10 digital workplace and intranet trends for 2022

2021 was another important year for digital workplaces and intranets. Remote and hybrid working continued to dominate, ensuring business continuity during another year of the pandemic. Technology options also moved forward with the release of the Microsoft Viva suite, for example, and intranet and digital workplace teams worked hard to support employees. Microsoft Teams continued its huge adoption path. Employee experience was high on the agenda for internal communicators and HR functions, while IT teams embraced the need to drive a streamlined experience for employees and simplify the application landscape through a single digital workplace environment.

Here at Content Formula, we remained extremely busy throughout the year, and were proud to continue to deliver successes including the launch of a global intranet at Entain and a mobile intranet app at Yorkshire Tea, among many other projects. We also rolled out and evolved our Xoralia intelligent policy management solution for SharePoint which has been very well-received.

But what about 2022? What will the coming year bring for the intranet and digital workplace world? We think it will be another important year. Here are our thoughts on ten digital workplace and intranet trends to expect in 2022.

  1. Competition will continue to stimulate the intranet software market

The intranet in-a-box software market is now relatively mature, with a great deal of choice for teams. Many of these offerings extend beyond just being an intranet, focusing on the wider digital workplace as well as capabilities that cover other areas of employee experience. It’s hard to believe it’s now five years since we announced our partnership with LiveTiles (then Wizdom) – still one of the major intranet and employee experience software providers.

One of the strong characteristics of the market is the competition between providers, ultimately leading to investment in products, feature-rich offerings, better customer service, competitive pricing, innovation and choice. We think this is going to be a prominent theme throughout 2022. Consolidation in the sector will fuel more product development; for example, two major providers – Staffbase and Valo – just announced they are joining forces. Much of this competition comes from Microsoft itself, whose support for intranets using SharePoint out-of-the-box, alongside the growing influence of Microsoft Viva, is forcing tech providers to up their game.

  1. Intranets and digital workplaces will continue to support hybrid working

Unfortunately, the pandemic is still ongoing, and remote and hybrid working is the reality for many of us. However, hybrid working is becoming a choice for many organisations who see opportunities to both reduce real estate costs and offer a style of working that is attractive to employees. While many have returned to the office, opinion polls continually show that the majority of employees also want to have opportunities to work from home where they can be more productive and better balance their working and non-working lives.

Hybrid was quite possibly the word of 2021, but we think it’s going to continue into 2022 as intranets and digital workplaces do the heavy lifting to support remote working. Back in September 2021, we produced a checklist for intranet and digital workplace teams with the ways they can support the return to the office and hybrid work, including guidance on social distancing, integrations with various apps such as desk booking and more. We think we’ll see more and more content and capabilities appearing which support hybrid working for the short- and long-term.

  1. External social media and the consumer world will influence the digital workplace

External social media channels and the consumer mobile app world have always had an influence on the digital workplace, with popular features and apps eventually appearing in one form or another in digital workplace tools. The adoption of social features in intranets is a key example.

In 2022, we think we’ll again see the influence of the consumer world on intranet features. This is probably most prominent with the advance of podcasts aimed at employees – an increasingly popular content format for internal comms teams. Podcasting looks set to rise in popularity in 2022. We’d be intrigued to see if TikTok somehow finds its way into the enterprise, perhaps through the encouragement of more employee-generated video sharing on intranet, collaboration and video-sharing platforms.

  1. Microsoft Teams will increasingly become the digital workplace of choice

Nobody could have predicted the huge impact that Microsoft Teams would have on the working world. It has changed the digital workplace landscape, and Microsoft are not done yet as they continue to invest in this exciting platform. With Teams adoption so high across many organisations, it is becoming the fundamental digital workplace experience for many employees. Subsequently, many are looking to integrate more and more external apps into Teams, as well as existing Microsoft 365 tools including the SharePoint intranet.

We’re starting to see some organisations referring to Microsoft Teams as their digital workplace. Depending on how you define the digital workplace, we can see it becoming a core point of entry into the digital workplace in the same way that the intranet homepage is. In 2022, integrating apps and intranets into the Teams experience will undoubtedly be a major direction of travel.

  1. Microsoft Viva will enter the equation

Related to the growth of Teams as the de facto digital workplace entry point is Microsoft Viva – the new employee experience platform launched in early 2021. This includes four apps accessed through Teams (Viva Learning, Viva Connections, Viva Insights and Viva Topics) that deliver a range of capabilities across communications, knowledge management, learning, collaboration and more.

While it’s still relatively early days for Viva, with functionality being released throughout 2021, 2022 looks set to become the year Viva will be adopted at scale, emerging as a staple of the digital workplace. We’re seeing huge interest in its intranet and digital workplace capabilities, and there’s more to come as Microsoft adds features such as support for integrations into Viva Connections. In particular, Viva can complement a SharePoint intranet by bringing content into Teams, as well as surface learning via Viva Learning.

  1. The digital divide for the frontline will continue to narrow

Traditionally, frontline employees have tended to lag behind their desk-based colleagues in terms of access to digital services and communications. There are multiple reasons for this, including a lack of digital identities and being less prioritised by organisations.

The good news is that each year, this digital divide has continued to narrow due to the accessibility of some great employee apps such as LiveTiles Reach. Mobile intranets and apps are now far better supported and more commonplace, with some internal communications teams also thinking outside the box. For example, customer experience solutions provider TTEC commissioned us to develop an innovative solution to deliver targeted messages to their frontline call centre staff.

While this is not a new trend, we think that in 2022, the digital gap between knowledge workers and frontline staff will continue to narrow, triggering a positive impact on frontline productivity, engagement and wellbeing.

