the back end but still provide a consistent front-end experience to the user.
Maximo explained that Beezy provides this user experience layer, meaning that employees don’t need to worry about platform changes and how different applications can easily be integrated into a consistent UX; the Beezy platform can also complement elements from SharePoint and Microsoft 365 tools, so employees get the best possible experience. Maximo even attributed abstracting the user experience from the technology as an element of Beezy’s ‘secret sauce’.
4. Balance the push and the pull
One principle that Maximo mentioned was ensuring that your intranet or digital workplace has just the right balance of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ communications and features. This obviously balances the needs of internal communicators, but also allows the employee to configure the kind of experience they want. Getting this balance right also means the employee experience doesn’t become too overwhelming.
In the demo of the Beezy platform, we saw some examples of this balance, for example a hero area dedicated to global news (push) and then a social feed that is defined by user preference and profile (pull). Even within the social feed there are separated ‘discovery cards’ that are push communications, highlighting content that might be of particular interest.
5. Take inspiration from the consumer world
An ongoing theme prevalent in designing intranets and workplace applications in general is taking inspiration from the external consumer world and incorporating this into the tools we use at work. Our use of technology and expectations of workplace tools are heavily influenced by the apps, sites, social media and digital experiences we have every day; incorporating these helps to meet employee expectations, improves the employee experience and drives evolution.
During the session, Maximo showed us different elements of Beezy that have been influenced by popular sites such as LinkedIn and the BBC website, as well as online advertising.
6. Make the administration and publishing experience easy
One digital workplace challenge Maximo mentioned was that the experience for administrators and content publishers is not always ideal. To combat this, Beezy has tried to focus as much on the administrator experience as it does on the user experience, creating editing interfaces that are very easy to configure; here we saw examples of how to modify content layouts and define governance elements such as publishing workflows. We think this is an important element of the digital employee experience, helping to sustain decentralized approaches to content management and publishing.
7. Take a multichannel approach and focus on Teams
In the session, Maximo advised anyone looking into optimizing digital employee experience to take a multichannel approach, making sure, for example, there are more options for employees beyond just accessing an intranet and driving a more consistent experience across channels. This advice is particularly relevant to Microsoft Teams, which is increasingly where work gets done.
Maximo highlighted Beezy’s ‘dual approach’ to Microsoft Teams, meaning the Beezy platform can be accessed within Teams but also aspects of Teams are brought into a Beezy-powered intranet. For example, within Beezy, there are different options to launch Teams or view Teams content, such as a latest activity feed, while, within Teams, you can also view Beezy content, interact with the product’s in-built chatbot, and more.
8. Get ready for Microsoft Viva
Microsoft recently made the exciting announcement about Microsoft Viva, a new offering firmly focused on employee experience. Maximo suggested that this was a clear message from Microsoft that ‘employee experience needs to be a priority’.
Microsoft Viva is being delivered as four apps that can be accessed through Microsoft Teams:
- Viva Topics: harnessing knowledge and expertise through an AI-driven approach that groups knowledge, experts and content on different topics together.
- Viva Connections: amplifying culture and connections through access to internal communications, content and social communities.
- Viva Learning: to accelerate skills and growth through access to learning resources from multiple places.
- Viva Insights: balancing productivity and wellbeing through analytics and related insights.
Maximo explained that the team at Beezy are ‘super-excited’ about Viva, not only because it has a similar vision to the Beezy product, but because it is being built as a platform, so they can potentially integrate aspects of Viva and Beezy to deliver more value for customers.
9. Consider the platform and solution model
Building on the idea of the user experience layer covered earlier in the Technology Exchange, Maximo explained a little more about the difference between platforms and solutions, and why it takes both to deliver a strong employee experience.
He suggested that platforms are exceptionally important because they create standards (such as adaptive cards), provide the basic building blocks of the employee experience, and do much of the ‘heavy lifting’, for example in delivering authentication, search and analytics capabilities.
However, solutions also play an important role in plugging feature gaps missing from the platform, improving the user experience, and offering customization options, for example around brand. Considering the interaction between a platform like SharePoint and a solution like Beezy, with its emphasis on UX and additional functionality, is a useful approach that can help digital workplace teams to think constructively through the options they have to drive a strong experience.
10. Optimize the digital workplace beyond the Microsoft stack
It’s true to say that Microsoft 365 and other Microsoft tools are dominating most digital workplaces, but it is always important to remember that technologies such as Salesforce, ServiceNow, Workday and Workplace from Facebook are also prominent in the digital workplace landscape. It’s increasingly easy and straightforward to build these into Microsoft 365-powered digital workplaces through integrations, bots and more.
For example, Maximo demonstrated how a bot in the Beezy platform can be integrated with Workday in order to allow an employee to request annual leave through a conversational interface. Workflow can then deliver an ‘action card’ into the social feed of the requestor’s manager on a Beezy-powered intranet with the ability to approve the request.
Our thanks to Maximo and the Beezy team for a great DWG Institute Technology Exchange
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