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SharePoint Employee Directory Options

By Cathy Dew on November 14, 2017

Finding employees when you are using Office 365 is not always straightforward. Contrary to popular assumption, there is not a built-in employee directory in Office 365 or SharePoint. There are a few tools you can use to add or build a SharePoint employee directory. However, which of these options is “best” will vary from one organization to the next. This blog post will explore the various employee directory options and the pros and cons of each.

 

Delve

When Office Delve began to roll out to users of Office 365 a few years ago, some users thought it was a SharePoint employee directory. In reality, Delve is a multifaceted tool without one dedicated use. Microsoft’s idea behind Delve was to use machine learning to present users with personalized content that would be relevant to them. It allows users to “favorite” documents, keep tabs on recent files, and find other relevant documents in the system.

There is also a social networking aspect to Delve, where users have individual profiles they can build and maintain. These profile pages include information about skills, current projects, education, and more. In addition to using Delve to search for documents, users can also use it to search for people. You can find people by names, or you can find them based on the skills they have or the projects they are working with currently. Delve presents customized search results including other people in your organization, to help you find and collaborate with users on the same wavelength as you.

While Delve is a way to find employees within your organization, though, it does not technically qualify as a “directory.” There is no “shared” site on Delve that you can use to find a comprehensive staff list or employee directory. You can find user profiles through search, but there is nowhere to access a full list of profile links, employee details, or contact information by using Delve. The app is perhaps a more complex way of finding employees than someone looking for a traditional directory might prefer.

 

Using a Third-Party Tool

For some enterprises—typically smaller organizations with fewer employees—Delve might work to create a tight-knit, collaborative atmosphere. For larger businesses with many teams and even more employees, finding people via search instead of through a more formal directory can be daunting at best and unsustainable at worst.

These organizations have a few options. The first is to buy or download a third-party directory tool. When using web parts and other features, it’s possible to build and configure a SharePoint employee directory. Plenty of enterprises have done this, and some developers are willing to sell their solutions or offer them for free. Taking advantage of one of these third-party directory installations will save a lot of time and work for your enterprise because you won’t have to build a solution in-house.

Probably the simplest option, if you decide not to use Delve, is this employee directory app from the developer Beyond Key Systems. As you can see, the app is free, comes highly rated (4.5 stars out of 42 ratings), and supports SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2013 or later. Once added, the app creates a directory page where you can “view complete details of employees within the organization.” The SharePoint directory it creates isn’t just a list of names and phone numbers, either. The app also fetches contact details for each user (including a phone number, email address, and live chat address) and creates directory links to “start a chat,” “send an email,” or “start a phone call.

If there’s a drawback to the Beyond Key Systems directory, it’s that some users have reported missing employees in their directories. The free version is also relatively bare-bones and isn’t updated very frequently. For more features and more updates, you would need to try the Global or Global Plus versions of the software, both for which you must pay.

Another option is the Staff Directory SharePoint Web Part from Amrein Engineering. The web part collects user entry information from the MOSS User Profile Store or SharePoint Lists and presents it all in an organized and readable directory format. Each directory entry should include the user’s first name, last name, department, work phone number, mobile phone number, work email address, and My Site link (if applicable). The software is free to download on a 30-day trial, but a full license costs $200.

 

Building Your Own Staff Directory Using Web Parts

The Amrein Engineering solution discussed above is really just a web part customization that you can purchase and use within your SharePoint environment. If your team has the time, skill, and inclination, you can handle similar web part customizations on your own. The question you need to ask is whether this kind of customization is worth it.

When weighing the pros and cons of buying or building, the big considerations are cost and features. Any third-party solution you buy is going to be somewhat universal—something that any organization could benefit from using. If you have more specific or advanced functionalities that you want from your directory, you may have to handle the customization on your own. If simple is fine, it’s just a matter of comparing the cost of buying a third-party solution with the time and effort of building your own.

Customizing the Search Web Part to create a simple employee directory isn’t very difficult at all. To do it, you will need to have an enterprise search center configured. If you do, get started by opening Site Settings, choosing “Look and Feel,” and selecting the “Page Layouts” menu. There, you can enable “(Welcome Page) Search People” as an allowable page layout on your site. This layout is a crucial aspect to your customized directory.

When weighing pros and cons of buying or building, the big considerations are cost and features.

Next, you will want to create the actual directory page, which you can do by going to your pages library and selecting “New Document” from the ribbon. Click “Page” to launch the “Create Page” menu. Here, you can title the page (“People Directory” or something similar will do) as well as choose the page layout. You want “(Welcome Page) Search People” as your directory layout.

Now you need to tweak the Search Web Part to display results without an actual search query. By default, the Search Web Part will only show people on your directory page if someone enters a search. If you navigate to the web part properties for the “People Search Core Results” web part and click “Change Query,” it will launch a “Build Your Query” page where you can make this change. In the “Select a query” section, choose “Local People Results (System).” In the “Property filter” section, select “contentclass” from the top drop-down and then manipulate the lower drop-down menus so they say “Equals” and “Manual Value.” Type “spspeople” in the Manual Value box, then click “Add property filter.” Finally, type “contentclass=SPSPeople {searchboxquery}” in the “Query text” box and click “OK” to finalize the query.

This process will create a simple but comprehensive people list on your new People Directory page. You will be able to filter the findings based on what you enter in the search box. You can also edit the Refinement Web Part for the page to add search refiners. For an employee directory, you will probably want things like department, job title, base office location—all of which you can find and add as “Selected refiners” in the Refinement Web Part.

These steps will give you a directory that you can search and refine in a few different ways. If you want your solution to look like one of the third-party buy options, though, you will need to edit files called Display Templates. You can beef up your directory with different kind of setups—including grid or table layouts—by updating or creating new Display Templates. SharePoint experts around the web have created solutions you can use for these purposes, usually for free. Feel free to do a Google search to find good Display Templates for a people directory. Alternatively, our team at 2Plus2 can point you in the right direction.

 

A Note on Azure Active Directory

Web parts aren’t the only way to build your own people directory. You can also use Azure Active Directory, harvesting extensive employee information from AD to build your solution. This strategy, which typically uses SharePoint Framework (SPFx) or Custom JavaScript, can create very useful employee finding solutions. However, these methods are also extremely complex—especially compared to simple web part builds or third-party buy solutions—and are not for the faint of heart. Most organizations will be fine without the added information that Azure AD can bring to the table.

 

Get Help Building Your Directory: Consult with 2Plus2 Today

Whether you need help configuring your web parts, finding Display Template solutions, or deciding whether to buy or build your directory, 2Plus2 can help. Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

 

Sources
Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.