What Makes an Authentic Employee Profile, and Why Does It Matter?

As a company grows, it isn’t long before it reaches a size where it’s next to impossible to know everyone you work with. For organizations with remote or hybrid workers, that limit can come at a smaller headcount. After crossing that threshold, it becomes increasingly difficult for employees to build strong relationships without some form of scaffolding.

The strength of those working relationships is crucial to many things, from overall employee engagement to productivity and retention.

While they may not be the most likely tool, employee profiles can have a meaningful impact—especially for remote employees. Here’s why:

Employee profiles are often seen and used as a basic, utilitarian tool for a manager or human resources administrator to reference during review time. But they can take on a much more productive and engaging role with one significant yet simple context shift, from top-down molds to organic and authentic showcases.

When profiles make their way into the employee community, there’s room for a remarkable transformation to happen. So, let’s take a moment to outline a few factors that can help you tap into hidden potential and elevate a boring, utilitarian employee profile template into the people connector they were always hoping to be.

What does an authentic employee profile look like?

Just like with many components of the employee experience, from roles to working arrangements, there’s a balance to strike between autonomy and structure.

It’s no surprise that utilitarian, top-down employee profiles feel impersonal. Those types of profiles are impersonal, and despite that lack of character, they’re common. There’s a good chance the employee profiles you use right now don’t have room for or even require employee input. After all, your HRIS already houses key employee data, so why dedicate resources to building employee profiles?

That’s what it looks like when the pendulum swings predominantly in the direction of structure. But it’s just as unhelpful to swing all the way toward autonomy.

If employees are given a blank page and told “do whatever you want on here, just express yourself,” where do they start? In many creative exercises, constraints can be a boon. It’s often helpful to have a focus to start with, so while a great employee profile does have lots of room for uniqueness and creativity, there’s enough structure and standardization to guide its creation and make its contents easier for everyone to follow.

In addition to striking that balance between “blank slate” and “cookie cutter,” it’s important to think about what contents will be the most helpful for building employee connections, supporting communications, and helping to increase the flow of information.

Authentic employee profiles are achievable and worth the effort, even if you’re building employee profiles with minimal tools.

Visibility, Access, and Searchability

Even the best employee profiles are of little use if they’re never seen.

In many organizations, employee profiles aren’t widely available, whether that’s because they include sensitive personal information, or because the profiles are so bare that nobody assumed they’d be of general interest. So, perhaps the most crucial step toward getting the most from employee profiles is bringing them out into the light.

In some organizations, employee profiles are accessible through an employee directory. If you already know the name of the person you’re looking for, a peek at the employee directory is all you need—but what if you don’t already know which individual employee you’re looking for? For example, you might need to find someone who fits a skill profile, but have no idea who that team member is.

Optimizing for search makes it easier to transcend the employee directory and find the person you’re looking for based on characteristics like office location or expertise, not just their name. The more expansive and nuanced that search is, and the more features it can pull from, the more helpful it can be.

Ownership and Character

A collection of employee information like job title and reporting relationships help define where we sit within an organization, they don’t define who we are.

That’s why it’s essential for employee profiles to provide their subjects a sense of ownership, and a means of self-expression.

That self-expression can come in a number of forms—from a backdrop photo of their pet, a family photo, or favorite vacation spot, to something as fundamental as the pronouns they prefer—each of these signals add up to show a more complete and authentic picture of the human being behind their name and title.

Ideally, you can combine that sense of ownership, individuality, and character in a way that helps workers understand one another better even before meeting one another in person. That small jumpstart to employee relationships can lead to greater psychological safety and more effective information sharing, the impact of which David Burkus highlights in his recent Harvard Business Review article:

“If you have friends in the company, it’s far easier to ask for help without fearing you’ll be judged a poor performer. In addition, having friends in the company, especially if they work in other departments, gives you access to information through informal networks you might not otherwise get.”

Audio and Video Introductions

Why would you need an audio or video recording to introduce yourself if the info is already in your profile?

It’s not rare for people with names others consider challenging to simply give up on correcting over and over, resigning themselves to having their name mispronounced. Why? Because it’s easier and less stressful than correcting people each time.

You probably already know a staff member whose name is frequently mispronounced in external meetings, but you might be surprised to learn you and others have been mispronouncing a colleague’s name repeatedly to this day, unknowingly.

Even for people whose names are easy for others to pronounce, a short audio or video recording can help put not just a face to a name, but a voice as well.

Professional Skills, Expertise, and Achievements

It’s not enough to know what department your colleagues work in. That’s a great starting point, but it can be a little reductive. It’s more helpful to have access to a profile of their skills, expertise, certifications, and achievements in full detail.

If you’re building a cross-functional team to support a new initiative that requires specific competencies, the breadth of your colleagues’ talents and accomplishments can help ensure you fill skill gaps more easily.

Additionally, someone may have already worked on similar projects and have context to share, so having a running record of work accomplishments can help form the best possible team for a task.

Hobbies, History, and Affinities

Common interests are a timeless way to bring people together, and there’s no reason that shouldn’t apply in a professional setting. The problem is, these common interests either never come up, or when they do come up, it’s not at the right time.

Whether it’s the university you attended, your favorite music genre, or even a previous employer, you might be surprised to know what connects you with the least likely of colleagues.

Looking to put together an intramural sports team, a musical ensemble, or a volunteering group? Details like interests and hobbies can make it simple to find like-minded coworkers to join you in conversation or action.

Omni-Channel Communication

You found the right person, you’re ready to connect, but now what? Email is an easy choice, and a common feature among most employee directories, but it’s 2022. There’s a wealth of options that could be a better fit, from Slack and Microsoft Teams to video meetings. The more options you have to connect right there in someone’s profile, the easier it is.

A company-facing calendar is another helpful profile feature because it can simplify organizing meetings with colleagues by highlighting their availability.

Building Meaningful Connections through Authenticity

Every organization consists of unique individuals, and authentic profiles are a means of celebrating and connecting through that diversity. If you work on a remote or hybrid team, a detailed employee profile has the potential to fill in some of the context you might otherwise have built over time in person.

Regardless of which technology you’re using for employee profiles, consider each of these categories as ways to bring more detail, usefulness, and authenticity to what would otherwise be a dull, forgettable digital name tag.

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