Using mental models to evolve your digital workplace

Mental models are what they say: The models in our head that help us understand the world, connect ideas and sort out what is relevant to us. They are representations of the complex world around us and can help us both personally and professionally.

Let’s say you are asked to take your intranet or digital workplace to the next level. You can do this in many ways of course, but several mental models can help you take these steps. There are hundreds of mental models, and here I only list a few but list more models at the end.

Start with the vision, not the technology

Far too many intranets and the discussions we have about them, are based on the technology and not why we do what we do. This way you can use any award-winning platform and still fail miserably since there is no strong reason for the intranet to exist. It just simply exists. If you do the opposite by using models like Impact Mapping, and start with the vision and end-user needs, the intranet you build will be much better no matter the technology you use. Therefore, you should be cautious when a platform vendor sells features to you before asking what you want. My advice is to set a vision for the intranet, talk to the users and follow their daily work, and ser a few strong reasons for the intranet. Not until this is done are you allowed to look at how the technology should be handled.

How can you kill your intranet?

When the famous investor Charlie Munger was young, his work included helping his fellow men land their planes safely. So, the question he asked was “How can I kill these pilots?”. That’s not the question most of us pick perhaps, but under it lies a very strong mental model called inversion. By knowing how to kill these pilots via ice and lack of fuel, he inversely also knew how to save them by avoiding these hazards. For an intranet, inversion is listing ways you could kill your intranet, and then reverse them one by one. If we use inversion on an intranet and list how it could be awful, the list might include:

  • The intranet has an uptime of 10%.
  • There is no way to search.
  • You cannot use it outside the work building.
  • The UX/UI is ugly and confusing.
  • The intranet is not based on user needs.

If we turn these around and have an intranet that has an uptime of 99%, has a good search, can be used all over the place, has a good UX/UI, and is based on user needs, we have a decent intranet already there. This means, that if you first list the ways you could kill your intranet and do something about them, you end up with an intranet many would use.

Find the 20% of efforts that represent 80% of the results

A mental model that is related to inversion is the 80/20 rule, also called the Pareto principle. Originally about 20% owning 80% of the resources, it can now be applied to many business areas. Most probably, 20% of your intranet content has 80% of the traffic, and this should be easy to find. And the reverse is true as well: 80% of your time should be spent on 20% of all the things you can do as an intranet owner. And these can be linked to the ways you could kill your intranet. 80% of your time should be spent on understanding user needs, ensuring the UX/UI is great (including the navigation), optimizing the search, and training people on how to search, and use the intranet.

Understand the complexity level of your priorities

Dave Snowden and his friends have an excellent model called Cynefin for analyzing the complexity of a situation. Without going into all the richness of Cynefin, we can use its four parts as a map for understanding the complexity of what you have prioritized for your intranet. Let’s see some examples using the Cynefin domains:

  • Easy: You can teach people how to search on your intranet. There are clear rules and best practices for this, and a straightforward connection between cause and effect: Search the wrong way and the results are bad, search the right way and the results are good.

  • Complicated: There are no longer any best practices but only good practices since the problem can be approached in several ways. This means you should not trust vendors that talk about ‘best practices where in reality they are ‘good practices. An example of the complicated domain that depends on the context and culture of the organization, is designing a champions program for an intranet. It can be done in several different ways.

  • Complex: The cause and effect are very blurry here and you need to explore the environment as you go. For example, increasing the digital literacy for 400 different professions among 30 000 users can be done but needs a lot of work to land right.

  • Chaotic: No clear cause and effect, and a time to navigate the chaos. Here lie the typical technology-heavy areas of today, with virtual worlds very few have tested (or can see the reasons for), costly and vague ways to use AI to improve the end-user situation and all the things based on engineering dreams rather than the vision of the intranet.

As the novelty wears off and the market matures, today’s chaotic, complex, and complicated situations can jump one or several steps in the model. What used to be complicated can then have a best practice.

Let many small things create a big momentum

Many of us live in a culture that has goal setting at the center, and that uses goal shaming to point out why people aren’t “succeeding”: If only you set some grand goals, acted on them, and tracked them every day, you would be happier. But what many of us have experienced is that the grand goals, inspired by gurus and teachers, fall flat since we seldom know how to go from where we are today, to this grand goal.

