By Pete Rawlinson

Our latest webinar was an insightful discussion on social intranets and their impact in the context of remote working.

For most people, the term intranet conjures up an outdated image of a central document library full of stuffy corporate policies and plans. However, the pandemic has triggered a re-evaluation of the internal communications landscape.

Traditional intranets are being re-examined and re-defined. Next-generation social intranets are far more vibrant and engaged platforms than the document repositories of old.

Joining me on the panel for a wide-ranging discussion about social intranets and their place in today’s workforce were Lydia Rogers and Steve Bynghall. Lydia is Enterprise Ireland’s Employee Engagement and Communications Manager. Enterprise Ireland has recently implemented a Workvivo social intranet, and so has first-hand knowledge and experience. Steve is a Director at Spark Trajectory and has subject knowledge expertise in intranets and all things digital.

Below is a summary of the main discussion points from the webinar. And you can watch it in full here.

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Definition of Social Intranet

Often there’s confusion about what social intranets are so the webinar started by considering a definition. Steve said to understand social intranets, you first need to look at the traditional version. Usually described as a library, for decades intranets have been used to house corporate information and relay company news.

Dull, stuffy, and static, traditional intranets may keep people informed, but they don’t deliver on engagement.

According to Steve, social intranets have a different feel altogether. They incorporate social tools that staff are already using outside of work. Alongside satisfying the organization’s information-sharing needs, modern intranets also connect and engage employees in a vibrant, shared community. Social intranets are, therefore, having a significant impact on overall company culture and employee engagement.

According to the panel, quick contextual access to company information and resources continues to be important. But so too is creating a vibrant community.

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Drivers for a Social Intranet

Lydia went on to describe the drivers behind Enterprise Ireland’s implementation of a social intranet.

The organization’s existing intranet, according to Lydia, was outdated and no longer fit-for-purpose. There was no interactivity, and it was used primarily for document storage. She said that internal communications were fragmented with email being the main channel.

Enterprise Ireland wanted a modern communications platform that could engage employees. With 50 offices located around the globe, connecting employees and facilitating knowledge sharing is vital for the organization. Lydia said that wherever the employee is located – whether it’s Sao Paulo or Stockholm – it’s essential they feel connected and involved with the business. The social intranet has enabled Enterprise Ireland to align colleagues with the company’s values for a shared sense of purpose. And it’s also met the basic need for content storage as well as information and knowledge sharing.

Must-Have Social Intranet Capabilities

The panel’s discussions moved on to consider the essential features for a social intranet. For Steve, social intranets need to tick the following boxes:

  • Universal access for all employees. Traditional intranets have often focused on head office staff and have neglected those in non-desk roles. Mobile optimization is, therefore, vital so all employees can connect and engage.
  • Secure and easy to use. Confidence in online security features is essential. Furthermore, the social intranet should be easy to set up, use, and manage.
  • Tools to deliver social engagement. All staff should be able to share, comment, and like news updates and content. Blogs and communities or groups are important both for encouraging collaboration and for supporting cross-team communications. Activity feeds, team chats, #channels, and @mentions are also useful in this context.
  • Robust analytics. All the best social intranets can measure engagement and employee sentiment. Staff polls help you to identify any issues. And an analysis of employee search terms provides valuable insights on how the social intranet is being used.
  • Ability to integrate with other digital tools. Whether it’s HR systems or SharePoint documents, the intranet should provide gateway access to all the apps or tools staff need to get things done. 
  • And in the context of the pandemic and remote working, it’s essential to maintain a sense of community as that is what draws people in and engages them in the platform.

Lydia confirmed that Enterprise Ireland’s social intranet acts as a gateway into all the organization’s systems. Instead of having multiple platforms for communication, file sharing, and HR documentation, the intranet streamlines access into one network with one login. This means employees know exactly where to go to find the answers they need.

Register for our upcoming webinar “A Live Demo of Workvivo’s Social Intranet”

Social Intranets And Remote Working

Enterprise Ireland’s social intranet was first implemented in November, said Lydia. From day one, the new platform was well-received with a 98 percent adoption rate within the first few weeks.

However, according to Lydia, the social intranet has come into its own since the shift to remote working following the pandemic.  ‘The business went almost overnight from having 50 offices to 800 home offices,’ she said. Feedback from employees has, however, been overwhelmingly positive. Many have confirmed the social intranet has helped teams to stay connected in a vibrant, interactive community.

Lydia reported that the multi-media capability of the Workvivo social intranet means senior executives and senior managers can provide video updates. These have helped leaders to be more visible and supportive throughout the crisis by delivering authentic messages direct to staff. The social intranet’s two-way communication channels mean that workers can also provide feedback to leadership.

Furthermore, Lydia advised that the social intranet has helped to inject some personality into the organization. A series of events – from a virtual bake-off to a step challenge – have substituted for those water-cooler moments staff have been missing since lockdown. The most popular, however, has been a video series where employees have shared their experiences and tips on home working. Chaotic and sometimes comical, the video series has been hugely popular with staff because they are real experiences. And they document the same challenges that everyone has been experiencing.

When it comes to remote working, Steve advised, social intranets offer a crucial advantage. They can consolidate workplace digital tools and apps in a single, easy-access platform. Shadow IT has been a problem with traditional intranets. Staff will find their own solutions to workplace issues and problems. And this has often led to widespread and indiscriminate downloading of software without central oversight.

As Steve points out, a social intranet provides an opportunity to review, consolidate, and simplify the digital landscape. And customization gives users control over the employee experience, thereby enhancing the value of the social intranet even more.

Lydia agreed and said that Enterprise Ireland’s social intranet is the window to all corporate systems. Whether it’s SharePoint documents, Office 365, or Teams, all staff need to go through the intranet first.

Furthermore, she said the social intranet was easy to set up. It took just eight weeks to get up and running, including roll-out and integration with the HR system. As well as collecting engagement analytics, Enterprise Ireland is also regularly checking in with staff and seeking feedback. However, Lydia did say that social intranet engagement has increased since employees began working from home. She said it’s been crucial to maintaining operations and sustaining company culture.

Social Intranets and a Blended Approach to Work

Some of Enterprise Ireland’s overseas offices are now returning to work in some form. However, the panel agreed that the ‘new normal’ is likely to be very different from the pre-COVID workplace.

A recent survey by NUI Galway and the Western Development Commission discovered that 83% of respondents would like to continue working from home even after the lockdown restrictions are lifted. 

And CNBC is predicting that as a result of Covid-19 forcing millions of workers to telecommute, the US economy may have reached a ‘tipping point’ in favor of home working.

The panel’s view is that a blended approach to work seems likely in which more staff work some of the time remotely.

According to Lydia, communication is even more critical in the context of returning to work. The social intranet has been an excellent tool during the pandemic. And she can see it will be just as important as offices start to reopen. Increasingly there will be a mix of home and office-based working and the social intranet bridges the gap.

Steve said it’s difficult to know how things will pan out over the coming months. However, his view is that when it comes to remote working, ‘the cat’s out of the bag’. Businesses have learned that it is possible to work remotely, maintain operations, and sustain internal communications.

‘Going forward, businesses will be looking for digital solutions that satisfy engagement, operational, budgeting, and health and safety considerations,’ Steve concluded.

And a social intranet could well be the solution.

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