Wondering what an intranet is even for? This article defines the purpose of an intranet, details how they've evolved over the years, and explains why they're more useful to organizations than ever before.
The more you research intranets, the more confusing they can become.
There are a lot of products on the market and they all seem to do the same thing, albeit in different ways. You might find yourself asking:
“What’s this intranet thing really supposed to do?”
This article is here to help you answer that question. We explain the real purpose of an intranet (which is thankfully quite simple) and look at how it can help you in today’s workplace.
Let’s get to it.
1. What’s an intranet?
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.
Thus, an intranet is simply a network that’s inside your organization.
2. What’s the real purpose of an intranet?
Now we’ve explained what an intranet is, let’s look at what an intranet does.
At its bare bones, most intranets have the same purpose: to connect employees to the work-relevant information they need.
This has never changed.
However, while the purpose has stayed the same, intranet software itself has changed beyond recognition in the past 20 years. And that’s because:
The workplace has modernized
Employees are demanding more information, transparency, and better communication mechanisms
Technology has advanced
These changes mean that the role of the intranet in day-to-day business has shifted dramatically. We’ll look at these points and address how they impact the intranet today.
2a. How has the workplace modernized?
If we compare the landscape of today’s workplace with the workplace 20 years ago, the changes are enormous. Nowadays there’s a heavier emphasis on:
company-wide communication and connectivity
honest company culture
work-life balance, and
This change has been driven by employees, rather then employers. As Gallup neatly surmises:
“Underlying all of this [change] is an evolving employee attitude about what a job should and should not be. They want their work to have meaning and purpose. They want to use their talents and strengths to do what they do best every day.”
All of this means that businesses have had to adapt and modernize. Successful businesses have prioritized the needs of employees and started to pay close attention to their communication style, culture, values, technology, and services.
If a business refuses to change with the times, they risk losing employees and struggling to hire fresh talent. After all, our hyper-connected world means that it’s never been easier for dissatisfied employees to find new work and leave honest public reviews about employers.
How does this impact the role of an intranet?
The intranet has evolved from a file repository to an internal online community that supports the entire employee experience. It can no longer simply provide employees with documentation and files. Remember: an intranet’s purpose is to connect employees to work-relevant information.
For a modern business, therefore, that means a good intranet must connect people to fellow employees, company culture, values, knowledge, and more. It must keep people both informed and engaged.
2b. How has intranet technology changed?
Or to put it another way, how was technology changed intranets?
I feel sorry for the poor souls who had to use an intranet in the 1990s. Intranets were sparse, clunky, and frustrating tools.
More often than not, intranets were made up of thousands of poorly structured pages, which made finding information difficult (if not impossible)—and if you were able to find it, it was likely out of date.
Intranets also had an extremely limited capability. They were used primarily for file storage and the occasional news article.
And they weren’t particularly attractive tools. They often looked like this...
An outdated intranet, circa 2002. Yuck.
Thankfully, advances in technology mean that there are new types of intranets that don’t look or operate like they did in 1998.
Modern intranets are more attractive, easier to use, and more powerful. They support everything from instant messaging to video chat, company-wide polls to leadership blogs. They even support mobile, which means accessibility for remote workers.
Modern intranets can easily integrate other apps like G Suite, HR systems, project management tools, and performance management solutions. In other words, they’re no longer standalone systems.
Hosting has also changed. Whereas older intranets used to be hosted locally (and some still are), modern intranets are typically cloud-based.
Many of these intranets are a pleasure to use, making it extremely easy for employees to find the information they need and ensuring they see all of the updates they need to see.
Advancements in technology means that intranets are capable of supporting the changing landscape of the workplace. They’ve become well-rounded tools that enable the communication and collaboration required in fast-paced businesses, and they keep all employees connected to both company news and culture.
In this way, intranets have become vital for both business operations and employee experience.
3. What should an intranet do today?
As we’ve already mentioned, intranets are meant to connect people to what they need at work. In today’s workplace, that means an intranet should be able to successfully connect people to:
Colleagues: Intranets keep employees digitally connected, with instant messaging, open-forums, organization charts, employee profiles, video calls, and more.
Leaders: Not only do modern intranets enable leaders to share updates and model company values, they encourage two-way communication. Leaders can create polls, engage in a dialogue via forums, and ask for feedback via comments.
Information: Intranets remain an invaluable source of company information. They should have an easy-to-navigate document library, streams that allow for quick updates, and support video files (for training and communications purposes).
Company culture: Pinpointing how an intranet supports company culture can be tricky because it includes everything we’ve already mentioned and more. In a nutshell, your intranet should be like a digital version of your entire organization. Some features that help this along are real-time company and people updates, peer-to-peer recognition, and open publishing rights for employees. The latter enables teams to publish news articles about their corner of the business, which breaks down silos and surfaces real employee stories.
The real purpose of an intranet is to keep everyone connected to the information they need, but what employees need has changed as the landscape of work has evolved. For the intranet to be a valuable tool today, it needs to support the modernized workplace’s practical and cultural needs. It must help companies build an online community and keep their people connected to what matters in their organization.
About the Author
Hannah's a freelance content marketer. Her articles enable readers to make positive changes to their work lives. When she’s not tapping away at her laptop, she’s drinking good coffee and adventuring. You can contact her via LinkedIn.
Intranets keep failing. Today’s world of work needs a new approach.