A good way to overcome this is by using what has been called atomic habits or using the compounding effect where many small changes lead to big changes over time. So, instead of saying that one year from now we will the best intranet in the world (whatever that means), you can improve the intranet by 1% every day. This is hardly noticeable for you or the end users, but it is the consistency that will get you there. If you improve something by 1% per day, it is theoretically 37 times better after one year. And the opposite: If you make the intranet 1% worse every day, you will have a useless intranet after one year. 1% improvements for a day can include:

  • Talking to an intranet user to understand their needs.
  • Improving the search by adding a best bet.
  • Doing a tree test on a small part of the menu.
  • Suggesting how to improve the readability of a text.

These are some examples and I look forward to testing these models and more. For those of you who want to explore more mental models, please see these:

Photo by Mike Hindle on Unsplash

A new life in Malmö begins

During the first two years of the pandemic, I was fortunate to work 100% remotely at Play’n GO and the Digital Workplace Group (DWG). Two world-leading organizations in their respective fields, with many challenges and opportunities. But with no offices (DWG) or offices hours away (Play’n GO), I started to feel isolated. So, after two years of digital team meetings, the time came to do something else. By then, a job I really felt sounded right for me appeared, and since May I am the product owner of the intranet at Malmö Stad with access to three offices although the job is done from home as well.

Since then, I have become a key player in the team, plus met a lot of skilled and awfully nice people who work at Malmö Stad since you can do a difference for a lot of people. I am also a member of the steering group for acquiring a new learning management system (LMS) and a member of a team focusing on Working Smarter. This means I not only feel less isolated. I can also take on a broader approach to intranets and digital workplaces. With 27 000 employees, Malmö City is a big employer, and the better we collaborate and innovate in our teams, the better the service we can provide to the citizens of Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city.

A very rewarding thing that also happened is that I was selected to be one of the judges in the Intranet and Digital Workplace Awards, held by the legendary Step Two people. Humbling and awfully fascinating to see so many skilled and devoted entries, which of course also gave me insights on which kinds of intranets and digital workplaces are awarded and why. I also managed to record the 27th episode of “Att vakna ur meningkrisen” (in Swedish) – my interpretation of the work of professor John Vervaeke. Plus a recording in English on how I use the application Obsidian to structure my knowledge work around the Brothers Karamazov.

I am in a good place now, which you can tell also by me posting more often on LinkedIn. The time has come to work closely with the world-leading experts to see how far we all can take our work.

Photo by Pontus Ohlsson on Unsplash

Communication sites – as if pretty images solves it all

Microsoft just told the world that the so-called Communication sites are rolling out to 365 tenants. Here is a quote on the intended use:

Communication sites are perfect for internal cross-company campaigns, weekly and monthly reports or status updates, product launches, events and more. To help you jumpstart getting your message out fast, communication sites provide configurable templates for the sites and pages within.

Ah, yes! Everything we as communicators do is to create cool looking images, with action-inspiring text, based on templates. Yes, I know I sound a bit harsh here, but in all fairness: Anything you call Communication sites should be richer than this. I have written about the changing communications landscape before and anyone listening to professional communicators on Twitter or the like know that communicators have since long passed the times when pretty images were everything. Then we look at Microsoft’s own example from their site:

Microsoft highlights BI functionality in the launch article, but I expect more clarity and insight. If the Communications sites should really help companies, it would have been cool if Microsoft spoke to some professional communicators first. Maybe they have, and maybe more is coming. But given the message in Microsoft’s current material, I get the feeling that as long as you know Photoshop, you’ll be fine. I look forward to people proving me wrong.


Reporting from Intranätverk in Göteborg 2017

On May 16, I had the pleasure of attending the Intranätverk conference in Göteborg, Sweden. Intranätverk is a way for intranet and digital workplace people to stay connected and updated, and it has three conferences per year. This is a summary of what I heard in Göteborg, and I focus on the people working to create great intranets and not the vendors who presented. If I misheard something just e-mail me and I will correct it.


