An intranet has the potential to significantly improve business performance and positively impact how employees operate in countless settings.

This is not to say, however, that there are a set number of benefits or a single ROI figure that characterizes every intranet—there are multiple types of intranets on the market that offer a broad range of features and functionality, all of which can be applied in a variety of ways. 

In this article, we're going to focus specifically on how the latest iterations of intranets, what we call "Employee Experience Intranets," can serve businesses in 2020, particularly as it relates to the lasting effects of COVID-19.

The “New Normal” for Businesses

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we work, accelerating digital transformation and remote working practices for workers across industries. According to research from Gartner, nearly three quarters (74%) of CFOs expect to transition previously on-premise employees to remote work permanently, driven largely by a desire to cut real-estate costs.

Gartner research showing the percentage of the workforce that will remain remote post-COVID-19.
Image courtesy of Gartner

What about Blue-Collar Industries? 

While the shift to remote working is more easily done in white-collar industries like tech, which naturally lend themselves to the practice, historically physically-bound, blue-collar industries are likely to struggle.

In the manufacturing and industrial engineering industry, for example, a recent study conducted by Leesman revealed that businesses in this category are not totally prepared for this workforce shift.

Surveying 52,240 employees from the manufacturing and industrial engineering sector, 53% reported having no home working experience. 

This is concerning. In manufacturing and industries like it, typical routines like manual quality checks and access to information on physical checklists aren’t possible remotely unless transcribed and electronically transferred to a quality manager. Theses processes need to modernize quickly in order to adapt for the future of work.

A picture showing the "New Normal," with workers behind plexiglass and wearing masks during Renault’s France factory reopening.
Image courtesy of The Financial Times

What’s more, beyond operational things like reevaluating quality workflows, respondents also reported significant fears for the near future when it comes to the state of company culture and collaboration while working remotely:

  • A reduced sense of community (-21.1%)
  • A reduction in social interactions (-20.4%)
  • A reduction in the transfer of knowledge (-25.8%)
  • A reduction in shared learning (-11.0%)
A graph showing the various fears regarding the state of company culture and collaboration while working remotely.
There are significant fears for the near future when it comes to the state of company culture and collaboration while working remotely.

How Can a Modern Intranet Benefit ALL Industries?

With a modern intranet, these industries can adapt more quickly to the New Normal and reap the benefits it can provide in order to alleviate operational and cultural concerns. These include:

1. Keeps All (Even Dispersed) Employees Engaged

Gallup reports that the percentage of "engaged" workers in the US is somewhere near 35%, the highest level since Gallup began monitoring the figure in 2000. On the other hand, the percentage who report being "actively disengaged" tied its previous lowest level (13%). The remaining 52% of workers are in the "disengaged" category—generally satisfied but not emotionally connected to their work.

A chart from Gallup showing the US employee engagement trend.
While employee engagement numbers at at an all-time high, that figure is still only 35%.

Without an office to encourage the participation of the “not engaged” demographic, one can only assume that these figures will be subject to steep decline as COVID-19 cases continue to surge and industry leaders extend remote working policies

A modern intranet intranet can help remedy this expected decline by serving as a digital water cooler for the dispersed workforce, helping employees connect from their remote workplaces by centralizing internal communications.

Connecting these employees with mobile compatibility, promoting an inclusive culture, and providing them with the tools and information required to excel at their jobs minimizes the number of “disengaged” and “actively disengaged” workers.

An illustration showing the CEO Feedback channel in the Staffbase employee app.
The CEO Feedback channel from Staffbase. According to Gallup, high-development cultures are CEO- and board-initiated, creating a powerful "cascading effect" on their organization's culture.

In doing so, companies can also expect to experience significant business results, as those who report highly engaged employees outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share.

Centralizing comms around this virtual water cooler also enables two-way flow: both management and employees can engage with each other, share ideas, have open discussions, and provide updates. This presents a valuable opportunity for companies to better understand their workforce and their desires while working remotely, ultimately leading to better-informed managers and more effective management decisions.

2. Creates a Trusted Employer Brand

Promoting the company's brand internally is becoming vital to the remote workplace of the future. With little else able to reinforce the brand to the same extent, an intranet shows the employee that they aren’t simply working on an island, but are part of a greater community with a sense of purpose, capable of outperforming others by as much as 400%.

