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A decade of digital workplace blogging

Wrapped blue box.

A decade of digital workplace blogging

Sam Marshall.

Our ClearBox blog is ten years old. While ClearBox Consulting was founded in 2007, our blog sprung to life in August 2011 with Sam Marshall’s first post.

Since then, we’ve kept on sharing our thoughts and guidance in 280 posts covering internal communications, collaboration, intranet best practices, and working within the digital workplace.

2011 – blogging begins

Looking only a little dated, our website a decade ago wasn’t mobile friendly. Sam started the blog talking about strategy and the flavour of your intranet.

Readership was modest back in 2011, but the topics Sam tackled seem as relevant now as they were then. He found five great things about silos, and talked about social intranets.

Website screenshot.

2012 – anticipating SP 2013

From the summer of 2021, readership took off somewhat, and people showed a consistent interest in our website and blog. Maybe Google gave us some love?

The most popular piece was Sam’s explanation of SharePoint 2013’s social features. In fact, 2012 was all about SharePoint 2013! But, being tech agnostic, the list of ten worst practices for intranets performed well. By now, Sam had been writing guest articles for other websites, as y’know, the 2010s was the decade of ‘content marketing’.

The start of the digital workplace manifesto.

2013 – manifesto

Those SharePoint 2013 posts from the previous year continued to do well as more organisations adopted the on-premises server software.

Here’s a nice one. Sam developed a digital workplace manifesto and a little later added the illustrated version (from Virpi Oinonen). I can’t believe this was back in 2013! I still quote this manifesto.

Another perennially performing article is our intranet roadmap guidance which, to this day, is as popular as our strategy guidance. We update both regularly.

2014 – I join ClearBox

Readership grew by around 50% – surely merely coincidental to my joining ClearBox as an associate consultant and digital channels manager. I began by publishing more of Sam’s work (videos, conference presentations etc.) before blogging about my own experience with intranets and comms.

Wedge.

My first major contribution showed how to spot your intranet is on its last legs, while my most popular piece explained how to connect Office on your iPad to SharePoint – which back then was quite painful. Sam’s previous article predicted that Office for iPad would cause enterprises pain, as it would require additional tech support and might make some people pay twice for their Office subscription.

I wrote a three-part series suggesting what to do after the launch of your intranet that was very popular, and I should probably review it soon.

Oh this was the year that Sam challenged me to publish an ‘intranet advent’ article every day throughout December up till Christmas. So that month was a blur for me and I’ve blanked the memory. Top performers, apparently, were ‘replace, revamp, augment’, ‘card sorting’, and a ‘governance checklist’. All good topics, but December is a quiet month even in the digital world. My advent articles couldn’t compete with Santa’s intranet home page, that Sam developed and had designed by Paul Florescu, who continues to work with us still as our reports designer.

2015 – anticipating SP 2016 and digital workplace definition

Readership grew a little year on year, and we got some spikes whenever we did well on Twitter or with a newsletter.

Sam began talking about SharePoint 2016 of course, and so his run down of what’s new for SharePoint intranets was very popular. Remember Delve?

The concept of the digital workplace was rising in popularity still, with some vendors and intranet managers using it as a synonym for the intranet. Which wasn’t and isn’t true. Sam defined the digital workplace back in 2015, but published an updated definition in 2020 with a superb graphic.

I published a series of three articles detailing academic intranet research conducted by Obianuju Eke (aka, Uju) of Warwick Business School. Great graphs, and interesting reading, showing how different organisations have different governance models that need different types of teams.

2016 – reviewing ‘in-a-box’ intranet products for SharePoint

Sam’s SharePoint 2016 articles continued their popularity, and in February we released a little PDF that compared six ‘in-a-box’ add-ons that helped transform SharePoint into an intranet. The appetite for expert, independent reviews of intranet products for SharePoint led us to develop a robust assessment process, and in November we released a much-expanded second edition.  (We’re now on version 5.5 of our massive SharePoint report, and planning a new approach for 2022.)

Sam laid out a quick and easy way to assess your People Finder, and you should see if yours can score more than 14 today.

