The past few years have seen major changes in the workplace – with more employees working remotely and more companies able to consider wider, global talent pools. According to Simpplr’s most recent data, 53% of workers work in a hybrid workplace, while 25% work primarily remotely and 9% primarily in person. This shift has greatly altered the employee experience, what employees need in an intranet and what engages them at work.

Employee engagement – defined as the way employees connect with the organization’s mission, culture, priorities and values – starts from the top. Leadership sets the tone, particularly through messaging done via the internal comms team. Recently, Matt Aaronson, senior director of product marketing at Simpplr, hosted a webinar titled “Live EX: Employee Engagement for the New World of Work,” where he discussed the evolution of the intranet, how the employee experience has changed and what leaders can rely on in this new reality.

The Evolution of the Intranet

Years ago when the employee intranet emerged, it came with many new exciting opportunities – but also many flaws. There was no UX optimization for employee engagement, no user-level personalization or any meaningful analytics on what works and what doesn’t. Aaronson referred to this era as Intranet 1.0. In upcoming years, Intranet 2.0 and 3.0 worked to improve on some of these shortcomings, with better UX, slight personalization and social capabilities introduced (along with many other new capabilities).

While there was a big wave of adoption of these solutions initially, use of these intranets dropped significantly when organizations did not achieve their desired outcomes. Then in 2020, the pandemic introduced two years of profound change, making the standard intranet 3.0 even less relevant for a transformed world.

Where Traditional EX Falls Short

While traditional ways of accomplishing an optimal EX worked several years ago, they fall short in a new world of work that requires different needs. One major issue here is the time it takes to identify and address challenges in the EX.

Aaronson gave an example of a company communicating a change initiative. While it takes a lot of time to draft an internal comms message, what usually happens is that some subset of the employee audience will not receive it, read it or understand the deeper meaning behind it. Even more, employees receive so many communications throughout the day that they may not retain that message and carry it out in how they do their work (or in the perspective they bring to their work).

In this example, the initiative itself could be at risk. Leaders need to know what’s going on and how the message has been absorbed within the organization. Engagement surveys – which typically happen only once or twice a year – can give leadership some insight, but they may not learn about any issues until too late to address them. Further, engagement surveys may skew more toward employees who are already engaged and not give you feedback from disengaged employees that will help you address real issues in the employee experience. Essentially, you’re getting feedback from a small sample size that isn’t necessarily representative of your workforce.

“If it takes 6 months to a year to be able to get and incorporate this kind of feedback around your messaging, by the time this full picture of engagement, sentiment and comprehension can be incorporated back into the strategy so that leadership and comms can adjust their messaging, their channel mix, their deliver, it’s too late,” Aaroonson said. “Your initiative has failed.”

Learning Opportunities

A Fresh Approach for the New World of Work

The modern EX needs to be able to communicate and connect with people where they are – across all relevant media channels and with personalized messages at an individual level. Further, it should serve some of the functions of the physical workplace in the age of hybrid work. For example, the intranet could serve the company culturally by replicating the water cooler and giving employees a place to casually get to know their colleagues. This can help improve overall engagement and EX.

“Improving EX is an opportunity to improve outcomes all the way down to the bottom line,” Aaronson says. “A more engaged workforce works harder, creates capacity, spurs creativity [and] leads to all kinds of wonderful things.”

Related to the survey example above, a more fresh way for the comms team to approach employee feedback is through quick, real-time questions, Aaronson adds. For example, an employee may receive an “awareness check” when they open an email where they indicate how much they comprehend the message. They may also receive occasional “sentiment checks'' on the intranet, giving organizations the opportunity to collect real-time feedback on employees' attitudes and feelings toward recent initiatives or announcements. The information gleaned from these checks can give leaders the information they need to respond to feedback quicker and make a difference.

The Next Evolution of the Intranet

In the modern, hybrid workplace, engaging employees requires engaging employees across a wide variety of locations and time zones. “For internal comms, that means serving remote workers as the standard, not the exception or outlier,” Aaronson says. Simpplr represents the next wave of intranets, he adds: Intranet 4.0, also known as Live EX. This entails unifying data sources to create a holistic, accurate and real-time picture of your workforce and their performance, using AI and automation to help you understand employee behavior. With Live EX, the intranet can become more relevant to a hybrid workforce and better engage the remote worker.

Watch a recording of Simpplr’s “Employee Engagement for the New World of Work” webinar here.