Social Intranets In The Workplace
Social intranets have taken the world of employee communication by storm. With flexible working arrangements, distributed workforces, and mobile computing the new norm, it’s little wonder that a social intranet is the digital workplace epicenter of organizations. More importantly, the social features now found within the modernized intranet – such as instant messaging, activity feeds, forums, likes, emojis, comments, and more – have been shown to enhance culture, boost morale and increase engagement.
It’s widely accepted that the popularity of social networking sites (for personal use) has caused this cross-over into the business world. According to Pew Research, nearly two-thirds of American adults use social networking sites, a ten-fold increase in the last decade. Yet some businesses still question whether a social intranet will noticeably increase productivity, or will it encourage employees to waste time on futile activities? Is a social intranet right for every organization?
What Is A Social Intranet?
Let’s start with a definition. Mention the word ‘social,’ and most of us automatically think of social media and social networking. The likes of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter spring to mind. We all use these sites to connect with family and friends by sharing news and updates. So, what exactly is a social intranet?
“A social intranet performs the same functions as social media applications but usually in the workplace. It’s an internal communication and collaboration platform which helps employees connect and build relationships. A social intranet encourages information sharing, interactions between colleagues and working together on common goals.”
Main Features Of A Social Intranet
Social intranets have two important distinguishing features. First, all staff have the ability to create content. It could be commenting on a news item or corporate blog. It might be contributing insights to a company forum or posting an update to an activity wall. The key point is that every employee can participate equally.
Secondly, the social intranet is designed around people rather than content. This people-centric approach means every piece of content is connected to an individual worker in some way. Staff can, therefore, build connections in a more meaningful way than is possible with corporate-generated content.
The big advantage of this approach is that all employees have a stake in the companies intranet. And there’s a collective responsibility to ensure information is kept relevant and up to date. And perhaps most important of all, staff can also bring content to the attention of those who need it.
What features would you expect to see in a social intranet? There’s a ton of fantastic modules to choose from. And the good news is you can select those that are appropriate to your organization, including the following:
- Corporate and team newsfeeds and homepages
- Notifications, tags, and @mentions
- Instant messaging with # channels
- Team or individual activity walls
- Quizzes and surveys
- File and document sharing
- Follow-me functionality
- Private and public discussion forums and collaborative workspaces
- Staff directory with employee profiles.
And all of this great functionality is supported by a powerful search tool. Workers can quickly and easily source data and information, improving efficiency and saving time.
What’s more, social intranets can also be integrated with external enterprise software. It could be embedded Google Workspace or Office 365 apps, HR platforms, and CRM systems such as Salesforce. The social intranet provides seamless access with single-sign-on synchronization. Do away with multiple logins and several open screens. The intranet provides gateway access to all your organization’s critical enterprise apps.
Social Intranets And The Digital Workplace
Workplaces have always been social. After all, a strong corporate culture is built on social relationships. Whether it’s formal project meetings or casual conversations around the coffee machine, we have all been social networking for years.
However, intranet social networks have really come into their own following Covid-19 and the shift to remote working. They are now an essential part of the digital workplace. Water cooler conversations are no longer possible when employees are working from home. Brainstorming solutions to a pain point is a challenge when working in distributed teams. And progressing the corporate marketing strategy when staff are in different states or even countries is problematic.
And that’s not to mention what CNN has dubbed the dark side of working from home: loneliness and isolation. It’s estimated that up to 20 percent of remote workers are struggling with loneliness. And this has a serious impact on job performance and overall productivity.
Community interaction, connections with colleagues, and feeling part of a bigger picture are essential to high-performing workplaces. Now more so than ever.
However, social networking is often viewed with suspicion by senior managers when it comes to the workplace. Far from being an essential workplace tool, business leaders often perceive social intranets as being a time-waster. So, what’s the truth?
Social Intranet Software: A Time-Waster or Productivity Catalyst?
Creating a ‘social’ environment undoubtedly carries a negative connotation to some. Many managers think I want my employees to be more productive, not socialize more. A common concern among managers is that employees will waste time posting photos and chatting about inconsequential matters via their group intranet. Many managers now realize that creating an environment where people can easily share opinions and ideas on a range of projects and subjects is far more beneficial. And so what if there are some minor emoji distractions along the way. Research backs up the idea that social intranet software increase productivity. The McKinsey Global Institute found that social engagement decreased costs and increased productivity.
