An employee directory is one of the most efficient ways to boost employee communication in your company, and it doesn't take that much effort.
The problem is there's so much information out there, it's hard to know what's good advice and what's bad advice.
So to help you do it the right way we've put together this easy to read guide on the humble employee directory. It's pretty much everything you need to know to get started.
We'll be covering:
- What is an employee directory and why is it important?
- What are the real benefits of an employee directory?
- What goes into (a good) one?
- How effective is an employee directory?
- Do they really get used much? (with data)
- What does an employee directory cost?
We'll also be answering some of the questions we typically get from our customers around implementation. Where should you put your employee directory? Should it be available outside of your company? Can you use a spreadsheet instead? How is an org chart different? And more.
Let's get started with the basics.
What exactly is an employee directory?
An employee directory is a software application that helps you find contact details and other information about your coworkers.
It's like a digital telephone book for your company; a searchable database of employee information. You can use your company's employee directory to get the names, phone numbers, skills and other info about the people you work with.
It sounds boring but it's actually quite important, as I'll explain later.
Most employee directories also include employee photos, which helps you put names to faces - or faces to names.
Ever received an email from a colleague you've never met and were curious what they look like?
With an employee directory you can find out without being creepy on Facebook or alerting them on LinkedIn.
Hey, we're human, we like faces.
Humans also like pancakes 🥞
And like pancakes - or flapjacks, griddle cakes, hotcakes, Johnnycakes or, uh, Hoe cakes - employee directories go by many different names.
People sometimes refer to their employee directory as a staff directory, a people directory, a company address book, an employee list, a corporate directory, an org chart, or various combinations of the above.
Heck, some of our customers have even called it their company "facebook."
When I talk about employee directories I often lovingly refer to them as the map of your company, because they're like a virtual representation or a digital "map" of your real company: the people, the offices, the locations, the expertise, and the relationships between them all.
In the end, whatever you call your corporate-staff-contact-directory-list-software, the goal is the same: to help your staff easily connect with their coworkers.
Now that we've covered the basics and learned a bit about pancakes, let's take a look at what goes into a typical employee directory.
But wait a minute. Is an employee directory really that important?
Let's be honest, your company has probably been doing just fine without one until now.
Unlike, say, your accounting software or your email software, your employee directory software probably isn't that high on your must-have list.
After all, it's just a list of phone numbers, right?
But consider you've already got your accounting software in place, your email is rocking, your messaging software (Teams or Slack) is on fire, and the hundred other important tools you've painstakingly implemented are doing their jobs.
What is that next solution you could implement that would almost immediately boost efficiency throughout your entire organization?
You guessed it - an employee directory solution.
We'll discuss the benefits a bit later (you don't want to miss it!) but for now let's get back to our regularly scheduled programming.
What goes into an employee directory?
Most employee directory apps have similar basic functions:
- A search box
- An alphabetical A-Z index
- A list of your company's offices and departments (to help you filter)
- And of course, an area where your people search results are displayed
Often, you'll also find filtering options in various places, and other bells and whistles to help you communicate with your colleagues once you find them in the directory. For example, a button to chat to the person in Microsoft Teams or Slack.
Most decent employee directory apps also have employee profiles of some sort, which allows you to get even more detailed information about the person you're looking for.
Employee profiles are like a LinkedIn profile but for internal company use. They show you a person's detailed profile information on a single page.
Whether you're using an off the shelf employee directory tool or building your own, there's some key fields you'll definitely want to include and others you may not really need in your organization.
Here's a breakdown of the most popular ones.
Basic "contact" fields
The most basic form of an employee directory is the contact list. It's essentially just a list of names and numbers and where the individuals fit in the organization.
These fields make up every basic employee directory, and your directory won't be very useful without them.
- Name (the employee's first name and last name, split into 2 separate fields for searching and sorting)
- Job title (what is the employee's official role at the company?)
- Email (their primary work email address)
- Phone Number(s) (work phone, mobile phone, extension, fax number, pager, even home phone if necessary)
- Office (which office location do they belong to?)
- Department(s) (which teams or departments are they a part of? It's usually best to have just the primary one listed.)
Photo directory fields
Next, you can turn your basic contact list into a photo directory by adding one simple field. You guessed it:
- Photo (a professional photo, preferably a headshot)
TIP: Copy employee photos from LinkedIn if necessary. I'm not sure of the legal implications, but nobody's looking. Ok maybe they are 👀. But not really.
This is typically the point where a spreadsheet or a SharePoint list falls flat on its face, because you can't easily include profile pictures in a text-based list; the best you're gonna do is add a link to an externally hosted profile picture, which isn't great.
