What is an intranet and why does your company still need one?
— August 1st, 2021
The rapid advancement of the digital workplace and new technologies fuelled the pandemic and has had many people questioning the continuing relevance of older communications channels, such as the company intranet.
But, this misses the point, because for any organization to be successful it needs to be able to reach all its employees wherever they work, to keep them informed and connected and feeling involved with a sense of purpose.
The only way to do that is with an omnichannel approach to internal communication through all available channels, from email to mobile, digital signage, collaboration tools, and, yes, not least, the company intranet.
But first, what exactly is an Intranet?
At its most basic an intranet is a private website that organizations use for sharing information internally, and is not accessible to people outside the organization.
That’s how they started out, decades ago, mainly for top-down information such as management communications, HR updates, company policies, and as a centralized place for documents depository.
Nowadays, while still fulfilling this important information distribution role, modern intranets are much more multi-dimensional, collaborative, and integrate with workplace tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, as well as social media.
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What is an example of an intranet?
A decade ago, most organizations would have seen their intranet as a communication channel. The home page, ‘about us’ and main sub-sections would have been controlled by the Internal Communications department.
Other areas, such as employee guidelines, may have been produced by departments like HR, but with IC oversight. Since then, most intranets have expanded to include social media, video, forms, collaboration tools, dashboards, and even whole employee services such as room booking.
An example of an intranet is SharePoint, but digital workplace expert Sam Marshall advises organizations not to view their intranet as a single channel and he points out that SharePoint is “actually a whole range of channels”. Another example would be when a company like a national rail network has an internal website that acts as an information hub to update employees on all company matters.
What is the purpose of an Intranet?
In essence, an Intranet should be a central hub of company information that can be accessed by everybody in an organization for effective workplace communications to improve employee engagement and productivity. It should also streamline work processes for greater efficiency and facilitate better collaboration between employees.
Intranet for employees
A well constructed and maintained intranet for employees– one that enables and encourages two-way dialogue where the employee voice is heard, listened to, and acted on by leaders – contributes to a more positive employee experience, which in turn influences recruitment and retention through employee advocacy.
How does an intranet fit in the digital workplace?
This is a question that is asked frequently, but it misses the point because it’s not a question of the intranet fitting into the digital workplace, the intranet is an integral part of the digital workplace. Just like other essential internal communications channels such as mobile and email.
The company intranet should be considered in the context of the digital workplace as a whole: think about what the organization needs in terms of the entire spectrum of communication and collaboration tools and channels, and then come back and ask “What should the role of the intranet be within that?”.
The complexity of the modern diverse workplace and the personal preference of employees means there is no silver bullet when it comes to internal comms. There is an increasing requirement for a multiplicity of communication channels operating in a fully integrated way.
Why should the intranet be part of an omnichannel communications strategy?
Organizations must make sure employees are given information that’s relevant to them on their preferred channels and devices, wherever they are and whenever they need it.
Not all employees like to receive communications in the same way. Some prefer mobile, some email, others the intranet. Either way, employees are used to being able to access consumer-grade information on a variety of platforms in their private lives, so they’re not going to accept anything less in the workplace.
And given the shift to hybrid working models, the “one-size-fits-all” approach to employee communications is more ineffective than ever before. While some employees will spend most of their time in the office and be more likely to look at the intranet, email or digital signage for important messages, remote and deskless workers will rely primarily on their mobile devices and email for company updates.
The key to ensuring that communications are received revolves around the ability to choose the right channel for the right audience, at the right time – and manage the content publication and performance analytics for each channel on a single, fully integrated omnichannel platform.
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What are the advantages and disadvantages of an intranet?
Like all communication channels, there are pros and cons to the company intranet.
First, intranet advantages:
1. Increases employee engagement and productivity:
A good company intranet can be a unique hub to foster connection between employees and engagement with the organization and its culture and goals, leading to higher productivity. The benefits of higher employee engagement have been proven time and again: higher productivity, lower absenteeism, lower employee churn.
2. Better communication and collaboration:
With workforces increasingly dispersed and many organizations opting for a range of hybrid models, internal company communication and collaboration has never been more important – and the intranet is perfectly positioned to achieve this. Even if colleagues are working in different locations they can easily collaborate, share documents and streamline workflows through the intranet.
3. Easy-access depository for company policies, documents, and key information:
Outdated content management system software is a nightmare for employees forced to waste precious time looking for the company information they need. However, the beauty of a modern intranet with search-engine capabilities is that not only is all essential documentation stored in one centralized location, anything can be accessed with a search and click.
1. Security vulnerabilities
When a company puts all its information in one place it by definition creates a vulnerability risk. Because intranets run on web servers, intranet providers need to go to appropriate lengths to protect the security of their intranet portal, with adequate technical safeguards and user protocols.
2. Old, outdated and costly technologies
Intranets are old technology and in many organizations, they are outdated and incapable of fulfilling the communication and collaboration requirements of today’s complex and distributed workplace. For example, many intranets were built before the current move to increased remote and hybrid working environments and are, therefore, to a lesser or greater extent, not fit for purpose in this regard.
That said, modern purpose-built intranet systems can play a key role in the overarching need to bake best-in-class communications into a superior employee experience.
3. Information can be difficult to find, and inaccessible for deskless workers
While modern intranets with powerful search engines make it simple for employees to access the information they are looking for, that’s not the case with many older intranets that populate organizations around the world. This is not only frustrating for employees and wastes their time, it’s also a ‘switch-off from the intranet as a whole, because of the poor experience.
Also, many older intranets are built on software that is not mobile-compatible and are therefore inaccessible and out of bounds to deskless and frontline workers – and updating older intranets is a costly and time-consuming process.
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What should a company intranet look like?
- Here are the top components common to most company intranets:
- Company policies and other essential company documents.
- Company mission, culture, and values
- HR policies, documents, and forms
- Company announcements and newsfeed
- Up-to-date and well-populated profile list of employees; specific site for new hires
- Integrated enterprise search engine, for quick and easy access to information
- Tools for easy team and cross-department collaboration and document sharing
- Facility for broadcasting company accomplishment and peer recognition
- Forum for commenting and employee feedback and dialogue
- Integrations and apps directory
What should be included in an HR intranet?
Here are the top HR components common to most company intranets:
1. Policies required by law to be shared with employees. These will vary depending on location, but will frequently include workplace policies on:
- Labor law
2. Company policies, e.g:
- Employee conduct, attendance, and punctuality
- Performance and discipline
- Security compliance
- Treatment of company property
- Maternity/Paternity Leave and PTO benefits
- Corporate Social Responsibility
3. Forms and documents, e.g
- Hiring forms
- Leave applications and expenses claims
4. Job Vacancies
5. Calendar of holidays and training events
6. An FAQ facility