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Five Principles for Managing Intranets in the Digital Workplace

Five Principles for Managing Intranets in the Digital Workplace

Tightrope walkerIntranets have always straddled multiple functions, but with the growth of the digital workplace, balancing what is in and out of scope for an intranet is getting trickier. Often related initiatives such as SharePoint, Yammer, mobile access or BYOD risk confusing employees, but are not necessarily within the remit of the intranet manager to set their strategy. Here we present five guiding principles for that balancing act:

1. Don’t Plan Your Intranet in Isolation

You can expend a lot of energy on trying to define the role of an intranet within a digital workplace, worrying about the boundary between a traditional intranet site and SharePoint collaboration sites, for example. However, such boundaries have little meaning from an employee perspective: they just want to find things, do things or share things, ideally without any extra passwords or interfaces to learn. Intranet strategies need to be planned with reference to all the other collaboration and communication changes that are underway within your organisation, otherwise the employee experience will always be fragmented.

2. Govern Across the Whole Digital Workplace

Equally, it can be tempting to create a steering group and policies just about intranet content, but this can be hard to enforce; people either don’t understand the boundaries, or will choose to bypass them. For example, if your governance says a team can’t have a micro-site on the tightly-controlled intranet, they’ll create one on the open-to-all wiki instead. Governance therefore needs to be joined up across communication and collaboration services.

3. Break Down the Walls

The notion of the firewall being impenetrable needs to change. Even the “intra” part of “intranet” is starting to look misleading. To employees the firewall is largely an inconvenience: there is more knowledge outside your company than inside, but the firewall can stop them from reaching it through sites such as LinkedIn or Twitter. Even from a corporate point of view, permeability has attractions. If you outsource your HR services to a third party, for example, those people need to provide information on your intranet. And how are the staff of your partners meant to help with your company objectives, if they can’t see all your engaging communications as well?

4. The Intranet is Owned by Employees Too

When consulting for companies, people often tell me their intranet is top-down, distant and “corporate”. Intranet managers in turn tell me they have launched commenting, blogs and forums but they fell flat. Just as people need to have a sense of their own identity in the physical workplace, so they need a presence on the digital workplace if they are to truly engage with it. This means encouraging people to build profiles on the intranet, share their activities and have a continuity of that identity across all the different systems they might use. Many working relationships now are with people we rarely get to meet, so we have to facilitate relationship-building online as well.

5. No More Big-Bang Launches

Traditionally, intranets seem to run on roughly three year cycles: the big budget, long-term build project, launch-day party and then slow decline.

This is a risky strategy. Big budgets are hard to secure, guessing the future is error-prone and building adoption takes much more than a good launch campaign. Increasingly, successful intranets are being built by smaller but more frequent iterations. This means fewer dramatic upheavals for the business and gives opportunity to pilot, learn and gradually expand – and approach much better suited to a social world where you can never be sure how employees will react until you try it out.

Photo courtesy of the past tends to disappear

Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

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