Redefining the Intranet: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Dec 10, 2019

When working in Internal Comms for an international travel company, I worked as part of a team to introduce a social media style intranet to the organization.

At the time, the project seemed like nothing short of a headache: colleagues weren’t engaging with it, it didn’t seem to fully match their needs and it didn’t feel like a success. Looking back on it now, I learnt a lot from this experience and have realized that it was such a challenging project because it wasn’t just a matter of upgrading the intranet: It was a major organizational change.

In the past, organizations set up intranets to hold shared internal information. Now they are a place to share ideas, collaborate and get all the latest information from any device, anywhere in the world.

The good: A better source of internal know-how

Let’s take a look at why jumping on the social intranet bandwagon could be good thing for your organization. What challenges should you expect along the way and what are the best ways to overcome them, to increase internal engagement and provide better services for your customers.

Ramp up colleague engagement

Using a social tool gives everyone a voice. If you have an idea or suggestion, you can share it with your whole organization. Pushing your organization’s hierarchy aside, it recognizes that everyone has a stake in employee communications and everyone has a valuable contribution to make. Step away from top-down communications! An organization that values its employees tends to have a workforce that is more engaged and achieves more together.

Be more transparent and increase accountability

Giving people a platform to share ideas will give you a better insight into what is happening all over your organization. It also allows employees to ask questions to leaders within the company and hold them accountable. It’s a space where everyone is equal and everyone is accountable for what they say. Imagine this: an employee uses the social platform to ask a leader why they made a particular decision. If they don’t answer or don’t give a good enough answer, it looks bad, so it encourages leaders to be more open and honest.

Share ideas and collaborate
Ever want to bounce ideas off colleagues, but you don’t know who to reach out to? That’s where the social intranet comes in: say goodbye to silos and run ideas past colleagues in different locations, work on projects and accomplish more together, through your shared knowledge and experience.

Spread news and updates quickly
Employees can share updates, photos, videos in a couple of seconds from any device, anywhere in the world. This allows organizations to be more connected and on the pulse of what is happening in any of their locations, using the intranet via a workplace app.

Create a vibrant sense of community
Being able to share updates from anywhere allows employees to create a sense of community and belonging within their organization. It is especially useful if you have a remote team or your organization is spread across multiple locations.

Be a better listener and become a better communicator
Look at your organization’s feed and listen to what people are saying. What are the hot topics that matter to people within your organization? What challenges may colleagues be facing? Use this to inform your internal communications.

Get quick feedback
Use the platform to poll your colleagues on anything and everything from getting feedback on a project to where your Christmas party should be held and anything in between.

The bad and the ugly: 

Social intranet challenges and how to overcome them

It’s important that before you take the big leap into social, craft an internal communications strategy with a few change management pieces, explaining the benefits of the new platform. To help employees embrace the change, emphasize the differences and explain that it will not work in the same way as the old intranet. Perhaps consider changing its name and not calling it the intranet? After all, it’s completely different!  

Expectations of what the intranet should be
Your colleagues will no doubt have assumptions about what the employee intranet should be, because of what it did in the past. Social intranets are now first and foremost a communications tool, rather than a space to hold information. Colleagues may be frustrated as it may not be able to do what they expected it to do, or may work in a slightly different way.

Teething problems
There are always a few problems at the start of any change. Employees may find it hard to find information, so hold exploration sessions, create video tutorials and infographics to help them navigate the new platform.

If your colleagues suggest improvements or new functions that would be useful to have in the new platform, have a chat with your intranet provider to see what could be developed and added to the current platform. Use this to fine-tune the platform and make it the best fit for your organization.

Some people will be shy and uneasy when faced with the new platform. It can be quite a culture shock for an organization, especially if not everyone is used to having an area where they can share their ideas. Some people will need some encouragement to get involved.  

The best way around this is to identify people on all levels of your organization to be content producers and comment on things. These people will lead the change and will encourage people in their business area to engage with the new platform. When colleagues see the benefits of using it, they’ll quickly jump aboard.

Hang-ups on everyone having a voice
Freedom of speech is undoubtedly a good thing, but sometimes managers have reservations about giving everyone the ability to comment on everything. What happens if someone says something that is very harsh or says something that sparks debate across the organization?

Going back to what I mentioned about accountability earlier: people tend to avoid leaving scathing comments about the organization because it will affect their reputation. But even if the worst were to happen, it’s good that things are dealt with in the open and that your organization does not shy away from what people really think.

We’re not all social beings
Some people aren’t keen on social media and feel like it’s a platform for narcissism and boasting. It’s likely that this group of people will feel the same way about the intranet. Some people will not engage, they won’t feel the need to share with others and that’s okay. It can be a difficult change particularly for people who are unfamiliar with social media. Perhaps try engaging this group with competitions and giveaways.

Moving to a social style intranet is definitely not short of its challenges. Starting off with a robust communications strategy is key: Identify the different groups in your organization and think of a range of ways to engage all of these groups. If things don’t seem to be working out, try not to feel discouraged, expect that it will take a while to introduce the new intranet. After all, it is a huge shift in the way that your organization will operate.

The road to a social intranet may be bumpy, but trust me, the benefits far outweigh the challenges. Embrace the change, improve workplace communication, increase employee engagement and make your organization more collaborative, inclusive and responsive than ever before.

Chloe Murphy
Chloe Murphy

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