What is an Intranet? Definition, Benefits and Features.


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What is a company/business intranet?

A company intranet is a private web site or a digital area available entirely for internal use – your organization’s employees. In the past, the intranet users could not access it outside of your organization‘s network. With modern tools like SharePoint Online, part of Microsoft’s Modern Workplace solution Microsoft 365 and hybrid work models that are here to stay, you can enable access to your Intranet from anywhere. Of course we recommend assessing the impact and enabling some guardrails, if needed, e.g. if your employees are only allowed to work in an EU/EEA country, you can set this up through some controls – usually an Azure Active Directory Conditional Access policy. You can also define exact IP address ranges, so that you require employees to be connected to your VPN solution before accessing the content in your SharePoint Online intranet. The intranet home site is usually the first place your employees land at when they open your company browser. It is the gateway to your organization’s digital workspace where they find all the information, tools, and services that will help them navigate through the myriad of information flowing across teams and departments.

The first intrant implementations were done circa 1990. This was a revolution in the digital world. The main usage of the first intranet pages were for knowledge workers to save and share information and for HR and communication teams to publish major company updates. The permissions to upload something were limited to a very small subset of people. We live in a very different world where collaboration is key and modern intranets are all about enabling everyone in your organization achieve more by connecting with the right people, and information resources in a quick and easy way.

 

What is the difference between an intranet and an extranet?

An extranet could be a totally different platform or built as an extension to your intranet which enables secure, authenticated access to certain sections of it to external users like clients and partners.

 

In the table below we’ll outline some of difference between intranet and extranet:

 IntranetExtranet
AvailabilityInternal access by default*External access is enabled.
PurposeShare internal information like HR news, company processesEnable external stakeholders access to information they need in a secure way.
SecurityYou can control the permissions, access from locations, etc.The extenral users can be controlled by your organization or by the other organization. Usually accessible from anywhere.
UsersEmployees, contractors, etc.Partners, clients, suppliers etc.
Licensing **A Microsoft 365 or a SharePoint Online plan is needed for each internal user.Azure AD monthly active users or specific licensing model if Microsoft Power Pages is used.

 

* You could still enable the access to some sections or your whole Intranet or all of it in certain cases like being audited by an organization that is entitled to access all your organization resources, etc. That can be achieved in various ways – creating a temporary internal user for the auditors, or whitelisting their domain for collaboration if you both have an Azure AD tenant.

** Specific to modern intranets built on SharePoint Online.

 

Benefits and disadvantages of an intranet

Benefits:

  • Accessibility
    • By having access to a modern intranet, your employees can access their information anytime and anywhere. That’s a huge benefits for employees who are always on the go, like field workers, your sales team or consultants who are deployed at client sites, for instance.
  • Increased employee productivity and engagement
    • Connected employees can improve productivity by 20 to 25%. Implementing an employee intranet portal is going to align your workforce and invite your employees into a safe space where their voice can be heard, and their ideas can turn into actionable items that get added value to your business.
  • Enhanced collaboration and communication
    • Research by Ragan shows a shocking 84% of deskless workers say they don’t get enough direct communication from top management, and only 10% feel strongly connected to their companies.
    • A modern intranet with features like document sharing, coauthoring, commenting, and chat enables your employees to work together on projects real-time, no matter their physical distance. While an efficient employee intranet portal will have specific spaces for each department to share information and collaborate on tasks, it will also facilitate cross-departmental communication, which helps unlock the wealth of knowledge which is usually left undiscovered with ineffective company communication and collaboration strategies and tools.
  • Secure file storage
    • Employees can waste countless of hours when using an outdated content and knowledge management system like on-premises file shares with weak or even no indexing and search mechanisms. They quickly can get lost trying to remember where the file they need was stored. Sometimes even a file would get recreated from scratch because it’s not found. Not very efficient, right? A centralized intranet comes to the rescue. Of course, your employees need to feel comfortable using the intranet, be familiar with how the search works and your IT team would need to prevent any shadow IT file storage systems to be used for storing your organization’s data. This will increase productivity and streamline data management across the board.
  • Decision making
    • Since everyone from any team with different background can share ideas and be heard, this could enable highly informed decisions by the management team. Some organizations find profit increase opportunities being brought by the employees by just enabling them with the transparent tool to share their ideas.

