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Intranet may sound like an outdated term. It's true digital watercooler platforms like Yammer and Slack have been used for years to showcase company updates and milestones. But in today’s hybrid and remote work ecosystem, intranets are a critical piece of organization-wide communication and company culture. There is a caveat: intranets should not look or feel like the ones from the on-premises days of the past.

Let's put this in context: One-third of employees today feel disconnected from their leadership teams, and 45% have expressed that the number of people they interact with at work has plummeted in the past year according to O.C. Tanner research. That’s where new, more engaging intranets can come into play. Modern intranets have become increasingly important for maintaining employee engagement, productivity and culture — and in this piece I will offer some insight into why and how businesses can leverage them effectively.

The Purpose of the Intranet Today

In the past, intranets primarily served as a knowledge base of corporate information. Think: HR announcements, upcoming events, internal templates, links to other corporate tools, etc. No matter how much companies tried to facilitate employee engagement and communication on these platforms, it never took off. If you asked a group of professionals today how much they collaborated in their SharePoint intranets, it would probably be minimal.

Thanks to the increasing need for employees to better collaborate, an intranet's purpose now is to be a one-stop shop to access company information, integrate relevant systems and provide visibility into employee chatter.

Related Article: Can You Mass Produce a Great Intranet?

Break Down Silos for Information-Sharing in a Digital World

Not having a desktop computer — or even a laptop — would in the past be a barrier to entry for non-office workers accessing the intranet. That is no longer the case — and it hasn’t been for over a decade. Yet many companies still have not taken advantage of modern technology to engage employees regardless of location, equipment or role. No wonder nearly three quarters (74%) of employees feel like they are missing out on company news.

Investing in a new, modern intranet opens the potential to democratize information and reach more people, wherever they are. For example, you can imagine field managers, warehouse workers or even frontline healthcare staff tapping into content from an intranet mobile app, integrated digital collaboration platform, or via email notifications. That way, all employees are privy to insights on things like company stock performance, product updates, expressions of employee gratitude and more. By leveraging technology to generate higher transparency within the organization, companies will experience more engagement, productivity and connectivity from all areas of the business.

Related Article: What Employees Always Want From Their Intranet

Adapt to New Consumption Habits

Over the past decade, and especially in our current remote and hybrid working environments, the way employees access information has drastically changed. I can’t think of anyone starting their workday firing up their browser and navigating to their company intranet homepage.

Instead, we all tap into different sources from different mediums, such as computers, cell phones, tablets, even wearables. You don’t need to go to CNN.com to access the latest news, you can ask Alexa. Because information engagement models have changed so drastically, companies need to evolve their intranets to be much less static than before.

Let’s say the HR team posted an internal announcement about employee benefits on the HR portal in your intranet. How can a business make sure every employee is aware? It wouldn’t be fair to assume everyone is diligently visiting the HR portal daily to access pertinent information.

Platforms like Microsoft 365 can notify employees via email and Teams alerts across various platforms and devices. In addition, Yammer’s integration with SharePoint enables employees to have transparent conversations and leave feedback directly within the announcement itself.

Related Article: Frontline Workers: The Untapped Knowledge Workers in Your Midst

Enhance Employee Experience

Having access to information isn’t enough. The intranet needs to become an interactive and dynamic community where employees engage and contribute regularly. Unlike other digital collaboration platforms like Teams, Slack or Google Workspace which are primarily used for one-to-one conversations and highly specific group chats, the intranet can help facilitate cross-functional culture and connections outside of the day-to-day work talk. Imagine running clubs, groups dedicated to sharing pet photos, and even book clubs living within the intranet, which brings people together in unique ways. Especially with a record number of employees quitting their jobs this year, building a vibrant digital culture can be key to both talent retention and acquisition.

In addition, the intranet should help streamline workflows as another piece of the overall employee experience. Over 54% of office workers in the U.S. spend more time searching for files than responding to emails and messages. By housing key information in one place — like Town Hall recordings, training modules and even news articles about the company — an intranet can solve some of these time-wasting search challenges. Better yet, when updates from the intranet are woven into the employee’s workflow, such as shared via email or integrated within a digital collaboration app like Teams, employees can spend less time task switching and increase productivity.

Secure Sensitive Data in the Cloud

Having an intranet with key data and files stored means data management and governance should also be a priority. That is especially true if your intranet houses sensitive information like IP and strategy. Unfortunately, nearly one-third (29%) of intranets fail today due to unclear governance, which means a higher percentage of intranets fail due to poor governance than dwindling employee engagement or lack of purpose. While intranets can be used for encouraging employees to share certain information externally, like a news article or award win, it is imperative to protect data that is in the cloud. That means understanding what data is stored in the intranet, who has access to which communities and when to best provision and safeguard that data. A third-party service can potentially help here.

At the end of the day, employees need to feel connected to the business. When they do, it’s better for all parties involved. What was once considered an outdated and static digital bulletin board now has the potential to be a vibrant community, accessible in many different forms, that companies can leverage to create a positive employee experience. And after 18 months that have altered the future of work forever, the new intranet will be vital for every company.