In the last few weeks, millions of knowledge workers have begun to work from home due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. This shift raised concerns for employee productivity; would workers who now have to work remotely be as productive as they were in the office?
The Future of Working from Home
As we seek a new normal, it seems very likely that the work-from-home revolution will be greatly accelerated. Richard Eisenberg, writing for Forbes.com, stated in the early days of the pandemic, “But now that work-from-home has been shown to be possible for millions of workers, odds are that when the COVID-19 crisis is over, more employers will let some employees do it some of the time.” Again, the big question is can a predominantly remote or highly distributed workforce (mixed WFH, factory, field, retail, etc.) match or even exceed the productivity of the days prior to the pandemic? One study done by the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that workers at home were 13% more productive than their office counterparts. The current world we live in is a giant lab experiment to validate this but there are a lot of steps an intranet owner could take to help drive productivity for the modern workforce, regardless of where they do that actual work from.
What is a Modern Intranet?
The digital workplace encompases the entire stack of tools a company uses to enable their employees to work and the intranet sits in the middle as the center of gravity. If the word “intranet” conjures up images of bland software for sharing files and making generic team sites, you’re not alone. But it’s time to dream a little bigger. Modern intranets have critically needed capabilities as an official corporate communications channel, a place to collaborate, find trusted knowledge, and engage with internal experts. These are capabilities needed in the best of times and all the more when employees are remote and can’t lean over a cube and ask a colleague a question.
Here are three core capabilities that modern intranets need:
Act as the Trusted Corporate Communication Channel and Drive Business Consistency
Employees need to be able to quickly and easily find centralized official communications and a trusted content repository in order to be able to provide a consistent experience for their customers, worldwide. Leaders will want to know that their primary communication channel for the enterprise is being adopted and that communications are being read. That said, modern intranets should not be top-down only in its communications, rather be able to connect every level of the business by giving employees the ability to comment, respond, and collaborate regardless of where they are in the world.
This content has to be available on any device in order to reach all kinds of employees including those beyond corporate at subsidiaries, factories, retail stores, branches, or franchises. Content needs to be personalized and targeted for those employee segments to ensure that individuals not only see what matters to them, but can also easily share that information between colleagues and teams. Modern intranets make it easy to find internal experts as well as provide integrations to common chat tools, show if they’re online status, and facilitate quick ad hoc conversation.
It stands to reason that a predominantly remote workforce would be harder to manage and align around goals. Thus a trusted communication vehicle like a corporate intranet can aid in making company goals clear, breaking down silos across the organization, and help a company provide consistent service to their customers across the globe.
Create Consumer-Like Experience for Employees
“Aging on-premises or homegrown intranets are failing to keep pace with employee needs. Intranets are the least loved of all employee productivity tools.”
Forrester’s Now Tech: Intranet Platforms, Q1 2020
Every enterprise should have the goal of building an intranet that their employees love. How do you get an employee to love an intranet? Design it around them and for their benefit and the company wins, too. Consumer-like experiences are designed around the buyer and make it as frictionless as possible to research products and make purchases. Borrowing from digital marketing and sales, a modern intranet should aim for a frictionless enterprise experience in order to free up employees to work on higher value tasks.
First, modern intranets have to find ways to reduce the noise. Employees are inundated with information, data, and content every single day. Fine-grain permissions can be used to ensure employees only see what they need to see. Then, personalization based on employee segments can be used to prioritize what each user sees to ensure that it is relevant to them. These segments can be office or region, as well, in order to make sure they’re getting important local content. AI-powered content recommendations can make suggestions based on the user’s interest history.
Secondly, if all that fails to provide an employee with what they need, make sure it’s easy to find content and assets with intuitive navigation and, probably more importantly, a powerful Google-like search experience that can not only index the intranet’s content but also connected systems.
Lastly, wrap it up in a visual package that reinforces your brand values while also being a delight to use. Give your business users the ability to easily craft their own sites and pages for their teams and projects. Aim to make your employee experiences just as good as the experiences you seek to provide for your customers and not only will it go a long way in helping employees be more effective, it’ll help them feel more appreciated, and ultimately keep talent around longer.
All of this serves to create better work experience for employees, regardless of where they work, how they work, and what device they work on. It reinforces global alignment on priorities, keeps employees engaged and empowered, and helps everyone feel like they’re part of a common cause.
Optimize Business Operations Digitally
Another function of a modern intranet is the ability to digitize business operations so they can actually be done by remote workers. Older and more established companies may have many critical processes that are manual or paper based that are hard to do from a home office. Maybe impossible. If there’s a major disruption at the office, this becomes a business continuity issue. Digitizing processes to be managed via desktop or mobile devices doesn’t just give you that failover capability of taking all that work home, it also improves day-to-day operations by giving you the ability to measure time to stage to completion, identify bottlenecks, and drive efficiencies. As some companies have seen, it also opens up more opportunities for employees at different levels of the company to converse and collaborate in order to drive better outcomes.
Every business leader should ask the question, “What are my employees spending too much time doing and what business objective is that keeping them from accomplishing?” There may be opportunities to leverage a modern intranet’s integration and process automation capabilities in order to streamline and digitize those processes, hide complexities, and reduce the amount of time employees spend on low value tasks. For example, if you’re an HR leader, is your team spending too much time handling emails and chats regarding topics like PTO, sick days, benefits, and time sheets? Self-service experiences that make it easy for employees to resolve issues in seconds not only makes them happier, it frees up your HR staff to better care for them.
Evolving For the New Normal
Modern intranets are rapidly becoming a key strategic element of a digital workplace strategy again. They are critical as the nexus of your digital workplace and help evolve your business to be able to compete in rapidly changing times. Being able to support official, yet two-way communication, create a user centric intranet experience that helps get work done, and digitally transform business operations is a vital part of being able to quickly scale to a remote workforce any time you have to and keep them productive outside of the office. Starkly speaking, being digital is an obvious survival capability for businesses, and having a modern intranet strategy helps employees work better from home when the need arises.