 

Disadvantages:

  • Cost
    • The cost of building and maintaining an effective intranet could be considered high. That of course depends on the partner and solution you choose. In the past, you would budget for purchasing hardware (servers, network and backup infrastructure), a huge upfront license cost and plan for an upgrade project every 3 or so years. With tools like SharePoint Online, you can transform most of the cost from CAPEX to OPEX as it’s part of the Microsoft 365 suite which is has a monthly subscription billing model.. It’s best to choose a trusted partner *before* starting your intranet journey.
  • Security concerns
    • Intranets, similar to any other line of business applications your organization is using today may be compromised. Building in a robust, world class security *will* cost you significant mantime and money. We recommend, if not strictly imposible to use a trusted cloud solution like the Microsoft 365 suite which includes SharePoint Online, even if it’s not mandatory for you. Of course, performing regular security checkups/audits and performing security awareness campaigns across your workforce are key points to consider when planning your whole information management landscape.
  • Updates
    • If you go for an on-premise version of SharePoint or another intranet platform, updates are costly and usually involve some downtime. Modern tools like SharePoint Online always bring the latest and greatest features with Microsoft’s cloud-first strategy and you don’t have to do a single click to get them. However new functionalities can often replace others that you’ve relied on for many years. In the early days of SharePoint Online, updates were often kwown to cause breaking of any customizations that your dev team might have implemented, but since then there were many customization frameworks introduced which ensure supportability in the future. We would always recommend consulting a trusted partner before going for any customizations on your intranet.
  • Information Overload
    • Another challenge faced by the modern knowledge worker is information overload. Excessive amount of information and lack of clutter cleanup process can turn your intranet into a document graveyard. Including that bit in your intranet governance process in the early stages is important. You should have clear processes like information retention policies, information lifecycle, archiving, records management written and technically implemented. Best is to have these in an easy to change variant, as organization rules can change over time. Microsoft 365 provides myriad of out-of-the-box capabilities to help you with that.

 

What features should a modern company intranet have?

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Intranets were originally created to simplify the work process and make company resources easily accessible. With the hybrid working model, employees need a modern workplace that supports that more than ever. Effective intranets are in many aspects more important now than they were in the past.

Unlike their original predecessors, modern intranets aren’t just for the traditional worker that comes to the office or plant every day. A modern intranet should embrace how employees work today, frequently switching from their desktop/laprtop to tablet/smartphone and they should be able to do that ina breeze. A good intranet should provide access to information in a quick and easy way, regardless of the location or device of the person needing to access that information.

Rather than simply offering information, a modern company intranet embraces and revitalizes the original goal of creating a helpful, immersive, interactive, and centralized experience. New intranets integrate traditional tools in an updated and advanced way and add a few new experiences as well. Information is more engaging, searchable, and tailored to individual needs.

The essential characteristics of modern intranets include the following:

  • Accessible anywhere, on any device
  • Easily scalable
  • Great search
  • Integration with other tools
  • Easy customization
  • Repsonsive design
  • Multi-lingual capabilities
  • No downtime
  • Easy maintenance

 

Where does the intranet fit in the digital workplace?

Digital workplace as a term has a lot of definitions, one of them is: technology-enabled environment that allows an organization to be independent on location.

Previously, the phrase “digital workplace” was used to refer to word processors, email clients, and internet apps all at once. However, the modern digital workplace has grown and now encompasses much more.

It might serve as a virtual office, even your headquarters or your only office, in fact! It provides all tools that were used in the physical workplace. Digital workplaces are cloud-based platforms that give employees access to tools, data, and information in a way that they can achieve the same results as if they were in the physical workplace.

A digital workplace offers employees the flexibility to complete their tasks quickly and effectively from any location at any time.

Modern intranets have played a big role in today’s business processes. Your intranet essentially becomes the core strategy for a digital workplace framework.

So, what role exactly does the intranet play in the digital workplace? In the context of the digital workplace, the intranet:

  • offers knowledge transparency so team members can collaborate with minimal back-and-forth
  • supports productivity within the context of established organizational guidelines, i.e., makes it easy to get work done in line with corporate policies
  • helps establish a roadmap and blueprint for coordinating digital workplace initiatives.

