I need an intranet for Office 365! What are my options?

As more and more organisations go down the Office365 and Microsoft 365 route, they realise the importance of having an intranet that integrates with the other Microsoft tools such as Yammer, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint Libraries, Planner, Microsoft Forms and even Outlook. Invariably, this means an intranet that is based upon SharePoint Online, although there are other options to explore.

Having an intranet that is built for 365 and integrates effortlessly with all the necessary tools means:

  • Your are provided with a seamless and less fragmented digital workplace and digital employee experience
  • Your intranet can provide a highly convenient entry point for the Microsoft universe, easily accessible for your entire workforce
  • You can present content and feeds from apps together to add context and value, for example, presenting Yammer conversations alongside SharePoint content
  • You can drive better findability through integrated search right across the 365 universe, simultaneous with better designed user journeys
  • You can fully leverage your 365 licence, allowing you to achieve ROI more easily
  • You can support better adoption of your tools and your intranet.

The options for your 365 intranet

Teams who are looking to introduce an intranet perfectly suited for Microsoft 365 don’t always know where to start, nor which base technology to use. Generally, if you have Microsoft 365, then a SharePoint intranet is going to be your best option. But there are a range of options to consider relating to SharePoint, as well as some slightly different approaches such as delivering an intranet through Microsoft Teams.

Let’s explore the different options for creating an intranet for Office 365 and Microsoft 365.

1 SharePoint Online out-of-the-box

Amber

One option for delivering an intranet is to leverage SharePoint Online straight out-of-the-box with no customisation. This is particularly attractive for some teams because it allows them to significantly reduce costs and fully leverage the features and tools included in their 365 licence. Avoiding customisation is another a tactical aim for most IT teams that supports easier day-to-day management of your intranet environment and avoids difficulties with upgrading.

Two years ago, a SharePoint intranet out-of-the-box simply wasn’t a viable option for most organisations, but Microsoft has invested in features which allow teams to add some of the main features of a global intranet such as a homepage and global navigation. However, using SharePoint alone could create significant gaps in the intranet experience, especially around the ability to deliver internal communications and advanced personalisation, as well as the capacity to add intranet governance to content to ensure a more successful and sustainable intranet. For more complex organisations, SharePoint Online alone may not be enough to meet all their needs.

2 An intranet in-a-box product such as a LiveTiles intranet

Entain

An excellent option for delivering a SharePoint Online intranet that offers a more comprehensive intranet experience is using an intranet in-a-box product in conjunction with SharePoint Online. This leverages the strengths of SharePoint Online, before adding a host of templates, features and interfaces which introduce capabilities for internal communicators, content owners and more. It also delivers a comprehensive digital workplace experience, and supports the more scalable and complex intranet required by most enterprises. An in-a-box product not only closes the gaps left by using SharePoint alone, but saves time and delivers an improved digital employee experience.

The in-a-box SharePoint intranet product that we implement is LiveTiles intranet, and it’s one of the market leaders. The obvious disadvantage of this approach is the additional cost of another platform; however, in our view, the advantages of using a LiveTiles intranet rather than just SharePoint actually make it a very sensible investment.

3 A fully customised SharePoint intranet

Moving Made Easy

A few years ago, leading SharePoint intranets were all customised. This meant they were very expensive to implement, and projects were long and intense; they also proved hard to improve and evolve. Thankfully, the days of fully customised SharePoint intranets are long gone due to a combination of cloud solutions, agile methodologies, developments to SharePoint Modern and the evolution of SharePoint Online and Microsoft 365. In our view, it is unlikely there is a need for a fully customised SharePoint intranet nowadays, unless it is part of a very specific wider customised digital workplace such as the one we created for property firm Moving Made Easy.

4 LiveTiles or SharePoint out of the box with customisations and add-ons

While most teams would not want to deliver a fully customised SharePoint intranet, customisation does still have a role to play in creating the perfect SharePoint intranet. If you’re choosing to implement an intranet just using SharePoint Online, and even with LiveTiles, there may still be some gaps you need to fill, for example:

  • Very specific features, processes or experiences which are unique to your organisation
  • Integrations with systems and applications that are not readily available out-of-the-box
  • Custom features that are popular with employees and which you want to replicate from a legacy intranet
  • Individual branding needs
  • Features and capabilities insisted upon by stakeholders.

