Voice of Staff

Research Project to Improve University of Michigan's Employee Experience 

Roles    //    UX Researcher & Writer    
Tools    //    Qualitative Research Methods & Qualtrics

Timeline: 3 months

As part of a semester long class research project, I was on a team of 4 students matched with the University of Michigan Voice Of Staff, a committee dedicated to improving the Human Resource related information across all 3 of Michigan campus'. Michigan currently uses separate Human Resource homepages for university and medical employees. Voice of Staff was launched in 2005 consisting of 120+ employees and its purpose is to give staff a voice to share their ideas about the community in order to develop a positive workplace and enhance employee experience
User Interviews
Our team split up into pairs to conduct 6 interviews with university employees, ranging from professors to nurses to secretaries. The goal was to identify their specific needs, and current pain points with the internal HR dashboard, as well as the public HR websites. We discovered that most users found both platforms to be overwhelming, and even conflicting between campus websites. Users often resorted to Google searches, as well as asking co-workers, resulting in increased search time. Our team also discovered that the Information Architecture layout of the site is confusing and often irreverent for the features users interact with the most.

Comparative Evaluation
For the comparative analysis, the first approach we took was through discussing and brainstorming the competitors as a group. Breaking down 9 competitors into 4 types: direct, indirect, partial, and analogous allowed us to identify their key features and site characteristics. The figures below shows our comparative matrix and 2x2 competitor matrix as it relates to navigation and Information Architecture. 

From our insights, sites that performed well had centralized homepages, as well as easy to use information portals, such as Target's FAQs site. We also discovered the online communities or discussion boards helped reduce the stress of both internal and external users. Implementing a discussion board online can allow employees to receive timely notifications, upcoming events, support community groups and so on. 

Our team used Qualtrics to create, test, distribute and analyze survey results related to learning about how University of Michigan employees use the Human Resources website and what they value when using information portals across digital platforms. This survey helped our team see what current pain-points are and how we can improve the features and Information Architecture of the website across Michigan campuses. Some of the insights from this survey confirmed what we had already discovered, while some were unique including:

Michigan employees desire benefits and wellness information easily accessible.
The search bar is less relied on than previously thought.
Users prefer to have dropdown list features on websites.
Google search is heavily relied on, more than searching the site directly.
Heuristic Evaluation

Next our team used Jakob Nielsen’s list of heuristics to analyze what we believed was the most critical for evaluating the website. We developed individual criteria for these heuristics based on what we believed was most applicable to Michigan’s HR website.

All four members of our team evaluated the website using the same criteria and we combined our individual results in the end to develop our findings and recommendations. Through our analysis of the ten heuristics and the corresponding criteria, our team has identified some issues that we feel are severe and require attention, as well as others that are less severe but still deserve attention to at a later date.​​​​​​​

Key Finding: The system lacks instant user feedback, which may cause uncertainties to certain users
Question: When a user completes a task, does the system wait for a signal from the user before processing?
Heuristic: User Control and Freedom
Severity​: 4 (1-5)
Explanation: The system does not show any visible signals to users when they complete a task. Users’ permissions are ignored, and the system leaves uncertainty to the users that they would not ensure whether or not the command is successful. Users also lose the opportunity to revoke any decision before the system processes.
Recommendation: A pop-up window or a new, separate confirmation page could be displayed when users finish a task. The system message should indicate a recommended next task or any possible update, so users are in the control.​​​​​​​

Key Finding: Frequently used features cannot be accessed efficiently  
Question: Can users set their screen defaults?
Heuristic: User Control and Freedom
Severity​: 4 (1-5)
Explanation: The system shows the default screen for all users, which keeps its consistency across all populations. However, it causes inconvenience to users because they are unable to access frequently used features more efficiently and it is time-consuming to go through multiple steps every time.
Recommendation: The system should automatically record the most frequently used features and keep them on the main page. Therefore, when users open their home screen, they could have immediate access to the features that are used the most frequently.

Key Finding: Users are unable to receive instant support
Question: Are there opportunities for instant support?
Heuristic: Help and Documentation
Severity​: 4 (1-5)
Explanation: The system does not have any immediate contact form or online chat that offers real-time conversations that could address users’ specific problems. The main features of the website include many significant tasks, such as task reports and employee benefits. Without an effective way to address users’ questions, the working progress could be delayed and cause even more issues in the future.
Recommendation: An online support system could be established for providing instant help that encourages users to reach out in different ways, including having real-time conversations with HR representatives or submitting a ticket online and receive a response within 24 hours. ​​​​​​
Usability Testing

Testing was entirely remote for our team. We performed testing with UserTesting.com and ran through 2 pilot testing trials beforehand to ensure consistency. To ensure the test ran smoothly during the usability testing, we developed a protocol consisting of a moderator checklist, an introductory script, a pre-test questionnaire, three tasks, and a post-test questionnaire. We asked pre-questionnaire to the participants prior to the three tasks, such as their job title, years of working experience, device to access HR website, as well as the frequency of checking the HR website.
Our usability testing indicates that most users rely on the search bar to find the desired information in the Michigan HR website, three out of six participants rate the search bar as their favorite feature of the HR website, while the other three participants did not have any favorite features. However, while the search bar is the participant’s favorite feature, it still has many aspects to improve upon. On the other hand, based on the testing observations and the feedback from the participants, our team is able to provide more recommendations for the overall interface, online support, and the central navigation bar of the HR website.
Site Recommendations

Improve the on-boarding process with a standardized online orientation which employees can resort back to anytime in their tenure at the university.
Create a personalized dashboard and keep information centralized on a single page to reduce the number of clicks when completing a single task.
Michigan HR website having a similar contact system to ITS, with an option for immediate help via phone or chat, as well as a ticketing system. 
Improve the efficiency of searching the HR website with the search bar by creating an algorithm based on the relevance and popularity of the term searched.
Remote User Testing requires extensive planning, make detailed scripts for user tasks and have a way to measure success.

For complex websites, effective Information Architecture is critical. 

Look beyond direct competitors when analyzing best practices.

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