We all know that times have changed, but the extent to which this applies to the workplace is quite eyebrow-raising. Remote working has become a reality, and it’s common to have staff – and sometimes entire teams - based in different countries and continents. Such arrangements not only raise obvious requirements for secure VPN connections and collaborative working solutions, but also place a much greater strain on an organisation’s ability to present and share information amongst this increasingly diverse and wide-spread audience.
Many organisation are starting to rely on the cloud to provide their employees with dedicated online software, like Synergist, JIRA and ZenDesk, to conduct daily tasks more efficient and modernise their organisation's working environment. However, utilising multiple niche, objective-driven softwares can lead to a maze of logins and browser tabs that becomes confusing and unnecessary. Inevitably this can result in silo working where employees are devoid of any social interaction and lose the sense of cultural cohesion that used to pervade the workplace.
Instant messaging platforms like Slack can help to fill this void, and judging by the company’s incredible success (valued at nearly $4bn in April 2016*), there’s no shortage of organisations looking to encourage online social collaboration within their workplace. However the short-lived nature of instant messaging doesn’t solve the need for a central digital workplace, which combines social messaging with a permanent, secure online space for organisations to share vital information and knowledge, which is where company intranet software like The Hub come into their own.
When it comes to information sharing, an intranet has two key functions:
1). A Knowledge and Resource Centre - An intranet should provide an organisation with a central repository of all the information that employees or members might require, i.e. - HR policies, contact directories, how-to guides, holiday calendars, or system logins. Ultimately, your intranet platform should be your one-stop-shop of information about your organisation, and provide you with the resources to conduct your job more efficiently.
2). Drive Engagement & Collaboration - Intranets help to present these resources and information in a clear, relevant manner that's easy to navigate and visually engaging. Employees are more likely to engage with social media than their own company communications, so by embracing a social intranet like The Hub you can actually help boost employee engagement with your company comms by up to 25%, plus encouraging communication and collaboration around your company resources.
Easy Access and Flexibility are Key to Every Intranet
Having all your organisation's resources stored centrally in one digital workplace is exceptionally useful, however the ability to restrict access to information and tailor the intranet environment to your users is a vital piece of functionality for any company intranet software. For example a company's System Administrator in Spain won't need to see the organisation’s cash-flow report for Q1, but they do need to know who to send invoices to when buying new hardware. Or, the outsourced cleaning contractors need to know who to notify when the office’s alarm system malfunctions, but they won’t necessarily need to be invited to the Christmas social event.
The flexibility to entirely customise an intranet's user experience, completely changing the content, branding and navigation from one person to the next based on their access permissions or department, is something that really sets intranets apart from your niche silo software.
Now, all this might sound like an administrative nightmare – but that isn’t necessarily so.
In our experience there is some initial effort involved when it comes to setting up an intranet from scratch. Often an organisation will form a small committee to put some content together, compile a list of users (and maybe organise them into groups and organisations), think about what access levels and user requirements they will need, and (most importantly) decide on how their intranet will look. This may sound like a lot of work, but the more thought that goes into refining functionality, access and styling during during the initial stages of building your intranet, the easier it will be to maintain and keep it looking great. It’s more than feasible for just one or two administrators to do a very professional job of maintaining an intranet for hundreds of users, and once the intranet is up and running and people are engaging with it regularly, you will start to enjoy the most important aspect of a digital workplace – collaboration.
Employee Engagement and Collaboration
Content is no longer top-down, it’s driven by user feedback, engagement, and user-generated content. With a flexible permissions model you can put people in charge of their own sections on the intranet, where they can happily curate and promote the content that matters to them and their team. You can embed forms, surveys and opinion polls in your content to transform users’ experience of the intranet into a proper two-way conversation, rather than relying on the old “log in, read content, log out” model from the days before social intranets were invented.
Many companies aim to minimize the pain of setting up a new intranet by offering a consultancy period (as Pancentric Digital do with their Hub), which helps to reassure administrators that they are getting the best use out of their intranet software. For all the hype around social intranets, an intranet should still provide administrators with insights into how users are interacting with the system. A common feature is a “search report” which shows what users are searching for and when, and how many results were found, and if monitored regularly this can highlight gaps in your intranet’s content and its navigability. Similarly, allowing users to ‘Like’ or 'Comment' on a piece of content will gradually reveal not only what’s popular, but also what isn’t, which will inevitably lead to you refining your intranet content and making future content more engaging.
A well-used and organised intranet is not only a great asset to an organisation, it also mitigates against one of the big pitfalls of a distributed, widespread workforce - ‘knowledge islands’. Even in the days before digital workplaces when everyone sat under one roof, it could still be very challenging to encourage a culture of information sharing and collaboration, and now that many organisations have entire teams spread across the globe, employee collaboration has only become more challenging. This trend is unlikely to be reversed - according to a Deloitte report in 2014, 64% of employees would choose a lower paying job if they could work away from the office – which places the importance of a social intranet front and centre in any digital workplace policy.
Driving Online Information Sharing
Modern intranet software provide a dazzling selection of content generation tools, such as form and assessment builders for capturing peoples’ holiday bookings, health and safety evaluations, employee inductions etc., and these often contain workflow steps so that the data can be tracked and pass seamlessly between nominated intranet users, all without the help of a printer. New policies can be advertised to staff using ‘Must Read’ items, which are the digital equivalent of printing something off and pinning it to a staff noticeboard, but with the added bonus that you can now see who’s read it and who hasn’t, making it a much more efficient method for HR and Compliance departments to keep track. Groups of users can share documents in their own private space, and have discussions that aren’t visible to other users. Events can be broadcast to selected audiences. To-do lists can be turned into formal tasks and assigned to users along with detailed notes and time estimates, and Theme editors will keep the design-minded users entertained for hours in their quest to make the intranet software look its best.
Once your intranet is up and running and full of content, the next challenge is to integrate it with as many of your other systems as possible, in order to make it a true ‘one-stop shop’ for your staff. At its most basic level this might simply involve embedding a Google Calendar into a page, or you might add a custom module to interact with Office 365 documents, read your Outlook emails, or provide automatic logins via Google or Facebook. This step is about breaking down the barriers of use and encouraging people to use the intranet as a central starting point which leads in to the other systems they need to do their jobs, rather than logging into everything separately... thus making your intranet a more efficient and beneficial digital workplace. Users on mobile devices will find this particularly beneficial as it will minimize their potentially cumbersome system interactions, and in content terms it will make for a truer reflection of what your staff need to see and use on a daily basis. By not integrating, you risk turning your intranet into “something to look at when time allows”, rather than making it the heart of your organisation.
The digital workplace is changing rapidly and will continue to present new challenges as technologies evolve and new innovations are introduced. A well organised and engaging intranet plays an essential part in this continued evolution, underpinning the foundations of your company communications and providing a consistent, engaging voice for both the organisation and its employees.
Collaboration and engagement are core assets that encourage digital workplaces to thrive and should be embraced by every organisation, so embrace the benefits of a social intranet and unlock the potential hidden within your company communications.
Peter is a Senior Developer on the Hub, bringing expert technical knowledge and design expertise to our intranet platform and helping to support our clients such as Bluefin, Ralph Lauren and RSA to build better intranets, client portals and digital workplaces.
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