Mikaela Månsson from Kapp-Ahl, a fashion company with stores all over Sweden, spoke about their pre-study for a new intranet. The main goal was to also include the people working in their stores, so they quickly can find answers to customer questions and more. The current intranet is old but somewhat ok, with a rather bad search engine, no mobile access, and more.

The Communications department, where Mikaela works, owns the intranet but they have involved IT, Retail, and Human Resources in the pre-study. Their goal has been to provide support in the store worker’s daily jobs, and to strengthen the knowledge and connections among all. Soon, they are leaving the pre-study phase, and will go into production mode where they also will select which platform to use.

  • Main take-away for me: Make sure you involve a broad set of people from different departments when doing a pre-study for a new intranet.


Karl Brännström from Svenska Spel, which offers online and offline gambling, spoke about their intranet Hemmaplan, who has won a price as the best digital workplace. Is it based on SharePoint 2013 and has been described by researchers as a democratic intranet. As far as I understood it, they have avoided using special permissions all over the place, meaning all can use it on an equal basis.

They have placed a lot of effort on creating great profile pages. Getting people to add their own profile pictures can be a hassle, but Svenska Spel invites a professional photographer and a make-up artist on a regular basis so people look their best. Another feature is that people can nominate others as the best team players, which leads to recognition. Three things made sure they won the prize of the best digital workplace: It supports people’s daily work, it makes you more effective and saves you time, and it helps you feel proud of working there.

  • Main take-away for me: Instead of sending out nagging e-mails telling people to update their profile images, invite them to a great photo shoot.


Petra Graus from Pensionsmyndigheten told us how they moved from information stored in pdf files over to being stored on pages in their intranet. Pensionsmyndigheten handles all the governmental pension savings and more in Sweden, and receive a lot of calls an email about pensions and money. Earlier, the people working with supporting pension savers needed several clicks way down in pdf files each time they looked for an answer. By using Site Vision, they transferred all the material stored in pdf files, so everything about one subject was stored on one page.

  • Main take-away for me: Focusing on your important target groups and give them a solution that actually helps them.


Annika Lennstam from Transdev spoke about how to give the right information to the right people at the right time. Transdev drives and takes care of trains, buses, boats and more, to cover transport needs all over Sweden (backed by a global company). Many of her colleagues work as drivers and on the ground, and earlier they met a multitude of pages on the intranet depending on your role and location but mixed all together. This meant a search for ‘uniform’ could display a multitude of results, but none that was relevant for you. Therefore, Annika and the team created a matrix where they could see which role should find what based on their location. This role-based intranet helps people find information much quicker, and you can also switch roles to see the information aimed at other roles and locations. They meet the super users twice per year and have trained them to use their iPhones to record movies and then use iMovie to publish these movies. For example, they recorded “What are you most proud of during 2016?” which proved to become very popular.

  • Main take-away for me: Role-based intranets can do wonders for organizations with many roles, and movies are a fun and effective way to reach out.


Johan Simon from Sveriges Television spoke about their current intranet built in Site Vision as front-end and their 365 environment as back-end. It is currently in a beta release and is planned to go live in June. Sveriges Television is a governmental TV and media company in Sweden. Their old intranet was the third worst ever within Customer Carewords’ measurements and didn’t meet the end user’s expectations. Johan showed the upcoming “Nyttosidor”, which could translate into “Usefulness pages”. Instead of having several different pages about “Visiting Sveriges Television”, they created one single page for this but with several authors. Site Vision shows clickable “accordions” within the page which expand when clicked and if you click them again, they fold. Mutual hashtags between Site Vision and 365 hold it together. They also created printed how-to guides on how to use the intranet, since these are more tangible than pdf files or the like.

  • Main take-away for me: By using tools like Site Vision or Azure, companies can create a front-end that is built exactly the way they want. Then it can talk to Office 365 and other systems in the background. I think this is the way to move forward, since it gives full freedom instead of relying on the somewhat confusing AI offered in 365.


