The digital landscape within organisations is complex, and employees are overwhelmed with the flood of messages sent out via many different means. In the process of introducing powerful new platforms–such as Microsoft 365 and others–we’ve also been introducing even more complexity.
Internal communicators and senior leaders need ways of easily and confidently reaching all employees, to keep them informed and engaged. There is also a driving need to deliver simplicity, to enable employees to be productive and effective, as part of a broader focus on digital employee experience.
In this context, the idea of delivering a single enterprise front door is a powerful one. It gives employees a confident jumping off point into the wider digital workplace, as well as giving visibility to what’s happening in terms of collaboration and business processes.
In most organisations, the intranet homepage provides the natural enterprise front door for the majority of employees. This does however gloss over some of the realities in every organisation: that not all employees sit at desks, that a wide range of devices are used, and that the day-to-day nature of work varies greatly between roles.
At the end of the article on enterprise front doors, we hinted that there is a more nuanced approach that perhaps establishes multiple front doors. This article progresses this thinking further, introducing the concept of a multi-channel intranet, that reaches all employees in ways that work best for them.
While this is a new concept in the enterprise space, it’s something that customer-facing teams have been working on for some years, giving confidence that the potential technology challenges can be overcome, if there’s the will to do so.
Reality of modern organisations
While never simple, the introduction of new technologies has increased the complexity of digital workplaces when it comes to communication, collaboration and knowledge management. Organisations themselves have also become fragmented, with employees working in a wide variety of environments, from traditional offices to working from home.
In today’s reality, there are many different devices and channels that are used by employees:
Office staff have a PC or laptop, full access to the desktop intranet, as well as to the complete range of enterprise applications. They probably also have a mobile device, for use when away from their desks.
Many ‘knowledge workers’ are now spending most of their time in collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack or Workplace by Facebook, rather than in email or on the intranet.
Beyond knowledge workers, most employees still rely on email for almost everything, whether it’s receiving news updates or working with others. These staff can often be heard to say “if it isn’t in email, it’s not important”.
Staff in the field are using either tablets or mobile phones. These might be provided by the business, or BYOD. They might have access to a modified version of the intranet, and a selection of native applications. Alternatively, they might be using one of the so-called ‘employee apps‘ that target frontline staff.
Retail staff may not be using a PC, and may be reliant on messages that come up on their POS terminal. In their lunch breaks, they might read messages pinned to a noticeboard in the break room.
For some staff, the only digital communication they receive is via a TV screen in the office foyer or lunchroom. At present, this may only display a rotating selection of comms messages.
Create a multi-channel intranet
This complexity isn’t going away, in fact it’s likely to intensify over time, as workers dive deeper into the world of collaboration tools, and frontline staff are provided with richer experiences.
At present, each of these channels and devices is treated as a separate ‘island’, disconnected from other channels and managed in isolation.
This generates significant manual work if a message needs to be received by all staff in a timely way, as well as encouraging a ‘scattergun’ approach where messages are sent to every channel in the hope that at least one channel will reach each person. It also leads to significant technology confusion, with platforms overlapping in capabilities, and no clear answer to ‘what to use when’.
To cut through some of this complexity, the intranet should provide an enterprise front door, a jumping off point to the wider digital workplace. Even this, though, still doesn’t fully tackle the challenges that organisations face.
What’s needed is a ‘multi-channel intranet‘ where content and communications are managed in a platform-agnostic way, and then sent out across multiple channels in a coordinated way. While this is a significant departure from the traditional focus on the desktop-first (and mobile-second) intranet, it’s not a huge leap technically (web folks have been doing this for quite some time).
Multi-channel guiding principles
When considering how to approach the creation of a new multi-channel intranet, these guiding principles will help shape strategy, design and technology decisions:
- Start from a channel strategy. Decisions about how to design and deliver a multi-channel intranet must be guided by an overall business-led strategy.
- Deeply understand channel needs. Each channel must provide employees what they actually need, in a form that works for their environment and working practices.
- Produce content once, use it many times. Wherever possible, information should be created in a form that can be easily used across all channels.
- Target every channel. Rather than just ‘spamming’ every channel with every update, each channel should target messages according to geographic, business area and job role.
- Establish two-way channels. More than just pushing out content, channels should support two-way interactions, such as commenting on news and interactions with collaboration tools.
- Loosely connect technologies. Business environments are in a constant state of flux, so points of integration should follow the principle of ‘small pieces, loosely coupled’ to give maximum flexibility over time.
- Prioritise employee experience over technical elegance. Rather than getting caught up in trying to create ‘one platform to rule them all’, the focus must be on the quality of the experience provided for employees, across all channels.
- Consider services, not just content. Modern intranets are places for doing things, not just for reading things, and this functionality should work across most or all channels.
- Deliver incrementally. This is a lifetime journey, and a ‘product management’ mindset should guide ongoing improvements to each channel.
This kind of multi-channel thinking is sadly rare these days, and there’s no single technology platform that can claim to meaningfully address all channels (nor is there likely to be).
In the short- to medium-term, organisations will need to make use of several platforms and tools in parallel. For example, this might mean having a publishing platform for the intranet, Microsoft Teams for collaboration and an enterprise app for field staff.
This need not lead to confusion, if multiple products are properly coordinated as part of a wide channel strategy, and the necessary integrations are put in place. These integrations are key, and must be key criteria when selecting new platforms and tools.
Tackled as part of a broader digital employee experience strategy, delivering a multi-channel intranet will help organisations take important steps forward. As it progressively comes together, it unlocks the ability to deliver outstanding experiences for all employees, regardless of the channel or device they’re using, while simplifying the behind-the-scenes coordination.