An Intranet for Every Single Employee?

Is an intranet flawed if not every single employee uses it every day? Well, I as an intranet manager certainly would like everyone to use the intranet every day. But at the same time I can see that “everyone, everyday” isn’t feasible in my organization. And maybe should you never let anyone set this as a goal for your intranet!

Why? Because the digital maturity of the organization and the employees almost always makes it impossible to reach everybody, no matter how excellent your intranet is.

* * *

Digital maturity of the organization is about the digital devices and permission to use these devices.

  • Has every single employee his or her own work computer, smartphone and/or tablet?
  • Is it possible to use the intranet from any place?
  • Is every employee free to use the intranet at any time?

If the answer isn’t wholeheartedly yes on all three questions the intranet won’t be used by all employees every day.

About device access, 1: Some of City of Malmö’s employees don’t have daily, regular computer access at all (e.g. janitors at sports facilities and lifeguards). Most organizations have a percentage of the staff that don’t use computers at all in the work. These the intranet can never reach, because the intranet is a digital product that needs a digital device as conduit in order to be consumed.

Make it clear to all that the the intranet isn’t responsible for reaching these grops as long as they are not computerized, and don’t take the blame for this fact. It’s not the intranet that is the culprit if this group of employees don’t use the intranet, it’s the absence of work tools (in this case digital devices) in the organization. And work tools (chair, table, light, heating, pen, paper, computer, coffee machine and so on) is normally the responsibility of the nearest manager.

But what about digital kiosks? Well, such devices might connect these groups of staff to the intranet. By all means, participate in an in-house project for setting the requirements for kiosks (make sure the devices can reach the intranet!) but as intranet manager, don’t take responsibility for shipping and installing them in the organization. “Digital kiosks” isn’t equal to “the intranet”. Digital kiosks is a Facility Management responsibility or something an external supplier of computers and other digital devices should deliver. The intranet work isn’t about supplying computer boxes.

(If you have trouble getting the organization to accept this, point out that there are actually a lot of other digital systems that employees also need to use, come to think about it. Perhaps an HR system and an economy system, for example. But no one ever says it’s the HR department or Economy department that should ship computer boxes…)

About device access, 2: 30-40% of the workforce at City of Malmö share work computer with several colleagues. This means that for these people the intranet isn’t available at all times during the work day — because the computer will probably be occupied by another employee just when you need it. Shared computers also means that the screen time for each individual user is minimal (someone else is waiting behind you for access to the computer) and often, cumbersome computer login processes means there’s only time for the absolute basic work tasks; open a specific system/tool (e.g. the elderly care system), register some data (medication given to a patient in a elderly care center), and then back to work (handing out more prescribed medications).

In this case the intranet has chances of being used, especially if it is the starting point for the basic work tasks, at least as links to the right places/systems, but preferably graphically integrated into the intranet. But shared computers is often a sign of “digital” not being a core part of the work day, and interest in the intranet declines rapidly if you cannot see very obvious, direct benefits in using it. In order to make these user groups use the intranet every day, build great content and take care to segment content according to each specific group. Use personalization features, primaily implicit generated, in order to filter forward the right stuff for different employees.

Too Big To Know, David Weinberger.

(Filter forward — a phrase coined by David Weinberger in his book Too Big To Know, p. 11: “[New digital] filters no longer filter out. They filter forward, bringing their results to the front. What doesn’t make it through a filter is still visible and available in the background.”)

Also, accept that you will never convert everyone in this group into daily users, even if you have outstanding content. Some of them will be immature digital users and by nature uncomfortable with, afraid of, or hostile towards almost everything digital. (More about this further down!)

About intranet access from any place: One of the municipal core tasks in Sweden is operating public schools (the majority of elementary school children in Sweden, 87%, attend public schools). Approximately 50% of the work force at City of Malmö is engaged in this. Teachers in Sweden has a sort of employment that gives the possibility to perform a part of the work time from any location. Great, I can imagine that preparing lessons is best done in a quiet environment where it’s possible to focus (crowded senior common rooms and noisy classrooms is common in Sweden). But “any location” requires work tools accessible from all places, not just inside the firewall. Universal intranet access is necessary if your organization has employees working from the outside and you want them to use the intranet. Reaching it also must be easy, getting a new access code via SMS every time or having to use complicated tunneling programs (VPN, I’m looking at you!) isn’t promoting intranet usage. Fail to provide easy, universal intranet access and you won’t have every employee using the intranet every day.