Detailed "profile" fields
Now that you have a basic contact list with added photo directory, you'll want to give it some personality. You want your employee directory to be a place where people want to go, not just when they need a phone number, but to learn more about their coworkers.
Some fields to add:
- Pronouns (she/hers, he/his, they/them)
- Nickname (what should people call them?)
- Birthday (so you know when it's their turn to bring cake! 🎂)
- Hire Date (the date they started working at the company, so you can celebrate their work anniversary - and so you can tell who's a part of the furniture)
- Bio / About Me (a text field where the employee can write a bit about themselves and express their personality)
- Languages (a list of their spoken and written languages)
- Skills (a list of their skills and expertise)
- Interests (a list of their hobbies and personal interests)
Additional "find me" fields
You now have some good looking, detailed employee profiles. But you want to go the whole nine yards. The next set of fields you might want to add is specifics around how to locate the individual better. Both physically and digitally.
- Location (the employee's physical work address, preferably split into 5 separate fields: Country, State/Region, City/Town, Street Address, and Post Code)
- Desk Location (where in the office building does the employee physically sit?)
- Map (not strictly a separate field because it uses the data from the Location fields above; but a visual representation of the employee's location is a nice touch)
- Phone Extension (if you're using a VOIP system you may want to store the phone extension separately from the phone number to help you locate the individual within the company's IP/phone network)
- Social Media Links (links to help you find the person on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc. A touchy topic for some organizations, a core value for others.)
Sometimes people want to share what they've worked on the past, or where they were previously employed or went to college. These are usually nice-to-haves but in some types of companies they might be more important.
- Work Experience (which organizations did they work for previously?)
- Education (what professional qualifications do they have?)
- Past Projects (which projects or initiatives, preferably at their current company, were they involved in?)
- College (which university did they attend?)
- Hometown (where did they grow up?)
To get even more value out of your employee directory you could add fields that are visible to only certain roles or people in your company, so they can do their jobs more effectively.
For example, your HR managers and office managers would certainly appreciate the following employee information being readily available to them:
- Employee Number (your company's internal employee number for this person)
- Emergency Contact (emergency contact numbers, next of kin etc.)
- Medical Information (important to have on hand!)
- Allergies / Diet Preferences (useful when planning company events and outings)
- Home Phone (when they don't pitch for work, HR will know where to call)
- Home Address (for transport-related things)
- T-Shirt Size (for company swag)
- Myers-Briggs Type (formal and regulated companies often track employee personality type)
Of course, there are many other potential fields you could add to your employee profiles to make them even more specific to your requirements: name pronunciation, children and pets, external links, alternate contact numbers, industry-specific fields, the list goes on.
But remember, you don't have to have a ton of fields to get value from your directory. And there's also the fact that all those fields need to be kept updated.
My suggestion is to make sure you have the basic contact fields available, plus a spot for a photo, and add some of the detailed profile fields we discussed (like birthday, hire date, bio, skills and interests) and you'll be off to the races.
Now onto the good stuff! Let's explore the benefits of an employee directory to find out what you'll get in return for all this hard work.
What are the benefits of an employee directory?
🤝 Your employees (most of them) really do want to get to know their colleagues better. Your company works well if everyone is on the same page.
📞 Your staff want an easy way to reach their colleagues when they need them. They're tired of rummaging through email signatures looking for phone numbers, it's irritating and its a waste of their time.
🏢 Your staff want to see which office and department someone is in, what their position is, and who they report to.
🗽🗼⛱ They want to know where their coworkers are located.
🎅 They want to see what their colleagues look like. Especially in today's remote world where many people may have never met their colleagues in person.
🔧 Your employees want to be able to search for other people that have the skills and expertise they need for their current project.
🤹 And if not hard skills, maybe just to find a colleague with common interests.
👨💼 Your new hires? They're desperately trying to get a feel for who all their new coworkers are: their names, what they look like, how long they've been at the company, their seniority. It's a real thing.
🦸 Your HR team? They want an easy way to see who's who in the company. Their HR system is too complicated with too many fields and buttons, and they need up to date profile information.
As your company grows, all of this becomes even more important. When you're 100 people everyone still kind of knows everyone else.
When you're 1,000 people? Not so much.
100,000 people? That's a small country. (Wah u ah say Antigua and Barbuda! 👋)
PS: if you're a large enterprise chat to us to find out how we solve employee directory challenges for our very large customers.
Now, everything above is what your employees want. But what about the benefits for the organization?
Here are the 6 main employee directory benefits that we talk about:
1 - An employee directory improves workplace communication and collaboration (saving you time and money)
If it's easier for people to find their coworkers, that means they can get the information they're looking for quicker. And in today's fast-paced world of business, speed matters. Being able to reach anyone at any time, from anywhere, helps people collaborate and get work done.