  1. HR and people-centric content and features will influence the intranet

In 2021, we saw increasing numbers of intranet, HR and internal communications teams focus on people-centric features and content, thus supporting a strong employee experience. Learning is one of these themes (and explored in more detail below), as well as employee wellbeing and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I). In fact, some organisations are producing an entire HR intranet that echoes these themes.

We think people-centric intranets will be a significant theme in 2022, with more and more teams creating content and adding relevant capabilities. For example, to support wellbeing, an intranet might include events and activities, wellbeing tips, analytics and community, while also acting to reduce information overload, supporting health & safety and more.

  1. Citizen developers will become more commonplace

Last year, one of our digital workplace priorities for 2021 was to nurture your citizen developers. While progress in this area has perhaps been gradual rather than rapid, we are seeing more organisations start to formalise approaches to support power users and citizen developers in leveraging the full power of low-code and no-code solutions, including for intranet development.

The Power Platform on Microsoft 365 (Power BI, PowerApps, Power Automate, Power Virtual Agents) presents exceptional opportunities for non-IT professionals to create simple apps, dashboards, workflows and automation, as well as for established coders to carry out rapid application development. We expect citizen development to evolve this year, with more organisations dipping their toe in the water.

  1. Learning will continue to come into the heart of the digital workplace

For years, learning and training were on the periphery of the digital workplace usually stuck in a Learning Management System (LMS) with poor usability and no single sign-on. No wonder adoption and course take-up were either poor or merely viewed as an annoying box-ticking exercise. This has started to change over the past two years, and we see 2022 being the year learning really comes into the heart of the digital workplace.

There are lots of reasons for this a renewed emphasis on e-learning due to the pandemic, the need to upskill employees digitally, an emphasis on employee experience, learning being an obvious area to focus on for maturing digital workplaces but it’s also because of the solutions available. For example, the LMS365 learning platform integrates so seamlessly with Microsoft 365 and Teams that it is easy to access learning through a SharePoint intranet, Microsoft Teams or mobile app. Microsoft Viva Learning is also seen as an opportunity to surface learning content in Teams. We think that in 2022, learning will start to enter the daily flow of work for more and more employees.

  1. Intranets will keep on delivering value

We don’t know how many times over the years we’ve read a declaration that intranets are dead. But as we enter 2022, intranets are very much alive. Customers are still asking us for support in creating amazing intranets, and the ones that have launched tell us they are getting great value. Intranets will continue proving valuable in 2022.

The reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly, the fundamental premise behind an intranet a website for employees that helps them get things done, keep up to date, find information they need and connect with colleagues is still a very good one. Secondly, intranets keep on evolving with new features and capabilities. Over 25 years, they have absorbed personalisation, collaboration, social, mobile, transactional, video and some digital workplace capabilities. They are now evolving so they can be accessed from anywhere, including through other applications such as Microsoft Teams. Long live the humble intranet still going strong!

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2022

2022 will be another exciting year for intranets and digital workplaces. If you’d like to discuss any of the trends in this article or your 2022 intranet and digital workplace plans, then get in touch!

We hope you’ve enjoyed the blog over the past twelve months. All of us at Content Formula wish you a very happy and healthy 2022. See you next year!

Webinar: Using SharePoint for policy management and compliance

Using SharePoint for policy management and compliance

Webinar details

Date: 24th November 2021
Time: 2:00pm UK time

Ensuring that employees read policies is an important factor in compliance for all organisations. You may be considering using SharePoint to manage your policies or your organization may be using it now, but in either case you may be asking the question Is SharePoint the best approach?

During this webinar, we will show you how to get the most out of SharePoint when managing your policies and help your organisation to stay compliant.

We will explain why SharePoint is the best approach and cover:

  • Common organisational scenarios in policy management
  • How to get the best out of SharePoint
  • Is SharePoint enough?
  • One of our customer case studies

Register now!

How to use Office 365 for policy management

A key requirement for the digital workplace is for employees to be able to find the trusted, authoritative information and documents they need in order to complete tasks and be fulfil their role. This includes policies and procedural information covering everything from the staff handbook, to Health and Safety procedures, to travel expenses, to rules about how to use social media channels. Policies can also cover areas relating to professional development, as well as required reading for new joiners as part of an onboarding process.

Managing your policies in the digital workplace is very important, albeit not particularly glamorous! It requires attention to four different but overlapping areas:

  • Dissemination and storage: Ensuring everybody can access and consume policies and procedures easily.
  • Findability and discoverability: Allowing employees to find the right policy at the time of need.
  • Governance and workflows: Creating clear ownership and authoring processes so that policies are always up-to-date and employees trust the policies they access.
  • Reporting and tracking: Tracking policy authoring and consumption, including covering mandatory reading of policies.

If you do not employ effective policy management, you can run into both inefficiencies and risks, with people using out-of-date policies and not carrying out tasks correctly. The consequences of this can be anything from relatively unimportant to severe for example, health and safety policies, procedures and related information must be up-to-date so it’s critical to spend time perfecting policy management across your digital workplace.

Using Office 365 for policy management

The backbone of most organisational digital workplaces is Office 365 / Microsoft 365, so it’s unsurprising that we’ve recently been asked about the best way to deliver effective policy management within the Office 365 environment. Thankfully, there are a variety of different 365 tools that can support all four elements of policy management already detailed, and in this article, we explore your options.

Note that we’ve used many of these technologies (and relative approaches) in developing our Xoralia policy management solution – an easy option for organisations who want an off-the-shelf product that can fit effortlessly into their 365 digital workplace (including SharePoint and Microsoft Teams), and support best practices in managing policies across the digital workplace.

Let’s explore each of the four elements of policy management.

