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Five truths about HR intranets

ClearBox Consulting > Digital Workplace  > Five truths about HR intranets

Five truths about HR intranets

This is a guest blog post by Beth Gleba, who led the initial launch of IKEA’s Global HR Portal. Now a Consultant and Digital Workplace Educator, she shares some of her ‘in-the-trenches’ insights and conclusions about HR extranets in this special-guest article.  

In 2007, I was working as the US Corporate Information Manager for IKEA when I realized, we needed an HR extranet. Around that time, the IKEA intranet had been recognized as a ‘Top Intranet’, yet only a percentage of the total employees could access it. HR was talking a lot about transformation and there was a coming suite of online HR self-service tools. And, while most IKEA managers saw the company as a great place to work, too many front-line employees simply weren’t aware of all the benefits offered. ‘Anywhere access’ to the HR portal, I believed, could help us make progress on all these fronts.

It took just a few months for my team and a fantastic consultant  to re-write and wrangle together a simple US HR extranet site. Ours was just 75 pages of simplified HR content and links. We named it ‘i-coworker.com’. It was quickly successful, getting thousands of visit each day, with 30% of users accessing through their personal devices, at home or on the move. We embedded its introduction into our employee orientation program and the launch of new HR self-service tools.

By 2009, I had a new job; Channel Manager for the Global Internet Portal and given the task to roll out this simple idea to 15+ IKEA countries around the world.  I learned so much. As I reflect on my in-the-trenches experience, I’ve come to believe these five truths about HR extranets.

Working at homeTruth number 1: Not everyone likes the idea of an HR extranet

I have a very vivid memory of the day I gathered a group of US HR managers to initially discuss the idea. It was mid-afternoon, in a too-small corner conference room. One of the senior HR ladies just got up and walked out, “It will never happen,” she told me.

Part of the resistance to HR extranets is the need for transparency. While companies have been printing benefits summaries and HR info for years, digitizing the content just feels different; it’s scarier. It’s also a hurdle to get HR teams to work across silos and to create summaries from the user’s perspective: an HR hub, with its ability to link between content, really highlights silos.

Lastly, for global companies like IKEA, it isn’t always clear who should own this type of content. In the end, as IKEA was driving self-service tools as part of its HR transformation and IKEA has a ‘do-it-yourself’ culture, it was a forward-thinking HR leader that gave the go (thanks, Neena.)

Truth number 2: Better to start small than do nothing

This truth was so important that it became one of our HR Portal Operating Principles. We accepted the mindset that everyone would not agree and then actively and aggressively looked for those opportunities where we could move forward. If the Governance Team could only agree to approve a few web parts, that’s what we went with. If IT could only offer some functionality, that’s what we went with. Happily. With the mindset of ‘keep building’.

Truth number 3: HR extranets aren’t just for employees

One of the best things about an HR extranet is that it can help you extend your reach. At IKEA, it was especially important to reach front-line employees who do not have day-to-day access to a desktop or the intranet. In addition, an HR extranet is an opportunity to reach beyond the employee, into the family. I imagined our HR extranet being used at the kitchen table, in front of the calendar and checkbook. Or better yet, being accessed by the employee’s spouse, often the one really filling out forms and seeking HR information.

Truth number 4: They tend to be a bore

I’ve seen many HR extranets and generally speaking, they tend to be bit on the bland side. I blamed i-coworker.com’s boringness on how much heavy-lifting it took just to create simplified and friendly summaries.

I remember talking once to Michael Rudnick about this and he had great advice: keep the employee in the center focus, remembering that HR extranets shouldn’t be about the company, instead they should be about the user. Most users find content about them and for them pretty interesting.

Truth number 5: HR portals are really important in the US (and maybe not so important elsewhere)

I launched i-coworker.com in several countries. The US always dominated in use. Perhaps because it was a home-grown solution, but more likely because of how employees in the US often rely on the employer to provide benefits. Asian countries, which seemed to have a preference for digital communication, also seemed to take up the concept quickly. Countries that have a high value on work/life separation, like France, seemed to struggle with the concept more. I wasn’t able to get it launched in Germany.


In all, I believe HR extranets can be extremely valuable to organizations that want to engage employees and help them access HR information and self-service tools. These 5 Truths represent my experience. Agree? Disagree? Have more Truths to add? Let’s continue the discussion online

Beth GlebaWith more than 15 years of experience, Beth is an Internal Information leader working at the intersection of technology and the workplace. She is a recognized expert in the areas of intranet management and business collaboration. Currently Beth works with leaders as a consultant and also moderates J. Boye peer-to-peer groups of Intranet & Collaboration professionals in the United States. Beth lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Reach her at BethAGleba@gmail.com Twitter: BethGleba

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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