Are Intranets Now Irrelevant for Employee Communication?

Effective employee communication is the core of employee engagement. Without a communication system that enables knowledge and information sharing, collaboration, employee feedback, and interaction with coworkers and organizational leaders, employee engagement suffers. Historically, companies deployed intranets, but have intranets become anachronisms in the presence of the internet? It’s tempting to think they are an outdated mode of communication and irrelevant, but that is not true. 

Intranets can still deliver distinct advantages, but with the caveat that they need to be streamlined and modernized by integrating newer communication technologies and functionality. Before ditching your intranet, take some time to evaluate its current status and the unrealized opportunities for employee communication.

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Revisiting the Purpose of an Intranet

An intranet is a private network that only your workforce, and not everyone online, can access. Organizations have used them for many decades for internal employee communications, and therein lies the issue. Many of these networks are outdated. It’s not because they have outlived their usefulness in general due to the internet. It’s because they haven’t been maintained or updated as a modern communication tool. 

The main uses over the decades have been:

  • Storage of important information for employee access
  • Internal communications 
  • Team collaboration
  • Posting of important forms, like HR forms

These were the basic functions that served companies well for many years. The problem is the legacy intranet systems are very limited in their functionality and don’t deliver a good employee experience. They can be cumbersome to use and don’t provide up-to-date information quickly and easily like the internet. The older intranets are also not living up to their potential because they aren’t integrated with newer technologies, like social media.

Yet, intranets still have a place in the internet world. One of the key advantages of the internet is the control your management has over information. That one advantage can prevent a lot of misunderstandings. For example, by storing documents on the intranet and managing access, you are assured employees are looking at the most recent HR policies and procedures. 


Disadvantages of Legacy Intranet Systems

To modernize a system, you must first identify what it’s not doing. Ask the following questions.

  • How difficult is it for employees to search for information?
  • How user-friendly is the intranet in general?
  • Can your leaders personalize communication?
  • Can remote workers, deskless workers, and field workers access the intranet?
  • Is mobile access supported?
  • Is updating cumbersome and time-consuming?
  • What is the time cycle for updating?
  • What technologies are not available on the intranet? 

The theme of the questions is this: Does the intranet provide a successful employee experience? If employees are forced to waste time trying to find information, eventually getting frustrated and anxious, the intranet needs some serious upgrading.

Reasons to Keep It Around

With the disadvantages of the intranet front and center, why keep an intranet? The truth is there are many reasons to do so, and most reflect the original purposes for the intranet. Following are a few of them.

  • Centralizes easily obtainable company documents for access by employees in any location 
  • It makes it easy to direct employees to the most current information 
  • Centralizes department, unit, or company news and easily keep it focused and updated
  • Stores training and development courses employees
  • Promotes collaboration among employees by providing work and project information by an employee
  • Enables leaders to connect with all employees

Turning the Intranet into an Employee Engagement System

The intranet does have a continued role to play in employee communication and engagement if modernized. In fact, by taking advantage of new technologies, the intranet can strengthen positive employee relations with employees. A good example is adding an employee recognition function that enables showcasing the employees who do exceptional work, collaborate with peers to problem solve and/or present innovative ideas. Following are five principles for improving the intranet’s ability to engage employees.

