After a few hours of research into intranets, you might find yourself asking that very question. They all sorta look the same, and all claim to do the same things in slightly different ways. There’s not much to tell them apart, or clarify what they actually do.
This article helps answer that question. We explain the purpose of an intranet, why companies use them, and whether they’re still relevant in the modern workplace.
First, we need to have a very speedy Latin lesson. Don’t worry; it’ll only take 10 seconds.
The word intranet is made up of two words: “intra” which is Latin for within or inside, and “net” which is short for network.
An intranet is simply a network that’s inside your organization. You usually need to log in with some company credentials, and access is restricted to employees only.
Typically, coworkers use intranets to find information, communicate within an organization, and collaborate together.
What is the purpose of an intranet?
Now we’ve explained what an intranet is, let’s dive into what an intranet should do.
At its bare bones, most intranets have the same purpose: to connect employees to the work-relevant information they need. This means an intranet should successfully help people to:
Communicate leadership and organizational updates (e.g. corporate news, team changes)
Find the right person they're looking for via an employee directory or organizational chart
Sort and store important files and documents (e.g. policy documents, expense forms)
Communicate and collaborate with anyone across the business (e.g. cross-departmental projects)
Spend less time looking for something, and more time being productive
Potential benefits of intranets
If you've never had an intranet, they might help improve your org-wide communication. Here are some benefits organizations hope to see when implementing an intranet (or an alternative platform):
Leaders can share the latest company news through top-down announcements. However, consider platforms that also support peer-to-peer and bottom-up communication to create a transparent, inclusive, and silo-free workplace.
With a central hub for all your important updates and information, people have access to everything they need to get their work done. You’ll see employees gain focus, as they spend less time hunting for the right documents. This leads to better business efficiency and cost savings for the organization.
Higher levels of connection
Opportunities for coworkers to socialize with each other, potentially leading to a subsequent decrease in staff turnover. If your company culture translates on your intranet, there will be greater visibility of the business vision, values, and direction.
Problem with intranets
While the benefits are certainly attractive—people who have used intranets before know they aren't great at solving the problems they set out to solve.
Change happens faster than ever in today’s world of work. Teams are often a mixture of in-office and remote, and new information comes across our desk (or phones) at a head-spinning pace. For those reasons, intranets struggle to live up to their intended purpose–despite their alleged benefits. Here are some common problems organizations encounter with their intranet:
Costly and timely to implement
Intranets take months to onboard, and they generally charge by user count. This requires a tremendous amount of effort, investment, and resources from HR, IT, Communications, and other departments.
Difficult and frustrating to find information
Creating a new page for every new topic and initiative compounds the problem of intranet bloat. New pages pile on old ones, so it quickly becomes difficult to find what you need to know what is relevant. This is extremely frustrating and may highly disrupt the digital employee experience.
10 ways employee intranets break and clutter:
Poor user experience
Collections of hard-to-navigate pages means that an intranet is often cluttered and unsuccessful. Not only do files quickly become out-of-date, but people spend hours hunting for the correct information.
Lack of mobile functionality
Traditional intranets typically support desktop browsing but neglect mobile experiences. Therefore, deskless workers are excluded and can’t access the intranet while they’re on the road—few intranet providers support a mobile app, and the majority of them feel like an afterthought.
These problems mean that users find themselves either distracted by barrages of notifications, tuned out from the noise (irrelevant content), or frustrated by the poor user experience and lack of mobile support. This is what we call the engagement trap—rather than increasing collaboration, the onslaught of notifications and lack of clarity frustrates employees instead.
The need for more: a platform that helps employees succeed
At the end of the day, you want software that’s going to help employees feel accomplished in their work and give them a sense of belonging within the organization. Intranets aren’t the solution you’re looking for.
It’s been reported that only 13% of employees use their company's intranet daily. One of the biggest reasons for that is that the software they use isn’t user-friendly nor intuitive to learn. Talk about unengaging.
What modern organizations need is a platform that focuses on success instead of spamming employees under the guise of engagement. It can no longer simply provide employees with documentation and files.
Employees want to be enabled and celebrated, not just engaged. But it’s not something the intranets of today’s world are equipped to do, especially in a digital workplace.
In today’s people-centric workplace, your platform should help connect:
Colleagues: Keep employees digitally connected to find the right people quickly. It should effectively support communication and collaboration even in remote work environments.
Leaders: Modern collaboration tools should enable leaders to share updates and model company values, but also encourage two-way communication.
Information: Employees spend lots of time searching for the right people and resources. They need to get relevant, quick updates without the expense of their time and focus.
Company culture: In a hybrid world, everyone should be exposed to your company culture, whether in the office or at home. You’ll need a communication tool that breaks down silos and surfaces real employee stories.
Moving on from modern intranets
So what is an intranet? Basically, they’re software that can’t keep up with the ever-evolving workplace. They’re just not the right tool for the job and they’re on the way out. When all is said and done, you want employees engaged and making meaningful contributions. And for that, you need to create a culture of success.
Intranets keep failing. Today’s world of work needs a new approach.