Coronavirus and home working: a better intranet to master a new working life.

The history of intranets has been often one of failure, distrust, frustrated employees and expensive never-ending relaunch projects. Many employees escaped from their intranets, to find shelter in external tools and create their own personal and team environments. Often, uncoordinated with the rest of the organization. New silos, no solutions.

What about internal communicators? How many of them did give up on the intranet and shifted back to emails as their primary communication channel?

What about management leaders? How many did not take the intranet as their priority one to ensure their organization excel? They hired coaches, employed facilitators, acquired innovative solutions to do process mining but left their intranets back in the “digital transformation backlog”.

Yet, now that companies are turning into confederations of remote workers and teams, digital collaboration has never been so business-critical.

True to be told, there are companies for which remote working is not that big of a switch. But these digital-born, digital-first companies are still the exception, not the rule.

For many more, the pandemic-led Work-From-Home restructuring has been a culture shock. Many other people are discovering a new work-life dimension, that holds many challenges but also shows the promise of a much better life, and more sustainable. 

In this super-accelerated transformation, the intranet is crucial.

It can play its game and finally deliver on its original promise: to be a true enabler, the backbone of a performing organization, and the digital face of a progressive corporate culture. 

There is no reason not to commit time and resources into your intranet transformation, now. Not later. There have never been so many tools out-of-the-box. Traditional providers, such as Microsoft Sharepoint, have released their best versions ever in 2019. New powerful solutions can help you make the most of the Google Cloud Platform: the recent new investment round on the Finnish startup Happeo, a collaboration, social-intranet, solution made to fully leverage Google Suite, is proof of it. 

What´s more, you do not need to squeeze your brain to imagining something completely new. Many of your teams have adopted already tools and practices that wait to be integrated into your intranet. Your employees, now working from home, experience new needs and are eager to solve their friction and contribute with fresh ideas to make their new digital-home work thrive. 

So, this is the time for the intranet to strike back and replace frustration with innovation, barriers with doors, boring stuff with motivating content.

This is a list of nine things that your Intranet must be, can do, shall change to be the best companion of our new normality: my nine takes on making the most of this pandemic times and put the intranet back at the core of your organization, as an enabler, a destination point, a place to make you feel good and work best.


1. A communication hub? More than that: a community of inclusion. 

This is the enemy your Intranet must defeat: the feeling of isolation. Top-down leaderships messages must be timely and frequent, but they are not enough.

Your internal communication must anticipate employees fears, anxiety and address rumours and misinformation, both the one coming from outside of the company and the one spreading internally. 

Another vital job is to let everybody know what´s going around the company — something you miss, not being anymore in the office. Even if our lives have been turned upside down, it is not all about Covid-19. There is more to tell. There is more that happens, and your employees deserve prompt and approachable information. 

Your Intranet communication can shape a positive narrative of what is happening around, focused on the things that go ahead, not about things that stay still. 

Promoting a feeling of cohesion can be done inviting your employees, independently from team management and update duties, to share what they are working on, but also how they are managing their new lives and WFH challenges. 

Do you remember the social Intranet? Here you are, time to make it work as an empathy-maker: here we are, facing similar challenges, even when working in different countries and continents.

And, let me add, it is more important than ever that employees working across the globe can experience what many media fail to report: that we are all in this, together. 

2. An open door, not a fortress. 

A few words are enough to say what needs to happen, once and for all. Too many intranets are not yet there: 

  • Mobile, mobile, mobile! Not only selected tools: the whole intranet experience must become mobile-ready. If not done before, take the chance offered by the pandemic to make it happen. 
  • Not (or only minimally) restricted to access via a corporate VPN. There is a balance between security, safety and openness. It is quite odd that so many employees send invitations on Zoom with open links and then cannot access an employee timesheet if not connected via a VPN that more often than not is down. 
  • Accessible, first and foremost: the Intranet MUST be compatible with the tools, devices, browsers your people use at home, not only with the ones you have at the office (and many of your employees more or less secretly hate!) 
  • Searchable at their best. Not it is high time to work on this. Companies that relaunched their Intranet recently know how the search experience is of paramount importance. Use this pandemic times to rethink the search experience and work in that. 

3. A technology enabler, not only a list of tools and credentials.

With the rise of remote working, a new set of tools is being adopted, at a pace that most companies never experienced before. That means, in some cases, lots of confusion and learning curves that remote employees are facing alone at home.

Here is where the Intranet must act: as an enabler, providing proper guidance on how to use these tools. Some companies have introduced intranet sites covering “How to work from home”. Instead of IT support pages (poorly readable), the set on plain language and Q&A.

What´s even better, after these three months, you have probably your experts at home: people that are now on top of the learning curve and can act as mentors to their colleagues. The Intranet 3.0 should give room to them to put online their stories, tips and organize peer-to-peer learning sessions. 

4. A tool that helps you balancing synchronous with asynchronous communication.

Someone is already talking of “Zoom fatigue”: current work-from-home agendas are filled with too many video-calls. On the other side, email is one of the main “time challenger” of the new work-from-home life. That has lots to do with poor intranet features, so the email seems to be the only way to reach all employees and communicate many-to-many. Some times find relief in Slack, but if you do not adopt robust slack governance, it can generate a tsunami of fragmented instant messages.