For example, when Miller Brewing Company launched a new internal branding campaign aimed at improving morale, they capitalized on brand visibility by celebrating their heritage of craftsmanship. By doing things like distributing books celebrating the vocation of brewing, handing out “I Make Miller Time” T-shirts, and featuring employees in their commercials, Miller reinforced a sense of community and pride in their workplace. 

This is much harder to do with a remote workforce in 2020, as the number of “touchpoints”—things like events, word of mouth, or flyers—is significantly reduced. 

A strong internal brand creates a sense of trust across all channels. As the digital workplace continues to grow and become more complex, employees must be able to clearly recognize official content and retain their sense of purpose. 

An illustration showing the Staffbase mobile intranet.
The Staffbase modern intranet brand touchpoint. Downloading a company intranet app directly from the app stores creates a new touchpoint for employer branding, creating trust and greater confidence of security.

This becomes particularly important given the influx of Gen Z-ers into the workplace. Unlike previous generations, they’re willing to leave their employers to find companies they feel better align with their values and overall goals, and so the employer brand must be capable of speaking to this generation.

3. Supports Knowledge Management & Productivity

Research from Carnegie Mellon estimates that employees spend an average of three minutes on a task at work before switching, constantly weaving between dispersed tasks such as locating information or sending emails.

McKinsey estimates that the time lost navigating between these fragmented sources occupies about 1.8 hours of time for the average employee every day.

An illustration showing a clown juggling digital workplace platforms.
Juggling tasks and switching digital platforms at work is a huge time killer.

Given the current remote working situation, it's also safe to assume that these figures will only increase—especially for physically-tethered workforces—with an increase in complex tasks and cross-team collaboration done remotely.

Intranets have historically provided an easy solution, making it easier for employees to find the tools and knowledge they need. Most often, this constitutes one of two things: finding a specific piece of information or completing a certain task. 

With a modern intranet, however, the task or content employees are searching for is easily accessible using the search function, making it simple to manage, share, and find content while minimizing time spent digging aimlessly through siloed and unorganized pages. 

An illustration showing the Staffbase mobile intranet app's Live Search function.
The "Live Search" function from Staffbase. From the moment an employee starts typing, they receive both content and contact suggestions based on their query. Results are free of silos and show convenient details like the source of the content and date last modified.

This ease of this search-ability and organization is proven to raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 to 25 percent. Additionally, improving the visibility of quality information is proven to have a top-down connection to supplementary intranet benefits, as demonstrated by the figure below from DePaul University’s “An Exploratory Analysis of Intranet Benefits.” 

An illustration of DePaul University’s “An Exploratory Analysis of Intranet Benefits” chart.
DePaul University’s “An Exploratory Analysis of Intranet Benefits.”

4. Improves the Employee Experience

The customer experience (CX) and the employee experience (EX) are inextricably linked. Research shows that companies with excellent CX have employees who are 1.5 times more engaged and outperform their competitors by 147%. 

Focusing on the experience and journey of an employee during their company tenure is therefore of utmost importance—when employees feel they can’t engage in their roles, performance declines, absenteeism rises, and the customer experience suffers.

This idea, famously championed by the Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, is an inversion of the traditional shareholder pyramid: employees first, customers second, shareholders third: 

It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they're going to be happy."

Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group
Source

One of the best ways to provide this employee centricity is through journey mapping, a tactic regularly used for customers to visualize and improve their experience with a company.

An illustration showing an example of how Journey Mapping works in the Staffbase employee intranet.
A sample message from Staffbase demonstrating a pre-set content path for employee promotions. This empowers admins to move beyond audience targeting and automatically send relevant content in moments that matter.

When the concept is applied with an employee focus, however, it can help successfully recruit, retain, and foster advocacy among your top talent. What’s more, this idea is particularly relevant to the current work environment and the emergence of the remote workplace. 

Without the ability to celebrate employees in person, an intranet focused on the employee journey can help manage key employee milestones remotely—things like onboarding, promotions, and routine check-ins. 

How to Achieve these Benefits?

The new strains brought about by COVID-19 and the employee-centric response demanded of the modern enterprise have created a new paradigm for the intranet: the so-called Employee Experience Intranet. This latest iteration of intranet is based on the tried and tested use cases of previous intranet generations and, especially in regard to mobile access and corporate personalization, raises the bar significantly further.

Intranet Example Mobile
The Staffbase employee experience mobile app and desktop intranet.

With its very clear focus on mobile, complete branding across all channels, and a transparent structure with highly personalized content, an Employee Experience Intranet is the most effective way to connect and engage today's increasingly distributed workforce.