What is an Intranet and Is It Still Relevant to Your Organization?
Internal communications is at the center of digital transformation today. And, as companies adopt more and more advanced technological tools to communicate with and engage employees in highly effective ways, there may soon come a time when intranets are seen as dusty relics of an older era.
What is an Intranet?
If you’re one of those newer IT professionals, you may be wondering: What is an intranet? Intranets are private networks used by organizations to distribute communications exclusively to their workforce; and they’ve been used for decades by enterprises for internal communications.
What is the difference between an intranet and the internet?
Intranets emerged in tandem with the internet in the 1990s. The difference between the internet and the intranet is simple: the internet is a public network that is not owned by an entity, while an intranet is privately owned and not accessible to just anyone who can get online.
What is the difference between an intranet and an extranet?
You might have also heard of an extranet. The distinction between an intranet and an extranet is that while an intranet is limited in access to an organization, an extranet may be accessed by authorized third parties such as customers, vendors, or partners.
Intranets are predominantly used by employees to search for information, communicate across an organization, and manage workflows. An example of an intranet is a website that is exclusively used by an airline company to deliver updates and information to its workforce.
While intranets began as buildable exclusive enterprise websites, they now have the ability to integrate with other tools such as platforms and social media for a robust internal communications experience. For example, SharePoint is a popular intranet from Microsoft Office.
Advantages of an Intranet
Despite the fact that new technology is emerging to advance the field of communications, for many companies, there are still key advantages to having an intranet made and managed by a dedicated in house team. Here are three strategic benefits of having a company intranet.
1. Easy storage of files and information.
Every organization has hundreds, if not thousands, of different formatted files floating among email threads, Google Drive, or hard drives on laptops or desktops. Having a company intranet makes it easy to store and access all your files in one central location. Any communication that happens on an intranet is also saved for as long as the intranet is up. This makes it easier for individuals to search for past posts from their company intranet.
2. Easy ways to communicate among employees.
Intranets usually feature user profiles similar to your LinkedIn profile. They contain a photo, job title and description, and contact information. Any employee with access to the intranet can discover new colleagues and message them through the intranet. This facilitates increased collaboration and helps establish a workforce network.
3. A good Content Management System (CMS).
Intranets started off in the 1990s as a simple welcome page with sparse information about an enterprise. Since then, they have evolved to include discussion forums, blogs, and social features. This has enabled internal communicators to be able to use their intranet to share key messages and organizational updates. CMS intranet enables internal communicators to easily create and share content across the system.
Disadvantages of an Intranet
Obviously, tools that have been in use for decades can also come to feel clunky and outdated, particularly if they’re not updated or modified to keep pace with the company’s needs. Here are five common disadvantages to having an intranet for many companies.
1. Information is difficult to find.
Intranets have traditionally been structured in an outdated format that forces employees to search through thousands of pages or folders to find the information that they need. Intranets don’t pull relevant and current stories in the way that we are used to receiving information. Content is often out of date because publishing to intranets can be difficult and time-consuming. Moreover, you can’t target employees or personalize communications, so the information is relevant and timely.
With information being hard to find, workers may get disillusioned with keeping up with intranet communications. This negatively impacts the employee experience and lessens the effect of your messages on broader business objectives.
2. Deskless workers can’t access intranets easily.
Intranets are limited in their ability to reach all employees as they are sometimes only accessible on desktop. Remote workers, such as retail workers, nurses, warehouse staff, and truck drivers, may not have the ability to access intranets. Frontline workers may not have a company laptop, home access to the intranet, or regular access to the internet. Even if these workers wait until they have a computer to access the intranet, the information on the intranet is often out of date or disorganized, making it difficult for employees to quickly find the content they need. In order to reach every worker, you need to make sure that your communication tools support remote and field workers.
3. Mobile isn’t supported.
It is no secret that as a society we are addicted to our cell phones. Over 85% of millennials have their own smartphone. Many intranets do not support mobile or need to be updated with the next mobile release. If you already have an intranet, it can be tempting to wait until the next update that has a mobile feature instead of committing to a communications makeover. But by waiting to make the switch over, you are losing an easy, accessible way to communicate with your entire workforce. Mobile communications, especially native apps, are convenient for every worker and more likely to keep them engaged.
4. Updates to intranets can take a long time.
Communication technology and software are constantly improving and evolving. We are accustomed to regularly scheduled software updates, new releases, and exciting new features. In comparison, it can take years for new intranet versions to come out. Microsoft, for example, is on a three-year release cycle. This lag prevents internal communicators with intranets from getting access to the latest strategies to keep workers informed and up to date. With these big new releases, employees need to learn complicated new features and adjust their old workflows. New releases may not integrate well with other software that you use or be tedious to install if you wait too long between releases.
5. Intranet portal solutions are not user-friendly.
If you’re thinking of an intranet refresh or turning to an intranet software solution, it may not be the best investment. This is just an overlay to your existing intranet, so all your same problems are just covered over with a prettier interface. You’ll be stuck with the same bad search, outdated technology, and lack of mobile responsiveness.