Dissemination and storage

Disseminating policies to employees is best done via a central policy library that can be accessed through a central channel that every employee can easily reach, such as a corporate intranet, Microsoft Teams or a mobile app. The best option for creating this library is through SharePoint, which can be integrated seamlessly with your other 365 channels. For example, LiveTiles intranet software comes with its own policy library feature based on SharePoint, while our Xoralia solution can integrate with a SharePoint intranet and Teams. If you have a frontline workforce, there is also the potential to use the intranet app or build a dedicated Power App so policies are available through mobile devices.

Because of SharePoint’s flexibility, you can disseminate policies as pages, documents or both; for example, you could present the essential points of a policy on a page for readability, along with the ability to download the document from the page to access more detail. SharePoint’s in-built version control for both pages and documents helps ensure users are viewing the very latest version of a policy.

Another essential strength of SharePoint is the ability to target policies to particular audiences based on Active Directory profiles. Just as you want to ensure internal communications are relevant to locations, divisions, roles, levels of seniority and language, policies must be targeted for relevancy. For example, in global companies that have been built up through acquisition, HR policies will often differ from country to country, and it is critical that employees see only the policies which apply to them.

Findability and discoverability

Strong findability is a foundational principle for both a successful digital workplace and a reliable central policy library. Employees must be able to find the right policy at the time of need. Here, you can use Microsoft Search to ensure your policy content appears in your intranet or SharePoint search; applying the right metadata will allow your users to filter and refine the search.

A central policy library should promote good findability, with a dedicated contextual search for the policy library with appropriate metadata and filters, as well as the right categories and labels. Applying targeting through AD profiles to personalise the search for different groups can also improve findability here.

When we came to build the Xoralia policy management tool, feedback from clients continually stressed the importance of robust findability and discoverability. Bearing this in mind, we included the ability to:

  • Filter results by different tags defined for the organisation, including subject categories, departmental owners or intended audience
  • Filter by contact name, such as the owner of a policy
  • Browse through policies alphabetically
  • Assign appropriate views for policies that must be read or need to be reviewed by a policy owner
  • Access a Teams app where policies can be searched for and appear as cards.

Governance and workflows

Any good policy management solution needs to have robust governance, principally around the authoring and content management processes. Here, you can use both SharePoint and Power Automate to ensure that policies are always up-to-date by applying the right permissions, and introduce workflows to make it easier for policy owners and authors to remain on top of this task.

Establishing clear ownership of a policy to drive accountability is dependent on supporting governance; the permissions that can be applied in SharePoint at the page and document level mean that only defined owners have the rights to update the policies they are responsible for. A good approach here is to display the name of a policy owner or appropriate contact on the policy itself, as this supports accountability, transparency and trust. In our Xoralia solution, there is a clear contact displayed not only on the policy itself, but also in the policy listing view.

You can use Power Automate to define appropriate workflows and automated reminders around the authoring process. This includes approval workflows where review and approval are required before a policy can go live, as well as expiry workflows which send automated reminders for policy owners based on defined review dates. These are all features we chose to build into Xoralia, as well as the views for policy owners to see all the policies they own and those that are approaching review. To further underpin governance, Xoralia also displays when a policy has expired because the policy owner has failed to check it by the review date.

Power Automate can further be used to support repeatable dissemination workflows. For example, perhaps you want to push out a particular policy to a specific audience that for compliance reasons you require to be read at a set time each year, or whenever it goes through a substantial update. You could use Power Automate to trigger this process every time the policy goes through an appropriate update or on a particular date.

Reporting and tracking

Reporting on your policy library and tracking its usage is beneficial in ensuring that employees are using it, but it becomes particularly important when you need to ensure there is a mandatory read of a policy. This could be for compliance reasons from a regulatory body, or for internal purposes such as when you need everybody to urgently read the new flexible working policy introduced to support hybrid working. Mandatory reads usually work by presenting a user with the policies they must read, and then requiring them to complete a declaration that they have read each one.

The reporting becomes important to:

  • Track who has read a policy so you can carry out interventions to make sure everyone has done so
  • Provide updates on progress to senior stakeholders
  • Use reporting to show external parties read rates for compliance purposes.

As you might expect, in Microsoft 365, the versatility of Power BI allows for the required tracking and reporting, enabling filtering by location and department and allowing administrators to filter based on group, specific policy or group of policies. Strong reporting is at the heart of Xoralia, with quick views for policy owners to get the headline statistics to track the progress of mandatory reads, and support the flexible reporting you need. Users also see the policies they must read.

Automating this tracking and reporting is excellent news for anyone who has had to use a combination of email and spreadsheets to keep on top of who has read a policy – a thankless and highly inefficient activity.

Going further

The beauty of Microsoft 365 is you can also integrate your policies into other areas where relevant, such as:

  • Creating an employee onboarding app using PowerApps that includes mandatory reads of policies
  • Creating a chatbot using Power Virtual Agents that references your policies
  • Providing access to your policies within Teams channels
  • And more!

If you’d like to discuss our Xoralia Policy Management tool or managing policies across your Office 365 digital workplace, then get in touch!

10 essential features of a SharePoint intranet for schools

Secondary schools are complicated organisations that usually have an equally complicated digital landscape, with a wide portfolio of disparate systems, apps, tools and channels being used every day by staff and pupils. The complexity of this digital workplace increases sharply when you have a chain of schools such as an Academy Trust or schools group who share resources across multiple locations. How do you ensure the right communications and information can be accessed by everybody? How do you make sure that staff who are already incredibly busy can easily and effortlessly find the content, news, documents, processes, tools and apps they need every day?

Here, a good Office 365 intranet can make a huge difference, doing some of the heavy lifting in helping both teaching and non-teaching staff find what they need for their working day, as well as providing a robust platform for essential communication and collaboration across multiple locations. An Office 365 intranet likely to be based on SharePoint Online, so we use the terms interchangeably can also leverage the investment schools have already made in Microsoft 365, and prove to be highly cost-effective for an Academy Trust operating across a number of schools.