Put together, the intranet and the digital workplace offer a new employee experience that makes it easier for teams to stay on the same page and get work done faster.

 

Why may your company need an intranet?

Intranet schema

 

In this digital age, most businesses are having some type of intranet. Those that don’t might be wondering why they should be looking at implementing an intranet themselves. After all, they’ve made it this far without one, right?

As employees are more physically distant nowadays, it’s hard to broadcast information in a meaningful way. Yes, your HR or Comms team can send another e-mail. But we all know everyone already has thousands unread in their Inbox.

Here are 5 reasons why you need an intranet in your organization:

  • Effective communication. Email newsletters can only go so far before people complain about too many messages, or an important announcement gets overlooked because it was pushed down by trivial updates. An intranet lets you take back control because you can make the headline news stick at the top of the page. Those administrative updates about car parking and IT upgrades won’t go away, but you can keep them to the side-lines and free inboxes from those too. 74% of employees have the feeling they’re missing out on company news because the internal communication department is non-existent or doing a poor job.

 

  • Employee engagement. A Gallup study reveals only 15% of workforces are actually engaged within their organization. Having an Intranet where you welcome and present newcomers can make your employees engage easier with them. Having a place where you praise your employees for achievements is alsy a good way to engage them. Gen Z and millenials love kudos! Reading about colleagues who participated in a corporate social responsibility event that last weekend can boost employee morale. All those make a great appearance… not anywhere else, but on your intranet.

 

  • Reduced number of applications. You might be using multiple tools today for purposes that could easily fit into a modern intranet. HR news, forms, ideas, onboarding, and what not. Just think of simplifying your application landscape and what value this adds to your users. We’ve all heard the phrase: „oh, one more tool…“.

 

  • Improved customer satisfaction. Well-informed staff are more likely to be of more help to customers/clients. The employees can quickly find what they need, even when they are on the go or on a client location. You could save lots of time by another back-and-forth over e-mail on simple questions which answer can be found easily on the intranet.

 

  • Simplified Employee Onboarding. Maybe the most underrated process in a company! Effective onboarding should be a key priority for every business. It’s important that new employees are quickly assimilated and are up and running as soon as possible. The employee intranet enables onboarding as a consistent, streamlined process. Usually new organizational members can access a dedicated onboarding section at a time and place that suits them and can complete tasks at their own pace. Team leads or managers, on their hand should have the tools see how onboarding is going for their new team member and unblock any issues if needed.

 

What is employee experience (EX) and why is it important?

enhance-exployee-experience

 

Employee experience is a worker’s perception about his or her journey through all the touchpoints at a particular organization, starting with applying for a position through to the exit from the company. Often, organizations put a huge focus on customer satisfaction, but don’t consider the importance of employee satisfaction. Satisfied employees often means satisfied customers!

Strengthening the employee experience has numerous benefits that are all associated with employee job satisfaction leading to low attrition rates, higher profits and better market positioning.

The most successful organizations attract and retain top talent. When the economy is on the upside, the competition for top talent is crazy and the lack of effective talent acquisition and retention becomes a real pain. During difficult times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming recession, attention to employee experience can help organizations become more competitive and prevent the worst repercussions.

In general, organizations that have positive employee experience also have high customer experience scores and positive revenue growth over the long-term.

 

Employee experience vs. employee engagement

When people talk about employee satisfaction, they often mixed employee experience (EX) and employee engagement. The main difference is employee engagement is part of the employee experience.

Both concepts do relate to employee happiness, and both are important – but understanding the distinctions and how both ideas relate will help ensure employees are satisfied enough to stay at your company.

Employee engagement is the emotional commitment an employee has to their work, the organization and its goals. So, the key difference between employee experience and employee engagement is that ‘experience’ is the input, whilst ‘engagement’ is what you get as a result.

By improving the EX of your organization, you are going to achieve more engaged employees and team engagement. Improved levels of employee engagement can be seen as the end goal while improving EX is the means to that end.

In his ‘Are Your Employees Motivated?’ eBook, Dale Carnegie explains how engaged employees outperform companies with disengaged employees by up to 202%. Investing in employee engagement means you’ll reap the rewards in the form of enthusiastic employees.

