Nowadays, the “workplace” could be almost anywhere.
Digital technology allows us to communicate and work with our colleagues regardless of location.
But for all the benefits that working digitally brings, it also carries a risk that we share less about ourselves, know each other less and are therefore unable to develop relationships that breed collaboration and knowledge-sharing.
This has led to an evolution in social collaboration technologies, both outside and within the enterprise. The intranet — once a top-down communication tool with some document management features thrown in — now resembles a social network, providing a platform that encourages interaction and promotes good working relationships. In other words: a social intranet.
Let’s Get Social
Social intranets encourage employees to listen and share, forming a collaborative culture.
There’s a raft of collaboration tools on the market these days, and as most of them are hosted in the cloud, the implementation side is relatively straightforward. But going live is just the start — the daunting part for many is getting the organization on board and getting workers to actually use the tools the company has invested in. But it need not be that way. Here are seven steps to help you get an intranet off the ground. (Editor’s note: The author is the CEO of intranet software company Interact.)
1. Make time to plan: Such an obvious step, but it’s so important and so easily missed. Gather your stakeholders to agree to objectives, purpose and the information the intranet will hold, plus where you want it to be held. Ask your users through staff surveys and group sessions, not forgetting that your senior team members are users, too, and adoption is only going to succeed if all users can see the benefits. Seek out your intranet champions as they will be social leaders.
2. Train your users: Provide intranet managers and content authors with the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to build the site structure and continue contributing. Make sure you involve your champions so they continue to engage their peers and drive them to get involved and add value.
3. Configure your site: Create the top-level navigation, followed by lower-level navigation and then add your content. You can’t do this alone, so this is where your stakeholders, content authors and intranet champions come in. Establish governance upfront so everyone knows what’s expected from them. Guidelines can help, especially if authors aren’t used to writing online content. Tweak the application settings and defaults, such as permissions, to suit your business needs.
4. Bring it to life: A great design gives your intranet a strong sense of identity and can help embed it in the business culture, as well as set the objectives of your site. Use characters to guide employees around the site and be the face of FAQs. Giving the intranet an identity has proved to be successful in many organizations, particularly in driving adoption.
5. Launch with a bang: Inform your employees about what’s happening when and get them excited about the intranet to drive adoption and engagement. Promote the elements that are going to make your users’ working lives easier, and use anything at your disposal that’s going to attract their attention: Cake anyone?
6. Maintain their interest: Here’s the big one, how do you keep people coming back? You’ve followed all the steps above, created a buzz around your intranet, your employees checked it out full of promise and intrigue, but now their interest has started to falter. There are several things you can do, some of which require minimal effort.
Keeping your home page engaging is critical. If the content is static, readers won’t return. Setting up your home page with social widgets, such as blogs, discussion forums and even peer-to-peer recognition, will ensure your content is always changing and user-led, meaning employees are more likely to come back and see what their peers are doing.
The March of Dimes Foundation, for instance, used its intranet as part of a major strategic realignment project to improve operational efficiency. As part of its communications plan, it introduced a 30-day challenge where employees had to complete micro actions via the intranet daily. These were simple, yet effective challenges, such as “Share with a colleague what you value about them.”
The foundation used its home page to promote the content area, which explained the strategy in greater detail. It also included a discussion forum where employees could post the results of each challenge.
During the month of the challenge, the company reported that its hits and visits increased by 89 percent, posts by 97 percent and likes by 99 percent.
7. Build successful communities: To further improve employee engagement, workflow efficiency and human resources processes, organizations should encourage communities within the workforce. Richard Millington, the managing director of marketing blog Feverbee, has four principles which make up the formula to build and maintain successful communities, engaging employees and driving the most value from your social intranet:
- Membership. People want to feel like insiders of a group where they share similar interests, so the community needs to understand the boundaries that separate insiders from outsiders. People want to join the most exclusive clubs they can so make it something they get to do, rather than something they have to do.
- Influence. The only people who participate are those who feel they can make a difference. Highlight great contributions through news articles and blog posts. Create status-boosting opportunities, such as interviews with designated experts, and suddenly people find the time. Use forums to convert “askers” into “experts” when someone else asks a similar question.
- Emotional bonds. Create a narrative so that every new member understands the history of the group. Unique experiences create a bond, whether that’s events, projects or processes. Push discussions to deeper levels so members feel there is only one place where they can discuss this topic. Let members brag where it’s socially acceptable.
- Needs integration. Satisfy users’ social needs by pushing conversations above the fold. Ask new joiners questions right away to increase the quality of knowledge. Make it look successful by removing discussions no one responds to and highlight the most popular discussions. People need to feel it’s going to be better tomorrow than it is today.
With the right planning and processes in place, rolling out a truly social intranet, which engages employees and boosts collaboration, is an achievable goal.