  1. Employee engagement depends on employee participation. This may sound obvious, but Gartner research found that approximately 40 percent of portal initiatives fail to achieve enough adoption to produce the desired ROI. Another 10-15 percent of portals are poorly planned, have an inadequate budget, and fail to understand the modern user. Employees are used to being involved in social networks, which has changed expectations as to how they engage with their company. They want social elements that promote collaboration, knowledge sharing, and productivity.
  2. One of the first principles of a viable and engaging intranet is good design for the user interface. No matter what you include in the intranet, it’s all for naught if employees find it too difficult to use.
  3. According to a comScore report published in 2015, every 1-out-of-5 millennials used their smartphones and tablet computers to get on the internet. Among all internet-connected Americans, mobile usage is greater than desktop usage. Jump ahead to 2020, and Statista research found that 90 percent of the global internet user population uses a mobile device to go online. There are 4.28 billion unique mobile internet users, and 55 percent of total web traffic is mobile. They use their mobile devices to access apps, participate in gaming, access social media, listen to music, watch videos, and conduct commerce. Projections, Inc. has frequently written about the need to appeal to changing user expectations concerning technology use to keep employees engaged. Following this line of reasoning, your intranet should be mobile-accessible, which is possible today.
  4. Employees want intranets that help them be more connected and productive. Yet, multiple surveys have found that intranets are last in terms of user satisfaction. Employees indicate the intranet doesn’t help them get to reliable contextual information and is frustratingly slow.
  5. Finally, one of the most common issues concerning intranets is they are not maintained. They are patched up, not upgraded, overloaded, and obsolete. It requires a lot of technical resources to keep an intranet updated. Once it becomes obsolete, it’s really difficult to bring it up to speed. This can cause serious problems for employees who are likely to minimally use the intranet. 

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intranet vs internet

The Modern Intranet

The disadvantages of intranets may make them seem not worth considering anymore. That is not true. It is still an important system that can improve employee communications and promote an organizational culture of collaboration. CMSWire, a technical publication, discussed the features of a modern intranet versus the traditional intranet. Quoting Gartner, “modern intranets go beyond destination sites into a collection of services that can be purposed out to many places, including business applications, mobile apps, collaboration apps, and other destination sites.” 

The modern intranet overcomes the problems of the traditional. 

  • Built to enhance the employee experience by making it easy to use and administer
  • Purpose-built or out-of-the-box, so not dependent on IT 
  • Rapidly deployed with easy content creation (Nielsen Norman found the average traditional intranet takes 1.2 years to deploy)
  • Built with multi-channel delivery nodes in mind, i.e., mobile apps, push notifications, etc.
  • Personalizes the experience by automatically bringing targeted content up for each employee
  • Automatically keeps content fresh and eliminates duplication
  • Limits customization requirements 

Intranet Trends

Intranets will become more customized in the quest to engage employees. Meeting user needs comes first. The trends in intranet design include the following.

  • Customized approaches with new features employees have come to expect, i.e., visuals, diagrams, images, etc. 
  • Addition of analytics that identifies how employees interact with content and knowledge gaps
  • Use of a true SaaS approach (hosted) to ensure the latest security updates
  • Integration of social and social factors
  • Dynamic content relevant to each user
  • Multilingual pages
  • Cloud storage 
  • Mobile intranet
  • Integration of digital tools, like Google Workspace, Gmail, Slack, Successfactors, Google Meet, etc. 
  • Content relevancy
  • Access by remote employees
  • Interactive blogs 

Imagine the new intranet; It will present a screen with information of specific interest to the user. It offers announcements, employee messages, videos, company news, dynamic widgets, newsfeeds, virtual town hall, and links to HR policies, benefits plans, employee directories, organizational charts, etc. It has a calendar, video calling, file sharing, announcements, and a collaboration hub. The intranet can also be used for social activities like contests and for taking polls. It is used for onboarding, keeping people in alignment with objectives, and producing analytics. Your leaders can employ storytelling for relatable content. In fact, user-generated content will be an important feature of the modernized intranet.

Anything You Need for Employee Engagement

What’s on an intranet. Anything you want and need to engage employees, enhance employee performance, and communicate the company culture. The modern intranet is a digital communication system and a source of employee feedback too. It gives people a voice in a meaningful way. 

Most importantly, the modern intranet develops positive employee relationsProjections, Inc. has spent four decades improving employee engagement with expert tools that can enhance your intranet, including custom videos, leadership training, podcasts, websites, and eLearning. Anything you need to better communicate with employees, we can deliver. 

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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