Elisabeth Lundholm from Malmö Stad spoke about their plans for building a digital workplace. Malmö is Sweden’s third largest city and Malmö Stad takes care of everything relating to running the city. Their previous intranet was built as a best-of-breeds intranet and mainly open source, but now they are looking at using Office 365 instead. The timing is right for them, since the old intranet needs to be updated, there are political decisions to support this, and there is a big need for better digital tools. Elisabeth and her colleagues are now matching which 365 tools can cover their old tools, plus grounding this work all over the organization.

  • Main take-away for me: Don’t be scared to change your platform and move way from earlier decisions, if you think that choice better supports your organization going forward. Legacy decisions should not decide where you should go.


Tobias Mossop from Martin and Servera told the story of moving from 250.000 files on a file server and sloppy use of e-mail, to today’s well-functioning intranet. Martin and Servera is a food and logistics company serving schools, restaurants, and more. The intranet development theme during the last couple of years has been “Koll på läget”, which could be translated into “Stay updated”. As much as possible the intranet should support the co-workers in knowing what is happening. Therefore, the search bar is really big, the lunch menu is always at the top since people look for it, and all corporate news follow a set content layout template which is easy to follow. So far they have published around 480 corporate news following this template, and every Monday they ask the “Question of the week” and let people vote.

  • Main take-away for me: Are people often looking for certain content, such as the lunch menu and train time table? Place it in front of them so they don’t spend time looking for it.


Thank you Intranätverk for creating this awesome meeting point, where we share knowledge on intranets and digital workplaces. Going forward, I just wish more presenters placed time on describing how their intranets supports their company’s strategies. What have you built that pushed you closer to the most central goals of your organization? We saw some examples of great applications at Intranätverk, but I wish more would mention their strategies so we see the clear connection.

Making sense of the Office 365 suite

It is hard making sense of the Office 365 suite from Microsoft. Barely had we had time to grasp that they have included Yammer in all Office 365 tenants, and what that means. Then Microsoft threw their Teams app into the game, and it became even more challenging to understand which product does what.

To help us, they gave an excellent introduction to the product’s capabilities:

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It is, however, not the product in itself that is hard to grasp. On the contrary, it seems straightforward and well-designed, and it is integrated with the rest of the 365 suite. The somewhat obscured path ahead is created when comparing Teams with Yammer and more. Here is where people like Naomi Moneypenny and Marc D Anderson come to the rescue.

Confused by all the apps

Marc D Anderson wrote an article called “Dear Microsoft: I’m Confused. Can You Help Me Collaborate Well?” Here, he highlights the feeling so many of us get when looking at the array of tools Microsoft give us:

What has me confused about Microsoft’s overlapping offerings in the communication spectrum is that they don’t come with guidance about which is good when or for what type of organizations. Instead we see a lot of talk about choice being good.

He also asks Microsoft to guide us much better:

Here’s hoping that the smart people in Redmond get on this soon. As the options keep piling up on us, it’s only getting harder to choose.

The solution: Highlighting what each app is good at

Naomi took a step in clarifying the road ahead by writing an article called “Choices in Collaboration: Microsoft Teams, Yammer & Office 365 Groups Service“. Here, Naomi clarifies that Office 365 Groups are the fabric behind our collaboration choices. She also explains what separates Teams from Yammer:

Yammer is the really the only app in O365 that allows you to have a conversation with the entire company. You can of course push an email or IM to the entire company, but that’s not the level of dialog we are looking for these days. Yammer is a great way to enable conversation across an entire organization. […] Once a project team has come together to work on a specific set of tasks and deliverables, that team should decide whether they want to use the Groups conversation experience primarily in Outlook, or Outlook then Teams, Teams or Yammer to get their specific work done.

Thank you Microsoft for wanting us to collaborate better. You could, however, reach even further by listening to Naomi, Marc, and more. Many of us take care of Office 365 environments, and our job is to alleviate collaboration pains. The better you at Microsoft describe what to use when, the smoother our ride becomes.

On the road again

This week was the first after the lovely Swedish summer. Once back, I learned that two companies want to buy Haldex. One company, ZF, is now left and we need to wait and see what happens. If they buy us, we take one road, if they don’t, we take another.