When you have these gaps, adding customised web parts or additional intranet products can provide the intranet you need. For example, we regularly deliver custom business apps for Office 365 that can also be delivered or integrated via an intranet. Intranet add-ons and products deliver real value for example, our Xoralia policy library for SharePoint intranet provides industry-leading capabilities around policy management which you can’t get from just SharePoint or LiveTiles.

5 Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams has emerged as the centre of many digital workplaces, particularly during the pandemic. With an eye on the huge adoption of Microsoft Teams and its ability to integrate with other digital workplace tools (both Microsoft 365 and beyond), some teams have asked us can Microsoft Teams deliver an intranet? In fact, we were asked this so many times that we held a webinar on the topic.

When we unpacked this question, we found it can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, can you deliver the capabilities of an intranet through Microsoft Teams, and secondly, can you access and view an intranet through Teams?

The answer to the first question is not necessarily straightforward, although it’s safe to say that on balance, Teams isn’t going to deliver all the capabilities you need from your intranet, in the same way an intranet won’t deliver all you need from Teams. Again, we explore this in more detail on this blog.

The answer to the second question is more simple. It is possible to add a link to your SharePoint intranet within a Team channel, while a LiveTiles intranet is available to view within Teams. Viewing an intranet though Microsoft Teams is also possible through Viva Connections, which is explored in more detail below.

6 Viva Connections

Microsoft Viva is a recently launched employee experience platform that is still evolving. It incorporates four apps which are experienced through Microsoft Teams. One of these the Viva Connections app – is designed to create an intranet-like experience similar to Teams, and was actually originally developed as the Home Site App: a way to access and navigate resources and sites from across your organisation within Microsoft Teams. Some of the foundational work you need to do to leverage Viva Connections actually means you’re effectively setting up a SharePoint intranet anyway.

We recently covered Viva Connections on this blog as an option for intranet teams. We think it’s still early days for Viva Connections, which means there are some advantages in waiting to deploy it. We also don’t think it’s a replacement for the full browser-led intranet experience. However, it is almost certainly going to play a role in bringing your intranet to the Teams environment, and is definitely an option to watch as it evolves.

Looking for an intranet for Office 365? Get in touch!

If you’re looking for an intranet for Office 365, there a number of options to consider. If you’d like to discuss the right one for you, then get in touch!

What is a social intranet and what are its main features?

When we speak to intranet teams about what they want to achieve with a new or existing intranet, they sometimes tell us they want to introduce a social intranet. Although some teams use terms such as modern intranet or even digital workplace which can cover similar ground, social intranet is still a commonly used term.

Generally, a social intranet is regarded as one that includes a high number of social and collaborative features and tools which enable participation from employees, therefore distinguishing it from a more traditional intranet purely focused on internal communications and static content. Many organisations wish to introduce a social intranet to help drive employee engagement and support a less hierarchical organisational culture.

In this post, we’re going to explore in more detail what a social intranet is, what its main features are and the advantages it can bring.

What is a social intranet?

There is no formal definition of a social intranet. However,  a social intranet is generally considered to be an intranet where there are a substantial number of social tools and features accessible across it that allow users to publish content, add comments, post contributions and interact with each other. It can also include social networking capabilities such as the ability to follow other employees. A social intranet might additionally integrate external social media, such as a corporate Twitter feed.

These social capabilities are usually visible and well-adopted to a degree where they counter-balance the more formal, top-down elements of an intranet such as corporate news and more static evergreen content. On a social intranet, bottom-up, user-generated content will be highly prevalent, and should make a site more dynamic and livelier with a constant stream of employee contributions from right across the organisation.

The social features of an intranet might be either built into the intranet software you are using, integrated from a separate platform or even both. For example, many social SharePoint Online intranets  include a Yammer integration as their main social element.

What are the features of a social intranet?

There are a number of common features of a social intranet, although not every social intranet will include all of these.

Activity streams and feeds

Social intranets tend to have activity streams and feeds from social platforms like Yammer embedded into pages. These may appear on the homepage, which might aggregate feeds from different groups and be personalised, or as a feed relevant to the subject, topic or community on a specific page. These feeds will not only surface conversations, but also be a point from which users can interact and make contributions.

Commenting, sharing and liking on messages

Social intranets tend to allow users to interact with more formal communications such as news and leadership communications by commenting, sharing and liking. This can be an important mechanism for driving dialogue and asking for feedback on initiatives and topics.

Blogs and other user-generated content

Social intranets open up publishing for everybody, ensuring everyone has a voice. Typically, on a social intranet, employees can post blogs, localised items relating to their own team (news), user-generated videos and even photos. The chance of finding a cat video  on a social intranet will be much higher than a traditional intranet!

