Socially-enabled intranets deliver obvious advantages to a wide range of verticals within an organization. The latest Intranet 2.0 Global Survey from Prescient Digital Media reveals the key business drivers behind Enterprise 2.0 initiatives: knowledge management, employee collaboration, team sites, employee engagement and executive communications. The 2.0 Adoption Council adds some business benefit flavor to this discussion, stating that with intranets organizations are primarily looking for increasing productivity (23%), better employee communication (22%) and corporate culture (16%).
Naturally, business owners can improve decision-making, maximize employee efficiency, monitor performance, implement pervasive business processes and secure knowledge continuity. IT departments can streamline project management, while financial departments experience better business visibility and accountability with collaboration tools.
However, this whole debate misses one important vertical that is unfairly left aside despite the fact it is or could be very interested in implementing intranet solutions. Yes, I am talking about HR managers who are constantly looking for new ways to improve internal communications, spread corporate culture and convert alienated employees into a highly-motivated and solid body deeply involved in business development.
However, with HR managers we see an obvious controversy. On the one hand it is difficult to refute the fact they are potentially interested in social intranets. Practice shows that they do play a major role in this process in large enterprises as no large scale implementation goes on without their involvement. On the other hand, HR teams in smaller organizations are still reluctant in this area. But what is the most surprising in both cases, HR departments never or rarely initiate the intranet implementation process.
One of the reasons for this state of affairs is the nature of intranet solutions. What is the first thing that comes to your mind about intranet benefits? If you’re an intranet professional it doesn’t count. This is a basically a rhetorical question. But you should admit that presently intranets are mainly perceived as providing collaboration or a knowledge hub which is again about collaboration. The industry constantly contributes to the market repositioning and strongly pushes the idea that intranets deliver much more than just collaboration. However, changing the impression of outsiders is, by definition, a slow-moving process.
Consequently, HR departments don’t pay much attention to intranets and the industry misses a very important ally in technology adoption. In an ideal world, HR would be an effective, even a common, entry point for an intranet vendor to start communicating within an organization. HR managers simply need the right reasoning that addresses their core needs.
Let’s have a closer look at what tools HR managers could be interested in and what benefits will they have.
A manager with even the keenest eye for hiring doesn't solve all of the company’s problems at that early stage. Experience in personnel management shows that it isn’t enough simply to hire the best – it is no less important to create an environment conducive to productive work. The socially-enabled intranet goes far beyond the traditional collaboration.
The job of creating a team from a diverse group of specialists is a cornerstone of modern business. From HR’s point of view, this duty can be broken down into the following major parts:
- Build communications among staff, give them convenient communication tools
- Monitor the level of corporate culture, promote corporate patriotism and raise non-material motivation of staff
- Provide an easy orientation pathway for new people on the team, give them necessary training and education
Let’s outline basic HR scenarios leveraging an enterprise intranet and show what benefits are delivered.
Intranet as a team member
To begin with, the HR manager can really think of the intranet as an employee in his department. First, the intranet needs to be taught – familiarized with daily routines, information about employee duties, and, perhaps, how to automate some of them. This ‘training period’ quickly pays off, as it will no longer necessary to tell employees individually how to arrange their next holiday or to explain how a recent paycheck was calculated.
Empirically speaking, the intranet reduces staffing costs in the HR department via the reduction of time HR staff spends advising personnel concerning routine activities, allowing them to concentrate on solving higher value tasks, such as screening new hires or enhancing corporate culture.
In practice, the intranet portal allows automation of all the typical scenarios of interaction between the HR department and employees. To arrange a business trip - fill in the ready-made form; to take a couple of days off – just sign the template of the pre-made declaration and it is sent automatically. Of course, sometimes staff will have to give individual attention to employee issues, but in most cases, enough information and interaction will be provided through the intranet – a fact that will delight HR, as well as other departments.
Intranet as a time machine
The work of the HR department is not only to serve the needs of employees, but also, where possible, to increase their productivity. It is important to teach the staff the basics of time management.
Let’s illustrate the topic with a simple example. Imagine a hair salon with one stylist and two clients who walk in at the same time - a young man who has just joined the military (a 10-minute job) and women who wants a perm (2 hours). The work at hand will take 2 hours and 10 minutes in any case, from the point of view of the stylist. But for the clients, the order in which service is provided will determine whether someone has to wait 10 minutes or 2 hours.
Many similar, though much more subtle, scenarios occur in any organization. Hours can be spent waiting for an answer to an urgent message when in fact the recipient is in a meeting with an important client. It is therefore essential that staff be informed about each other's schedules, vacations, sick leave, etc.
Intranets normally have a set of ready functions for time management. Sharing and synchronization among the company’s primary calendar, individual and group calendars, and Microsoft Outlook allow employees to see the activity of their colleagues in real time and properly plan operations.
It is equally important that the intranet not only gather information, but also allow analysis. With a few clicks, HR managers can have an idea of how much time staff spends at their desks, in meetings, on business trips, etc. Ultimately, a better understanding of time usage allows more efficient business processes to be developed without forcing the company to make any significant financial investments.