2 - An employee directory builds better relationships at work (making your employees happier)
People often use the employee directory to get to know the people they work with on a more personal level. Most employee directories include a bio, interests, skills, birthday, work anniversary, location, and of course their photo. Having this information easily available gives people a way to build relationships and get to know their colleagues in ways they might not otherwise have.
3 - An employee directory helps people find expertise (so your employees get work done)
Many employee directories include a skills directory that helps employees search for coworkers with specific skillsets or knowledge. Workers often need an expert to assist with a project and management sometimes needs to review the capabilities of their teams or review their company's skills inventory.
4 - An employee directory helps your remote teams feel more connected (strengthening your company's culture)
When you're in a remote office or working from home, feeling like a part of the team can be a challenge. An employee directory gives everyone in the organization a "digital desk," where others can find them and see where they fit in.
5 - An employee directory assists your HR team (so HR can better help your people)
Everything your Human Resources department does is about people. So it makes sense that having a centralized employee database would help your HR team and your office managers be more effective at assisting your employees. They'll be able to manage the org chart effectively, and get a birds-eye view of who's who (in the zoo).
6 - An employee directory improves onboarding (making your new hires feel welcome and engaged)
Helping your new hires get onboarded is an important task. In that first month or two your new recruits are trying to figure out who's who, who does what, and who reports to whom. An employee directory is the best way to solve this, period.
In summary, if you're looking for a way to improve workplace efficiency, make your employees happier, get more work done, strengthen your culture, support your HR team, and improve onboarding (all in one afternoon)... you should consider introducing your organization to an employee directory solution.
Now let's dig into how effective an employee directory really is.
How effective is an employee directory? Can its return on investment be measured?
Like free coffee, the exact effectiveness of an employee directory is hard to measure.
It's one of those things that you can't easily track with numbers or data.
That's because every employee search has a relatively small impact that's spread across a lot of people over a long period of time
When your teams are searching for people hundreds of times a day, which is quite typical in most mid-sized organizations, there's a ton of time wasted if you're using an inefficient directory solution.
Research from McKinsey shows that the average worker spends "nearly 20 percent of their time tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks."
In other words, the average employee spends 1 out of every 5 work days just searching for people!
That's valuable time that should instead be going to meaningful work. Like helping your customers, and working towards your company's vision.
Another study of 1,001 American employees (I wonder who that last person was 🤔) across a variety of industries found that employees spend an average of 5 hours every week waiting to get in touch with people that have the unique knowledge they need.
Interestingly, 20 percent of workers reported duplicating the work of others because they’d been unable to reach the colleague in question.
What a waste of time.
Back in 2008, Siemens did a telephone survey of 513 small to medium businesses across 8 different countries and 8 different verticals.
There were a lot of interesting findings but the one that caught my attention was around barriers to communication:
61% of respondents find difficulty in establishing collaboration sessions with colleagues. Further, they spend an average of 3.3 hours per week attempting to address issues of inaccessibility, or other communication-tool based lack of full collaboration with colleagues.
This survey also reveals that 40% of the work week is lost to communication inefficiencies as a whole.
There's a gazillion similar studies showing that miscommunication in the workplace is bad. Which is pretty obvious if you think about it, but what these studies do is attempt to quantify the impact.
Like 86% of corporate executives citing ineffective communication as a reason for workplace failures.
Or that a business with 100 employees spends an average downtime of 17 hours a week clarifying communications, translating to an annual cost of $528,443.
And that miscommunication can cost an organization 25% to 40% of its annual budget.
Can an employee directory solve these issues?
Not all of them, of course.
Workplace communication is a big topic and an employee directory solves one part of that: the "connecting people" part.
What we know is that making it easier to find people in your organization means your company saves a lot of time, which equates to a lot of money. And of course there's all the social benefits too.
Do employee directories really get used that much? Here's our data.
I wanted to get some data to measure how useful the average employee directory is.
So I pulled a usage report across all our OneDirectory customers to see what percentage of total employees are using their employee directory on a regular basis.
Looking at the last 30 days, the average employee usage across our entire customer base was 11%.
Meaning 1 out of every 10 employees in the organizations we serve used their employee directory at least once in the last month (we don't track how many times, so it could be dozens or even hundreds of searches per person per month).
But what's mind-blowing is that more than 10% of all companies using OneDirectory had more than 1/3rd of their entire workforce sign in at least once in the last month. And these are companies with hundreds to thousands of people.
The figures differ by industry, location, company size, and the organization's ability to make their employee directory accessible to their staff.
But clearly, employee directories are a tool that people are finding useful in the modern, digital workplaces of today.
How much does employee directory software cost?