But what features and capabilities should an Office 365 intranet for schools include? Here at Content Formula, we’re currently working with two Academy Trusts to improve their 365-powered digital workplaces. Here are our thoughts on what a school intranet needs to include.

1 Personalisation and audience targeting

Modern Office 365 and SharePoint intranets support personalisation and audience targeting, allowing content and experiences to be targeted to each user based on their Active Directory (AD) profile. This means you can ensure the intranet is made relevant based on attributes such as a user’s location, role, level of seniority, whether they have recently joined and so on. For complex organisations with highly diverse workforces, personalisation underpins intranet adoption and value, and without it, an intranet will be less successful.

For an Academy Trust intranet, personalisation is a must-have feature. When you have multiple locations with different schools and highly diverse roles (for example, leaders, teachers, teachers assistants and non-teaching staff) with different information needs, personalisation means your intranet will be more relevant for each employee in providing access to the right content and resources. At some stage, you may also want to open up some access to students or even parents; personalisation is a dependency for this option.

2 Integrations and access to apps

In most schools, staff and pupils need to access a vast array of different systems, tools and apps in order to carry out their work and get things done. Some of these are common to all organisations, such as an HR system, a financial system, IT ticketing support and more. A school that has Office 365 will also be using some of the suite of 365 tools such as Yammer and particularly Microsoft Teams, which has proved to be essential for supporting online lessons during the coronavirus pandemic.

Within schools, there may be a School Management System, a Student Information System, different apps relating to specific educational use cases, an array of educational resources, a Learning Management System, an analytics and reporting suite (perhaps Power BI), a portal for parents, social media channels and more.

Accessing so many different apps and systems with varying credentials and inconsistent interfaces can be time-consuming and confusing. An intranet can play an important role in providing an easy and convenient gateway to the wider digital workplace through a directory of apps and the ability to configure personalised links to commonly used tools. Integrations with the intranet allowing for simple transactions to be completed or information to be viewed can also save time; for example, an integration with your HR system that allows staff to view how many days annual leave they have and then book a holiday all from within the intranet means they don’t have to visit your HR system separately.

An Office 365 intranet based on SharePoint Online will also allow you to integrate 365 tools, including embedding Yammer conversations and potentially allowing staff to view a list of different Teams spaces that they are enrolled in. This is covered in more detail below.

3 News and internal communications

A staple of any organisational intranet is support of internal communications. A school or chain of schools is no different, and an SharePoint intranet should support news publishing – not only organisation-wide internal communications, but also local news and updates at the individual school or department level – reflecting the hive of activity across the entire school network.

A good Office 365 intranet will allow for both; for example, the LiveTiles intranet solution has tightly controlled news that appears on a homepage with approval workflow, as well as a stream of noticeboard local news that appears on different sites but is aggregated on the homepage. This supports both official internal communications and more informal updates; it also allows for audience targeting so news is displayed to particular groups or schools. Added to this, LiveTiles is also available on mobile devices, a key requirement for a school intranet.

4 Robust findability

Helping staff find what they need in their everyday work is part of the job of an intranet. Sturdy findability to connect people to the right information, content, documents and apps is a central feature of a good Office 365 intranet.

Findability is usually delivered through both search and a user-centred intranet navigation. Successful Office 365 intranets support good findability using the Microsoft Search which continues to improve, as well as user-centred intranet navigation using a mega-menu with links into different sites and pages. Of course, each organisation defines its own information architecture, so defining good navigation is a dependency here. An intranet also supports strong findability with central collections of high-value resources such as policy libraries a feature which we explore below.

5 Policy management

Being able to access and reference school policies, procedures and standards is critical in a school environment. Across a chain of schools in an Academy Trust, it is also likely that common policies will need to apply across all locations.

Policy management is an important element for an Office 365 intranet, providing a central policy library where documents are easily discoverable and staff have absolute confidence that they are accessing the very latest, up-to-date versions of policies. A policy library also needs to have content governance built-in with the right ownership, approval workflows and review periods to ensure policies are kept up-to-date.

Thankfully, SharePoint libraries provide a strong base for policy management with elements such version-control and the right permissions, but additional features are usually required to make policy management more robust. Intranet software like LiveTiles has an in-built policy library feature which is good, but some Academy Trusts might need a dedicated SharePoint policy management solution like Xoralia that will tightly integrate with your Office 365 intranet and provide robust policy managenent.

6 Flexibility and scalability

It’s essential for a school intranet to be both flexible and scalable when responding to organisational changes. For example, an Academy Trust might acquire a new school. Being able to add a new school to an intranet and onboard all the staff quickly can support the merger process, and provide access to important information to help standardise approaches where appropriate. It is also good to have the flexibility to extend access if you wish, such as in adding students and even parents to your intranet ecosystem, as well as implementing new integrations and features to meet staff needs. A truly flexible and scalable intranet is future-proofed, meaning it will remain fully fit-for-purpose.

Flexibility must extend to methods of access too. An Office 365 intranet should be available to view on mobile devices and even potentially through Microsoft Teams – both inherent capabilities in the LiveTiles intranet software.

7 Governance and content lifecycle management

An Office 365 intranet needs robust governance to ensure it is successful and sustainable. Governance takes on many forms, including ensuring security and data privacy – particularly important for a school intranet – which can be done by leveraging the enterprise-grade security of the 365 platform.

Governance around the content lifecycle is also key to ensuring content is accurate, up-to-date and of high quality. This is not always easy to achieve, as your intranet publishing model will be decentralised with a community of content owners and publishers spread across your schools, most of whom are going to be incredibly busy, so updating the intranet is not going to be their priority. Content governance features such as page-level ownership, automated reminders for reviewing content and approval workflows can do some of the heavy lifting here, as well as having an easy-to-use interface, making life easier for content owners and having a direct impact on the success of your intranet.

