8 ways your intranet and digital workplace support employee wellbeing

Over the last few years, health and wellbeing in the workplace have increasingly come into focus, with HR functions rolling out wellness initiatives to support a wider employee experience agenda. COVID-19 and the stress it has caused has placed physical and mental health high up on the agenda, and over the past eighteen months, organisations have been active in trying to support the wellbeing of employees though the pandemic.

Supporting a healthier workforce is not just a nice thing to – a happy and healthy workforce has potentially enormous benefits, with various studies suggesting it can reduce employee absenteeism, support productivity and even decrease staff turnover. There is also research that links organisations who support wellbeing with higher employee engagement; surveys have shown that in companies which actively support wellbeing through initiatives, 89% of employees are likely to recommend it as a good place to work, compared to only 17% in companies that don’t support wellbeing.

With the combination of the focus on wellbeing and the scaling up of remote working, intranet and digital workplace teams are playing a greater role than ever in supporting employee health and wellbeing. In this post, we’re going to explore eight ways your intranet and digital workplace supports the health and wellness of your workforce.

1 Promoting wellbeing content and benefits

An obvious role that intranets and other digital communication channels can play in supporting wellbeing is promoting relevant wellbeing content and making it discoverable. On intranets that we have recently implemented, some organisations have chosen to publish content about how to stay healthy, such as providing tips on good ergonomics. Sometimes, intranet teams choose to house third party content such as factsheets about health-related matters.

An intranet or HR service portal should also provide information on health-related benefits provided by the company, including gym subsidies, cycle-to-work schemes, eye tests, health insurance and more; these may be gathered within a wellbeing portal. News items might also provide examples of what people are doing to stay healthy.

2 Online wellbeing events and activities

During the pandemic, many HR and internal comms teams organised virtual events across the digital workplace that were geared to support health and wellbeing, including mindfulness, yoga, gym and dance sessions and general social events, all run through digital channels such as Teams, Yammer and even intranets.

There have been instances of senior leaders leading fitness workouts for furloughed staff on social platforms, and companies using Yammer for people to share mental health experiences. One of our clients runs regular mindfulness sessions which can be booked through the intranet. All these events not only promote healthy practices, but also have a social side and help provide a sense of community and connection.

3 Reducing information and app overload

A major source of employee frustration is information and app overload, which can make people feel overwhelmed and even contribute to technostress. Having to open six different applications all with different passwords just to complete a relatively straightforward process, or having over 1,000 unopened emails in your inbox are not conducive to a good employee experience.

Intranets and portals that provide a single integrated digital ecosystem or front door to the wider digital workplace, underpinned by single sign-on, can help reduce overload through a one stop shop approach, helping employees feel more on top of their workload. When employees already have a lot on their plate, a great intranet or digital workplace environment can actively improve wellbeing and reduce frustration.

4 Supporting communities

Online communities and discussion forums are a great way to support employee wellbeing by providing a connection between people across your organisation. Working remotely can be lonely, particularly if you’re working alone at home, and maintaining that human connection can make a difference. Many organisations already support professional Communities of Practice, but social groups relating to non-work interests can also drive connections. From sports clubs, to recipe swapping, to sharing cat videos, online communities on intranets, within Yammer or even on Teams can help strengthen your employee network. During the pandemic, many organisations created Teams channels for more informal social interaction. Some communities can also be specifically dedicated to wellbeing areas such as running, yoga or healthy eating.

5 Wellbeing related analytics

People analytics is a growing area of interest for HR and digital workplace teams, especially with more opportunities to gain insights from the data that is generated by the increase in remote working and the use of platforms such as Microsoft Teams. Health and wellbeing are focus areas for analytics; in our personal lives, health-related data is being popularised through fitness and health trackers and information about our device usage. In the digital workplace, Microsoft MyAnalytics produces a wellbeing edition that takes information about meetings, collaboration and time spent on different systems, and comes up with a personalised report.

This is an area which we see growing in the future, with an increase in health-related reporting featuring data to avoid burn-out and stress, and to prevent mental health issues. Microsoft Viva Insights, for example, include data relating to wellbeing, while other organisations are supporting and even implementing health tracking apps that support fitness or include health diagnostic tools. There are some challenges around data privacy here, but with most organisations very mindful of these, it is possible to generate useful data that is of value to both organisations and individual employees.

