Creating a digital home for all employees

The New York Times At The Times

The New York Times brought me on to co-lead the refresh of their employee site Times Central. Over the course of two years, we re-envisioned what an employee site needs to be in a remote and hybrid work environment. We set out to build a digital home for all employees, a one-stop shop to learn about what’s happening at The Times, find quick answers, and celebrate the work of the organization. We collaborated closely with employees and stakeholders to develop a site that meets their needs.

The project was a cross-team effort between the internal communications team, core publishing team, and brand identity team. We collaborated with Imarc, an outside agency, on UX and the site’s development.

Context
The pandemic resulted in a huge shift in the way we work today and the need for a robust online space for employees. To meet the needs of a remote and hybrid workforce we had to evolve our intranet. In addition, our initial research showed that Times Central, The New York Times’ intranet, hadn’t been fully embraced by employees due to a combination of technical, content, and UX challenges.

Project Vision
We set out to build a digital home for all employees, a central place designed to offer employees access to all the information they need to manage their work as well as inspiration about the achievements employees are making across the organization. We positioned the site as the main source for company-wide information and resources and a vehicle to help foster a positive and inclusive culture.

Employee and Stakeholder Engagement
Our goal was to develop a site that meets employees’ needs. To accomplish this we included a diverse group of employees and stakeholders on the periphery of our project. We kicked off the project with a Listening Tour that gave us insight into employees’ needs and pain points. We set up several advisory groups and pulled members into the project for feedback, testing, and alignment conversations. We collaborated closely with stakeholders on the site’s content and updated executive leadership, stakeholders, and advisory group members regularly through emails and presentations.

Process
We developed the new employee site in three phases:
Phase 1: Set Up — In this phase, we selected the agency to partner with, explored our hosting options, and conducted a Listening Tour.
Phase 2: Research and Strategy — In this phase, we audited the site, conducted various research activities, and created the strategy, information architecture, and plan for the implementation phase of the project
Phase 3: Design and Build — In this phase, we developed wireframes and designs, created new content, built the infrastructure, developed the site, and migrated content from the current site.

A digital home for all employees, a central place for relevant information and resources with an intuitive, relevant, and joyful site experience

Cynara Charles-Pierre, Senior Vice President, Culture & Communications, introduced the new intranet “At The Times” at The New York Times’ all-company meeting.

Research and Strategy Phase

We audited the current site and conducted various research activities to learn about stakeholder’s goals and employees’ needs and behaviors. We developed our overarching strategy and information architecture, identified features and functions that help increase productivity and engagement, and planned the implementation phase of the project

Listening Tour We started the project by learning about employees’ needs, their current use of the intranet, and their pain points. Employee conversation often included a research activity to ground the conversation. We used observation, card sorting, and a ranking activity to understand in more detail employees’ needs, pain points, and use of the current site. Site analytics complemented the qualitative data. This data helped us understand who was using the intranet, when they were using the site, and how they were accessing it.

Mindsets We developed a flexible system of six mindsets that represent the diverse preferences and needs of all employees at The Times. Each employee can be in any of these mindsets when going to the intranet. For example, in the morning an employee might want to look up upcoming holidays and be in the “transactor” mindset. In the afternoon, however, that same employee might want a break and take the opportunity to browse the site to learn more about colleagues, entering the “exploring” mindset. The mindsets deepened our understanding of employees and we used them throughout the project to guide our decision-making and prioritization of features.

Navigation and Site Map One of the biggest challenges with Times Central was employees’ inability to find information easily. Based on our research, we drafted a new structure around the way information is organized and named. We conducted a series of information architecture (IA) tests with employees to align the organization of the site with employees’ mental models. This work builds on the findings of the card-sorting activities that we conducted as part of the Listening Tour.

Design and Build Phase

We developed wireframes and designs, built the front- and back-end of the site, migrated existing content from the previous site, and created content for new sections. Throughout, we tested our work (wireframes, interactions, visual designs, build site) with employees. This phase culminated with the launch of the site on November 8th, 2023.

Navigation and Search We wanted to make it easy for employees to find and discover information. To achieve this, we simplified the structure of the site and split all content into four main sections: Announcements, Resources, Community, and Teams. We developed a cohesive system of drop-down menus. In addition, we improved the search experience: a detailed search results page helps employees efficiently locate what they are looking for. Employees can further refine their search results through sorting and filtering.

Home Page We designed the home page to be an engaging, but also relevant and useful entry point into the site that provides a clear overview of the site’s content. The home page mimics the content experience of the site. At a high level, the content breaks into three large themes: what you need to know, answers to questions, and community. We used an audit of searches over the last year and conversations with employees to identify the content we needed to surface.
Employees can personalize the site in two ways: My Feed lets employees tag and filter for the content they are interested in reading and throughout the site employees can bookmark content. The My Bookmarks page functions as an employee’s own space within the intranet. They can curate it to include the tools and information they use on a regular basis and the articles they want to save or read later.

Resources The intranet is a tool to find information; it is critical that employees can find resources efficiently and confidently. The Resources section combines and organizes policies, guidelines, templates, forms, learning materials, and other essentials for day-to-day work. Here employees can discover resources by topic. We aligned the structure of the pages with the section’s content needs, created clear hierarchies, and provided page elements that allow for scanning, making information easily accessible.

Community The Community Section is a place for, by, and about employees. Here employees can meet and interact with fellow colleagues. This is also home to the new Stories page. “Stories” functions as the magazine of the site. Here we spotlight the inspiring teams and people of The Times. We are using editorial content to strengthen our culture and connections. Unlike the resources section, in this section, we want to encourage browsing and engagement with the content.

Teams The new Teams section outlines the desks, departments, and other groups that make up The Times. Here, employees find more information about the various groups the organization consists of. The section has a flexible system that can expand or contract depending on a department’s needs and capabilities. The build-out of the team sections was a cross-team effort between the project team, the internal comms team, and content owners across The Times.