As with any business software, you get what you pay for, and you're probably used to that by now.
When estimating how much your employee directory software will cost you need to start by choosing your approach:
- Are you building your employee directory solution yourself?
- Or are you buying an employee directory app off the shelf?
- If you're buying and not building, do you want a cloud-based solution or an on-premise/self-hosted one?
- If you're building your employee directory, are you outsourcing the work or are you managing the developers yourself?
- Are you an SMB with typical requirements or a large company with enterprise requirements?
If you're going to be building your own employee directory solution the costs can vary wildly depending on the scope of work and the expertise of your development team (and their hourly rate if outsourced).
And it goes without saying, but the cost can also vary depending on the quality level you're expecting.
If you're wanting a more robust solution, there are many "out the box" options too.
Out the box employee directory apps come in two flavors:
There's those that you buy with one-off licenses and host on-premise or in your own private cloud. In the Microsoft world these are typically "web parts" or add-ins and often have an optional yearly maintenance cost associated with them, which is typically 15%-25% of the list price. We still have many customers running our old SharePoint Staff Directory web part on this model.
Then there's cloud-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) employee directory solutions (like OneDirectory). These are charged on a per month or per year subscription model, typically with a discount when paying annually.
So how much can you expect to pay for a cloud-based employee directory solution?
We can't speak for our competitors, but OneDirectory costs $299 per month for our Standard plan, and $479 per month on our Pro plan. (You get 2 months free if you pay annually.) There's also an Enterprise plan with custom pricing for large companies that need an enterprise employee directory solution.
OneDirectory is a premium solution and there may be cheaper options out there if cost is important to you, so use these figures as a guideline.
Can't I just use a spreadsheet or a simple list for my employee directory?
Yes you can.
The truth is, if you're looking for just a simple contact list for your company you can probably get by with a spreadsheet. A shared Excel or Google Sheet works fine.
Or you could use a SharePoint list. Add some custom fields, make the list available to everyone on your intranet, and away you go.
But of course, spreadsheets and lists are pretty limited in employee directory land.
Plus keeping spreadsheets up to date is a hassle and they invariably end up becoming outdated shortly after distribution.
So there's that.
What is an "org chart?" Is that the same as an employee directory?
Sometimes people will mention the "org chart," when referring to their company's people directory.
Org chart stands for organizational chart and it's similar to an employee directory in that it shows information about the people in your company.
But where it differs is that an org chart focuses more on the organizational hierarchy of your company as opposed to the employee directory's focus on contact and profile information.
Org charts are primarily displayed as an organogram:
Because they're similar, many org chart tools and employee directory tools overlap in functionality.
For example, in OneDirectory you can browse your organizational hierarchy like you would in an org chart tool, but only up and down the org hierarchy (managers and direct reports) - not across it.
In contrast, many org chart apps show you the contact information of the people in the organogram, which means you could probably use it like an employee directory if you squinted hard enough.
So how do you choose between org chart software and employee directory software?
My advice is to use organizational chart software if your main goal is to showcase the hierarchical structure of your company. If you have strict reporting lines and a lot of your focus is on the relationships between managers and their direct reports, an org chart might be a good choice. HR teams will find this useful.
On the other hand, go with employee directory software if you want to help your teams get connected with each other more easily, and if you're looking for a simple way to improve communication and workplace efficiency.
Of course, you could implement both tools.
Should our employee directory be available to people outside our company?
At first glance you might think the answer is "No."
Why would you want all your employee information visible to the whole world?
But in fact, there are many public facing employee directories whose organizations want the general public to be able to contact their staff members.
For example many schools and universities, government agencies, and public sector organizations have their employee directories publicly available on the internet.
In most cases, however, employee directories are for internal company use.
This doesn't mean your employees can't access their directory from anywhere in the world. It's just that it's not a public website, so only they can securely sign in (for example with their Microsoft work account or Google/G Suite account).
Where should we put our employee directory so people can find it?
In today's digital workplace, with so many places to go to "do work," - Outlook, Teams, SharePoint, Delve, OneDrive... where should the employee directory be located?
Typically an employee directory will live in your company intranet because that's kind of the most centralized place.
But your employee directory could also be a standalone app with its own web address to allow people to access it quickly without having to load your entire intranet (we prefer this approach). This also gives you complete control over the user experience of the tool.
You could also choose to install your employee directory as an app inside your messaging software like Microsoft Teams or Slack.
The End (for now). Thanks for reading! 🙌
We hope this article has given you a good overview of what employee directories are all about, and hopefully you have some ideas for your new or existing employee directory project.
As always, if you have any questions hit that Vinewave-green bubble on the bottom right of your screen and we'll be happy to chat.
Good luck with your employee directory!