The intranet industry is always changing. Microsoft, the giant in the room, often leaves vendors scrambling to integrate, complement or replicate the newest features it offers. Then there are broader digital developments, such as the metaverse, nibbling at the edges of the industry. Some vendors choose to adopt these developments and work to introduce solutions in their platform, while others wait to see what the world of work gets hooked on before making significant strategic decisions.
I’ve noticed five trends emerging among the best intranet products, which are now starting to drive employee experience across the whole industry.
Embracing artificial intelligence (AI)
AI is already present in many intranet solutions and the best products are devising more sophisticated uses. For example, AI can aid search by presenting answers alongside pages to explore. Someone searching for “time off allowance” could see a result that pulls data from both a policy page and an integrated HR system, such as, “you’re entitled to 23 days and have 15 days remaining, would you like to book PTO?” Internet search engines have been doing this for a long time, and intranets are slowly catching up.
ChatGPT is a trending topic at the moment, and I’ve already seen a product integrate the functionality directly. (Microsoft’s Copilot will do similar in Word once released, too.) These tools can be beneficial to those who aren’t confident writing and offer a way to summarize information, providing a TL;DR for those who like to be verbose or comprehensive (like me, yes, I know!).
While users may find AI tools useful, they also need to understand the risks and be trained in how to edit AI-produced content. So, I hope intranet vendors will not only provide the technology but also the thought leadership and training to support businesses trying this technology for the first time.
Internal communications as a focus
Intranet vendors have also been turning their attention to the needs of internal communicators in recent years. This may be fallout from the pandemic or as a result of internal comms being more likely to take ownership for intranets. Whatever the reason, the move will benefit more than just IC folk. For example, combining AI with an internal communications focus means features that spot non-inclusive language can help moderate the tone of articles without IC having to get involved.
Another AI-IC crossover is for scheduling or audience targeting, using users’ data to present content to them at the most effective time. These tools remove the scheduling burden from IC, while maintaining content quality.
But not everything is about automation! Internal Comms teams will likely also enjoy some of the manual controls intranet vendors are introducing. Managing campaigns of activities — for example by grouping a message from the CEO, with a video from the head of HR, with an article about a new DE&I policy — and seeing the results of how each piece performs individually and as a whole is incredibly valuable for a communicator. Additionally, being able to manage the flow of news, such as through a calendar, and across a variety of channels outside of the intranet — in digital signage, onto Slack, or even a live stream — reduces the team’s workload by reducing the number of tools they have to use while also improving reach.
Internal Comms is where the really exciting developments are taking place and where I think intranets are truly driving the digital employee experience.
Simplifying an ever-expanding digital workplace
Most digital workplaces contain a variety of tools — both official and “shadow” — that are adopted with varying degrees of success across each business. Each of these tools in turn affects the overall digital employee experience. Intranets can help smooth disjointed user experiences by offering alternative interfaces, such as integrations into widgets to display information or through automated workflows that join multiple tools together.
In situations where two companies have merged, it’s not uncommon for different groups of employees to still have to use separate tools for the same services, such as desk booking, pensions and expenses. In these cases, intranets can smooth the way by targeting the right services to the right employee all in the same interface.
However, other platforms within the digital workplace, such as ServiceNow and Workday, are also attempting to offer similar experiences. As technology evolves and vendors expand out what they want to offer, so their platforms expand too. This means a business may end up using complementary and competing software, which can lead to a poor employee experience and must be carefully managed.
Anywhere access (in a usable format)
Historically, giving people access to an intranet on mobile meant that the entire, comprehensive desktop-based platform was forced into a small screen experience. This is an unwieldy and intimidating experience, particularly for infrequent and frontline users.
The mobile experience is therefore another area that’s evolving well, with tools in place foradmins to tailor what’s shown in a smaller- or larger-screen environment. Mobile-first products are addressing the challenges of reaching workers who don’t sit at a desk by making intranets and communications easier to access — by providing biometric authentication, for example — and giving employees easy access to tools and information they need to do their jobs. One thing we’ve noticed is that even when workers sit in front of a large screen, they often like to do secondary tasks on their phone — either for additional screen space, or to keep information more private in a shared office. The good news is that with vendors learning from the frontline, desk-based workers are getting an improved mobile experience too.
Getting the basics right
A lot of what I’ve mentioned above is very exciting and indicates how flexible intranet platforms can be. However, our clients often want two intranet staples in place in order for them to view the platform as successful. Where vendors address these needs thoroughly, we see a better employee experience.
The first is governance and life cycle tools. Governance can be intimidating for intranet managers, so the best intranets offer simple tools to help people keep on top of outdated content. The second is search, which is also affected by the quality of content and governance in place and which has a huge impact on employee experience.
Whether it’s finding colleagues or looking across (federating) all digital workplace tools, users expect the intranet search to “work like Google.” This is incredibly hard to achieve, as it’s more than just the technology that impacts this experience. However the best intranets are addressing the technology aspect and providing an almost-Google-like experience.
This article was originally published over at Reworked.
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