 

How to engage employees, get them interested?

One of the key factors to running a successful business is knowing how to engage employees. If the leaders of a business or organization understand the level of passion their workforce has for the job, they are already a step ahead of the competition.

Keeping employees engaged is a process that requires ongoing evaluation and encouragement. By identifying barriers to employee engagement and improving communication, team leaders and managers can ensure their employees stay engaged.

How to keep employees engaged?

  • Keep open communication. Communication is important in maintaining workplace expectations and keeping a team engaged. Check up with your team often to identify any barriers to productivity. Get to know your employees and encourage them to come to you with any concerns. By encouraging open communication, they are more likely to turn to you if they have challenges, rather than becoming less engaged.

 

  • Recognize accomplishments. Acknowledging the achievements of employees is a low-cost but high-impact approach. A quick win, as we say. A worker wants to feel that their attempts and achievements will not go unnoticed. Not everything should be monetary. Of course, that’s motivating, but quite short-term. Public recognition is a better way to boost workers confidence. The main thing is to demonstrate that you notice every achievement, you value your workers and appreciate their commitment. Gen Z and millenials love those kudos!

 

  • Provide the necessary tools. As a manager you should be sure your employees have access to what they need to be successful in their job. This means ensuring they have the right training, materials and tools to meet their goals. It is important to note that these needs can change with new tasks or responsibilities, so a regular check-up as part of annual performance reviews, or even more regular formats of meetings is a good idea.

 

  • Set clear targets. Employees are more likely to be engaged when they know what duties and tasks are expected of them. In scrum, that is a definition of done. It can also be helpful to revisit goals over a certain period of time, so everyone knows what they are working towards at all times and not feel they’re lost in a meaningless task or project which would not add any value to the organization. In addition to setting clear goals, it is also useful to determine how to measure progress toward those goals. OKRs are a great way, but too long of a topic to address in this article.

 

  • Fun @ work. Fun in the workplace can have a positive impact on employees and their productivity. As a manager, you can create a professional environment that your team members appreciate. As an employee, you can enjoy working at your organization, and you may feel that your supervisors prioritize your mental health. Things like short Fridays enable your team to go wall climbing, bowling, take a cooking class, play games or just share a couple of drinks together. Such social events help people bond together and should be used where possible.

 

Intranet Best Practices

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Having a good intranet means it’s used by your employees. If they don’t ever open it, that simply means it’s not done right.

An intranet should not only be the place for work, but also for entertainment. It could, for example, be used to create virtual corporate events, to offer workshops and classes and to even have communication channels for random topics, like a social network. Everyone needs to talk about different topics other than work occasionally.

Below are some of the best practices for having a good intranet:

  • It should be easy to use and navigate. Your company intranet should be easy to navigate and use otherwise employees won’t use it. So, make sure to opt for an intranet that has a user-friendly interface, a great user experience and an appealing design, aligned with your organization branding. Did we mention an amazing search?
  • Includes communication and collaboration features. Your intranet should not be built of static pages! People should be able to collaborate in easy and sometimes informal way, reach a common goal and communicate clearly right within your intranet or through a tight integration with another app, Microsoft Teams for instance.
  • Content should be easy to find. Ensure that the content in your intranet is structured, and employees are able to find it easy within the first search. Doesn’t make sense to have a chaotic intranet that is not used by anyone. And you can measure all that.
  • Integration with other apps. The best tools of a modern workplace are the ones that play „in concert“. It is very important to have an intranet that is able to connect with other applications that you might already be using similar to the Microsoft 365 Apps for real-time document coauthoring, Microsoft Teams for chat, Power BI for reporting and so forth.
  • GDPR is famous accross organizations working with personal identifiable information (PII). Making sure there is proper security, governance and management of such data to help prevent it from being misused or getting into the wrong hands. The proper built intranet can protect you from potential penalties and fees. How to make an intranet GDPR compliant is an article that will provide you with more insights on that huge topic.

 

Conclusion

If you’ve come that far, we hope that you enjoyed reading it and found the information valuable and interesting. Of course, this article is not providing a step-by-step guide for implementing a good intranet. We at Impactory would be happy to hear your intranet story and transform it into a reality. Contact us today to do the first step to the modern intranet!

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