8 Social and collaboration features

One of the strengths of an Office 365 intranet is the ability to support enterprise-wide collaboration and strengthen a sense of community right across an organisation, seamlessly integrating the different social and collaboration tools that are available within the 365 suite. For Academy Trusts, this means staff can collaborate and connect across different schools.

An intranet can include social tools that are used for wide, open discussions as well as engagement, including the ability to comment on and rate news, add blogs and use polls and surveys. Perhaps the most important feature is the ability to embed Yammer feeds right within an intranet page, adding context to both content and conversations. An intranet can also potentially aggregate a list of Microsoft Teams spaces that employees belong to or may want to join, helping facilitate collaboration.

9 Automation and workflow

One of the main aims of Office 365 and Office 365 intranets is to drive efficiency and improve processes. Across the 365 environment, there are many opportunities to increase efficiency by deploying workflows and automation using tools like Microsoft Forms, Power Automate (workflow) and Power Apps (app creation). These can be integrated with your 365 intranet, reducing and eliminating the need to rely on paper forms, email trails and spreadsheets to complete processes. For example, requests for new equipment that might previously have been carried out by email or even through a paper form can be recrafted as online forms available through the intranet that then go through the right approval workflow defined in Power Automate. When you start to automate multiple processes like this, it has a real-world impact, saving time, reducing costs and making life easier for everybody.

10 Learning management

Learning might be at the centre of a school culture, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that staff have access to a learning management system. A good learning platform can help support IT training, introduce staff to new processes, complete onboarding for new starters, deliver professional training, offer courses on softer skills and much more. For the admin team, it can also help to track the progress of mandatory training and provide valuable analytics on staff training and learning.

Bringing learning into the heart of your Office 365 intranet can make it far easier to access and support adoption. At Content Formula, we implement LMS365 – a dedicated learning platform that is based on SharePoint – that can integrate so seamlessly with your intranet that users are not always aware that they have entered a different system.

School intranets for Academy Trusts

An Office 365 intranet can make a huge difference to the life of a school, an Academy Trust or a schools organisation. If you’d like to discuss your intranet needs for your school, get in touch!

Returning to the office: a checklist for intranet and digital workplace teams

More and more organisations are now actively planning for employees return to the office, or have already started the process. In many cases, new hybrid working patterns are being introduced whereby employees are working two or three days from home, and then coming into the workplace for the remainder of the week. The pace of the return to the office across different organisations and locations varies dramatically as the situation is still fluid, and restrictions and guidance can change rapidly.

At the start of the pandemic, intranet and digital workplace teams pulled out all the stops in order to support the scaled-up remote working that has kept businesses operational. Now, as we return to the office and adopt hybrid working patterns, it’s worth considering some of the changes and tactics to adopt in supporting employees when they return to the office.

Below are a few checklist suggestions for intranet and digital workplace teams as we return to the office.

1 Creating an intranet-based return to the office hub or equivalent

Intranets and digital workplaces provide clear, authoritative and trusted information on working matters. During the pandemic, many teams created a COVID-19 hub that aggregated communications, guidance and resources relating to navigating the pandemic, bringing important information into one convenient, easy-to-find place. Sometimes, additional hubs dedicated to topics such as homeworking were also created.

Now as we return to the office, creating a similar hub and perhaps integrating it into your existing COVID-19 area is a good way to help employees find all the information they need in one convenient place. This could link through to some of the information, resources and apps we suggest below.

2 Location-specific information

While there may well be some generic policies and communications which apply to employees returning to all your locations, there might also be a high degree of variation in the detail depending on where the office is located, the nature of the building and the employees and functions who are working there. Global companies will almost certainly have some offices open and some closed, with different rules depending on local regulations and guidance.

It is imperative that an intranet or digital workplace provides access to the individual information specific to each office for local teams to refer to. Having an overall schedule of the opening status of each location with links to local information can also be useful, particularly if one employee is planning a communication with a colleague from another office and wants to know if they are likely to be at home or in the office.

3 Detailed guidance on social distancing and other behaviours

Many offices are likely to have some degree of social distancing operating through a combination of reduced number of people in the office, new rules regarding movement through buildings, measures to reduce likelihood of infection and more. Having details of this guidance is crucial so everybody knows what is expected of them when they come into the office, and the changes they need to make to their usual working patterns. While communications will focus on the main points, providing a more detailed version of the measures keeping them safe can give further confidence to employees who are nervous about returning to the office.

4 Leadership communications

The return to the office is an emotive subject that generates a range of opinions; some employees are desperate to return, while others are nervous about coming back to the physical workplace. Continuing adherence to social distancing guidelines can also be controversial. Leadership communications that provide details on the why as well as the how are important to provide clarity and make sure everyone is on the same page relating to the return to the office.

5 Integrations and access to apps that support hybrid working

A key area where intranets and digital workplaces can provide value is to facilitate easy access to all the additional apps that support hybrid working patterns and a safe return to the office. An intranet or Microsoft Teams can provide access to these apps through either links or more direct integration. We covered some of these apps in an article about how the digital workplace supports hybrid working. They can include:

  • Survey and screening tools for health declarations required for anyone attending the office
  • Meeting room, desk booking and shift management tools that help with capacity management and regulate the flow of people coming into the office
  • Scheduling tools so teams can co-ordinate visits to the office
  • Wayfaring tools to reflect new rules about movement through the office
  • Access to learning resources and courses relating to new procedures surrounding office visits
  • Mandatory reads on documents relating to the return to the office that employees are required to read
  • Surveys and polls to check in with employees and find out about issues relating to the return to the office that need attention from management.

