Why employee experience platforms are the intranets of the future
As the concept of an employee experience platform gains significance, it's a great time to take a step back and explore what exactly constitutes an EXP and why enterprises are turning to them to manage new challenges. With six years of delivering industry-leading employee experience solutions under our belt, we wanted to share our take on the most important components of an employee experience platform and the core features that set it apart from traditional intranet technology.
The spotlight on employee experience
COVID-19 and the move to remote work has been a huge driver in the change of attitude towards employee experience, and the critical role technology plays in enhancing it. 2020 revealed big gaps in many organizations' digital offerings when it came to finding ways to manage culture and engagement remotely. What became clear was that one-way communication with employees is no longer enough; businesses need to be looking at ways to connect, engage and inspire employees through workplace technology to succeed in the digital era of work.
The pandemic has given us an opportunity to rethink the way we work, accelerating digital transformations of organizations across the board. However, as technology increasingly becomes where we work not just how we work, it is more vital than ever that we find ways to support human connection and keep people at the heart of our businesses. A dedicated platform that focuses on engaging employees and supporting overall employee experience is now an invaluable business tool, set to solve a catalog of emerging challenges.
Shell powers employee experience with an EXP
Shell, one of the largest companies in the world, has served as an oil and gas “supermajor” since its founding in 1907 and has become one of the most recognizable brands on the planet. Watch Shell’s video case study to discover how their Unily intranet transformed the employee experience for over 82k staff worldwide and drove savings of over $42m a year in productivity gains.
What is an employee experience platform?
"At its core, an employee experience platform (or EXP) is a software platform that lets you treat your employees like customers. In the same way that your business leverages every advancement in technology to connect with your customers, an EXP engages your employees and enables them to be more effective in their job with advanced communications, networking, and knowledge-sharing experiences."
The EXP is an evolution of the intranet that takes the principles of a communication platform and builds on it to tackle a broader array of employee experience challenges. But what sets an EXP apart from a traditional intranet? It can be challenging to define the exact differentiators as the move to EXP has been a natural evolution, however there are a few key innovations that represent the birth of a new category of engagement technology that you can look out for.
Core features of an EXP
With employee experience platforms being a natural evolution of intranet technology, there are some core features that set an EXP apart from an intranet, both 'on the front-end’ (what your users see and engage with) as well as ‘under the hood’ (the underlying technology that makes the platform rich and intelligent).
5 front-end features of the EXP
#1. Consumer-grade communications experiences
Effective communication in the workplace can be hard to achieve, even more so in the remote era. Volume of communications is a persistent problem that impacts engagement – with more content being published, how can we ensure it is engaging employees and not overwhelming them? In our personal lives, we have become used to highly relevant, multimedia communications that come to us when we’re primed to engage. This is what the EXP brings to the employee experience.
The role of the EXP is to overcome engagement challenges by improving the effectiveness of internal communications and bringing the innovations seen in consumer technology to the workplace. The EXP should deliver a user experience that is highly targeted, relevant and uses a diverse array of media and touchpoints to deliver a consistent message to users and gives them different options for interacting with that message. Therefore, you’ll want to look out for sophisticated targeting and personalization options that cater to different devices, alongside back-end features designed to optimize the relevancy of experiences from under the hood (more on that later!).
Creating consumer grade internal communications
Sunshine, canine companions and a last-minute Uber dash all feature in the third installment of the Unily podcast. Paul Seda welcomes Unily’s Kaitlin Auriemma, Matthew Boyd, and podcast newcomer Casey Farr to discuss how enterprises can create internal comms that live up to consumer expectations.
#2. Social experiences that connect your people
While social experiences far from new to the intranet space, the EXP takes surface-level ‘liking’ and commenting a step further. Social features of an EXP don’t just let users interact with content, they find ways to turn those insights into actions. What sets an EXP apart from a social intranet is its ability to more closely mimic the natural ideas exchange that would have taken place in the office and transpose it into a digital location where humans use technology to advance their capabilities.
In addition to traditional social features like reacting, commenting, and sharing, the EXP is a place for employees to raise their profile within the organization by crafting a digital identity. Through rich user-profiles and responsive people directories, employees can begin to develop digital networks and internal communities that cross physical borders. There is also an opportunity to leverage gamified reward and recognition to maintain a sense of appreciation when in-person hi-fives are not possible.