Microsoft Viva Insights

6 Supporting the hybrid workplace

At the moment, the hybrid workplace is a very hot topic, particularly with the imminent return to the office, and many organisations are figuring out how hybrid working patterns are going to work in practice. The digital workplace will continue to play an essential part in successfully facilitating hybrid working, empowering employees to work from anywhere.

Before the pandemic, being able to work more flexibly across different locations was often positioned as supporting wellbeing through the ability to balance busy working and non-working lifestyles. Arguably, being able to work flexibly and remotely will still make a sizeable difference to wellbeing. For example, if you have a young family or are a carer for a family member, then the ability to better manage your hours across the week can help you avoid becoming overstretched. Simply avoiding the commute for half a week which can take up as much as three hours of a person’s day could have a tangible impact on health and wellbeing, as well as productivity.

7 Supporting dialogue

Intranets and the wider digital workplace support dialogue and provide a voice for employees through numerous channels including intranets, social platforms, apps, surveys, polls and feedback channels.

Establishing dialogue supports wellbeing in two ways. Allowing employees to express themselves is good for engagement and employee happiness in general, but more specifically, it allows leaders and HR functions to get a sense of employee sentiment and identify any issues which might be impacting wellbeing. When employees can report on issues that are impacting their welfare, employers can then make the necessary interventions. HR functions can also create regular mechanisms to get a pulse check on how the workforce is feeling. This was something that is being seen frequently during the pandemic, with many employers running polls and surveys to check in on employees and see how they are doing.

8 Reducing dangers and hazards

In some organisations and across particular sectors, health and safety is very important. Construction, mining, engineering, manufacturing, energy, utilities, transport, logistics and healthcare are just some of the sectors where there are strict safety procedures that must be followed to protect employees, and sometimes customers. Invariably, safety is promoted as a priority, and is even reflected in company values.

Digital workplaces and related tools and channels can play a part in reducing dangers and hazards. An intranet may provide basic information on safety procedures, as well as run campaigns to make employees aware of the potential hazards they face. We’ve also seen intranets that include health and safety statistics prominently on the homepage, including the time since the last incident, in order to promote a safety culture.

Mobile apps for employees to report potential dangers on site play an active role in reducing the number of incidents and raising vigilance surrounding the kind of hazards that cause accidents.

potential dangers

Wellbeing and the digital workplace

Employee wellbeing has never been more important, and your intranet and digital workplace tools can make an active difference. Want advice on how you can use your digital channels to support health and wellbeing? Then get in touch!

We need a new intranet. Where do I start?

We need a new intranet. Where do I start?

Investing in a new intranet, or an upgrade in an existing intranet, is something every organisation needs to do from time to time. But if you’ve never been involved in creating or delivering a new intranet, it can be difficult to know where to start. How to get a new intranet project off the ground is an area we get asked about from time to time, and it is important to ask the right questions and follow the right steps before you dive into a new intranet project.

In this article, we’re going to explore what you need to consider if you are looking to implement a new intranet, and some of the steps you need to take.

We cover:

  1. The key questions you need to consider and the conversations you need to have before you begin the formal steps in setting up an intranet project.
  2. The five major steps you need to take to set up your project.

Note that there are no hard and fast rules here, and the way things pan out might actually be quite different; the process of implementing a new intranet is not necessarily linear. However, this article will lay out the kind of areas to think about, as well as the typical steps that we have seen taken across hundreds of intranet projects over the past two decades.

Why intranets need replacing

Before we explore the questions to consider, it’s worth looking at some of the reasons why you might need a new intranet.

Like any technology, intranet software can become end-of-life or need an upgrade. The average lifespan of an intranet can vary from around three to seven years, with a project to launch a new iteration eventually required. However, some intranets can last for over a decade, although this is usually only viable if they receive continual investment. Many intranets need replacing because the value the software delivers depreciates over time, and a new iteration should be expected as a natural consequence of this product lifecycle.