6 Forms and workflow to cover gaps

Some of the apps mentioned above may require specialist software. If you haven’t got a particular app in place, simple forms and workflow that can be deployed relatively easily using a tool like Microsoft Forms can provide a stopgap to support information gathering and approval workflow related to the return to the office. For example, you can deploy forms to cover health screening, information gathering and even desk booking in a way that will be more efficient than using email. Usually, forms can be easily integrated into your intranet and Teams experience.

7 A support community

Inevitably, employees will have questions relating to the return to the office. Having a support community on a social platform like Yammer can provide a good route for employees to ask questions and get authoritative answers, as well as swap tips relating to some of the changes surrounding hybrid working. A support community can also help with employee health and wellbeing.

8 Turn back on the staff restaurant menu!

And finally, if your staff canteen is operational again, don’t forget to feature the staff restaurant menu on your intranet! This has always been a popular intranet staple, but has been missing from most intranets for the past eighteen months. If you’re returning to the office, it’s time to post that menu again!

Supporting the return

Digital workplace and intranets can play a significant role in supporting a smooth return to the office. We’ve listed a few ideas above for teams to consider. If you’d like to discuss how your digital workplace can better support hybrid working, then get in touch!

Running blended learning through your Microsoft 365 digital workplace

For a long time learning was at the periphery of the digital workplace and away from the daily flow of work, for example centred on a Learning Management System that was not easy to access and had poor usability. Given the importance of learning and training to employees and organisations, this has always been an anomaly. Thankfully a range of digital tools mainly available through the Microsoft 365 digital workplace are at last integrating learning right into the heart of the digital workplace. With the current focus on employee experience and on enabling people to better use digital tools, there has also never been a better time to initiate a project to deliver better learning through Microsoft 365.

Another advantage of Microsoft 365 is that because of its wide variety of channels and tools, it can support different types of learning. Most organisations have blended learning programmes with a mix of classroom training, e-learning, mandatory training, mentoring, Communities of Practice and more. Microsoft 365 can support blending learning through a mix of different channels. It can also help learning administrators to manage learning and support managers who need to keep on top of the training within their teams.

In this post we’re going to explore the different tools and channels that can be used to support blended learning programmes, making learning more accessible and discoverable.

A core learning platform and LMS through LMS365

The most important part of a digital learning ecosystem is a core learning platform or Learning Management System (LMS) that allows users to access a course catalogue of training available, book courses, access course material, and carry out e-learning. They can also then view a record of the learning they’ve taken and what they might need to take in the future.

For administrators, a learning platform provides the core tools to manage learning, including an administration module, and extra features such as learning paths, certificates and points to deliver on the learning requirements of different organisations. There may also be tools to create learning content.

LMS365 is a fully featured learning platform that integrates seamlessly into Microsoft 365. It is an additional product to a 365 license and not provided by Microsoft, but many teams tell us it feels like part of the 365 suite, and it is gets excellent reviews. With LMS365 installed, it means most of the barriers associated with learning are removed and employees can reach and discover learning via different tools such as Microsoft Teams. In fact, the integration is so seamless that employees may not realise they have left SharePoint. There Is also a good LMS365 mobile app.

LMS355 is also very good at supporting blended learning, as you can manage both classroom training enrolment and e-learning from the same catalogue.

Learning hubs and pages through SharePoint

The flexibility of building SharePoint sites and pages means you can create dedicated learning hubs that guide users towards all the learning opportunities available for them, and then also include links, resources and even embed feeds for example from a Yammer learning community to make it easier for users to take action such as enrol on a course. Blended learning programmes cover a range of options, so a learning hub based on SharePoint provides both an overview and a starting point for employees.

Typically, a learning hub might be integrated into a SharePoint intranet, but it could also be a standalone communication site or even team site. Some LMS365 clients also choose to build a learning hub as a seamless entry page into LMS365. Some learning hubs may also be dedicated to specific topics for example learning about how to use digital workplace tools.

Learning discovery though Microsoft Search

A major advantage of bringing learning resources into your Microsoft 365 digital workplace is that it means you can include learning within your Microsoft search. Here the results of blended learning including specific courses, a community or even a specific learning asset can be returned, making learning more discoverable though an intranet, Teams and SharePoint search.

Automation and enrolment on learning through Power Automate

Learning is an area where automation can help streamline the administration of learning, for example in registering users on to different courses and updating learning records. A platform like LMS365 will do some of the automation for you and here the ability to leverage AD groups in Azure is particularly useful for example in rolling out mandatory training for all managers. Within 365, Power Automate can help you to create other automated and custom flows that can support blended learning; these might include automatic enrolment into a particular Community of Practice, or automated reminders for people attending a course.

Learning analytics through Power BI

Analytics are important not only in measuring the effectiveness of learning, but also in administering mandatory training. While some products within your learning ecosystem will include handy analytics built-in (such as our Xoralia Policy Management tool), integration with Power BI means it is very straightforward to create bespoke learning dashboards and reports for learning administrators, managers and even senior leaders.

Communities of Practice through Yammer or Teams

Communities of Practice (CoP) dedicated to professional topics are a solution that can support the less structured and more social elements of blended learning by providing access to experts within the community, facilitating interaction and discussions, and sharing learning resources such as videos. The best tool to use for a CoP is Yammer particularly if a community is large – but it is also possible to use Teams, particularly if the community is a smaller and more focused.

Policies and mandatory reads through Xoralia

A blended learning programme and also the learning elements of an employee onboarding programme may require employees to read particular policies and documents. Here the mandatory reads capability within a tool like Xoralia can help keep track of which employees have read a page or document; the tool lets employees know they have something to read, asks for confirmation they have read it and then delivers reports to administrators to track progress. Xoralia is built for SharePoint so again integrates seamlessly with other 365 tools.

