Online staff directories (also known as phone directories, corporate phone books, or internal whitepages) are generally the most used element of a corporate intranet. They are also one of the few tools that are used every day by staff, and as such, they have a considerable impact upon the efficiency of staff throughout the organisation.
A survey was conducted in 2004 exploring how many organisations have a staff directory, how they had been implemented and to what degree they are relied on by staff. The results of this survey are summarised in this article.
Additional research was then conducted into the design and implementation of staff directories, and the key findings of this work are presented later in the article.
In 2004, Step Two Designs conducted a public survey focusing on corporate staff directories. This survey was widely promoted, and 319 responses were gained from across the globe.
The purpose of the survey was to gain an understanding of how many organisations have a staff directory, what features they provide, and the issues they have encountered. Questions were also asked regarding the value gained from their staff directory.
This article presents a visual summary of the key findings.
Key findings and recommendations
Additional research was conducted with selected organisations regarding the details of staff directory design and implementation.
The key findings and recommendations from this work are outlined in the following sections:
1. Include more than just phone numbers
While a staff directory must contain core staff contact details (name, phone numbers, e-mail address), it can deliver much more.
Devote additional resources to further expanding the capabilities of staff directories, as this innovation will deliver increasing business benefits.
A few additional fields to consider:
- staff photographs
- skills and expertise
- special roles
- papers published and research interests
- resume (CV)
2. Provide an effective quick search
Searching the staff directory for people by name is such a frequent activity that it should be available from the home page of the intranet. If space is limited on the home page, it should be no more than one click away.
Most effort should be put into designing this simple search interface, as it will be used the vast majority of time (in preference to a more complex ‘advanced’ search).
3. Deliver a dynamic organisational chart
The importance of an up-to-date organisational chart cannot be overstated, as it is the only mechanism that allows staff to gain a true (and complete) understanding of how the organisation operates.
For this reason, generating an up-to-date and useful organisational chart should be a prime consideration when implementing a staff directory. Instead of being created as a separate system, it should be tightly integrated into the rest of the staff directory.
4. Provide self-service capability
Perhaps the most effective approach for maintaining directory details is to allow the staff to update their own details (‘self-service’ capability). By allowing staff to maintain their own information, it will be more accurate and up to date.
To this end, the staff directory should provide an editing page that allows staff to revise their details. This should be linked to directly from the main staff listing.
5. Usability test the staff directory
The staff directory should be usability tested with a representative cross-section of staff to ensure that it is both efficient and easy to use.
A range of staff should be involved in the testing, including:
- cross-section of staff roles (managers, administration staff, front-line staff, technical staff, etc)
- staff from different business units
- both new-starters and long-serving staff
This usability testing should be based on common tasks that users will be completing when accessing the staff directory; more advanced or complex features should also be focused on.
6. Ensure the staff directory can be printed
While the majority of staff will access the staff directory online, there will be a number of users with a strong need for a printed version of some (or all) of the directory details.
These include staff who work off-site or on the road, administrative staff who need a rapid way of looking up common details, or call centre staff with a similar need for easy access.
7. Include all staff
In many organisations there are a wide range of staff who may be working with the organisation on a long-term basis, but are not employed as full-time staff. These include:
- consultants from vendors, etc
- field workers without an assigned desk
- staff employed by subsidiary or affiliated organisations
Steps should therefore be taken to include all staff in the directory, regardless of whether they are listed in the HR system. This may involve establishing a mechanism for adding entries directly to the staff directory.
8. Provide extensive cross-linking
Historically, staff directories have focused on the sole goal of returning details on a single staff person. Examining the most successful staff directories has shown instead that they benefit from extensive cross-linking. From a staff member to the team they belong to, details on the building they are located in, the manager they report to, through to a dynamic organisational chart.
The key concept is this: never leave the user with a ‘dead end’, link to related information and further details.