Employee Intranet – Is it still fit for purpose?

Stuart Sinclair - January 22, 2021

In times of business difficulty, you really need to be able to rely on your internal systems and procedures. They need to be robust, flexible and totally dependable. This is especially true of internal communications. Crisis situations create a need for immediate responses, frequent updates, visible leadership and the ability to reach every single employee, no matter how remote. When it comes to communicating with employees during a crisis, all your existing internal communications channels suddenly come under close scrutiny. Are they really up to the job in hand?

Many companies will be relying on their employee intranet to sustain their internal communications. In theory, this is the obvious solution.  Employee intranet sites exist to function as a central, consistent point for employee engagement encompassing communications, resources, references and opportunities. It’s exactly what you need to facilitate your internal communication strategy. Or is it? In this blog, we take a look at employee intranets in more detail and consider whether they are still meeting expectations in today’s business climate.

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What is an employee intranet?

In essence, an employee intranet is a platform used to share company information and resources amongst staff. It is also used to facilitate group working and the exchange of news, views and ideas. Over the last two decades, the employee intranet portal has become a popular way of sharing information and improving internal communications.

As author Tomasz Sobczak wrote in an article for Findwise.com:

 

“The goal of intranet invention was to increase employees’ productivity through easier access to documents, their faster circulation and more effective communication. Although access to information was always a crucial matter, in fact, intranet offered lots more functionalities, i.e. e-mail, group work support, audio-video communication, texts or personal data searching.”

The death of the intranet?

Just a quick search on “www employee intranet com” reveals that the employee intranet is no longer viewed as the ultimate solution to internal communication. When you take a look at internal communication trends, the once revered intranet solution has suffered a fall from grace in recent years. Unfortunately, the majority of employee intranets are plagued with problems.

Most intranets were initially built as a company library, packed with useful information within a hierarchy all of its own. Unfortunately, many companies didn’t invest in the one thing that makes most physical libraries operate efficiently - librarians. Many intranets were poorly curated, so information quickly became duplicated, out of date, or altered such that multiple versions would co-exist.

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8 common employee intranet mistakes

There are many reasons why so many intranets fail to meet expectations. Unless you follow employee intranet best practices, it is all too easy to fall prey to a number of oversights. Here are some of the most common errors that you will encounter:

1. It’s not being kept up-to-date

Unless you have built regular updates into the internal communication plan for your employee intranet, it will quickly become obsolete. Not only do you then run the risk of employees using inaccurate or out-of-date information, you will also find that the intranet is no longer trusted. Once employees discover that the intranet is no longer a reliable source of information, they will lose faith and cease to use it.

2. It’s hard to find the right information

An employee intranet that is hard to navigate has already failed in its main objective. One of the most important aspects of an intranet is the inclusion of an effective search function to assist with the location of information and files. Without an organised structure, your intranet will not be able to deliver. If staff don’t know where to search for information, they will soon stop looking for it.

3. It’s plagued by bugs and errors

Software issues will cause intranet usage to drop through the floor. As soon as employees associate the intranet with technical issues such as crashing and freezing, they will be reluctant to use it. Even worse, if the bugs cause data corruption, your intranet will actually be working against you. The best employee intranet sites will work flawlessly across all devices. However, this is a big ask for a intranet portal.

4. It’s not enjoyable to use

The most effective internal communication tools are ones that connect with their audience. However, employee intranets often overlook the need to engage with employees in favour of disseminating news, reports and information. Including opportunities for participation can hugely improve user levels. Employee intranet sites that place a focus on interaction and engagement will have far greater impact.

5. It’s not secure for internal users

External threats, from hackers for example, are often well covered with firewalls and virus protection. However, often the internal threats are ignored. Weak passwords, unlimited access, poor encryption and issues of remote access from insecure personal devices such as laptops and phones, all need to be addressed. One of the most crucial employee intranet best practices is to put high-level security measures in place.

6. It’s not clear who’s in charge

Who’s in charge? Often, the answer is no one in particular and that’s where a lot of issues can start. When ownership is shared across departments, with no overall responsibility assigned, your employee intranet becomes a rudderless ship at sea without overall goals or direction. This is one of the prime areas where previously good intranets start to fall apart.

7. It’s not being evaluated

Unless you apply some key internal communications metrics, it is almost impossible to quantify success, and therefore to justify continued investment. Most employee intranet portals are left unmonitored, but regular evaluations and surveys will not only help you assess your reach and uptake, but will also direct you towards areas which need improving.