Intranet as a conductor of corporate ideas
A company can be thought of as a small, independent state. It has its own symbols, boundaries, and authority, and it is governed by its management staff. Like any state, the company creates rules for its citizens (employees), thus forming its own corporate culture. In this context, the task of human resources is to raise company spirit among employees, making them true patriots.
The Intranet can perform very important roles in this capacity, even being the primary tool for building corporate culture. Experience shows that if employees go to the intranet at least once a day, you can be sure that the news on the front page will not be overlooked. Using the intranet, it is easy to convey any information to all employees, even without an exact list of names and even if they themselves are never gathered in a single place.
Corporate culture can be advanced through the intranet in a number of ways. First, basic information about the company - its history, mission and major accomplishments can be posted and available to everyone. This provides a common framework for understanding the company and its evolution among staff. The intranet is also the ideal media for periodic content: corporate news, analytical materials and press articles. A highly effective tool in this vein is a blog kept by company management, which reduces the distance between the top and staff, increasing the motivation and involvement of the latter.
Finally, placing photos and videos on the intranet from the latest corporate parties, events or examples of amateur talent is a great team-builder. Viewing such material perhaps takes some amount of time, but the contribution to warmer internal relations is worth it.
At the same time, it would be a huge mistake to think of the intranet’s role in building corporate culture only as an online bulletin board, because it not only conveys information from management but also provides feedback. Mechanisms such as surveys and polls, web forms, Q&A to top management or an anonymous ‘drop box’ for objective (or objectionable) feedback helps to track the mood of the team and assess the overall level of satisfaction. In guiding a large organization, these opportunities are particularly valuable because they allow full-throated communications with the entire spectrum of employees, bypassing the "food chain" of managers and middle management.
Intranet as a school of new skills
In an era of rapid staff turnover, it is not only important to attract great employees, but also to bring them up to speed in operations as quickly as possible. As a rule, even an experienced employee requires a few months to reach the normal level of productivity. Given that 2 or 3 years is commonly the period that an employee stays in a given position, the cost of orientation and adaptation are quite significant.
When joining a company, new employees must first get acquainted with its structure, collect the contact information of colleagues, and get familiar with frequently used documents. At this time, distracting their neighbors in the office by asking them purely background questions about telephone numbers, details, location of files and supplies or the names of the right people is inevitable. Communication of this kind cannot be called effective, which is why the placement of all background information on the intranet is such a big time-saver.
For example, one of the primary functions of the intranet is keeping a company structure and directory of staff with full profiles and photos. A visual presentation of the company structure which shows the hierarchy of the company by division with department heads can significantly contribute to completing this important task.
Taking this concept further, special ‘instruction kits’ can be crafted within each department of the company. This approach not only quickens the breaking in period for new employees, but is also invaluable to company veterans as a store of corporate knowledge. Ultimately, operations and communications among employees become smoother and more transparent to management.
Intranet as an internal social network
Social networking, which is considered to be one of the most significant innovations in Internet usage in recent years, has often been reckoned an enemy of the HR department. This is understandable, as staff sitting on Facebook during working hours is generally undesirable. However, a simple and total banning of such sites would ignore the clear advantages which they can bring when used properly.
A corporate social network softens the formal boundaries between employees, making staff more cohesive and motivated. In fact, what the network effectively does is add a new level – a new playing field – on which issues of personnel management can be dealt with, from standard operations to launching corporation-wide initiatives.
Note that in addition to uniting employees, a social network brings direct benefits to a company's development. Tools such as forums and internal discussions combine the knowledge and insight from all parts of the company. Employees who do not know each other or do not interact in the normal course of operations have the opportunity to exchange experiences and identify areas to improve efficiency. This distinctly organic approach brings more minds to problem-solving efforts, so that complex problems can be broken down more quickly and smoothly to their basic elements and then resolved.
Despite the multi-functionality and vast potential of the intranet, it is not a magic wand, which can be brought about highly efficient employee interactions in the company overnight. For best results, each facet of the intranet should be properly ‘installed’ into the routine of the company. At first, that means that the HR manager is tasked with preparing the system for typical work scenarios and then promote the use of the intranet among workers, proving its usefulness and maintaining relevant content.
It should not be overlooked that building an ‘HR-brand’ in the company and accomplishing full employee engagement is a complex process, requiring significant inputs from management. Left to itself, the intranet will not raise the level of satisfaction among personnel beyond certain technical capabilities like convenient file sharing – it must be used in conjunction with other means of forming a social, informational, cultural and physical environment that motivates employees and achieves high-level engagement.
Summarizing, I strongly believe that the successful intranet market development and technology adoption among customers depends on the right messages delivered to the right audiences. We should change the common attitude of presenting intranets as collaboration or communication or whatever tool. The market needs focus on practical application and benefits to certain groups of decision makers. And HR managers should be taken into account as one of the most important ally in this process.