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The Corporate Intranet Is Key to the Digital Workplace. Really.

June 30, 2020 Collaboration and Productivity
David Roe
By David Roe

Despite continued investment and implementation of digital transformation strategies, many workers remain disconnected from the organization.

This is particularly true for remote workers. Four out of every five report feeling left out, according to recent research from Ontario, Canada-based Igloo Software. 

One potential answer to this problem may be closer than many realize. Relegated in recent years to the back office, the corporate intranet is ready to step back into the spotlight as a modern communication and engagement hub.

Disconnected Employees

Igloo's third annual State of the Digital Workplace report examined how employees collaborate and communicate in the modern workplace and found that just over half (51%) of employees have avoided sharing a document with a colleague because they couldn't find it or thought it would be too difficult to find – the highest percentage ever recorded since Igloo began this study three years ago.

That shouldn't be a surprise. The Association of Image and Information Management (AIIM) found last February that, on average, organizations have five different content systems and repositories and expect the amount of information coming into their organizations to grow nearly five-fold over the next two years, with the majority (57%) of that information unstructured.

Information sharing isn't the only issue facing digital workplace managers. Technical and communication problems continue to plague remote workers. According to Igloo's research, 85% of remote employees report having at least one meeting interrupted due to Wi-Fi problems, lost connections or incorrect dial-in information. A significant number (51%) of employees admit to being overwhelmed by the amount of non-work related messages sent in apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams and 57% admit to using at least one non-company approved application to communicate or share company information.

“As working remotely has become the new reality, it has exposed the benefits of a work-from-home situation, as well as the challenges of app fatigue, poor work/life balance and a host of data security risks,” said Mick Hicks, chief marketing officer of Igloo Software in a statement about the research.

Intranet to the Rescue (Really)

While the challenges are real, many organizations have a potential solution at their fingertips: the corporate intranet. The slick, responsive intranet platforms that feature in Forrester’s Forrester Wave for Intranet Platforms, Q2 2020 (paywall) are not the clunky intranets of a decade ago.

According to the Wave, aging on-premise intranets are disappearing and being replaced by cloud platforms that offer flexible communication creation and delivery options that leave the intranet of previous years in the dust. “Vendors that provide granular personalization, design and templating tools, and integration with top productivity suites are revitalizing this market,” according to the report.

Forrester's research uncovered a market dominated by 12 vendors:

  • Leaders: Igloo Software, LumApps and Simpplr
  • Strong performers: Akumina, Liferay, LiveTiles, Microsoft, Unily and Interact
  • Contenders: Atlassian, SDL and Aurea (Jive Software)

In a blog about the report, Cheryl McKinnon, principal analyst at Forrester and co-author of the research, noted that interest in intranet platforms waned for a period of time but recent queries to Forrester, particularly about modernization and migration to the cloud, demonstrated renewed interest. The report identified several trends that enterprises need to address as that interest grows, including:

  1. Employee communication: Newer vendors have improved their ability to provide employee communications.
  2. Cloud: Cloud is now the principle hosting method with older intranets either being decommissioned or migrated to the cloud.
  3. Integration: Most enterprises want to integrate their intranet with productivity tools like Microsoft 365 or the Google Suite.

Connecting Everyone Across the Enterprise

Forrester is not the only analyst firm that found a change in the way the intranet is being designed and used. Nielsen Norman Group, in announcing the winners of its "10 Best Intranets of 2020," pointed out that the "greatest theme" for effective intranets were platforms that that included all teams, individuals and tools. "Intranet teams and the organizations they support realize the value of inclusiveness, collaboration and consolidation," the report said.

Whether the organization comprised a few small teams or several large businesses, an intranet — more than any other digital tool — bonds teams and companies within the organization.

“Seeing each group’s information and apps in the same menu, search results and homepage can teach or remind employees about each team’s strengths and resources, so they may work together in the future,” the report noted.

Intranet as the 'Place Where Employees Start Their Day'

A well-designed and engaging intranet can be the cornerstone for an organization's internal communications, HR and employee engagement strategy, even for frontline workers and those working from home, said Leigh Nofi, events manager at New York City-based Staffbase. Modern options like an employee experience intranet and employee app make it possible to communicate, connect and share information company-wide. And integration with productivity tools like Microsoft 365 are increasingly important to enterprise corporations.

Nofi said the classic intranet use case is as a home for company resources. But that does not mean intranet pages need to be dumping grounds for outdated information. Today’s intranet should be the place where all employees start their day.

These convenient features can drive engagement and bring daily value to the company platform. “For many in internal communications, the company intranet has long been the office coffee machine: It’s clunky and old. There’s only one person who actually knows how it works and employees aren’t exactly raving about it,” she said.

“But a company intranet doesn’t have to be like a bad cup of coffee. It’s time for the intranet to be back in vogue and modernizing is the key to success.”

Communication is a Two-Way Street

It is easy to attribute recent rises in enterprise intranet popularity to the economic disaster that is COVID-19. Most businesses were faced with the same need for centralized internal communications all at once and the path of least resistance is often to purchase an existing platform.

A more accurate interpretation is that the pandemic forced enterprises to re-evaluate how they communicate with internal stakeholders, leading many to see just how valuable an intranet can be, said Jake Weaver CEO of Atlanta-based Codesigned, a SharePoint enterprise intranet and internal communications platform provider.

At their least effective, enterprise intranets usually fall into the trap of being a one-way, top-down information dump, allowing C-level executives to shovel updates down to subordinates. This strategy leads to an unengaged workforce and an intranet platform that falls into disuse, providing little return on investment. From an employee engagement standpoint, having an intranet that almost no one uses is worse than simply not having one at all.

“Intranets are best used as two-way communication channels where employees, managers and the C-suite can all give and receive information,” Weaver said. “When set up this way, an intranet functions as an all-important feedback loop that helps define expectations more clearly across all levels of the organization, leading to a more informed, engaged and productive workforce.”

While the immediate health crisis may be over for some companies, the need for accessible information, open communication channels and a two-way feedback loop has been pushed to the forefront for countless more. As economies reopen, more people are heading back to work but not necessarily back to their old offices.

Tech-based companies like Square, Shopify and Upwork have already announced most employees will permanently work remotely following COVID-19. Expect to see other firms take their lead and adopt the remote office as a workplace best practice.

“We must also keep in mind that not every business is as equipped for this level of shift as the ones mentioned above. As with any sweeping change, there will be a learning curve for both employers and employees alike,” Weaver said.




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