Intranet trends for internal communicators

There have been some big shifts in the way internal communicators manage and leverage intranets to communicate with their organizations. While some of these changes are still occurring, the underlying premise is the same: internal communicators have never been more crucial to the success of intranet and digital workplace initiatives.

Let’s talk about what’s changing in the way organizations communicate internally and how the employee portals of the future present opportunities to streamline communication and collaboration.

1. Internal communicators have a broader accountability

For many communicators, the sandbox is growing. The internal target audience is growing. The channels are increasing. It’s not just about communicating to the office worker anymore–mobile and field workers are now in range. It’s also not just about managing homepage news either. Instead, internal communications teams help craft strategic communications for departments, executives, enterprise projects, change initiatives, and more.

The intranet continues be a primary channel for deploying these communications, but it is not the only one that matters anymore.

2. The role of the intranet manager is changing

For some organizations, the role of the intranet manager is being reframed as a digital workplace manager, although it remains unclear exactly where this person should sit in the org chart. Are they in PR/comms? Are they in IT? Are they in HR? I happen to feel they should live in communications, but I don’t think it really matters. What does matter is that they are a strong advocate for the employee experience and can bridge a vision across HR, IT, and communications, shaping a modern view of the digital communication and collaboration landscape.

3. The new, digitally fractured workplace presents new challenges

With the introduction of so many cloud-based tools and the evolution of Office 365’s NextGen Portals for communication and collaboration, we’ve entered into a world where capabilities massively overlap across technologies and vendors. For many organizations, more tools isn’t always a good thing.

Despite a recent Gartner news announcement saying, “Today's employees possess a greater degree of digital dexterity,” I think we still have a tough road ahead to help employees make sense of their digital options.

Businesses need internal communicators to work side-by-side in partnership with HR and IT to carefully craft a new information management strategy to bring clarity to employees and solve real business challenges. Communicators need to help establish the "what tool, when" playbook and make sure all this market innovation doesn’t stall or impede the success of internal collaboration.

4. Enterprise social is still finding its place

Enterprise social networks have gone through a traditional hype curve’s peak of inflated expectations and may now be rising out of the trough of disillusionment, although it’s not clear many companies are feeling enlightened yet.

If you haven’t adopted an enterprise social network or infused your intranet with some kind of social capability, then I’d imagine you are getting ready to make sense of it soon. Between Jam, Jive, Yammer, Slack, and other great tool sets, they all really support the same type of experience. Communications generally needs to decide if they want to be a driving sponsor of the employee community and use the network to their advantage. Or instead, they must choose how to leverage enterprise social within the context of their intranet communications.

For the past two years, Microsoft has given clear guidance that it’s better to invest in Yammer instead of investing in SharePoint’s social capabilities. Going forward, it seems pretty clear that they are moving to a more integrated experience with social plumbing into the entire Office and Office 365 fabric.

5. Employees want authentic communications in real-time

Perhaps this has always been the case, but more than ever it seems employees expect to have answers at their fingertips. They want the straight goods too, no beating around the bush. If a topic has made it to the proverbial water cooler, you should probably consider having a position on it soon in the next official internal communication.

The question communicators need to grapple with is which channel should they leverage to get involved in the conversation? It is important to note, some companies that are really on top of their internal social networks are on top of the conversation before things really ever get out of hand. Great communicators need to also be great listeners and decide the best channel to connect with their audience!

6. Intranets are mobile

This somewhat feels like old news, but surprisingly many companies have still not figured out how to build a responsive experience for their intranet. If you have SharePoint, it is important to know that the technology is no longer the barrier.

Instead, internal communications needs to help define what parts of their intranet should be converted for mobile. Is it everything? Chances are you will want key areas of your intranet experience to be responsive for smaller browsers or you’ll want to extend the intranet content into an app.  You also need to rethink who the target audience is and what the most common use cases are for a mobile-friendly intranet.

Lots of companies we talk to want to target when employees are commuting and trying to get caught up with company news on the bus or train while getting to and from work. Retail environments look at the back-office break time to get employees oriented for their next shift. Construction, energy, and resources companies often consider field workers and think about different tools they need to be connected, engaged, and safe.

7. Video and live broadcasting have arrived

While the ability to internally host and stream video has been possible for a few years now, we are really starting to see companies take interest. It’s not hard to imagine why there has been a delayed shift to video within corporate employee portals. Internal communicators are often great writers but don’t always have a background in film. As well, up until more recently, there hasn’t been a very easy and affordable option for companies to adopt and embrace internal video. That has now changed.

This year, Microsoft released its initial attempt to take over the video domain with its Office 365 Video Portal. While it is still in its first generation of features and capabilities, I expect to see a lot more companies shifting their internal intranet communications to video in 2016. What’s more, Microsoft will soon release a new product or capability in Skype for Business that allows live broadcasting for events.

Skype Broadcasting will enable companies to host big internal events like town halls or strategy briefings with a secured internal audience. Video can be recorded live during the broadcast and the Event app console will integrate with Yammer and Bing Pulse for live social feedback and conversations. The role of the communicator will be both a manager and orchestrator of the event, as well as a live community manager of the social conversation. Videos recorded from the events will be available for download and long term storage in the Video Portal for future playback.

8. A shift from pages to portals

Intranets were once carefully structured collections of pages, documents and team sites organized with purpose and labeled to optimize findability. While information architecture still matters, it is clear that the CMS days of page based publishing systems are losing ground and content is being curated through a variety of new forms.

To add to that, the end user experience of viewing a PDF or Word document isn’t as jarring as it used to be and the value of supporting the authoring process and experience has become more critical.

Intranets are shifting to being more of a loosely connected set of apps and sites and page based communication may be isolated to news and some employee essential information. The future Microsoft promise would have us believe that NextGen Portals will start to emerge in the ecosystem in the latter half of 2015 and into 2016.

What does this mean for the user experience? How should the global navigation adapt?

We believe internal communications will need to rethink the global navigation strategy and design to make sure they are optimizing the overall experience within and outside the traditional intranet boundaries.

9. The homepage is dead

Intranet homepages are no longer relevant. Bold statement, I know. It is time for communicators to rethink the role, design, and best practices of their homepage. Looking back, intranet homepages were originally inspired by best practices from the external web. Today, the landscape has significantly changed and I’d argue it’s time to take a more innovative stance on the homepage. Some key questions to ask:

  • Are employees really starting their intranet experience on the homepage because they want to or because they are forced to?
  • How many people are reading our news stories? How many are engaging in the content?
  • Do people appreciate and feel more connected as a result of what we are producing?
  • Does the mish-mash of stuff on the homepage add to the communication experience or detract from it? Perhaps you should consider simplifying the homepage and refocusing it on being a news portal.
  • Do we still have a lot of page content in the intranet that people are navigating to, or have we shifted to more of an app or portal approach. A directory for those items might be more important.

Asking these questions may help you realize the homepage layout and navigation patterns from the past are no longer as relevant. We find people start their intranet experience from a variety of locations today. It could be the homepage, it could be through the Microsoft Office suite when re-opening a document, it could be from an email link to a team site or it could be by going directly into an intranet app or the enterprise social tool like Jive or Yammer. As well, as we add more cloud collaboration tools on top of the traditional intranet landscape and further complicate the digitally fractured workplace experience, we think it is time to rethink the homepage and try to make things easier for the employees.

10. Suggestions?

What would a top 10 list be without a number 10? Well, I only had nine but 10 sounded way catchier. Why don’t you add to the list with your suggestion about a top 10 intranet trend for internal communicators!

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