Social networking features

Many social intranets include social networking features such as the ability to follow colleagues, use @mentions and add #hashtags. These can be very useful in utilising social networks for messaging and communications.

Communities, groups and discussions

A core component of a social intranet is support for communities, groups and discussion threads which allow interaction between different employees. Ideally, these should be open for all to view. A social intranet might support professional Communities of Practice, Communities of Interest, user groups for software, Employee Resource Groups and even non-working communities such as sports and hobbies forums.

Employee directory

The employee directory on a social intranet can feel quite different from those typical of a normal intranet, with sections completed by employees to give a more rounded overview of their life both inside and outside work as well as their past experience, providing a profile more like LinkedIn. Their profile might also show their contributions across the intranet.

Polls and surveys

Polls and surveys provide opportunities to solicit the opinions of employees and gather quick feedback on different issues.

Gamification

Gamification is not always a common feature, but some social intranets include gamification elements such as points, badges and leader boards to encourage contributions and other desired behaviours.

Analytics

A good social intranet provides comprehensive analytics on content and engagement in order to deliver insights about user behaviour and opinion.

External social media feeds

Some social intranets include external social feeds from platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. These are usually the corporate feeds used externally by the company.

What are the advantages of a social intranet?

A social intranet can prove to be an excellent investment to help organisations and digital workplace teams meet both strategic and tactical goals. By bringing social collaboration to a key channel accessed by all employees like the corporate intranet, general digital workplace adoption can be given a significant boost. Strategic benefits can include:

  • Supporting a strong employee experience by ensuring every individual employee has a voice to give opinions and publish stories, thus demonstrating that this is encouraged by enabling it via the intranet
  • Supporting a less hierarchical organisational culture by encouraging social interaction and dialogue between all levels
  • Driving a one company culture and sense of community by allowing interactions across different locations
  • Enabling a listening and more inclusive style of leadership and management
  • Facilitating collaboration and a corresponding culture of collaboration
  • Supporting Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) within an organisation
  • Underpinning employee wellbeing through more social interaction.

More operational and tactical benefits can include:

  • Driving adoption and usage of both the intranet and social tools
  • Helping to support ROI in social tools like Yammer
  • Making individual communications more impactful by presenting commenting and discussion as priorities
  • Allowing leadership to get a temperature check of employee sentiment on specific issues
  • Making it easier for employees to communicate with each other by presenting options for contact
  • Supporting networking and strong connections between individual employees
  • Streamlining communications for individuals by aggregating messages across social channels and communities
  • Supporting decentralised publishing on the intranet through blogs and local news publishing
  • Facilitating a range of communities of practice and interest with benefits relating to specific processes, working practices and initiatives
  • Allowing conversations to be presented in context with related content and vice versa, enabling better dissemination of information
  • Enabling user support communities to ask questions relating to different IT tools and HR services.

Need help with your social intranet?

Social intranets can be powerful in supporting engagement, adoption and culture. If you have any questions about implementing a social intranet or want to make your SharePoint intranet more social, then get in touch!

Will Microsoft Viva Connections replace my SharePoint intranet?

Microsoft Viva is a brand-new employee experience platform from Microsoft that is piquing a lot of interest across HR functions, IT departments and Internal Communications teams. There are currently four apps within the Viva universe, all of which are delivered through Microsoft Teams:

Viva Insights

Viva Insights: Personalised analytics and related insights for individuals, managers and leaders that support wellbeing, collaboration, productivity and more.

Viva Topics

Viva Topics: A knowledge discovery platform that uses AI to source experts and resources on different topics concerning Microsoft 365 tools and other digital channels.

Viva Learning

Viva Learning: A learning hub that aggregates learning resources from a variety of different sources including LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, popular third-party providers and a company’s own learning content.

Viva Connections

Viva Connections: A gateway to internal communications and company resources including policies and HR information, as well as the ability to participate in different social communities.

In particular, Viva Connections is proving to be of interest to internal communications teams as it provides another way to access communication-led content. In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at Viva Connections and try to answer a question that we’ve heard asked a few times: Will Microsoft Viva Connections replace my SharePoint intranet?

What exactly is Viva Connections?

Viva Connections was originally announced at Ignite 2020 as the Home Site App – a way to access and navigate resources and sites from across your organisation within Microsoft Teams. It was subsequently relaunched as Viva Connections in a move that contributed to the observation that Microsoft Viva is to some extent a rebranding exercise for initiatives that are already in-flight.