Social intranets offer fertile ground for staff to share ideas instantly, receive updates on the status of projects, and coordinate responsibilities on a single platform. Time-wasting tasks such as searching for old meeting notes, emailed status updates, or written feedback is a thing of the past. The result is an environment where ideas spread and projects advance more quickly.
A social intranet network spurs collaboration. Having a centralized, accessible platform dedicated to communication empowers employees to contribute ideas and feel included. Unlike traditional settings where employees exist in information silos, a social environment levels the playing field. It encourages employees at all levels to contribute, increasing innovation and productivity while discouraging micromanaging. Empower your employees to get involved and gain greater access to the creative minds of your staff.
As for the worry that employees will waste time socializing, intranets do allow for monitoring of conversations. Often, simply making employees aware that their conversations could be monitored is enough of a deterrent. However, don’t discourage all personal sharing. Sharing some personal information is essential to building trust and camaraderie. Forbes discussed a report that focused on the importance of socially engaged employees. Researchers found that 59 percent of engaged employees used social media to build relationships within the company. Those employees were more likely to feel proud of their workmates and the leadership of the company. They concluded, “Social media engagement contributes to a competitive advantage, with the most engaged companies prevailing in the never-ending battle to recruit and retain top talent.”
Social Interaction: With Your Blessing (Or Without)
The bottom line is social interaction is a good thing in the workplace. Building personal relationships will result in better collaboration and more loyalty. Think of it as a shift in communication style. Baby boomers built relationships around the water cooler. Millennials are building relationships through digital social media. Why not provide a secure, centralized platform for them to do so? “Employees Will Have A Social Intranet With or Without You” was the eye-opening title of an article from Bloomfire. If you’re on the fence about implementing a group intranet, consider this: “If you don’t provide the tools employees need through an official company social intranet that is functional, useful, and attractive, employees will find and use any of the many, many social tools available to them externally.”
The fact is your employees are probably already using multiple social platforms to make their jobs easier, such as WhatsApp, LinkedIn, or Zoom. Managing multiple platforms and logins will actually hinder productivity and decrease security. Keep control of company conversations by keeping them on your own monitored social network.
The Benefits Of A Social Intranet Don’t Discriminate
The case to implement social intranets for large corporations makes sense, but do small businesses really need to invest in an intranet platform? Cloud-based social intranet solutions make implementation easy and affordable for many small business owners. Research firm Nielsen Norman Group answered the question of whether small businesses need an intranet like this, “Small organizations with a stable employee base, systemized storage of information and policies, and a workforce that communicates and collaborates easily may not need to invest in an intranet… yet. But even small organizations rapidly outgrow email, social feeds, and file sharing solutions.” So, even if your business is in perfect running order right now, your needs will change as you grow. As a result, small businesses are turning to cloud solutions that can grow with them.
The benefits of social intranets go far beyond bringing large numbers of employees together. Even among a close-knit circle of small business employees, a social intranet provides a means to improve internal communication. It also alleviates challenges associated with file sharing, working remotely, and clogged email inboxes. Small businesses that have multiple locations or are planning to expand should prepare now. A social intranet provides the perfect tool to link employees at various locations or work remotely, regardless of the company’s size.
The benefits extend outside the white-collar office setting as well. Imagine blue-collar workers in the field that have a constant line of communication with the office. Think beyond reading the latest company news on their favorite employee’s wall. Consider a technician that is having difficulty with a particular job. He can easily ask for assistance from his fellow workers via the messenger function of the company intranet. Or, maybe he or she remembers someone having a similar problem and writing about a fix. The technician can use a smartphone or tablet to access the information they need to complete the job. According to the State of the Social Intranet, the most popular tools used on a social intranet are instant messaging, blogs, discussion forums, and user commenting, all tools that can benefit companies of every size in any sector. In fact, the same report found utility companies and telecommunication equipment firms to be in the top 10 most represented sectors in its research. Both industries thrive by connecting offices with workers during manual tasks in the field.
Effective Social Intranets Can Simplify Processes
Small business is often hesitant to implement new technology. However, effective group intranets simplify business workflows. Think about this quote from Forbes, “The best social intranet software is not the one providing the most social features, but the one which ties the most business processes and data to employees’ social behavior.” Don’t think of an intranet as providing a platform for your employees to interact socially. It provides a platform that streamlines your workflow. Instead of having multiple communication platforms, file sharing, and HR documentation, an intranet simplifies all these processes into one network with one login. Wherever employees are, they know exactly where to go to find the answers they need.
