After building several internal tools for different clients, from project management to ERP to group communication tools, the Universe project has been an intriguing and challenging dive into the new era of intranets. After a year of close work with Gapps, we have an alternative for boring intranets, those endless dumping grounds of all the useless or uninteresting corporate information. Universe shows that today’s intranets can be much, much more.
Today’s digital workplace
“Today’s workdays are broken, 90% of Finnish people live in the past”, says Antero Hanhirova, the leading Google Apps specialist in Finland. Hanhirova represents Gapps, a Finnish company that has made Google for Work deployments for more than 800 organisations in the Northern Europe, and is one of the 50 fastest growing technology companies in EMEA. Having seen an alarming amount of people working in organisations with heavy, outdated tools, and processes that they definitely did not choose, the company started to seek ways to improve the workflow.
Interruptions, bad software, and bad company culture are the enemies of good work.
On an average office day the amount of time spent opening, closing and switching between different tools – actual project files, folders, email, calendar, team discussion, Skype, worktime tracker, and so on – is remarkably high. Now, when Finnish workdays are being lengthened by six minutes to increase competitiveness, every wasted minute feels even more significant. What if, instead of adding minutes, we would eliminate wasted ones? Even two minutes of time saved has an impact: one whole workday per person, every year.
Typically, an intranet is just another addition to that long list of systems people use and in many cases the last one to be opened. Most intranets don’t even require frequent visiting, as people don’t need them in their actual work. A lot of important communication gets ignored and no one really knows what’s happening in the organization. Efforts to maintain a collective company culture in big companies is too much of a challenge. Universe seeks to transform the role of the intranet from another system to a place where everything connects – the tools, the information, the work, and the people.
An intranet that meets modern expectations
Dropbox provides an efficient cloud service for sharing documents. Facebook, Slack, and Flowdock handle communication while different calendar applications focus on scheduling. These services draw the level of user expectations for internal tools as well, including intranets. Despite the bad reputation of intranets, people expect them to work like every other modern service nowadays. We have Google, why should I be struggling with a bad search?
Universe represents a practical way of seeing the corporate intranet, taking it where it should be: closer to work.
The idea is to provide all key functions – information, communication and collaboration – in one platform using Google’s existing services. One of the main differences with Google is that its solutions were first developed for consumers, and only then adapted to work life. This perspective further emphasizes the role of user interface as a facilitator of an individual’s work, thus supporter of corporate collaboration.
In the user interface design process content was kept as priority from the beginning. The bar was set high, the client being a large organization full of visual media people. The interface needed to gather all the tools together clearly, without looking boring. According to Sami Vuori, the Kiskonian in charge of the design, maintaining the visual look in such a long project was a challenge. The team even printed out all the views to the walls of a meeting room and analysed every one of them to be sure everything fit the wanted visual look. Using a styleguide from the beginning to the end was vital.
People should be able to find things on the intranet, which unfortunately is not the case with many corporate intranets. One of the biggest advantages of Universe and wins in the project is a super smart search, which makes finding information easy, even in large organisations with an endless amount of data. Its idea is to eliminate the need to search for information separately from your email, files or discussions, as one search covers all of them, the whole digital workplace.
One of the most challenging views to build was the process of the creation of a Channel – Universe’s discussion channel – mostly due to the restrictions of Google’s APIs. It was particularly complicated as it first required from the user to create a Google+ community, and the process couldn’t be automated. There were already too many steps. In the end, the development team took a big challenge, abandoned Google+ and built its own discussion channel as part of Universe. Creating a channel became super easy – just create it, name it and activate the wanted services with toggle switches.
The team calendar
The most recent challenge has been building Universe’s amazingly practical team calendar. Virtually, the scheduler eliminates the need for Doodle and useless emails when you try to find a time suitable for everyone. It shows the whole team’s calendars and even suggests the next time when the whole team is available to meet. The real challenge has been different habits when it comes to using a calendar, for example using it as a to-do list.
The solutions are easy – in that case it would be using reminders and not calendar events for to-do’s – but it requires teaching users. And of course, the user group for intranets is large. One of the learnings of the Universe project for Sami was that you should never underestimate the user, never think you know what she finds challenging or what she needs. For the Universe team this means serious efforts to understand different ways of working, a lot of user testing and interviewing.
One login, one password
Universe makes it possible to choose the best tools for different teams or projects, and have them under the same system that feels like your company’s internal work space. It makes collaboration, sharing and discovering easier, reducing the amount of conflicts. What’s more, everything is available with just one login, which is a relief for everyone who doesn’t love having dozens of different passwords (in other words, every single human being).
Take a closer look at the project’s outcome, the world’s first intranet designed especially for companies using Google Apps: https://getuniverse.com/
- Client: Gapps
- Team: Sami Vuori