At a time where so many of us feel disconnected, empowering social connectivity within the digital workplace can begin to fill some of the gaps left by the exodus from the office. EXP social features can help create a living, collaborative platform rather than a static, one-way experience for the user. This is achieved by replicating communication styles that relied on shared physical space and creating a home for truly borderless social interaction – building a virtual community within the EXP.
#3. Integrated search that unites knowledge
The way we find information and interact with technology has changed. We now expect a Google-like experience from every app or website we interact with. We want to be able to type keywords and find answers without having to rifle through information. We expect insights to come to us, we don’t want to waste time trawling systems to find them. We want answers, and we want them now!
An EXP needs to deliver on this changed expectation by providing a sophisticated search experience that is easy to use and connects to all our knowledge repositories to deliver a single source of truth. To do this effectively, your EXP needs to integrate with the many other systems you use to store and manage knowledge, be that SharePoint, BOX, Salesforce... the list is endless!
The search experience itself needs to be intuitive to use and designed so that insights displayed are easy to filter through and absorb. Look out for features like search refiners, device-responsive search, and targeted search experiences to ensure your EXP is at the forefront of innovation.
#4. Single pane of glass integrations
With the digital landscape growing increasingly complex, it can become time-consuming for workers to locate and access the tools and information they need, when they need it. Information silos can form easily in a disconnected technology landscape, but the EXP can overcome this challenge by providing a single gateway to apps, tools, and the data that resides in them.
A single pane of glass approach characterizes the EXP. This turn of phrase refers to the EXP’s ability to provide a consistent experience layer for employees to interact with the many apps and tools they rely on at work. Not only does this deliver productivity benefits but it also helps ensure consistent branding across all your tools, which makes for a more pleasant digital experience.
Whether workers are searching for information, completing tasks, or absorbing insights, the single pane of glass approach will provide a consistent and frictionless digital experience across your entire technology landscape. To achieve this vision of a single entry to all business systems, it’s crucial that your chosen EXP has an integrations framework that allows it to interact with you wider digital toolset.
#5. Cross-device experiences for any time, anywhere accessibility
Returning to the idea of the EXP as a tool to deliver consumer-grade experience to employees, a base level necessity is the requirement to be able to deliver experiences across multiple devices. These experiences should be tailored to the device, so every touchpoint is optimized for effectiveness.
The fundamental role of the EXP is to unite every employee in a single, shared digital space. Therefore it must work as well for frontline workers accessing from a mobile intranet app as it is for traditional desk-based users on a desktop. Your EXP should at a minimum be mobile responsive, and in an ideal world you will want it to act more like a headless CMS, enabling you to deliver consistent digital experiences across any device including digital signage boards. Branded mobile apps and targeted mobile experiences should be on your watch-list when vetting potential EXP providers.
Meeting your users where they are doesn’t just improve your chances of engaging them, it’s what they expect, and it should be part of their experience of work.
5 components you should expect under the hood
While the front-end ‘experience layer’ is often considered the most important element of any solution since it is the part of your EXP most employees will interact with and benefit from, what happens under the hood is just as important. The technology framework that underpins your solution is what gives you the power to develop meaningful experiences on the front end.
Below are the 5 key ‘back-end’ capabilities you should expect from an EXP that will set your solution apart from traditional intranet software.
#1. Publishing and administration features that empower communicators
Having an intuitive content management system (CMS) is at the core of delivering a true EXP and unclipping the wings of your enterprise communicators. Engaging internal communications are the bedrock of a strong employee experience, and giving your communicators the ability to enhance their delivery of comms should be one of the top priorities for your EXP.
A CMS that allows publishers to simply design, create, push and track content that drives employee engagement across multiple touchpoints is essential in freeing your communications teams to enact the full power of their strategy. The ability of the EXP to deliver targeted experiences that can be optimized for the touchpoint without IT assistance takes it beyond the capabilities of a traditional intranet.
An intuitive CMS will allow communicators to target content and experiences to relevant audiences, helping them cut through the noise and make sure the right messages reach the right people, at the right time. Top publishing features to look out for include: advanced audience and device targeting, drag and drop page designers, front-end/mobile publishing, content templates, scheduling and approval workflows, and site theming.
