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With communications playing a central role in remote work and the wider digital workplace, intranets have once again become key digital workplace platforms. However, there is some confusion about their role.

An intranet can be a part of the digital workplace but the digital workplace is not a part of the intranet, according to a recent blog posted by New York City-based based digital experience provider Unily. A digital workplace is the wider umbrella that encompasses all the digital tools the enterprise uses. It began as a sort of catch-all term for email, word processors and fledgling Internet applications but has since evolved into a key facet of modern business.

An intranet is part of that and offers workers in the digital workplace an internal network for sharing information and collaborating and operational systems and other computing services, typically accessed by a web-based application. Over the past eight months, with so many people working remotely their importance cannot be overestimated.

However, the traditional concept of a intranet as an immovable and even static platform is no longer accurate. With the recent move to home offices, it has become clear the intranet needs to be a fast-moving and dynamic place that pulls teams and even entire organizations together to achieve business goals.

Intranets and Employee Experience

According to Leigh Nofi of New York City-based employee experience platform developer Staffbase, as COVID-19 changes the future of work it is more important than ever to have a modern mobile-first intranet in place. The latest entrants to the intranet space, employee experience intranets, occupy the sweet spot of simplicity and collaboration between social intranets and Microsoft 365. They are hyper-personal branded digital hubs.

“The goal of the modern intranet is to act as a personal guidebook to the employee journey for those entering the virtual workplace of tomorrow," Nofi said. "These intranets do so by improving four key areas of the employee experience: contribution, communication, learning and empowerment.”

Here's a look at each:

  1. Contribution: For organizations to continue learning better and faster, employee feedback is indispensable. Employees want to be heard. According to a recent Salesforce report, employees who feel their voice is heard at work are nearly five times more likely to perform their best work. With a modern intranet, collecting feedback using structured (surveys and social walls) and unstructured (comments and likes) ways creates involvement opportunities at all levels. This in turn promotes networking, exchange and shared experiences.
  2. Communication: For employee experience intranets, communication is the No. 1 priority and is accomplished through methods like push notifications, group-specific channels and tailored communication for specific moments, such as onboarding. It is also more important than ever to retarget the priority of internal communications. Companies are more spread out than ever. According to U.S. census data, the average 500-person company has an average of 12.5 office locations, and COVID-19 has further eased work-from-home restrictions across industries.
  3. Learning: Organizations need to store vast amounts of knowledge for employees: emergency procedures, pages on frequently requested topics (e.g. personnel, location information), information on products and service range, and FAQs. For all of it, intranets must serve as an easy-to-navigate single source of truth.
  4. Empowerment: The line between learning and empowerment is somewhat fluid. However, while learning focuses on topics that are important to the company, information that empowers relates to an individual's daily work routine. The more relevant the information (staff directories, lunch menus, payroll accounting, vacation requests) and the easier it can be accessed, the greater willingness there will be to voluntarily use an intranet.

“Increasing employee usage of the intranet through self-serving tools only supports the achievement of the other goal,” Nofi said. “This empowerment is particularly important for millennials and Gen Z-ers entering the workforce. As those who grew up as digital natives with technology infused in their environment, they expect the same digital conveniences of their workplaces.”

Related Article: The Corporate Intranet Is Key to the Digital Workplace. Really

Old Vs. New Intranets

Israel Gaudette, founder of Link Tracker Pro, a Canada-based SEO specialist, argued that intranets are the foundation of an effective digital workplace. “When you make the intranet your digital workplace’s foundation, you’re enabling a solid employer-to-employee connection,” he said.

To be precise, intranets connect and bond everyone within the organization. Modern intranets, unlike the older ones, are loaded with applications from messaging to productivity tools to data collection and storage. With these, a one-stop-shop is created for employees. Older intranets are a one-way model and in some cases are close to being a bin of information.

With a modern one, employees have the capability to create and share. It enables them to be engaged and contribute articles or opinions instead of just reading them. It is about empowering the employees.

The digital workplace and intranet work together but are not interchangeable. And to get the best out of remote employees, you need both. “The key here is to form a digital workplace with the intranet as the foundation,” Gaudette said. “With these two in place, you’re not only building a comprehensive digital workplace that keeps your employee engaged and productive but takes employee experience to the next level as well."

Related Article: How to Keep Your Corporate Intranet From Becoming Outdated

Transforming the Old Intranet for New Challenges

With the shift to remote work, abandoned old intranets got the chance to transform from unpopular informational resources to what they really are: enterprise-wide communication and collaboration tools, said Sandra Goger, workplace collaboration expert at the Austin-based Itransition Group. She said owners of older intranets got lucky in that they could set up essential content, project and collaboration management workflows without spending extra time, effort and money on new software and its adoption.

Owing to their versatile default capabilities, modern intranets can be adapted to a variety of business scenarios and cover a multitude of critical organizational processes, such as full-cycle document management, text and media content storage and sharing, real-time video conferencing and instant messaging and knowledge management.

At the same time, intranets equipped with social features can address the critical issue of social distancing and isolation. “By launching digital communities, organizations can involve employees in more active social interaction, both during and outside of working hours, thus helping people fight isolation-related issues, including loneliness, loss of social connection, depression and lack of productivity,” Goger said.

Intranets, which can only be accessed by people within an organization, are primarily used to distribute company communications to employees on a large scale and act as a central location where employees can store and access information or files, said Ronda Cilsick, group vice president and chief information officer at Herdon, Va.-based Deltek.

A good intranet should be a single place for employees to get access to information including quick links to internal applications, company organization structure, key points of contact for each business unit, policies and company communications.

With the pandemic forcing companies to shift to remote work, intranets have enabled many businesses to easily disseminate information like blogs on tips for working from home, updates for employees on safely returning to the office, and the ability for employees to communicate via chat, like they might normally in an office.