Inevitably, employee, organisational and communications needs will also evolve and change, and sometimes an existing intranet can no longer effectively support those needs. Here, the need to create a new intranet can be very obvious, as employees and stakeholders line up with multiple complaints about finding information or the inability to issue communications. Sometimes, the need for a new intranet is also triggered by a major organisational event such as a merger.

Many organisations are moving to the cloud and investing in Microsoft 365. This change can trigger a desire to implement a new intranet, where a team wants to take full advantage of their investment in the digital workplace with a new SharePoint intranet at the centre.

Very occasionally, there are clients who have never actually had a proper intranet. These may be smaller companies who have never felt the need to implement one, but have now grown rapidly and need to take a more structured approach to information and communications. Quite often there may be a platform that has acted as a kind of quasi-intranet and provided a place for communications and content, albeit delivered in a non-optimal way. Sometimes, there may be a plethora of local solutions which are not optimal.

Five questions to consider

Whatever the reason, you will eventually need a new intranet. If youre in that boat right now, there are some initial questions to consider which can help you initiate the right conversations with the right people to set the ball rolling when setting up a formal project.

1 Do we know what a modern intranet can do?

The word intranet doesn’t normally provoke a wave of excitement (unless you’re an intranet nerd like us), and can even illicit groans. Many people have had bad experiences in their previous organisations where the intranet has been a dreary, static website with out-of-date content where it’s impossible to find anything.

Actually, modern intranets are vibrant, people-centred platforms which help people get their work done, and which fit seamlessly into the wider digital workplace ecosystem. They are a strategic investment which make a real difference, as we have seen during the pandemic, and have a wide range of features. It’s important to get some idea of what a modern intranet can do during conversations so that stakeholders don’t hold negative preconceptions about what an intranet looks like and what it can deliver.

Doing some desk research is a good start in getting an understanding of the intranet market and some of the choices available. There is a lot of information out there on the web about planning an intranet, but it also helps to speak to other companies about what they’ve implemented. There are various networking groups and conferences around, as well as awards and publications with detailed case studies. We’re also happy to talk about intranet options and what a modern intranet looks like feel free to get in touch!

SharePoint intranet case studies

2 What problems is our intranet trying to solve?

To start the right conversations about your intranet and consider its scope, you need to know the why. What problems is your intranet trying to solve? These can be multiple to drive engagement, to enable effective communications, to drive adoption of Microsoft 365 tools, to promote a one company culture, to provide content to help contact centre staff serve customers, to enable frontline communications and many more.

Later, when you carry out user research (see below), this question will be answered in far more detail, but it’s good to have an idea of the general areas you want your intranet to deliver from the get-go.

3 Who is going to own the intranet?

Intranet ownership is a question that people tend to defer until later on, but it actually pays to work this out before you undergo the project, as it will determine the nature and scope of the intranet, as well as the project team involved in the build. The most typical configuration we see is for Internal Communications to own the intranet content, design and strategy, and for IT to own the technology, but other functions owning the intranet can include the digital team, a Knowledge Management function, HR or business operations.

Ownership also implies some responsibility. If a senior stakeholder doesn’t want to take on the responsibility of an intranet, then it is unlikely to be wholly successful. They need to be prepared to pay for some kind of resource to manage the intranet on a day-to-day basis and provide stewardship.

In considering ownership, you may find some stakeholders start to worry about costs, particularly in smaller companies. Ultimately, a good intranet will save you money by increasing efficiency and improving processes. Smaller organisations are unlikely to need a full-time intranet manager, especially if some attention is given to getting the processes, rules and roles associated with the intranet spot-on from the outset.

4 Which stakeholders should be involved?

All great intranet projects have cross-functional support, involvement and alignment to ensure the intranet delivers maximum value. If you’re starting out on a new intranet, it really helps to involve your major stakeholders right from the beginning to understand their needs, views, agendas and roadmap. When you have cross-functional buy-in from day one, you’re setting up good foundations.

