16 min read
Everything you need to know about intranets, all in one place.
For decades, intranets have tried to inform, connect, and align employees to what matters most in the organization. In recent years, they've taken on even more responsibility. The try to break down silos, address hybrid workplaces, and keep employees happy and healthy.
Gallup’s 2023 State of the Global Workplace reports that only 31% of employees feel they are thriving at work, 52% are disengaged (quiet quitting), and 17% are actively disengaged. Almost half intend to leave their jobs soon, most citing high stress as the primary reason.
With these statistics in mind, employers must do more to retain good employees. Providing them with the tools and support they need to succeed includes reducing friction around communication and access to information.
Modern intranets try to set a foundation to achieve these goals, streamlining communication, encouraging collaboration, and improving engagement across departmental lines.
However, many companies still struggle to manage their intranets adequately, resulting in missed opportunities and widespread frustration as employees struggle to make it work.
This guide is intended to provide you with information about intranets: what they are, their evolution in the modern workplace. We’ll also get into why some companies are choosing to walk away from a tool that could’ve been a powerful tool to engage employees, enhance productivity, and improve internal access to information.
Before starting the guide on intranets, we feel it’s important to disclose our point of view. As an employee success platform, we don’t believe intranets are the best solution for organizations looking to build happy, high-performing workplaces. If you’re interested in hearing why, you can jump to this section or get our ebook on why organizations are ditching their intranet.
However, if you’re looking for information on intranets, this guide also contains plenty of that.
With that out of the way, let’s begin.
An intranet is an internal company network. Its primary uses are to bring people together, share key information, and foster a collaborative culture.
Intranets are repositories of company content, where employees and departments can access collateral they need for project management, training, to inform tasks, or share with customers. Security is controlled at the admin level, ensuring only authorized employees can access, view, edit, or download information.
Modern intranets use automation to simplify and streamline repetitive workflows, create reports, keep employees connected to shared goals.
They also have a social aspect, encouraging employees to post content and publish updates to a newsfeed.
With all these features in mind, you could describe an intranet as an organization's own private and centralized internet.
The internet and intranet are two distinct concepts that serve different purposes.
The internet is a global network of interconnected computers and devices that allows for the exchange and sharing of information on a global scale. It provides access to a vast array of resources, websites, and services accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
In contrast, an intranet is a private network that is limited to a specific organization or group of organizations. It is used to facilitate internal communication, collaboration, and information sharing among employees within the organization. Unlike the internet, which is accessible to anyone, intranets are restricted to authorized users within the organization.
Intranets provide a secure and controlled environment where employees can access company-specific information, documents, and resources. They are often used to centralize information, streamline business processes, and enhance internal communication and collaboration.
While the internet focuses on global connectivity and access to a wide range of information, the intranet is designed to cater to the specific needs and requirements of the organization, ensuring that sensitive and confidential information remains protected within the organization's boundaries.
We’ve touched on many reasons companies use intranets, but let’s drill down on the top four.
An intranet provides a central hub for company content, information, and collateral. Some examples include training and compliance documents, employee HR forms, job boards, newsletters, project-specific info, and product documentation.
Content can be pushed out globally to the server for all or specific to a role, team, or individual employee. Content will continue to live on the intranet until it is removed.
The database is searchable by keywords, making it easy to locate files and documents. Configurable access ensures only appropriate people can view, edit, or download files.
Employees logged into the intranet can message their teammates via email, instant messaging, voice, or video. Team meetings are also held within the system so employees don’t have to leave the platform to meet, share information, and collaborate.
A modern intranet also attempts to remove silos between departments, aligning teams to shared goals, such as might be the case with sales and marketing.
Leadership can leverage the intranet to keep employees apprised of what’s happening in the broader scope of the business operations. Sharing successes and providing updates on ongoing initiatives energizes the workforce, giving them something to be proud of and helping them understand the impact of their contributions.
Businesses today use hundreds of third-party applications to get work done. Having to use each one as a separate entity and switching apps according to the task would add significant complexity to the workday, not to mention the potential for errors that would eventually need to be corrected.
Modern intranets integrate apps into a single platform, helping employees focus on higher-value tasks. Users only log in once to access everything they need to do their jobs. Many tasks can also be automated, removing the potential for error, reducing payroll hours, and reducing the monotony of mundane repetition.
Intranets simplify many business processes. Leveraged to its best advantage, it can engage employees in their daily work and ensure nothing slips through the cracks. Employee onboarding, performance reviews, weekly scrums, check-ins, and project management are just a few ways the intranet can enhance employee engagement and productivity.
Engaged employees are happy and will tend to stay put. The more connected they feel to their work, company culture, and overarching mission, the happier and more productive they will be. When the intranet is structured, well-maintained, and used as intended, it can catalyze employee engagement, leading to better productivity and a boost to the bottom line.
If you want to use an intranet, or any employee platform really, there is a big decision you’ll have to make: to build or to buy.
Each use case has its pros and cons, but ultimately, it comes down to what you’re willing to invest, your in-house IT team’s capabilities, and how you’ll use it. You should also consider the solutions you already use and the capacity of your employees to take on a new tool. Learning new software can be challenging, and buy-in is critical to your ROI.
So, let’s drill down on the pros and cons of each approach. We’ll consider everything from budget to ongoing maintenance and ease of use so you can make an informed decision.
Every sound business decision requires careful consideration. While a custom intranet has a lot of benefits, they come at a price. You’ll need to weigh the value of the investment against your specific needs.
So, why would you want to build an intranet from scratch?
In short, it’s about customization and control. Some companies have specific feature requirements that can’t be satisfied by a pre-built system, and a custom approach gives you all the flexibility you need to create something that’s uniquely your own.