Remember, being social involves people, your biggest asset.
How To Engage Staff With Your Social Intranet
We live in a socially-connected world. Now, more than ever, workplaces acknowledge this trend and, acting accordingly, implementing social intranets rapidly.
Most workplaces rely on their younger staff to be the catalyst for engagement with workplace social platforms. The benefits are clear: increased staff engagement, internal communication, and collaboration are just around the corner, but some businesses fall short, failing to ever get their intranet properly off the ground in their organizations.
Hello Millennials: A Generation Of Social Media Natives
For the first time in history, a generation has grown up living and breathing social media. Many millennials agree it’s perfectly normal for their relationships to be equally online as in person, for concerts to be seen through a lens rather than through their own eyes, and to spend an evening scrolling instead of chatting. Social media has become deeply integrated into young people’s lives, to the point where it’s an extension of everyday existence. And none more so than millennials.
It’s a natural choice then that millennials should be the ones who champion social intranet engagement in the workplace and help older, less digitally-inclined generations engage. This may seem true, but there’s one major issue, it’s not what millennials want.
Why Millennials Don’t Want To Be Your Friend
The big, underlying issue is that millennials have until now regarded social media as personal – and the workplace as professional.
Millennials have grown up using social media to communicate with family and friends, expressing themselves and their opinions. Social, informal, personal, friends… None of these are connotations that scream out professionalism or business! Making the transition into being a working professional means that millennials attempt to draw a distinct line between their personal and professional lives. And unfortunately, all social media falls outside of the professional realm, into the personal world.
Organizations don’t help themselves with their communication around the intranet. Inevitably, management tries to rally engagement by boiling down the platform to something trendy like ‘Facebook for the company’ or ‘Twitter at work’. Instantly, this connects Facebook behavior with a workplace setting, which is not desirable in the mind of a millennial. Thoughts rush back to when their friend’s Mom tried to ‘friend’ them on Facebook and the immediate self-censorship that imposes. After all, millennials don’t necessarily want their bosses to know what they had for breakfast… Or where they partied on a Friday night.
The proof is in the numbers when it comes to intranet engagement. Eighty-five percent of younger workers say they struggle with social tools at work, compared to 90 percent of older workers, who say they find the tools useful.
Recreating The Social Intranet Experience For All
It’s a matter of telling the right story to generate employee engagement. You can create this narrative by focusing on three key areas:
1. Establishing The Rules Of Engagement
Provide clarity by clearing up the assumptions that staff may or may not have about social intranet usage at work by clearly spelling out how to use it. Rather than let employees walk around on eggshells, articulate upfront what is and isn’t OK to be sharing on the platform.
Some of the main areas to clarify are around confidentiality, external regulations, and formality. The first two areas are relatively straightforward and usually quite industry and organization-specific. For example, you may not be allowed to disclose the details of upcoming tenders to other departments in your business while they are still in an RFP process. Clarifying these expectations is as simple as pulling together straightforward, readable guidelines on what is confidential and what isn’t. And make sure this is common knowledge to staff.
Striking the right balance of formality and informality is one of those make or break areas for your intranet. Our advice is to err towards informal. There’s a time and a place for formal messages and staff memos. A social intranet is about letting down some of the more rigid structures and allowing communication to flow. Do this, and you’ll get the most creativity and engagement from your workforce.
2. Defining The Purpose
Remember the lens that staff are viewing the intranet through. For example, millennials won’t inherently know why they are supposed to be using social intranets. They may assume it is for the same purposes as the likes of Facebook and Twitter and want to steer clear. Or they may think it is for some other work-related purpose which they don’t quite understand, and as a result, don’t engage. Cast vision to your teams around the benefits and role of the social platform and ensure that no one misunderstands why it exists in the first place.
A few staple benefits of a well-engaged social intranet are improved collaboration, knowledge-sharing, prevention of duplication, increased feeling of connection, more innovation, and employee engagement. Decide which of these is most relevant to your organization and communicate it clearly as the purpose of your intranet. This creates paths for better employee engagement.
3. Leading By Example
People do what you do, not what you say. As leaders in your business, it’s imperative to be engaging on your social intranet to create the right role model for your staff. Not only does this model appropriate behavior for your teams to follow, but it plays to the strengths of cohorts such as millennials. They love engaging with higher-level leaders and feel a need to have the opportunity to interact personally with management.
By communicating in an informal, personal manner on your intranet, managers both model behavior and create an additional incentive to engage more on the platform.