Involve your major stakeholders in any initial intranet discussions: IT, Communications, HR, Knowledge Management, major lines of business and your leadership function certainly need to be in the loop. Two other essential stakeholders that are frequently missed out are Legal, Risk & Compliance, and your Facilities / Real Estate team. The former is crucial to ensure you navigate any potential risks, especially if you are in a regulated industry, while the latter is important, particularly in a new era of hybrid working, to make sure your intranet is aligned to how people are going to be working across different locations. At this stage, it will also help to speak to your users and get a sense of what’s important to them, even before you undergo a more formal user research exercise.

5 What kind of intranet or intranet project are you looking for?

It helps to have an idea of the type of intranet that you are looking for, as this will set the expectations across your stakeholders and determine the path to your new intranet.

A related question here is do we actually need a new intranet?, because it’s perfectly possible that the requirement you’re trying to satisfy might not be fulfilled by a new intranet. Perhaps you need an employee communications app to engage your frontline staff, a service portal to ease pressure on your helpdesk or a collaboration and social platform. It’s also possible that you need an intranet refresh or upgrade rather than an entirely new platform, although the extent of that refresh might effectively comprise a new intranet. Your issue might actually be content-related, and could be more to do with an overhaul of your content or your information architecture.

A key decision will be whether you implement an off-the-shelf intranet solution or a more custom-made solution do you buy or build? In the past, this would have been a key decision, but most teams now opt for an off-the-shelf (also known as an in-a-box) solution that delivers a ready-made intranet which has pre-installed templates, designs and features you will need to deliver an enterprise intranet. For example, we implement the market-leading solution from LiveTiles. It’s easy and speedy to implement, and can meet most organisational needs, although in some cases you may require some further limited customisation.

LiveTiles

If you’re on a Microsoft 365 path, a key decision will be whether you implement a SharePoint Online intranet. In our view, the answer to this question will almost certainly be yes, as it will allow you to leverage the power of all the other M365 tools such as Yammer and integrate them into your intranet experience. You’ll also be able to access intranet content from Microsoft Teams. If you are likely to be implementing a SharePoint intranet, a further decision is whether you choose to deliver an out-of-the-box SharePoint intranet, rather than using intranet software.

While we would never advocate making a final technology decision before working out your requirements, it is worth thinking that this is the most likely path, as it will help to illustrate the possibilities of a modern intranet that is fully integrated into the core of your digital workplace.
 

Five steps to start your intranet project

Once you’ve had the right conversations and there is a broad agreement that an intranet project should go ahead, it’s time to take some more formal steps.

Undertake formal user research

The best intranets are based on a thorough understanding of employee needs and how they work from day to day. What are the pain points? What are the business problems you’re trying to solve? What are employees real world experiences of current technology?

By answering these questions, you can ensure the intranet contains the right features and is designed around how employees actually work, not how you think they do.

Undertaking user research needs to be a formal, structured process which incorporates surveys, interviews, workshops, observation and examining various metrics; it’s different to the more informal conversations you may have had before. You might need to get external help when we implement an intranet for a client we include workshops, interviews and other studies as part of our methodology.

Construct a strategy and business case

Eventually, you’ll need to conglomerate your research and findings into a more formal strategy and potential business case. These may well build upon earlier conversations you’ve had with different stakeholders, and you may also already have some requirements that have emerged from your research.

Many intranet teams make the mistake of rushing into an intranet project without formalising the strategy. Clearly articulating the business benefits of a new intranet and the priority areas are crucial in selling your intranet inside and getting buy-in, making a formal business case, helping external parties in an RFP process and then shaping the requirements and implementation plan.

Talk to intranet vendors and experts

Agencies like Content Formula who understand intranets can help you at all stages of your intranet journey. For example, when we implement a project, we conduct user research, formulate your strategy and even facilitate an exploratory discussion about the value an intranet could deliver for you. We also often talk more informally to prospective clients.

The critical point to remember is that you should always talk to somebody who understands intranets and the process of implementing one. There are some excellent general digital agencies out there, but they may not necessarily have intranet experience or knowledge. Building an effective intranet is very different from building an external-facing website; intranets have multiple uses, and the needs of an internal audience are very different to those outside

Speak to an agency which has a proven record of working with intranets and clearly understands the channel. They will help you in the earlier stages, and can then potentially be on your shortlist of implementation partners when you run a more formal RFP process.