#2. Artificial Intelligence used intelligently
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing the way we work, with 47% of business leaders saying AI allows teams to focus on more strategic areas of work, enhancing productivity overall. Adopting AI technologies into your employee experience platform enables you to increase the relevancy of content to different users and deliver a more engaging digital experience to all.
AI is known for taking the hassle out of mundane and monotonous tasks, streamlining the experience for all. An example of this in the digital workplace is AI-powered media processing, which can make use of automatic tagging, transcription, and device optimization, meaning employees that are uploading images and videos don’t have to waste time doing this manually. On the front end, it means users get attractive content on any device that appears when they need it, in a format that works.
"It’s easy to get sidetracked by shiny new technology, but your focus should always be on connecting people to content."
Your EXP should have an innovative roadmap that takes advantage of the latest AI developments to enhance experiences on your platform. Look out for integrations with AI-based services that enrich content and experiences such as machine translation and automated analysis of rich media, and content and information graphs.
Beyond the hype: AI and the digital workplace
Will AI take over your job? Or is it changing the fundamental nature of the digital workplace? Together with AI experts from Microsoft and ClearBox's Sam Marshall, Unily aims to dispel popular myths surrounding AI in the digital workplace and bring you real-world examples of how you can employ AI technologies in your digital workplace.
#3. Analytics that examine the right data
To date, measuring the success of an EX-strategy has been tricky at best, impossible at worst. But new reliance on digital experience platforms presents opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of how employees are really experiencing work. When engagement is happening almost exclusively online, on one central platform, it becomes easier to measure the impact of your strategy over time and in real time. In many ways the digital era is a gift to communicators and EX strategists, providing new insight into the employee experience that was previously a figment of dreams.
For analytics to be effective, it's crucial that your EXP is evaluating the right sort of data. At Unily we’re focused on supporting enterprises to enhance employee engagement as a route to productivity. So, we’re less focused on tracking traditional productivity measures like time on task and more focused on helping you understand how your users are interacting with your solution and content at large.
The insights and data you should be looking to your EXP to provide should be around user behaviors. How are users finding content, can you make it easier? Is video content resonating more with frontline employees while desktop workers prefer written articles and infographics? Are leadership insights landing or do you need to take a new approach? Look for a solution that tracks the way your users engage with your experience and doesn’t feel like a surveillance tool. You’ll want real-time insights with innovative data visualization.
"Behavioral analytics takes guesswork out of the picture. It is simply the most comprehensive way of understanding your users."
#4. A true platform with agility at its core
Agility was the buzzword of 2020. Suddenly enterprises needed their technology to adapt rapidly to the changing needs brought about by the mass shift to remote work. Learning from this, enterprises and their IT leaders are now focused on implementing solutions that has the ability to flex with changing environments.
With this in mind, for your EXP to deliver a futureproof employee experience solution, it must have an agile framework at its core. Open integrations deliver partly on this, but to take it a step further you’ll require a platform that offers ‘plug-and-play' feature installation for ultimate agility.
If you’re feeling technically challenges at this point, stay with me! Plug and play features are essentially pre-built features that can be downloaded into your EXP environment at the touch of a button. This means you can rapidly adapt the look, feel, and functionality of your site to meet a new need. Unily offers a Feature Store that enables clients to search through a library of pre-built features to find the one that works for them. And if it’s not there, Unily customers can request a new feature by using the ideation hub in our customer community portal.
#5. An active community of peers
This isn't a shameless plug, an active customer community is a genuine value add for any EXP solution. Technology is evolving at such a pace that having a community of peers to exchange ideas and solve common challenges with is becoming essential to enabling the kind of rapid solution implementation needed to stay ahead of the EX-curve.
A customer network should deliver a central platform for the community to share knowledge and connect. You’ll want to look out for active social channels, a regular events schedule, and value-add resources like training guides, webinars, plus a place for you to feedback on how you’d like the product to develop to further meet your needs.
Find out more about Unily’s customer community portal Universe.
Connect, engage and inspire your workforce with an EXP
Having an employee experience platform means you can ensure your employees have everything they need to do their best work at their fingertips, no matter how restricted their access is, what language or device they prefer, or where they’re located around the world. With workplace disruption set to continue, the EXP promises to keep employees connected, engaged and inspired no matter how the world changes around them.
Discover how an EXP can benefit your enterprise
If you would like to know more about how our employee experience platform can empower your workforce, see Unily in action.