In summary, a custom intranet might be worth considering if you are a well-resourced, enterprise-level company that needs advanced customizations and has the in-house talent required to maintain it.
For most companies, purchasing intranet software is an excellent way to streamline business processes and provide employees with the tools and connectivity they need to stay productive.
Bottom line? All but the smallest companies will benefit from an intranet, but cost and IT resources are the greatest divide. Custom builds are ideal for the enterprise, but a pre-built SaaS intranet is a viable choice for most organizations.
Many companies are ditching their intranets, citing poor user experience, outdated content, unclear governance, and disengaged leadership. It boils down to the fact that the modern intranets we know are not built for the modern world.
For intranets to succeed, there must be a clear purpose, and leadership must own that purpose to ensure it resonates throughout the organization. Simpplr (ironically, an intranet provider) states that 90% of intranets fail. They recently published a study that revealed only 57% of companies surveyed do not know the purpose of their intranet.
Other reasons why intranets fail, according to the same survey, include:
The last point is significant; if the system is too complex or has a steep learning curve, employees will see it as a hindrance to productivity and won’t want to use it.
Time and time again, intranets begin as a dream to align and inform employees, but all too often, they end up causing frustration. To understand why intranets fail and quickly become disorganized chaos, let's examine their typical lifecycle.
Phase 1: A Promising Start
The initial stages of launching an employee intranet are exciting. Your organization is unique, and the idea of customizing an intranet to meet your specific needs is appealing. After months of planning and building, the intranet is successfully launched, and employees are eager to use it. At this point, everyone is satisfied.
Phase 2: The Passage of Time
As time goes by, your organization evolves, and the world changes. This introduces new constraints on resource allocation and time investment. Additionally, new content is constantly being added to the intranet. These factors push the design of the custom intranet in unexpected ways.
Phase 3: Breakdown and Disorganization
Despite the initial high hopes for your intranet, circumstances can suddenly shift. Even with considerable effort, the intranet no longer serves its intended purpose for the organization.
Phase 4: Lack of Usage
Research has shown that only 13% of employees use the intranet on a daily basis.
Intranets become cluttered with outdated information, which frustrates employees and leads them to stop using it. Maintaining a current, relevant, and organized intranet is an almost impossible task.
Phase 5: Starting Over
Due to the unreliability and frustration caused by the disorganized intranet, employees eventually stop using it. Broken links and inconsistent messaging become commonplace. Consequently, consultants are brought back in to rebuild the intranet. However, limited resources and lack of motivation make it challenging to undertake such a large project, knowing that it will likely break again in the future.
If you do decide to start over, keep in mind that change is inevitable, and the influx of information is relentless. Once again, the new intranet becomes useless shortly after its launch.
Intranets were initially conceived as "internal websites," and in many cases, they still are. They typically consist of a homepage with menus and links that lead to a multitude of web pages.
However, this page-based approach is at the core of why most modern intranets struggle to meet expectations.
This happens for the following reasons:
These issues collectively contribute to a frustrating user experience, and unfortunately, the problems don't end here. There are other ways in which intranets tend to break down, ultimately leading to employees avoiding their usage altogether.
The future of intranets lies with emerging technologies and is informed by how we work today. Platforms that provide a great employee experience and focus on employee success are the way forward, providing the features we need now with the ability to evolve to support a variety of future business needs.
Intranets of the future will be more human-centric, providing an intuitive user experience that simplifies the workday. They will have more integrations and continually offer new connections as business needs evolve. Personalized homepages will provide employees with an interface they can customize to their preferences, fostering engagement with their team and the company and helping them focus on their jobs without distraction.
The even better news is modern intranets, such as we described above, already exist. We’ve shortlisted the top five in the marketplace to give you an idea of what’s possible.
Jostle is built for employee success, focusing on enabling, not hindering communication and engagement for employees whether they’re in the office or not. Jostle connects people and departments with the content and tools they need to succeed. The simple interface is inspired by social media, with personalized feeds and internal communication tools at your fingertips.
Simpplr offers a unified platform designed to simplify (hence the name). Simpplr’s AI continually adapts and responds to the user’s evolving needs and preferences, delivering a seamless, highly personalized, unified experience without the noise.
Workvivo is a Zoom company that prioritizes employee communication and engagement and provides opportunities to celebrate wins and gauge employee satisfaction through contextual surveys. Users have a personalized feed and, of course, integrated video conferencing and messaging courtesy of Zoom.
Microsoft SharePoint, while not an intranet per se, is the number one base technology for custom intranets. Many organizations already use Microsoft apps, so the functionality and interfaces are familiar and can be further customized to suit company needs.
Guru’s AI-powered engine supports content creation, information search, and collaborative projects. It helps employees and departments get their work done more quickly and efficiently, with particular strength in content creation and management.
These are just a handful of the many modern intranet solutions in 2023. Ultimately, the right solution satisfies your business goals and encourages employees to engage with their work and each other.
When choosing an intranet solution, it’s vital to evaluate your needs, not just for the features and integrations you want to see but also for the company’s cultural goals and its ideal evolution over time.
Check out this blog for a more a comprehensive look at the best intranet software.
We hope you’ve gained some insight into modern intranets and how they differ from their predecessors. Today’s work environment has changed significantly in recent years, necessitating an evolution in the tools and platforms we use to enable success.
Employees have always been our most valuable asset. In today’s challenging business landscape, we must nurture these assets by providing them with the tools and supports they need to succeed.
Jostle’s employee success platform is where everyone connects, communicates, and celebrates at work. Find out more at jostle.me. © 2009–2023 Jostle Corporation. All rights reserved.