It’s still pretty early days for Microsoft Viva and there are a lot of developments to come, but at the moment Viva Connections is essentially designed to be a kind of intranet experience within the Teams environment. This is an explicit aim of the app expressed by Microsoft in a video called Living in Microsoft Teams? Now, so does your intranet!, and follows a general trend to make other applications and channels accessible from within Teams, making it a convenient entry point to the wider digital workplace.

Other intranet software providers have worked separately on apps to make their intranet accessible within Teams, including LiveTiles. For example, we recently ensured a fantastic new LiveTiles intranet for Entain was also available from within Teams.

Sam Marshall at ClearBox has done an excellent overview of Viva Connections and points out the main features of the app, including a global navigation menu that can be accessed from within the app, a main landing or home page which is a linked SharePoint home site, and a search facility that allows for the a wider search into SharePoint content. A new dashboard and mobile app are also in the pipeline, due for release later in the year.

Will Viva Connections replace my SharePoint intranet?

Some executives have expressed the hope that Viva Connections, and the Viva Suite as a whole, will provide an opportunity to replace existing services and applications with new apps that are covered by the Microsoft 365 license. This might lead to both a reduction in licensing costs and an extension in the value of a company’s investment in the Microsoft 365-driven digital workplace. This world view is particularly attractive for IT stakeholders who may be under pressure to streamline resources, and wish to make the most out of Microsoft 365 in doing so.

These stakeholders are going to be disappointed – Viva Connections does not replace your SharePoint intranet. However, it does offer some interesting options for digital workplace and internal communications teams, particularly for smaller organisations where disparate SharePoint communication sites have taken over an existing intranet as the main vehicle for employee communications.

Let’s explore some of the reasons why Viva Connections is currently not a replacement for your SharePoint intranet.

1 Viva Connections is not plug and play

One misconception about Viva Connections and other Microsoft Viva apps is that they are plug and play. The idea is a seductive one – somehow you would be able to switch everything on and you’d have an intranet that works instantly and continues to work through automation, saving you time, resources and licensing fees. This is often the thinking behind the question of replacing a SharePoint intranet, considering the potential reduction in costs and effort.

Whilst you’ll certainly be able to leverage the power of Microsoft Graph with Viva Connections, you will actually need to do considerable preparation work and ongoing management to get any value out of Viva Connections. This is not plug and play: you need foundational work, ownership, governance and continual effort, just as you would if you were managing an intranet.

2 It’s still early days

Viva Connections is still relatively new, and we can expect there to be improvements and tweaks. In fact, some core components the mobile app and dashboard are still being rolled out. One of the things we love about working with the Microsoft 365 platform is the continuing investment that Microsoft put into every tool; this means the Viva Connection app of today may be quite different in a year’s time, with potential for additional capabilities.

We are always a little wary of diving into a new technology and replacing what has gone before when it has only recently been released. Even if Viva Connections does evolve to a point where it becomes the primary way for employees to access communications, replacing your existing SharePoint intranet with Viva Connections at this early stage is not something we would advise.

3 Viva Connections is accessed through Teams

The desktop experience for Viva Connections is accessed through Teams. Although Teams usage has exploded in many organisations, particularly during the pandemic, there are still some organisations where Teams usage is still growing or patchy across the entire workforce. In some places, it hasnt even been rolled out.

At the moment, replacing an intranet with Viva Connections is only going to be an option within organisations where Teams is the centre of the digital workplace and employees are already in Teams all day, yet there are still not that many organisations who have reached that kind of status. Moreover, in our view, the digital workplace needs to be accessed through multiple front doors, including both Teams and the intranet, so switching off a browser-based intranet may well be a retrograde step.

4 Viva Connections does not cover all an intranet does

Intranets, and in particular SharePoint intranets, provide a multi-faceted platform for internal communication, content publishing, dialogue, engagement, collaboration, transactions, HR self-service, search and findability, learning, access to digital workplace tools, communities of practice, knowledge management and more. Why are intranets still a staple of the workplace technology environments provided by organisations after 25 years? Because they are versatile, flexible, convenient and essential for both everyday working and deeper digital transformation. We’re excited about what Viva Connections can do, but it simply cannot compete with the wide number of use cases in which an intranet provides value.

If you’re in a position where it looks like Viva Connections will bring more value than your current SharePoint intranet, the key issue is not to do with Viva Connections it’s more likely that you are missing out on all the benefits a modern SharePoint intranet could bring you.

