Chris Izquierdo and Adam Zouak

If you don’t love your Intranet, it’s okay. Unfortunately, it’s perfectly normal. Even companies with beautifully designed, award-winning, new Intranets fall out of love pretty quickly. And why, with every iteration, does the honeymoon period seem to be getting shorter and shorter?

Intranets were first introduced in the later-1990s, and have since grown in responsibilities and functionality. Initially, they provided simple features, like:

  • corporate directories
  • access to policy files and forms to be filled out
  • simple department pages with essential information

Their purpose was informational and focused on simple self-service. As time passed, some additional features came along, such as:

  • Knowledge management
  • Official Corporate Communications news posting

Even as we added workflows and records management to handle approvals and information disposal, they were still very functional. The problem was then some responsibilities came along that were aspirational. Intranets now were going to:

  • Fuel Collaboration
  • Improve Productivity
  • Solve Communication Problems

Features came along purporting to satisfy these new responsibilities of the Intranet but always fell short. Features such as:

  • Discussion forums, document check-in/out, and document sharing
  • Embedding email into homepages, conversation windows, and lists
  • Communication Sites

And while the features struggled to deliver, vendors’ promises and the industry grew ever greater. Intranets would get launched with much fanfare only to lead to frustration among users, which lead to quiet workarounds that tried to avoid the Intranet at all costs.

Alongside these issues came the realization of how much of the workforce couldn’t access the Intranet. The reasons varied from lack of software license (due to a cost vs benefit analysis), bad access due to the employee’s location, being on the go, or working in the warehouse. It turned out that a lot of effort and money was being spent to provide an unobtainable level of functionality for some, while providing very little for the rest. Today, many organizations find themselves with 40-70% of their workforce without access to the Intranet. Even if everyone were suddenly granted access, it wouldn’t improve matters because the assumptions about usage don’t fit with how they conduct their workday. The sad reality is less than 20% of those who do have access to the Intranet use it on any given day.

And the struggle to get Intranets to deliver on the promises we keep being sold has only been made more challenging with the rise of platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack. These have come along and delivered on many of the collaboration promises made for Intranets, while stealing even more attention away from them (see previous post: Let’s talk about Microsoft Teams and Corporate Communications).

So, where does this leave us? Is it time to say goodbye to the Intranet? Should you abandon everything for Microsoft Teams and move on? Unfortunately, that’s only going to shift the issue, not solve it.

The thing we need to do is break out what our company really requires from “an Intranet” and what systems and channels, together, can make that happen. When we bring an employee portal on SharePoint, plus Microsoft Teams, for those who are “office-type” workers and a mobile app and newsletter for those “non-office-type” workers, does that meet the needs? Can we put a platform in place that simplifies delivering the critical cross-system capabilities like corporate communications and crisis management in a way that draws people in and builds trust?

So have we outgrown our Intranet? No. I think what we’ve done is stopped chasing rainbows. Let’s give the term Intranet a much-needed reset. Let’s separate bells and whistles features from core needs, let’s differentiate the employee portal’s responsibilities from those of the collaboration software, and let’s make sure we take care of the 40-70% of our workforce that was all too often left out of the millions invested in the Intranets of the past.

At the end of the day, what’s happening is we’re all realizing that the mystical, four-legged horned creature we were searching for does exist, except it looks different than we imagined, and it’s called not called a unicorn, it’s call a rhino.

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If you’re looking for a platform to help make your life easier and connecting you with all of your workforce, give Sparrow a look. We’ve lived the pain, we understand the hopes, and we built a platform for communication professionals that delivers. From Intranets, to Microsoft Teams, to newsletters, and mobile, we know how important corporate communications is. Sparrow – Built for Communicators. Book a conversation with us today.