Designing and Implementing Online Forms

Well-designed online forms have clear benefits for your organisation and should be a key component of any fluent and cohesive intranet. As the digital workplace increasingly takes it cues from the kind of digital experience we enjoy in our everyday lives, using clean and clear online forms is an experience we all share – think customer registration – and one we should expect throughout the digital workplace.

Make it easy

The key to great design, whether it’s a web page or an online form, is simplicity. The human eye responds best to a clear layout with plenty of white space, so don’t clutter your form with multiple columns and align labels to top and left to aid visual scanning. If your form has a multi-page layout, then manage users’ expectations by indicating a clear path to completion and a progress indicator. Consider using pre-filling in your online forms to simplify the user experience.

Automating a simple HTML file by pre-filling information like name, address and contact details saves time and reduces the potential for errors in the completion of the form. It’s a tangible demonstration of how useful an online form can be as compared to a hard copy. By logging the user into the intranet, the form can access information from the database whilst effectively authenticating the person filling in the form through their unique login.

Ask the right questions

• Ask relevant questions – if you’re asking for sign ups to a newsletter, then people will be happy to give their email address
• Get rid of the questions that are irrelevant or don’t need an answer immediately – signing up for a newsletter doesn’t necessarily require the recipient to give their postal address or date of birth
• Ask the question at the relevant time in the process – ask for an email address for a newsletter upfront and ask for a contact number if you want to push SMS alerts later in the process
• Explain difficult questions – always give context and clear help for more complicated forms, explaining why you need to capture a particular piece of data

Ensure that any error messages are clear and offer simple solutions to the problem, and never forget to acknowledge form submission. Not only does this give the user a clear indication that they’ve completed the form, but it allows the form to be effectively tracked and measured.

Simplify workflows

Once your form is in place, the implementation of simple workflows can hugely improve the way data is managed. Implementing review, approval and action steps into the implementation process will help to ensure better data handling by staff. This is of particular benefit if your organisation wants to implement self-service HR procedures.

For example, your organisation may wish to simplify the process of applying for annual leave and have implemented a form that includes a calendar control allowing employees to select the dates when they wish to apply for leave. This form can then automatically be sent to a line manager with a message requesting approval. On approval, the form is directed to the relevant member of HR staff for processing.

Even the simplest workflow implementation can improve communication and coordination, making considerable time savings.

Moving towards automation and integration

The automation of more complex forms can allow a greater range of activities to be captured with increased accuracy for cost savings and productivity benefits across the digital workplace.

For example, an application for training will require approval from a line manager, and can then be dealt with by the training coordinator who updates the database and authorises the release of the relevant training materials. The improved workflow will update all systems and notify all relevant staff throughout the process.

More complex forms and automation rely on smooth integration with databases and back office systems, through the implementation of an enterprise workflow solution through your intranet software. Such business process automation allows an organisation to manage business operations seamlessly through the intranet and has proven benefits particularly in businesses with repeatable processes.

Next steps: clear and simple mechanisms for using forms

Start by linking together all relevant forms and information, and ensure they’re easily searchable. For example, link annual leave forms and policies and procedures together and ensure the leave form appears towards the top of the intranet search results. Don’t use acronyms or jargon to label forms but use clear naming structures that highlight their function.

User test all forms to ensure that they are simple and straightforward to find and then implement. Make sure that your intranet navigation is up to the task of making each form discoverable. As forms proliferate, ensure that the structure of your digital website is still capable of handling and automating the processes involved. Try and implement a single user login across the digital workplace to simplify processes like pre-filling of forms.

Moving away from PDF documents and web pages towards a fully functioning digital workplace based on solid enterprise intranet software is an evolutionary process for many organisations. By implementing a step-by-step improvement to your online forms, your organisation can deliver more interactive solutions that power a successful digital workplace.


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