5 Internal communications don’t have enough control over comms

Viva Connections is set up in a way that assumes a less hierarchical, top-down view of news throughout your organisation, typically characterised by a group of communication sites and related hub sites with more distributed ownership. While it does attempt to aggregate news in a way that is more controlled, it lacks the kind of publishing features and central news formats that internal communications teams want to achieve with an intranet.

This is where an intranet product like LiveTiles is also superior to using SharePoint straight out of the box for an intranet. Viva Connections simply does not deliver on the expectations of internal communicators compared to a SharePoint intranet.

6 The set-up for Viva Connections means you’re creating an intranet anyway

When you create the set-up for Viva Connections, you’re effectively setting up an intranet anyway, with a SharePoint home site and global navigation you need to consider. When you begin to design a homepage experience and consider a global information architecture, you are starting to define an intranet, and when you then create the governance to make that work, you’re going even further down the intranet road. If you want to make Viva Connections work, you may also want to define a SharePoint intranet that works.

Where could Viva Connections add value?

While we don’t see Viva Connections as a replacement for a SharePoint intranet, we think it has great potential. We can see its utilisation as a way to:

  • Integrate some of your existing SharePoint intranet content into Teams, particularly in companies with high Teams usage
  • Act as a catalyst to create or invigorate a SharePoint Online intranet where most communication is currently dispersed across multiple Communication sites
  • Experiment and innovate to keep your digital workplace evolving, for example, using the mobile app and dashboard feature with frontline employees.

Need advice on Viva Connections? Get in touch!

It’s still quite early days for Viva Connections, but it’s definitely one to watch and experiment with. While it’s not a replacement for your SharePoint intranet, we think it will bring value. If you’d like to discuss using Viva Connections or your SharePoint intranet, then get in touch!

SharePoint – out of the box and customisation

Deciding whether to opt for an out-of-the-box or customised intranet is still a difficult decision with a few things to consider.

There are three main options:

1 Out of the box by this we mean using SharePoint and Microsoft 365 as it comes without modification or third party features

2 Customisation through a third party add in or set of services (like LiveTiles)“ which you typically pay a monthly licence fee for (sometimes called intranet in a box)

3 Bespoke customisation extra features built specifically to your particular requirements

In a previous webinar we compared the differences between intranet in a box and bespoke customisation. But, what about option one staying entirely out-of-the-box and only configuring what Microsoft gives you?

This used to be a very limited option, particularly for online flavours of SharePoint provided by Office 365 and, later, Microsoft 365. Because of the basic feature set, it tended to be an option only for smaller companies or those on a very tight budget.

However, Microsoft has continued to build on its intranet capabilities in SharePoint and Microsoft 365 and now, in 2021, it’s a more compelling option. New features and configuration options make it possible to deliver a best practice intranet at low cost – that’s why we offer an Accelerate package for companies who want to take this route.

What can you achieve now with out-of-the-box SharePoint?

  • Cascading (roll-up, roll-down news content) using Hubs and Communication sites
  • Mega menu style navigation
  • Global navigation across multiple sites
  • Upcoming events feeds
  • Improved presentation options (thanks to new display template options for lists)
  • Better integration with other Microsoft 365 apps like Yammer and Stream including better webparts

What is out-of-the-box SharePoint still not good at?

  • Targeting of content is still very basic
  • Branding and user experience customisation options are limited
  • The news experience is not very sophisticated and larger companies will struggle with it
  • Templating, provisioning and governance of intranet components like workspaces and hubs

 
It’s also worth remembering that you don’t have to choose from only option 1, 2 or 3 above. You can have a mixture of options. For example, you could choose to go mostly with an out-of-the-box approach, but with one or two minor custom elements e.g. an improved news feed experience or an enhanced policy library.

As part of our digital workplace discovery process, we help many organisations to decide which route is the best for them the one that will help them meet their business objectives, but efficiently from a cost perspective. As a digital workplace consultancy we help organisations deliver all three of the options, so we are neutral in terms of deciding which route you should take.

Out-of-the-box SharePoint doesn’t work for everyone and there are often good reasons not to embrace it, but for some companies it’s a good choice and we see more and more organisations having success with the core Microsoft tools. A key thing, as ever, it to ensure that you have help from a partner who lives and breathes intranets and digital workplace. That way, whichever route you take, you will get the most value out of the tools available.

Get in touch

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