Select a product and partner

At some stage, you’ll need to select a product and an implementation partner; usually, you’ll have a standard approach to doing this in your organisation. Whether you’re running a formal RFP process or something less intensive, take a structured approach to ensure you’re involving the right product and partner. An intranet is a strategic investment, so getting the right tech and people involved is essential.

Implement a project

Congratulations on getting to this stage! Sometimes it can feel like an age from the early conversations to getting underway with the formal implementation, although we’ve known this to happen within a matter of weeks!

Usually, the formal project is the most straightforward part of your intranet journey, and you’ll easily progress through steps such as appointing the team, setting the timeline and establishing the costs. Generally, intranet projects are much faster-paced than they used to be. Your implementation partner or software vendor should have a set methodology and be able to help you with the actual implementation, including conducting further user research. At this stage, you’ll likely need to start planning your tactics for launch and beyond; always plan for change management, not just during the project, but also to support the intranet once in business-as-usual.

Need advice on a new intranet? Get in touch!

Setting up a new intranet can feel daunting if you haven’t been involved in an intranet project before, but we hope this post has given you some pointers. If you need advice on your new intranet, then get in touch!

How to ensure compliance with policies and procedures using the digital workplace?

So, youve made a change to the company travel policy and the team has updated the company travel policy document. How do you let employees know about that change and ensure they comply with the new process?

This is easier said than done. Employees are already bombarded with information and have little time as they have multiple digital communications channels to navigate. There might be a different travel policy for different locations and groups, and it may not be the most inspiring or engaging document to read, so its hard to get the attention of employees.

This might sound like a problem thats not that pressing, but collectively getting employees to comply with policies, particularly when they have changed, is a real headache for support functions, compliance teams and risk departments. Some policy changes can have major implications for regulatory, legal and compliance processes, while others can have a considerable ripple effect on employee behaviour.

At the same time, employees often want to comply with policies, but struggle to find the details to do so. Even if they are able to find the right document, they may not be confident that they have the latest version, or know when and what aspect of the policy has changed.

The good news is there are solid approaches you can take across your digital workplace and other key digital channels to help ensure employees do comply with key policies and are made aware of updates.

Lets explore eight of these.

1 Establish clarity around policies in your content strategy

Having good content is critical across your intranet and digital workplace as a whole, but not all organisations have a content strategy that defines the content that is important, how it can be accessed and how it is going to be kept relevant and up to date.

If you dont have a content strategy, you should define one! This should specifically address different types of content: for example, news, operational evergreen content, documents and so on. The content strategy should also define how policies are going to be managed, and cover issues such as:

  • What is a policy and what is not a policy?
  • How do we deal with procedures, guidelines and other related documents?
  • How can we ensure they are managed effectively?
  • How do we ensure they are accessed by all employees?
  • Who is responsible for keeping them up to date?
  • How do we ensure policies are actionable?

By providing clarity on all these issues in your content strategy, you can design the channels, processes and tactics that are going to support effective policy management in your company.

2 Create a central policy library that is easy to access with strong findability

Compliance starts with providing easy access to the policies and procedures that employees need to comply with, and making them easily findable and discoverable. All too often, policies are difficult to find because they are scattered across many places, such as multiple SharePoint sites or intranet pages.

The tried-and-tested way to make policies more accessible for everyone is to provide a central policy library that is available through your main digital workplace channels likely your SharePoint intranet, Microsoft Teams and search. In this way, everybody can easily find and reach the policies they need. The library itself needs to remove any barriers to access and findability; it needs to be easy to use while simultaneously maintaining elements such as security-trimming on particular policies if applicable.

Sometimes, the details behind the library can prove important here. For example, we designed our Xoralia Policy Management solution to make it super-easy for employees to connect to the right policies with various elements such as:

  • Targeting to different AD profiles so the right people can see the right policies
  • Clearly presented information about each policy with title, details, owner, function, version, when last updated and more
  • Seamless integration with Microsoft 365, SharePoint, SharePoint intranet and Microsoft Teams, as well as the related mobile apps Xoralia is built on SharePoint
  • Notifications with relevant alerts
  • A powerful search facility through one interface with the ability to apply relevant filters including policy owner, location and mandatory / non-mandatory reads.