Meanwhile, I turn up the sound on the car stereo and have as fun as possible going forward. There is still so much to do to transform our technology into really supporting humans. No matter in which constellation I will work, creating a humane digital workplace is at the center.

Using an intranet to increase engagement

Disengagement at work is a real and big problem for companies. According to Gallup’s 2011-2012 numbers, only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs. The rest is either Non-engaged or Actively disengaged.

Gallup’s definitions of these groups, featured Gallup’s definitions of these groups, featured in Harvard Business Review (HBR) here, are:

  • “Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.”
  • “Not engaged employees (we use “unengaged” on our map) are essentially checked out. They’re sleepwalking through their workday putting time — but not energy or passion — into their work.”
  • “Actively disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.”

According to the map provided via the HBR article above, the figures are quite astounding (here are three examples):

France_disengaged Sweden_disengaged US_disengaged

In Sweden, this would mean that on average about every 6th person you meet is engaged, drives innovation and moves things forward. The absolute majority (3/4 of all) are just there to pick up the paycheck by doing an ok job and are basically sleep walking. Finally, about every 10th person you meet are unhappy and shows this actively in action and spirit by destroying the morale and business of others. Of course, this varies strongly between companies. None the less, these figures are alarming.

Disengagement at work is not only annoying and sad. As Stephan Schillerwein noted, also the productivity loss due to active disengagement is huge:


Also, as Chris McGrath and Ephraim Freed pointed out in their Social Intranets and Employee Engagement, the level of engagement has real business impacts:

Top-quartile companies have 37% less absenteeism, 25% to 49% less employee turnover (depending on the type of organization), 27% less shrinkage (employee theft), 18% higher productivity and 16% higher profitability.

Using the intranet to create engagement

We who are in charge of an intranet and other digital workplace tools must do what we can here. If we can help decrease absenteeism, decrease big turnovers, and increase productivity and profitability, we are sure doing a good thing.

To get started, we can look at Harvard Business Review’s Achievers Report. Here, they asked 550 executives to rate the importance of different activities on employee engagement. Some of the actions that were most important were:

  • Business goals communicated company-wide and understood
  • Senior leadership continually updates/communicates strategy
  • Recognition given for high performers
  • Individuals have clear understanding of how job contributes to strategy

This also goes fully in line with what Nonlinear Enterprise reported in their excellent article How to improve employee engagement with a great intranet:

… but virtually all of these studies agree that employee engagement increases when three things happen:

  1. Employees clearly understand how their job contributes to the corporate mission – how they can personally make a difference
  2. High performers are publicly recognized for their efforts
  3. Leadership closes the loop, providing frequent, transparent updates on the success of corporate initiatives and changes in corporate strategy

Nonlinear Enterprise then goes on to mention three tactics we can use today to improve employee engagement:

  1. Make celebration special, and clearly recognize when people are doing a great job.
  2. Show how the contributions from individuals really matter when achieving the goals.
  3. Clearly show the status of the company for all employees to see if what we are doing now is leading us closer to, or further away from, the goals.

Here, I would also add what Newsweaver mentioned in their 10 quick tips to improve employee engagement on your intranet:

Ensuring the intranet is accessible to remote workers. If you want all employees to use the intranet, then it must be mobile-enabled so they can access it wherever they are. Don’t cut corners in your mobile design. It is frustrating for those working remotely to not have access to the full functionality of the intranet – and gives them a reason to not use it.

In companies with a lot of production workers and traveling staff, we sure need to reach them with the celebrations, company goals, and strategies.

To conclude, low engagement is a real threat to companies and we need to deal with it constructively. Make sure you also use the intranet to:

  • Display and describe the company strategy and goals on your intranet, and keep them updated.
  • Make sure each individual understands and sees how they as individuals plus their departments and teams contribute to the bigger picture.
  • Praise people in front of others, and have them share successful stories with others.
  • Enable access for all employees, no matter where they are.

We will continue this journey, and look forward to hearing more about how others succeed.

A quick guide to instant intranet solutions in a box

During the last weeks, I have had the privilege to read reports on ready-made intranet solutions:

The above three resources give you a very good overview of what is available today. They also update these overviews regularly, so keep your eyes open for new versions.