Where does the intranet fit in the digital workplace?
Intranets are run, created, and updated by a dedicated intranet or digital workplace team. These teams use a variety of cross-functional skills to run the intranet. The Spark Trajectory Intranet and Digital Workplace skills matrix shows how intranet and digital workplace teams have a variety of skill sets that stem from technology and IT management, content and communication, user experience design, and social and collaboration management.
All these skill sets lend themselves to creating a tool that incorporates communication, database management, and design. The Sparks skills matrix also highlights how the department and its responsibilities are not as fixed or defined as HR or IT. Because the intranet team is responsible for both creating, uploading to, and managing the intranet, it can be difficult to uncover where exactly new features and tools need to be added.
The intranet is not the digital workplace. The goal of a digital workplace is to break down communication barriers and foster efficiency, innovation, and growth. The digital workplace is not a one-size-fits-all solution but rather a best-in-clas set of platforms and tools that make work happen seamlessly. A successful digital workplace uses intelligent workflows to make everything work on-demand and with less friction.
Digital workplace consultant, ClearBox Consulting interviewed SocialChorus’ CMO Alison Murdock, pointing out that a workforce communications platform is at the core of the digital workplace—delivering the right information at the right time to the right worker. If your people are uninformed or worse, never informed, your best efforts will fall flat. If they don’t know, they can’t do.
Intranet Best Practices
Optimizing the efficiency and effectiveness of your intranet involves making sure you are keeping up with best practices. Because intranets have been around for decades, it can often be difficult or slow to update. In order to provide the best intranet you will need to do the following.
1. Ensure that the intranet is your employees preferred method of communication.
Is an intranet the mode of communication that your employees want to use? There is a distinct technology gap in corporate communications today: only 25% of communicators use their company intranets to communicate with employees. Instead, internal communicators often use email newsletters, company apps, digital signage, or physical postings and announcements.
You need to make sure than an intranet is a preferred medium to reach your workforce. Ask yourself:
- Do our teams actually use the intranet?
- Does every worker have access to it?
- Can employees find the information they need on it?
If you find yourself answering no to any of these questions, it may be time to reconsider your intranet strategy for a multi-channel approach.
What is a omni-channel approach?
Employees have preferences when it comes to how their companies communicate with them. Some don’t have company emails or laptops, and they may like using their company apps. Meanwhile, other employees might find emails or intranets more convenient.
It is up to communicators to reach employees where they are and on their preferred channel. The best way to accomplish this is to integrate all your comms channels into a workforce communications platform.
The same goes for the intranet. Consider connecting your intranet to a workforce communications platform. The SocialChorus’ Content Amplifier pushes company news and information to the intranet in a way that keeps employees informed and coming back for more. In order to keep your workforce interested in your messaging, it is vital that you reach employees on the channel that they prefer. Having a solution in place that is easy to use and surfaces relevant information will encourage employees to engage with your communications.
1. Reach every worker.
Intranets were created before the rise of remote workers, which means often they have not been updated with enough new features and tools to support this growing workforce segment. Your intranet should be used as a tool to connect all of your employees and keep your workforce aligned with organizational goals.
In order for your messages to make an impact, communications must meet workers on the choice of device and channel. This is especially true for engaging deskless workers, as they may not have access to a desktop at all times. Simply relying on posting to the intranet for all your communications will not be enough to engage your workforce.
Having a multichannel approach that includes mobile is the best way to optimize the reach of your communications. Multiple channels maximize the number of touchpoints, making sure that your messages are being seen. This approach could include instant messaging, a newsfeed feature, and a mobile app. A mobile app will especially help reach frontline workers who are the face of your company.
Similarly, it is much easier to target different employee segments by understanding how they engage with the content that you create. Workers are more likely to engage with content that is personalized and relevant. The SocialChorus 2018 Comms Effectiveness Survey indicates nearly double the click-through rate when communicators use targeted channels. For example, if you are aware that frontline workers use your company app more than they open your emails you can direct a majority of the in-app messaging to focus on their needs.
2. Keep content engaging and relatable.
To truly captivate your employees’ attention, your intranet needs to have more content that provides value to your entire workforce. The way we consume content has changed and the tools we use to engage our workforce need to reflect the ways we communicate online and out of the office.
To optimize your content strategy, you need to make sure that workers are able to easily access and discover your messages. Different types of content on your intranet could include:
- Events and conference announcements
- CEO thought leadership pieces
- IT how-to tutorials
- Discussion forums
- A blog
- Videos and infographics
- Public recognition of individual accomplishments
Your intranet should be a tool to help provide an amazing employee experience. Teams are much more likely to be engaged with your content if you keep the content focused on encouraging worker participation instead of top-down messaging.
An intranet should be a place for dialogue between employer and employee, instead of a place that workers only go to consume information rather than participating.