Learning events calendar via SharePoint or LiveTiles intranet

Blended learning programmes are likely to include learning events such as webinars. A central calendar of learning events can also be a good way to display upcoming opportunities for employees, particularly if it is available via the intranet. This can be achieved in different ways including using SharePoint calendars or using the event calendar functionality within a LiveTiles intranet. At Content Formula client RSSB, the latter is used to display learning events on the intranet homepage.

Frontline enablement through PowerApps, LiveTiles Reach or LMS365 app

Learning is also an important component in enabling frontline employees and delivering a good employee experience. Being able to access learning materials including training videos on a personal device is an excellent way to support wider learning, especially when it can be carried out a time convenient for that user. A variety of different options across Microsoft 365 can deliver learning to the frontline via mobile apps including custom PowerApps, LiveTiles Reach or the LMS365 app.

Social learning through LMS365 for Teams and Microsoft Viva Learning

More informal social learning and sharing is another component of blended learning. With Microsoft Teams usage so high, making sure employees can access learning through Teams and then have conversations about learning opportunities and resources can support blending learning. Here, LMS365 for Teams can make learning discoverable and allow peers to share learning resources within their discussion thread. Microsoft Viva Learning is also bringing learning into Teams, although this offering is still evolving, but we can expect this to play a major role going forward.

Blended learning through the digital workplace

Microsoft 365 provides excellent support for blended learning from LMS365 as a core learning platform through to Yammer-based Communities of Practice through to Power BI learning dashboards.

If you’d like to discuss how to support learning in your organisation and make sure it is in the flow of daily work, then get in touch!

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!

15 more intranet best practices for success – part 2

We sometimes get asked by our clients: What are the intranet best practices we should follow? In our first post, we covered fifteen intranet best practices – the approaches, techniques and tactics that we have seen work time and time again in helping intranets to be sustainable and deliver value for both employees and organisations. In this second and final post, we cover fifteen more intranet best practices across different aspects of intranet management, including design, adoption and content.

Of course, every organisation and intranet is different, and a tactic that works well in one place might not be so impactful in another. However, the intranet best practices weve listed here are all approaches that were confident will have a positive impact if applied in the right way.

1 Focus on user experience with user-centred design techniques

A strong user experience is at the heart of a good intranet. An intranet that is not designed primarily around the needs of employees will not be a success, and will end up with low adoption. Here, applying various user-centred design techniques to the research, design and build phases of an intranet project is essential.

These techniques range from running user interviews, to drawing up personas, to mapping user journeys, to rapid prototyping and carrying out various user testing. Essentially, they are all about involving users in your intranet project. Over at UX Mastery, there is a comprehensive list of user experience methods that is worth referring to when youre considering your overall approach to an intranet project.

2 Have a user-focused and task-based information architecture

One area where its particularly important to apply a user-centred focus is your intranet information architecture and site navigation. Unfortunately, we still see intranet navigations that just mirror an organisational structure. This means that to navigate to a piece of content, a user needs to know which function manages that area; this is less than obvious in large, global organisations and even harder for a new joiner, making it hard to find the right content. Essentially, a navigation that is mainly an org structure is focused on the needs of content owners who own individual pages rather than on the needs of users and the way they think

To drive good findability, its essential to have an IA that helps employees find what they need and to get things done. Using intuitive and sensible labelling, avoiding acronyms and obscure brand names for different areas and shaping an IA around popular user tasks will make it easier for employees to find what they need and get the best out of your intranet.

3 Get users to help design and test your navigation

The very best way to ensure your intranet is focused on users is to involve them in defining and testing it. There are a variety of well-established techniques that can be applied here, including card-sorting and task-testing (sometimes called tree-testing) in order to define, validate, refine and improve the navigation. Whilst these techniques are often applied during an intranet project, applying them on a regular basis, along with insights from other data such as analytics and search logs, can help keep your navigation fresh and relevant.

4 Take a holistic approach to improving search

A key attribute of a successful intranet is having good findability; this is not only covered by a good user-focused intranet navigation, but also by having a robust search. Managing and improving search is a wide and complex field, and will depend on the tools, content and resources you have. Whatever you do, you will need to take a holistic approach and apply a range of tactics to improve your search.

A misconception about search is that you can just switch on a powerful search engine and youre done. Poor search can be as much a content issue as it is a search engine issue; reducing the amount of content you have, teaching content authors to tag content correctly and using sensible headlines will have a significant impact on findability. Improvements may require foundational work like creating a taxonomy and establishing content types. Optimising the layout of search can also make a difference. Ongoing management such as examining search logs and making tweaks, collecting search feedback and adding best bets may also move the needle on findability. Realistically, you will need to employ some or all of these tactics to improve search.

5 Make your site accessible

Accessibility is a neglected area in the digital workplace, and its surprising how few intranet sites actually meet the AA level of the WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 guidelines – the acceptable level that most external-customer sites aspire to. Ensuring that your site and content is accessible is not only important from a diversity and inclusion perspective, but also improves the general usability of a site.

Making a site accessible is rarely a priority in an intranet project because it requires ongoing efforts such as testing and reviews, as well as commitment to considering the content that is added, such as providing transcripts of videos, ensuring you have alt text for images and considering colour contrast when adding images to a page.

Working with your D&I team or the right Employee Resource Groups can raise awareness of the importance of accessibility for your internal digital channels, which can in turn support the business case for investing in accessibility.

6 Engage and support your publishing community

Good intranets need good content. Most intranets are based on a decentralised publishing model, with small central intranet teams especially relying on the actions of their content owners to produce good quality content. In our first post about intranet best practices, we prioritised having good content governance with named content owners, as well as ensuring clarity surrounding their roles and responsibilities. However, you also need to keep them engaged and supported. Generally, managing their intranet area is going to be an additional activity that is above and beyond their day job.