When I browse the descriptions of such intranet solutions, many vendors sound the same. Yes, they all sell the same products, but still, something is missing. I wish more of them came from an organizational psychology / change management / sound workplace angle. And that they show they really know how to code SharePoint, as in jaw-droppingly cool.

Many of them still tell us what we can read from Microsoft’s site: There are search and libraries, it can be online, you can integrate with other services, and so on.

It would be awesome if some vendors took this to the next level, such as:

  • Since we know SharePoint search so well, we have tweaked it via the search engine and web parts to make your daily life easier. Our search experts make sure no one will complain about the search again.
  • Since we know SharePoint, but don’t know you, we always start all projects having coffee and listening to your stories. Once we know you, we present the technical solution.
  • Since we know the hybrid environments so well, we have of course already integrated Delve in your on-prem solution, and can integrate it in your Win 10 installations for a smooth experience.
  • Since we know the current discussions about digital workplaces, that is the start of our talks. We are not here to sell you a platform. We are here to help you work more effectively, lessen your stress, and help you save money no matter where you are.
  • Since we like you, we invite you to meet us and other clients over a coffee or a beer regularly, to socialize and network.

It will be interesting to see if any vendors take such steps. My guess is that, if they remain talking just about the technology, they could be outmaneuvered by others.

Some #digitalworkplace and #intranet people to watch

On April 25, 2016, Janus Boye and Lau Hesselbæk Andreasen published a post called “10 intranet leaders to watch in 2016“. I really like when people are listed like this. Such lists will of course never cover all the people you need to know about. They can, however, open your eyes to professionals you might have missed otherwise.

To complement the Boye post, here are the listed people’s Twitter addresses (the ones I could find):

For more inspiration, I will add my lists for:

Of course, the digital workplace and the intranet are already dancing, smiling, and holding hands. Soon they are one. Before we know it, all this will be placed behind us, and we will only talk about ‘work’.

Me? You find me at, trying to see clearly over a landscape in motion.

How Microsoft pushed me away, and might win me back

Recently, I planned on moving my personal mail and files to Office 365. The marketing ads were glossy and the people in them looked happy. And it was from Microsoft, a company that truly can deliver some great stuff and whose products I work with professionally. But this time around, everything failed.

Maybe, one day we will meet again, but for now it is bye bye to Microsoft for the following reasons:

The support: I had migrating issues when moving my mail, but when I contacted the support, I instead had both migration and support problems. Sometimes, three people answered my emails in parallel, not knowing what the others answered. And no one could help me. Finally, I paid for a third-party product (MigrationWiz from BitTitan) and everything worked perfectly. Finally, the manager and the manager’s manager at Microsoft said sorry, but by then I had already done (and paid for) the migration.
–> Tips to Microsoft: Train your support people, and improve your processes, to be truly awesome. I don’t blame the individual operators, but instead your way of approaching customers with support issues. And partner with BitTitan to help your customers move to your surroundings swiftly.

The file limitations: Aaargh! This is like Microsoft telling me “Please don’t join us. We don’t like users.” They even have a long support page lovingly called “Restrictions and limitations when you sync SharePoint libraries to your computer through OneDrive for Business“. The amount of job you expect me to do is ridiculous. Dropbox and others manage all this quietly and effectively, so why can’t you?
–> Tips to Microsoft: Remove 90% of these restrictions, and just keep the ones you absolutely need.

The sync engine: Aaargh! again. It seems Microsoft is stuck in a vortex of bad coding for their OneDrive sync engines. They just updated it and had a gazillion promises. But hello! Double installs and libraries, mysterious shutdowns, no clue on how much is left or what has synced.
–> Tips to Microsoft: Never, never ever release a sync client that isn’t working as well as Dropbox’s. They have always been the leader also here, and I cannot see why you couldn’t match them.

If I knew people in the Office 365 team, I would tell them they are doing an awesome job. Meanwhile, I would also emphasize that the above are quite serious flaws. Communicate that you take this seriously before end of April, and then keep end customers updated. Maybe one day I will return from Google Apps mail and Dropbox.