All the best intranets need these things
Again, intranets are an older technology, which means companies need to take steps to keep them updated and working in ways that suit the company’s needs. Although intranets, by design, are slow to update, hard to access for remote and frontline workers, and were not really built to provide timely information, that doesn’t mean you can’t overcome these disadvantages. The best intranets can typically be equipped with the best tools to enable your employees. Here are the key element your intranet needs.
1. User-friendly design
Since the intranet team is responsible for uploading, creating, and managing the intranet, it can often be difficult to step back and make sure that the intranet is user-friendly. You should ask yourself, why are workers using the intranet? Are they using it to collaborate with colleagues, discover new information, or simply fill out paperwork?
Here’s what your intranet needs if you want to make it easy to use and provide employees with the tools they need.
- Integration functionality: instead of undergoing the tedious task of updating the intranet, having integration functionality means that you can get the latest tools and features without having to undergo and entire refresh. With integration functionality you can automatically push news and updates right to the intranet without having to take an extra step.
- Search functionality: one of the biggest hindrances of an intranet is an outdated search function. Making sure that your employees get the information they need without spending hours digging through page after page is critical to ensuring a user-friendly experience.
Your intranet should be the first place your employees go to get the information that they need. Optimizing their experience means making sure that your intranet is built to enable and support your workforce.
Your intranet should not only serve as a platform for internal communications but also help reach broader business objectives. Ask yourself, what role does the intranet play in solving strategic organizational goals and is it aligned to help reach them?
The only way to know if the intranet is contributing to your enterprise success is to measure your internal communications performance. In order to optimize your communications strategy you need to know what is working and what is not. By analyzing your communication metrics, you can uncover how different employees interact with your messages.
You will first need to define what metrics you will track to analyze your performance. Whether it’s increasing intranet adoption or empowering employees to communicate through the intranet, identifying key performance indicators will help you track your progress. Through tracking your metrics over time, you can create actionable insights to redefine your communications strategy.
3. Employee empowerment
A successful organization has a strong company culture that is present throughout every department. An intranet can serve as a vehicle to transmit your mission and values to your entire workforce.
Employees should feel comfortable building and contributing to your company culture through a vibrant dialogue on your intranet. Make resources available that empower employees to build a strong company culture. Features such as employee recognition, performance objectives, an onboarding process, and encouraging workers to be active on the intranet can contribute to building a successful company culture.
How does your digital workplace compare?
Did you know effective internal communications can increase productivity by 20-25%?
Keeping employees engaged and productive is a major goal for many companies. Having messages that are easy to access and available across different devices and channels is central to keeping teams informed.
As the gig economy grows and workers become more distributed, communication tools must be able to reach every worker. Most intranets take years to update and are often inaccessible to employees who don’t work at a desk. This inefficiency hinders the ability of workers to perform their roles. While an intranet refresh may be on your to-do list, consider asking yourself if an intranet alone is the best solution for your communication needs. You should ask yourself:
- Is an intranet still relevant to your organization?
- Are your messages user-friendly and frequent?
- Can your deskless workforce easily access the intranet?
- Are you reaching every employee on their preferred channels?
- Can you target specific employee segments with personalized information?
- How long are you waiting before you can update your intranet?
- Can you accurately measure the impact of your communications?
If you find yourself questioning why you still have an intranet, it may be time to rethink your strategy and leverage a workforce communications platform to integrate all your internal communications channels to truly engage and align your employees.
An internet refresh will not fix the fundamental structural issues that prevent employees from getting the information that they need in a timely manner. Leverage the full potential of your intranet by keeping up with best practices and integrating with the tools that can help meet your business objectives.
Learn how SocialChorus empowers organizations with the leading workforce communications platform to truly reach, inform, and engage employees to work as one. Schedule a demo today.
Question: What is an intranet?
Answer: Intranets are private networks used by organizations to distribute communications exclusively to their workforce; and they’ve been used for decades by enterprises for internal communications.
Question: What is the difference between internet and intranet?
Answer: The internet is a public network that is not owned by an entity, while an intranet is privately owned and not accessible to just anyone who can get online.
Question: What is the difference between an intranet and an extranet?
Answer: The distinction between an intranet and an extranet is that while an intranet is limited in access to an organization, an extranet may be accessed by authorized third parties such as customers, vendors, or partners.
Question: Why would a company use an intranet?
Answer: Intranets are predominantly used by employees to search for information, communicate across an organization, and manage workflows. An example of an intranet is a website that is exclusively used by an airline company to deliver updates and information to its workforce.
Question: What is intranet software?
Answer: An intranet software allows companies to build a private, secure network that can only be accessed by that company’s employees. This intranet serves as the portal for employees to access internal and external resources, and enables workers to communicate, collaborate, and share documents and other information.
Question: What is an intranet site?
Answer: An intranet site is an internal website (or portal) that helps employees stay up-to-date with their company. It serves as a website, communications channel, knowledge management tool, and collaboration platform.