Setting an example can be as simple as leaders sharing stories from their own experiences, giving the wider staff an insight into their business at a different level. For example, imagine the effect on engagement if your CEO was to post a selfie with a client saying, “Just received great feedback from the biggest customer of our service. Well done everybody! What’s one win you’ve had today?” It’s safe to say that this would drive employees to engage with your social intranet and in a productive, appropriate manner.
Social Intranets In Action: How Companies Are Using Them In Practice
As we have seen, social intranets are primarily used to drive internal communications, enhance employee engagement and team collaboration. However, it doesn’t just stop there. Many businesses are using their social intranets in a variety of innovative ways. Here are just a few examples to inspire and motivate you.
Employee Recognition Programs
Many of the best-of-breed social intranets incorporate employee recognition programs. Recognizing your employees for a job well done is an easy way to boost morale and employee satisfaction. And a social intranet is the perfect platform for doing just that. It could be a formal employee or team of the month award. However, just as effective is an informal shout out to a colleague. Whatever form your employee recognition program takes, a public thank you on a company-wide platform makes a big difference.
Giving Workers A Voice
Multi-directional communications is the rocket fuel that drives the best-performing companies. Whether it’s top-down, intra-team, or between two colleagues, the social intranet gives workers a voice. No one likes to feel invisible. And the great thing about social intranets is every employee has the same opportunity to engage. This ability helps to remove barriers to communication and collaboration. And it promotes a positive team culture and shared vision. Many businesses find the group intranet consequently improves retention and absentee rates.
Especially in the context of distributed teams, the ability to make swift decisions is a game-changer. And instant messaging via the social intranet is the perfect tool. In one study, 66 percent of respondents said team chat allowed for quick and easy resolution of simple queries. And there are productivity benefits too. In the same survey, 75 percent confirmed that instant messaging reduced time spent on calls and email.
Businesses are using intranets and instant messaging to improve their agility. And this provides a crucial advantage in the rapidly-changing digital workplace.
Working in distributed teams makes sharing corporate knowledge a challenge. Back in the physical workplace, we almost take knowledge sharing for granted. There’s plenty of opportunity for connection, interaction, and idea-sharing between colleagues. But not so when staff are geographically dispersed.
Instant messaging via the intranet can help bridge the gap. Consider, for example, the technician who is out the field trying to resolve a technical issue. It’s impractical for the service technician to have a detailed operating model for every product. And a social intranet means they don’t have to. A quick instant message to a colleague is often all that’s needed to resolve the problem. Alternatively, a rapid search of the social intranet via a smartphone or tablet provides instant access to a wealth of how-to resources. Not only is the technician more productive, but the customer will be happier with the swift customer service.
Getting to know colleagues when you don’t share an office isn’t easy. However, the intranet’s employee profiles encourage staff to build personal relationships. Alongside professional information such as current projects and corporate knowledge, many businesses also include personal information. A shared interest in scuba diving, home baking, or a baseball team helps build connections between colleagues. And it also makes it easier to identify internal subject experts to consult over a workplace issue. Plus, you can use the employee profiles to identify team members for a corporate project.
Onboarding New Employees
Onboarding new staff is tricky when they are working from home. And getting employees up and running as fast as possible is a priority in every business. A social intranet allows you to induct new staff quickly and efficiently regardless of location.
Instead of a paper welcome pack, create a virtual one on the social intranet. Buddy the new employee with an experienced colleague on the team chat. And make a #onboarding channel on the team chat to provide mutual support and speedy resolution of any issues. Upload how-to videos, online workflows, and wikis to support the worker in finding their feet.
Many businesses have discovered the social intranet makes virtual onboarding of new staff a breeze.
Social Intranets: A New Narrative
Social media is undoubtedly a powerful influence on today’s society. Businesses need to recognize and harness that power within the workplace. Far from being a time-wasting distraction, the social intranet can enhance communications, engagement, and collaboration.
Furthermore, Covid-19 has drastically altered the workplace. Remote working has now taken center stage. And despite cautious reopenings, many employees have elected to continue working from home. This drastically altered landscape looks set to continue even after the roll-out of the much-anticipated Covid vaccines.
How will your business respond to these unstoppable trends? Inherently flexible and scalable, a social intranet could well be the solution your business needs.
Here at MyHub, connecting teams through cloud intranets is our passion. If you’re keen to find out more about how to get a social intranet up and running, just get in touch. Sign up for a free demo or a 14-day trial, and get started today.