Digital Workspace
February 18, 2021

The Evolution of the Employee Directory

Employee directories have come a long way. Put simply, an employee directory is a tool that helps you to find information about your coworkers. In short, a database of your employee information. Starting from a paper list of names to now an integral part of your digital workplace, whatever your employee directory looks like, it should be able to achieve one key impact - equipping your people with the information they need to connect and collaborate. To do that, it’s essential that your employee directory is more than a list of names. We’re going to take you through the evolution of the employee directory. The employee directory of the past, present and future, and where your organization needs to be.

The employee directory of the past 

Let’s start with the basics. The most basic employee directory usually includes the following information: 

  • Name (first name, last name)
  • Job title 
  • Team/department 
  • Contact information (email, phone number, etc.)
  • An official photo

These are the basics of what you need for your people to be able to find one another. But why isn’t this an effective solution anymore?

As workplaces become more distributed, collaborative, and efficient, there is a need to quickly contact colleagues you aren’t already familiar with. In the past, it was often good enough to ask your leader or teammates questions like “Do you know someone who can help me with this problem I’m having?” or “Who was that one person from marketing that worked on that project last year?”. Today, it’s harder to rely on institutional knowledge and word of mouth. Yes, because it’s usually much less efficient than a technology based alternative, but also because people tend to switch roles more often, both internally and externally. This is further complicated by the fact that the majority of workforces can no longer work in-person. 

The primary job that a basic employee directory solves is to find contact information for someone that you know you need to contact. But what about those times when you don’t know who to contact? 

The leveled up employee directory

The leveled up employee directory is more than just a list of names, and is where a lot of employee directory software falls at present. So, what do you need to ensure that your directory is a tool that can be leveraged?

The first thing that you need is to display more information about your employees in a deeper profile. This information includes:

  • Expanded official information - Anniversary dates, building locations, etc.
  • History/experience - A section to go in depth about work experience, previous projects, or educational background
  • Skills - A place to describe subject matter expertise
  • Interests - Describing personal and professional interests to make profiles more human

Profiles themselves display the critical information you need, however, this information needs to be made accessible, meaning your information needs to be searchable

The second component you need to level up is comprehensive employee directory search

Any search found in a basic employee directory is usually limited. It can perhaps search only by one piece of information at a time, or even only by name. And after you get a result, there isn’t much you can do to narrow it down beyond sifting through the list manually. More advanced directories will add:

  • Filtering capabilities - Allowing the user to find people who match a certain criteria (a department, a job title, etc) and narrow the result after searching.
  • Combinational searches - Allowing queries across multiple different attributes to get a more accurate result
  • A better free text search - A single search input that can search by more than a name or a job title

Finally, the third component you need is a dynamic, interactive org chart.

Larger scale org charts have historically been separated from the employee directory. They live in a separate tool, are not always accessible to the entire organization, and are even manually updated a lot of the time. The org charts that are accessible to everyone usually are limited in scope, only showing one or a couple levels of reporting.

Pairing an advanced org chart with the people directory provides better accessibility and transparency to your entire organization, and further fosters cross-functional collaboration.

The modern employee directory

Now what about the employee directory of the future? 

The modern employee directory allows for people discovery, meaning it equips your people to discover new connections around them and to receive insights around the people side of your organization. This could look like:

  • Breakdowns of different demographics - Quickly accessing information often guarded behind a business intelligence (BI) team. How many people in my organization have a certain skill? How many people are working remotely on a team I’m contacting?
  • Dynamic insight into initiatives being worked on - Who is working on what project? Who is the go-to person for this technology that I’m beginning to work with?
  • Representing “virtual” teams - As things become more cross functional, we will naturally work with groups of individuals that might not be official in our HR system. 

To start to bring these ideas and others to life, the employee profile needs more information. In order to populate profiles with all of the information you would like to be accessible to your organization, the modern directory should be able to integrate with multiple different data sources simultaneously (HR, identity management, third party tools, flat files, etc). 

It should also be able to collect information from employees in an easy, non-disruptive way. Creating a holistic profile helps to foster collaboration and encourages employees to represent themselves accurately.

  • Time zone and work hours - Allow for easier collaboration between people and teams who work on different schedules
  • Pronouns and name pronunciation - Create a more inclusive workplace by allowing people to specify how they should be addressed
  • Skill levels - Further specify skill levels and proficiencies to provide an accurate view of talent across the organization

Look to the future

The workplace and its people are evolving, and with that evolution should come solutions that support it. The employee directory of old in combination with word of mouth is no longer an effective solution to truly enable engagement and collaboration. The modern directory provides a place for everyone to leverage the information that was previously only available to only a few, or nobody at all. Giving people the ability to find and know those they work with fosters a more inclusive environment for all.

To learn more about what value a modern people directory would bring to your organization, check out our data report on modern people directory usage. 

How Modern Companies Connect

Organizations are being pushed to become rapidly agile. For that to happen, orgs need a tool to explore the knowledge, skills, and experience of their talent, and that tool is the modern people directory. Check out this data study of six months of usage data from over 130 companies using the Sift people directory.
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