8. It’s not being used

“If you build it, they will come.” Sadly, this isn’t true of employee intranets, or indeed any of the methods of internal communication. In fact, the most common challenge faced by intranets is low usage. Due to the many problems detailed above, you will often find your employee intranet is not reaching the whole company. In fact, a recent survey by Prescient revealed that only 13% of employees use their intranet daily, and 31% never use it at all.

Find out how an employee engagement app can play a pivotal role in delivering an employee engagement strategy

Is there another solution?

In recent years, internal communication apps have started taking over from employee intranets. Are they the new and improved version of the intranet? Well, at their heart, these employee apps are just portals to a cloud-based solution that combines multiple tasks to help employees do their job better. The real hard work is done by the platform, whilst the phone, mobile device or desktop offers a convenient, connected way to view, access and share information.

10 essentials you actually need

Let’s take a look at what you need your internal communications software to do. When it’s broken down into discrete points, it becomes immediately apparent that even the best employee intranet sites don’t have the capability to match every point on this list:

  1. It needs to connect with employees – Your internal communications channel has to resonate with its audience. It should offer an engaging way for employees to communicate and receive information. It needs to be something they actually want to use.
  2. It needs to work 24/7 – You need a solution that will work around the clock. Not all messaging and information can wait until the 9-5pm window opens. Especially in crisis situations, it’s essential to be able to communicate out of hours, sometimes instantly.
  3. It needs to be a two-way channel – Remote employees and homeworkers will benefit from the opportunity to speak out and be heard. Your solution needs to work both ways, not just delivering information, but also encouraging feedback and interaction. It’s one of the key internal communication best practices.
  4. It needs to access hard-to-reach employees – There are always workers who are harder to connect with than others. This may be down to geographical distance, lack of access to technology or simply an unwillingness to log in. Your solution needs to break down all these barriers, so no employee is left out of the loop.
  5. It needs to improve functionality – Testing times call for more complex solutions. For example, furloughed staff need to receive different communications than those still working. This is where the ability to define user groups is invaluable. You need a solution that will be up to the challenge.
  6. It needs to maintain security – When your workforce is no longer office-based, online security becomes more of a headache. Your internal communication tools need to maintain security levels across all devices, including personal smartphones and tablets.
  7. It needs to work logically – One of the main complaints about employee intranets that is always so hard to find what you’re looking for. You need to be able to add media and content in a logical and systematic way. One that everyone instantly understands.
  8. It needs to be monitored – There’s no point just firing out messages and uploading content without checking if it’s being read and understood. Your solution needs to offer reporting on all aspects of usage. Only when you’re evaluating usage can you really know whether it’s achieving the impact you want.
  9. It needs to adapt in a crisis – When the chips are down, that’s when you really appreciate the importance of internal communication. You need software that will your specific requirements, including crisis management.
  10. It needs to grow with your business – It may have been just what you needed 10 years ago, but is it still doing the job? And more importantly, does it have the flexibility to integrate and grow with your changing requirements?

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While the majority of employee intranets fall short of delivering on this list, an internal communications app will cover off all these points. If you’re looking at your current under-performing intranet and wondering how to improve internal communication to meet the challenges of the moment, this could be the answer.

On the most fundamental level, the best examples of internal communication are ones that easily become embedded in every employee’s work routine. In an ideal scenario, your internal communications software will be the first thing your staff turn to when they need anything for work. Removing barriers by allowing employees to use their favourite means of communication, whichever hardware or software platform they prefer, instantly improves your reach, even with remote and hard-to-reach workers. The ability to send instant notifications gives you that critical 24/7 access. Add in the improved levels of engagement via two-way feedback channels and opportunities for participation, and you have one of the most effective internal communication tools at your fingertips.

Is there still a place for the employee intranet?

Yes, of course. However, when you search on ‘www employee intranet com’, it’s clear their limitations are becoming more acknowledged as new and improved alternatives comes to the fore. When your business is facing unusual challenges and difficulties, you need all your systems and strategies to be performing at a prime level. Now is the time to address your internal communications strategy and consider whether your employee intranet is really meeting all your requirements. With the rise of the internal communications app and all the increased functionality and flexibility it has to offer, maybe it’s time to think again.

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