I exhorted organisations not to use the same platform for their website and intranet, and I still believe this today so it’s worth a read.

2017 – ClearBox turns 10

ClearBox Consulting turned ten, so I explored a decade of intranet developments, considering what was going in enterprises and in consumer tech.

Our massive SharePoint report brings us a lot of attention but, blog wise, Sam’s Q&A article about SharePoint communication sites dominated, even though it was published late in the year! Communication sites seemed complicated and confusing back then, but now seem obvious, after some finessing by Microsoft.

Sam laid out how to host a Yammer Q&A and I railed against using personal social networks for work communications, and shared a personal story from a nurse. It’s clear that when Facebook and WhatsApp are used by teams and colleagues that there is a clear need for better (mobile) business solutions.

Sam’s visual guide to six different working styles, hubs, hives, and hangouts, made a big splash, and we reference it again in 2020.

Hub, hive, and hangout graphic visualisation.

2018 – hub sites

I published a nice overview of choosing a ready-made intranet solution rather than building things yourself, and asked four intranet managers for their experiences and preferences.

Microsoft’s release of hub sites, that provide a shared menu across sites, seemed like a much needed intranet solution; so we asked ‘in-a-box’ intranet vendors what they thought, so you could get a picture of strengths and weaknesses. And Sam explained how hub sites and communication sites worked together to create something like an intranet.

2019 – ClearBox grows

Our guide to SharePoint mega menus listed the pros and cons, and showed how to build menus across your intranet. It’s stupidly popular to this day.

Suzie Robinson.
Andrew Marr.

What’s this? Players 3 and 4 have entered the game! We announced that Andrew Marr and Suzie Robinson had joined the team. Andrew after years of working with us as an associate, and Suzie after a conversation after a conference!

Suzie’s first article explored Microsoft’ Kaizala app (a bit of an oddity) and Suzie has since become our employee apps expert.

I explained the four categories of intranet products for SharePoint with a little video and article.

2020 – digital transformation spurred by COVID-19

Suzie kicked off the year discussing frontline workers and their communication needs.

Sam updated the definition of digital workplace and considered employee experience and the drivers behind digital.

ClearBox has always been a digital first company; we visit clients’ sites for meetings and user research, but much of what we do has always been digital. But we saw our friends and clients adopt and adapt to Zoom and Microsoft Teams. You know the rest.

The rise of content design, as an approach, for websites had me ruminating on how intranet content could be improved. Having worked a little with public sector intranet people I knew content design techniques were being used and so I wrote about the techniques and did a couple of presentations. Now, whenever I train intranet publishers, I usually incorporate content design principles.

By June, Sam’s exposition about the use of Microsoft Teams for internal communications was very appropriate.

Blueprint for crisis comms.

2021 – the lost summer

Suzie’s December article, explaining what an independent intranet is, became popular early this year.

Sam reflected on just who would benefit from Microsoft Viva connections. We hear some people say they’re gonna get Viva instead of SharePoint, which is an alarming concept as SharePoint is the foundation. So Sam’s ‘101’ introduction to Viva Connections is a must-read.

Sam took a break from SharePoint to look at independent, non-SharePoint intranets, although you still have to talk about Office 365!

As in 2020, a lot of our past blog articles became more popular, as people Googled for digital solutions to their distributed working problems.

My hit of the year, so far, is my content cost calculations, which is part guide, part rant against poor quality intranet pages.

Five different sized rocks, showing research, drafting, publishing, and then the unknown hidden costs.

Where next?

While content marketing has engulfed blogging, we still believe in the sharing of ideas, experience, and guidance for the digital community. We’re active, as a company and as individuals, on LinkedIn and Twitter, but our blog is essential to our consulting. We share what we know, learn, and believe.

To keep up with us, join our newsletter for monthly updates with the best links to click.

Wedge Black

I support ClearBox in everything we do online, and I assist clients that are considering redeveloping or replacing their intranet platform. I worked in global and regional organisations as the intranet manager as part of the comms team, before becoming an intranet consultant. I'm the founder of the Intranet Now annual conference. I’ve tweeted about intranets and comms for fifteen years now.

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