The job of your Intranet 3.0 is to bring order into chaos and help people communicate better, selecting the right mean for the right type of content and the right timing.

  • – Project rooms must be there for sharing news, draft docs and updates.
  • – The ability to subscribe to feeds, internal newsletters and push notifications lets your employees shape their incoming communication flows and get a more personal, controlled experience.
  • Last but not least, your intranet 3.0 must help your employees to know who can they contact, when and how. An intelligent people directory is not only a list of names, profile photos, profile and reporting lines. It is a way to provide access to everybody in the organization, compatibly with all individual situations. It will be up to each employee to instruct the colleagues on the best means, timing and modes to make contact with her/him, as wells as on what topics. 

5. A tool to foster work-life balance and support your workforce health, also mentally.

Verified information, company-wide policies and procedures, a summary for international employees on the country rules, of course, updated regularly, but also phone lines to call in case of need and all about health insurance, medical assistance and what-to-do-if cases. 

In the first weeks of pandemics, many intranets struggled to keep up with the abundance of decisions to take and information to retrieve and share. It is getting better. But since this will be a marathon, not a race, the Intranet can help to tackle all side aspects, including the psychological side of remote working. 

Not all companies can afford to put a corporate psychologist at disposal. But they can set up an intranet site with a “survival kit”, and offer anonymous surveys to get the pulse of WFH employees and respond with appropriate communication. Not everybody wants to get personal on this. 

Similar to the annual employee engagement surveys, the collection of anonymous feedback can provide a good sense of how and when to intervene with: 

  • thematic sessions (“What to do if you have children?”, “How to feel less isolated?”, “How we shape new company policies?” and so on);
  • webinars on work-life-balance and optimal working-at-home habits;
  • messages and communications to help people feel less anxious and left alone.

6. A tool for learning and self-development.

It might be that not all your WFH employees are struggling to coordinate work and family. Some might even have more time, now that they must not commute every day from home to work.

Trust them and give the chance to make the most of their new spare time. Use your intranet to promote learning. You do not need to reinvent the wheel or to squeeze your brain to design and develop in a few weeks a new learning curriculum. Be pragmatic and ready for creative solutions. Do not push, but put at disposal. Promote, offer, but not oblige.

At Novartis, long before the pandemic, the internal communication team embraced the corporate transformation of the Pharma giant into a knowledge company by integrating a selected catalogue of Coursera courses about Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, offered for free to all employees. No obligation to use, no fees, no impact on the performance evaluation. An offer.

If you offer a new learning catalogue like that, you can learn a lot from users preferences and adoption. That is enough of an acceptable investment into your next learning programs for the post-pandemic phase. And a way to reinforce the role of your intranet 3.0 as a destination point.

7. The Intranet meets Agile: make it work, from home too.  

The Agile methodology was born in the nineties, and though its popularity it shows its limitation. Agile, so the coaches used to say, works with proximity. Physical closeness was one of the conditions to grant more autonomy and release old working rules, replaced by frequent checks and collective decision making.

More then twenty years later, we know that a lot can be achieved virtually. And you do not need to replace physical meetings with a permanent ready-to-jump-on-call system. 

An agile-ready intranet must no only integrate Trello-like boards and Slack. It must offer asynchronous modes to help each and everyone stay aligned, without having to sit in front of your pc at the same time, waiting for the next Zoom session:

Daily standups can run with asynchronous systems, like Polly, an easy Q&A customisable pop-up form, that integrates natively both with Microsoft Teams and Slack. Frequent pulse surveys can make use of the same tool.

A weekly remote retrospective, on a live video call, can be supported by virtual whiteboards with ready-made canvas, such as Miro or Mural.

User story mapping can integrate with the intranet (again, Miro and Mural are great solutions for that) and be available later and always-on for review; it can send alerts to team members when changes happen.

Epics are a fundamental piece of reference, that must be accessible and findable from the intranet and maintained as a living body of knowledge and common understanding., not as a reference PDF document, kept stored somewhere to become obsolete and be forgotten.

8. Knowledge Management Is Still Knowledge Management.

When it comes to knowledge management, the same principles that should have guided organizations before the pandemic should apply now, but better. 

Time to make a reality check on how your intranet makes knowledge available. Does it ensure that content and knowledge is stored in shared, searchable repositories, accessible by all team members? 

And what about unstructured content? As of now, this is the type of content most probably more abundant in your organization: media, blogs, notes, presentations and pdf documents? 

There so many new AI-powered solutions now on the market, that almost any type of content can be made explorable, accessible and even automatically summarised. There is no reason to postpone a fundamental piece of transformation: transitioning from tables to knowledge graphs, from folders to free search-led exploration.

9. The new intranet for the new times is more than tech and tools. It is a curated experience, lively and crafted by careful hands

Several intranet relaunch projects focused too much on automation and much less on curation. The pressure to save time and resources makes still the intranet a place curated by a couple of people, sometimes supported by working students, and only big global corporations have invested in internal communication experts. 

But a good intranet, one that aims to be a pillar of your corporate culture, must be a curated experience, with dedicated experts that own it and handle it like a newspaper or a media outlet. They must respond to data evidence, anticipate needs and invent stuff. Do experiments. Sometimes, surprise their internal audiences. 

That will transform your intranet from an advanced, but a cold tool, into the connective tissue of your organization. And by doing that, be a culture shaper and a reliable working-life companion.

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