3 Drive trust in policies with robust content governance

At the centre of policy management is making sure you have robust content governance around each policy. This can help to build the trust that is essential for employee compliance with your policies, so they are 100% confident that the policy they are accessing is the definitive and latest version available. Important content governance principles include:

  • Having a clear, visible policy owner for each individual policy to drive accountability
  • Ensuring there are robust access rights and any necessary approval workflows
  • Scheduling regular content reviews to ensure policies are up to date
  • Making sure there is version control and numbering of different versions
  • Having standards such as naming conventions for policies.

For example, in our Xoralia policy management solution, weve ensured there is support for content governance with:

  • A visible department or function and named contact to establish clear ownership for every policy
  • Robust content life cycle governance with version control, numbering and automated review notifications (that also support auditing)
  • Strict access control and flexible approval workflows
  • Useful and intuitive interfaces to help admins and policy owners manage their content.

4 Make your content readable, scannable and acceptable

Lets be honest, most policies are dreary, lengthy documents that hardly anyone reads. When was the last time you read the small print on a usage policy or on some Terms and Conditions? But actually, policy documents usually contain some very important details that employees need to follow, or would want to access if they knew about them. Often, this is the how to element of the policy or its main, salient points.

Structuring your policies so they are more readable, scannable and actionable for users is essential to get employees to follow them. There are several ways you can do this, for example:

  • Creating simpler and more concise summary versions, with access to the full version below to allow people to dig deeper if they need to
  • Having clearly headed sections, and perhaps including jump links to these
  • Incorporating links to related policies and guidelines
  • Using inclusive and accessible language, and avoiding legalese at all costs
  • Highlighting sections that have changed
  • Ensuring content meets accessibility guidelines.

5 Establish a mandatory reads capability with tracking analytics

A critical capability for ensuring employees comply with policies is to enable mandatory reads, where employees have to confirm that they have read and understood a particular policy. With analytics to track who has read a policy and who hasnt, compliance teams or departmental managers can take additional action if there are employees who are yet to read an important policy document. In this way, employees are alerted when there is a change, and wont forget to read and digest the relevant information.

Mandatory reads are a core feature of the Xoralia solution, where employees receive a personalised list of the policies they need to read and when, as well as relevant notifications; mandatory reads for specific policies can be targeted to different groups. For admins, the whole mandatory read process is automated through notifications and a tracking report with enterprise-wide reporting, while for policy owners, the progress of who is reading their policy is tracked. For more detailed reporting, analytics can also be integrated into custom Power BI dashboards.

6 Personalise the experience with notifications

Personalisation is a key aspect of digital workplace experience, and needs to be included in any central policy library. It should make a user aware of the policies relevant to them (preserving security-trimming) as well as any updates or mandatory reads they should know about, but also take into account the policies they have already read. Flexible notifications are also crucial to remind users when an action is required.

7 Make it easy for your admins and policy owners

Getting employees to comply with policies requires a holistic approach that makes sure compliance teams and policy owners have the right tools to manage their policies effectively, with intuitive interfaces and automation where required.

Making policy management easy for your admins and policy owners is just as important as making it easy for users. For example, within the Xoralia solution, there is a simple view for policy owners that shows the status of the policies they own, including when they are up for review or have expired. Clients have told us that even a simple report like this can make all the difference.

8 Leverage all your digital communication channels

For important policy changes that require a change in user behaviour, there may also need to be a broader communication effort. Here, you can leverage all your digital communication channels to ensure to get the message out, including through intranet news items, relevant Teams channels and even your learning management system.

If your digital workplace is based on Microsoft 365 and your policy library is based on SharePoint, the ability to link to specific policy pages is much simpler. For example, some of our clients amplify messages to major updates in their Xoralia policy management library via both intranet news and activity streams within Teams.

Compliance with policies is possible

Getting your employees to comply with your policies is possible with the right approaches and solutions in place. If youd like to discuss policy management or would like a demo of our Xoralia Policy Management solution, then get in touch!

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