The rise of distributed working has coincided with a worrying drop in employee engagement. Without the traditional surroundings and social contact of the workplace, organizations are having to find new ways to communicate their mission, goals and culture. Some are turning to Guru, a knowledge management platform that uses engagement tracking and personalization to help company leaders see how their messages are landing. Originally developed to rapidly deliver useful information to customer service agents, the platform is now being adopted by HR teams looking to solve the challenges of keeping distributed workers and teams in touch with key company messages. Rick Nucci, CEO at Guru, explains:
People leaders are just much more engaged ... in creating these types of experiences and thinking about this thoughtfully. That's showing up in who's coming in and evaluating and rolling out Guru ...
I think they're the ones waking up every day thinking about [this]. It's a company problem, obviously. But the people leaders are distinctly going, 'Wow, I really need to create the enabling infrastructure to make [this] happen.
This need has led Guru to develop a new strand to its platform, which started out as way of helping customer-facing teams easily find relevant, verified information to solve service issues or answer sales enquiries. Over time, other functions such as marketing and HR started adopting Guru to answer internal questions. In response, it has added new capabilities for distributing corporate information and tracking how people engage with it. After an initial launch in the summer, this week it deepened the functionality of this new capability.
Users who send out company-wide announcements from Guru can now get more data on how employees have responded, with metrics on open rates, read rates and emoji reactions. It's also possible now to schedule announcements to reach employees at a suitable time according to their timezone. As previously, users can choose what channels they prefer to receive the information, such as via email or messaging app. They can also view messages in the Guru app, and administrators now have more control over the appearance of this user dashboard, with the ability to add company branding, custom messages and featured cards. Nucci explains:
The look and feel of your company [is] now being represented in Guru in our actual web application, as well as giving more of a landing spot for all the information ... and giving administrators more of an intentional control over what that information looks like.
Most significant is the addition of personalization, which uses machine learning to proactively surface recommended content to users based on their behavior. Previous versions of Guru have used machine learning to recommend content based on real-time conversations with customers, but this is the first time it has added a recommendation system based on historical behavior. Nucci elaborates:
[It] is much more a human-centric recommendation system. What is your job? Who do you work with? And what are your colleagues reading? And therefore, what should you be reading and understanding?
It's basically taking information around the person, the team you work in, the information your colleagues read — all the signals we can gather around engagement, and basically bring back to the end user something that is relevant just to them.
Users can also choose to 'follow' or subscribe to specific information cards that are relevant to them. For example, there might be a card that contains links to all of a user's meeting notes, or to all company town halls, or to historical newsletters that the team has sent out, and so on. Nucci adds:
One of our most followed cards at Guru that we have is called 'Things we've released this year'. It gives every employee the ability to subscribe one place, and just see all of the things that have come out and changed in our product over the course of the year. Whenever something new gets added, everyone's notified automatically.
A new take on intranets
This concept of a single source of company-wide information is reminiscent of the intranets that many enterprises rolled out in the early days of cloud computing and internet search engines. But Guru has added functionality that ensures the information is kept fresh and which helps push it out to employees when it's most relevant, in the channels they're usinng. Nucci believes this more personalized approach chimes with the needs of organizations grappling with the new distributed working environment, now that many more people are working away from office locations. He says:
I think what's different now is, it is being more attached to the employee experience, culture and sense of belonging, in a world where remote work is trending. I think that's the, 'Why now?'
One of the classic challenges that intranets have faced historically is they try to be everything to everyone. I think that means that it is pretty vanilla and pretty dilutive to what people actually need ...
The ability to both have this dedicated experience and also have Guru be augmenting things like Zendesk and Slack and other places people are working is I think, what has been one of the missing links.
At the same time, adding contextual intelligence to suggest relevant information adds an important dimension that was never available in the intranets of old, when content authors had to work out for themselves how to get information to the people that needed it. Automating this aspect of knowledge dissemination is a core mission for Guru. Nucci says:
We are continually trying to find ways to take away some of the manual components that exist in doing this knowledge management lifecycle work. I think prior to this, it really is incumbent on the author or knowledge manager to disseminate the information out and there's this, 'Who needs it, and who doesn't need it?' I'm not talking about the high signal announcement things now, I'm talking about the everyday knowledge needs. The goal with this is 'Hey, how can you actually deduce who actually needs something based on their colleagues and the work they do?' and really reduce some of that lift and bring much more automation into the experience.
One thing that's becoming increasingly clear is that, if you've got a highly distributed organization, you've got to have a really strong company culture. One of the challenges of working in a more distributed way — these days of people giving up on real estate and having offices in the centre of town and having people work much more remotely or in hub offices, in WeWork spaces — is that, for the company to hold together and continue to deliver its mission, it needs to have a much stronger sense of culture.
Something I used to talk about in the early days of cloud computing was 'line of sight' management. People didn't want to adopt cloud computing because they could no longer walk down the corridor to the server room if something went wrong. It didn't matter that the likelihood of something going wrong was so much higher if they managed their own servers, because at least they felt they had a sense of control — even that was largely an illusion, because their server monitoring and management tools were typically not as sophisticated as those the public cloud vendors delivered.
Today, people have the same 'line of sight' management issues around distributed work. If people are in the office, they can walk down the corridor to fix any issues. If people are working remotely, their managers feel a loss of control — and in this case, the monitoring and management tools they have at their disposal to digitally track that remote work are much more primitive than what was available at a similar stage in the evolution of cloud computing. There's a longer path ahead of us to evolve the necessary tooling.
That, I think, is the opportunity that Guru is playing into with this offering, which is to provide a digital mechanism for supporting that shared culture and having a better sense of people's engagement. Of course, the culture itself still needs to hit the right note — if it's a bad culture to start with, no amount of digital magic will make it any better. But the tools to actually sustain that strong cultural identity when people don't get to be together to build the shared culture in person is really crucial.
What I find interesting at the moment is that there are quite a few different tools that recognize this challenge, but they each seem to be operating in their own silos. There are employee experience tools that gather sentiment data about how engaged people feel. There are goal tracking tools that measure the alignment between the work of individuals within their teams and the wider goals of the organization as a whole. And finally there's Guru's knowledge sharing tools. At some point, someone is going to have to work out how to join up all of these separate silos of data about employee engagement. For now, we are still in the really early days of working all this out.