About freedom to use: At City of Malmö, most employees with his/her own digital work device is free to use it as he or she pleases, as long as it’s work related. But I think some work places that have shared computers see digital as a necessary evil and sometimes a hinder for “the real work”. City of Malmö has 1100 managers, and I bet at least one of them this very moment says “I don’t want you to use (waste time on the) the computer all the time, we have (real) work to to.” This used to be a bigger problem ten years ago, but even today I cannot guarantee this narrow thinking does not exist at some place in the organization.

For solving this, I don’t believe in some kind of top-down decree about using the intranet every day. Instead, the intranet team focus on making the managers see the potential benefits in having the staff using the intranet (better compliance to routines, increased knowledge about important work related changes, less tool time and so on). And we never ever say the word “the social intranet”, instead it’s all about “work collaboration”. Social is something you are Friday evening after work.

Also, treat the group managers themselves as a really important user group. Segment relevant content according to the job role “Manager” and make sure it’s useful for managers. If they feel they get work support via the intranet and their efficiency increases thanks to this, it’s more likely they will also see what good the intranet can do for the employees.

* * *

Digital maturity of the employees is about an individual employee’s experience and confidence in using a computer, a tablet and/or a smartphone. If your organization is a small IT company maybe everyone is a digital wizard. But most organizations has the whole range of digital maturity.

Pick a number! Most probably, all exists in your organization.

In City of Malmö we have hundreds, maybe a thousand employees that are wizards. But at the same time we have 1000–2000 really immature digital users. I also think we have several hundreds that are afraid of computers (zero on the scale above). This group cannot even master some of the computer basics (turn on the computer, find the web browser icon, double-click to start a program, know a web link is something you click on, use the back-button in the web browser).

Let’s face it — we cannot please everyone. It’s not possible to build an intranet that satisfy everyone across this range, and this also makes it unrealistic — no, impossible! — to build an intranet that every single employee will use every day, even if the digital maturity of the organization should be outstanding.

  • For some the intranet will never provide the newest ultra-modern tools he or she wants and won’t support work in the extremely modern way that person prefers.
  • For others almost every content, tool or service on the intranet is too hard to use, no matter how user friendly the interaction is.

And none of these two extreme groups of employees will use the intranet regularly, no matter what you do. Try to accommodate the power users and you will alienate the 0/1-employees even more. And the “cool stuff” you can deliver will still not suffice for the power users, because they are never satisfied. Try building an intranet that doesn’t require computer basics — navigation clicks and other forms of input from the user — and you will probably not give any relevant support at all to the employees and reduce the efficiency in the organization. And then no one will use the intranet.

How to handle this? My suggestion: narrow the intranet scope! Avoid having category 0, 1 and 5 as primary user groups, don’t build the intranet for them.

City of Malmö’s intranet focus.

Focus in the middle. At City of Malmö, focus for the intranet team is building content, tools and services for the big part of employees in the middle of the maturity scale. This is the big work. On top of this sometimes we build things we know only the power users will use. The demanding, early adopters is a loud user group and it’s a good thing having them on your side as potential champions for the intranet. We cannot give them everything they want, but we can deliver some things. An important thing to remember here is that these interaction advanced features is never core features of the intranet, you can use the intranet without bothering with them and still get the “full standard experience”.

Educate the low end? 0/1-employees are tricky for us. I think some of them could perhaps become more mature if they get digital education, and probably then they will become more avid intranet users. Training 20,000 employees in basic computer skills and “digital work” isn’t a responsibility for the intranet team but should be a Facility Management or Internal Service Desk responsibility (they probably need to sell classroom sessions internally, because e-learning won’t work…) and responsible for getting people to sign up for sessions is the nearest manager, just like the manager handle other competence and education questions related to his/her employees. (Just like work tool issus!) But some will always be at the bottom of the scale, and maybe lost hope. The intranet will never be for them, the zero-level-employees.

Don’t lower your standards! Perhaps most important: City of Malmö’s intranet development agenda isn’t set according to the most immature digital users. Development cannot be controlled by those who doesn’t want any change. If the organization has 0/1-employees the solution isn’t lowering the quality of the digital workplace. Because then the organization will never get a good intranet.

* * *

Never set the goal “the intranet should be used by every employee, every day”. Even if you are the best intranet manager in the world, this goal isn’t possible to reach, because the digital maturity in your organization and among your fellow employees will undoubtedly let you down. Instead, set goals focused on the right key groups in the organization. Groups that have digital devices and the permission, power and will to use the intranet. Build for them.

And let the “impossible” user groups be for the time being.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s