Spending tine on an ongoing training programme, providing an online community, driving engagement through recognition and providing the right resources and tools which make life easier for a content owner can all make a huge difference.

7 Include user-generated content and social elements

Modern intranets are lively and dynamic channels that stimulate dialogue, facilitate collaboration and drive a sense of community. Including user-generated content with conversations and contributions is a must. There are multiple ways to do this, for example: promoting employee blogs, adding news commenting, embedding social feeds, introducing models where everyone can publish, featuring peer recognition, using polls, having photo contents, including communities of practice or interest and more.

If your intranet is top-down and only focuses on dreary corporate content, adoption will suffer and youll miss out on opportunities to engage employees, amplify culture and get valuable feedback from employees.

8 Use newsletters to drive adoption

Often, an aim for an intranet is to reduce the proportion of email notifications which end up unread and clog up everybodys inbox. However, email is still an important communication channel. One common practice is to send out a weekly email newsletter that contains a round-up of the key intranet stories with links back to the relevant items. This helps keep employees who still live out of their inbox informed, but also successfully drives traffic back to the intranet.

9 Use a SharePoint intranet if you have Microsoft 365

We anticipate that not everybody is going to agree with this point, but we think its important! If you have a Microsoft 365 digital workplace, your intranet should be based on SharePoint. Successful intranets integrate with other elements of the digital workplace, and a SharePoint intranet has completely seamless integration with the Microsoft universe.

A SharePoint intranet means you can use Microsoft search on your intranet, embed Yammer feeds, provide a personalised list of Microsoft Teams, utilise SharePoint document libraries and facilitate integration with Communication sites. It also means you can embed access to the intranet within Microsoft Teams more easily, meaning the intranet is brought into the daily flow of work. To put it bluntly, if you have Microsoft 365, an intranet based on SharePoint is a no-brainer.

10 Limit intranet customisation if possible

Nowadays, the generally accepted practice for most IT teams is to limit customisation of platforms and applications as much as possible. This view is heavily influenced by the development of cloud-based services and platforms like Microsoft 365 which are constantly updated, but also offer more flexibility around configuration to meet the majority of potential needs.

This approach has completely flipped the world of intranets that in the past were heavily customised, very expensive and arduous to develop and then virtually impossible or too expensive to upgrade. The combination of Microsoft 365 and intranet software like LiveTiles likely provides over 90 percent of what you need on your intranet, with room to configure to your specific needs. Where there are gaps, you can usually find an app, a plug-in or customisation options to suit. The days of heavily customised intranets are over, and thats definitely a good thing.

11 Have a brand for your intranet

If your intranet is bland and corporate, youll likely miss out on an opportunity to give your intranet some personality and make it engaging enough to drive adoption. An intranet should always have a brand typically one that mirrors your organisational culture with an appropriate name, logo and design.

Perhaps your intranet is social and informal, or maybe its more work-focused. Perhaps its mobile-first, or even a bit of everything. Considering your intranet brand and aligning it with your intranets core objectives and how you want it to be perceived by employees will make it more memorable with your audience, and youll consequently be better placed to position it to drive adoption and craft a consistent and impactful experience.

12 Accept that an intranet is never finished

An intranet is never finished. There are always features you can add, content that can be improved, adoption levels to improve, integrations to create and gaps to fill. Employee needs and expectations are constantly changing, and organisations are always restructuring.

When you accept that an intranet is never finished, you can start to focus on a process of continuous improvement that ensures the intranet stays fresh and sustainable, and drives value. Continuously improving through small, iterative changes based on analytics and feedback also means your intranet stays closer to the needs of employees, and further supports adoption and growth.

12 Involve your security and compliance teams early on

Its essential that your intranet ticks all the boxes from a security, privacy, legal, regulatory and risk angle. This spans everything from data security, GDPR, where data resides, sector-specific regulatory issues and more. Of course, most intranet teams already know this, but there can be elements that get missed or emerge late in the day, putting an intranet implementation date at risk. There are also lesser-known ongoing issues, such as educating content owners and users not to add copyrighted material and images onto your intranet.

One thing weve learned from hundreds of intranet implementations is to involve your security, risk and compliance teams early on in an intranet project, and to maintain dialogue with them as new issues arise. This approach usually catches any potential issues that could block or delay an intranet project, and also means actions can be taken to mitigate those risks with less impact on the user experience.

14 Manage your intranet within the digital comms ecosystem

An intranet is often the central platform for your digital communications, but they also exist within a wider multi-channel ecosystem of other digital channels including email, social platforms, apps, digital signage, HR systems, IT service portals and even your corporate website. The opportunities for duplication and information overload are high, leading to disengagement, inefficiency and missed opportunities to drive more effective campaigns. You may also want other channels such as email to drive visits back to your intranet.

Therefore, an intranet should never be managed in isolation – it needs to be regarded as part of the wider cross-channel landscape where content and communications are co-ordinated to drive engagement and efficiency.

15 Network with your peers

The thing about intranets is that they are hidden from view and not available for everyone to see, so it can be harder for intranet teams to pick up tips, best practices and the latest innovations that can really help to get the best out of your intranet. It can also be quite lonely running an intranet; teams are often actually just one or two people, and the rest of your organisation doesnt usually understand exactly what you do.

There can be great value in networking with your intranet peers in other organisations to swap approaches and tactics, get inspiration, or even just have someone who understands intranets with whom to let off steam. The good news is that there are a lot of networks, communities and events that offer opportunities to network, and most intranet people are very friendly and open to help! We certainly love working in the wider intranet and digital workplace community.

Want more information? Get in touch!

Thats a wrap for our intranet best practices. Dont miss the first part of the series! If you want more information on any of these intranet best practices or would like to discuss your intranet project with us, then get in touch.

We use cookies to give you the best experience on our site. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find more about the cookies, please see our Privacy Policy