The first half of 2020 saw organisations move, at least for a period, all their office-based staff to working from home arrangements, as well as suspend their frontline workforce.
To understand the impact this had, Elcom surveyed two dozen of our intranet clients on their experience before and during COVID-19.
Prior to COVID-19 restrictions, roughly 10% of staff worked remotely across the organisations surveyed, on a full-time or part-time basis.
This meant few organisations were prepared to have up to 100% of their office workforce work from home, let alone effectively manage this newly remote workforce.
Slowly organisations transitioned staff back to the office and back on the frontline. Many now offer hybrid and flexible working arrangements, with staff alternating between home and the office, as well as teams rostered on depending on circumstances week to week.
Effective hybrid working
To thrive in this 'new normal', organisations must accelerate their digital strategies and ensure they put in place the pillars required for overcoming remote work barriers:
- Productivity. This is a no brainer. If staff don’t have access to resources, tools and colleagues to perform their jobs, productivity suffers. Moreover, they need easy access to the latest accurate versions of a piece of information, anytime, from any device.
- Communication. For organisations that communicate with a distributed workforce, the need for reliable digital communication methods becomes all the more important.
- Engagement. Cultivating a positive culture for your remote workforce by keeping staff emotionally and mentally connected needs to be a long-term priority if you want to keep staff engaged, motivated and productive.
Organisations turned to several tools to assist to facilitate this. Zoom calls. Microsoft Office. Slack channels. And of course, intranets.
In this article, we explore how intranets help facilitate the three pillars of effective hybrid working. Using the responses from Elcom's survey, we'll also look at real world examples of how organisations have achieved this.
The advantages of an intranet for hybrid workforces
During the upheaval caused by the pandemic, the Elcom team worked closely with organisations across all industries, helping them to address the sudden shift in working arrangements and constant uncertainty they faced.
It became increasingly clear that these continuing trends in remote and hybrid workforces require a critical shift in how organisations manage staff in order to help them thrive, regardless of where they or their colleagues are working from and when they work. The seamless implementation of new and updated processes and technology plays a key role in this.
Organisations must focus on bringing remote and office-based staff together, and provide them with resources, information and communication that allows them to work effectively together to achieve shared company goals.
Intranets offer efficient ways to communicate and store information, as well as keep staff connected.
This is reinforced in Elcom’s COVID-19 survey, where a massive 79% of respondents said their intranet helped with better communication and sharing of updates, and 74% found their intranet provided staff with easy access to information.
Better communication for remote and hybrid workforces
While there are many benefits with offering flexible work schedules including the freedom to work when and where staff are most productive, it does come with challenges around communication.
Not getting enough of the right communications to feel informed and engaged is a risk when managing a hybrid workforce. Studies have shown that uncertainty is a large contributor to stress.
Effective communication doesn't require everyone to be in the office at the same time. As you can see from the responses, instead it requires a strategy that keeps them informed of what's happening and connects them to others and the organisation outside their immediate teams.
How intranets help
- Keep everyone in the loop. With an intranet, you have a central (and user-friendly) interface to communicate broader long-term business and urgent updates, along with any other information, on the homepage, in the news section, through social updates and more - all of which can be personlised to a department and role.
- C-suite visibility. Intranets provide a channel for visible communication from management, without cluttering up inboxes. Dedicated spaces on the intranet homepage can be created with micro-blogs or video messages from busy CEOs. Your company values provide the foundation for your work culture, and your organisation's goals and values give staff a sense of purpose and help them understand why what they’re doing is important. Use this opportunity to reinforce culture. What is your culture? Is there a strong customer service focus? A family oriented culture? Make sure you communicate and showcase resilience and teams that demonstrate this.
- Keep people connected to each other. Staff are no longer always working together in the same location which can lead to social isolation and lack of engagement. Intranets offer several social networking tools to keep staff engaged with one another from blogs and team workspaces, to social updates, comments and likes.
Easy access to information
Providing staff with the information and resources to work from anywhere, at any time, is key. As part of our survey, we asked respondents to share further insights into how their intranet helped them, their teams and their organisation as a whole.
Several respondents touched on the intranet becoming a single source of truth for information across the organisation – whether that be directly related to COVID-19 or what they needed to perform their jobs remotely.
It was and is, key for staff to be able to access important and urgent updates and details, on a single page or section. Staff need to know exactly where to get the most up-to-date information or version of a file, rather than digging through emails and finding the right attachments.
How intranets help
- Creates a single go-to resource. The intranet can be used to share trusted and curated information that helps remote employees focus and align with priorities and cultural norms; a central hub of information and resources, accessible anywhere and anytime.
- Categories content effectively. All content including images and documents on the intranet can be categorised with appropriate tags. This way, relevant information will automatically appear on appropriate pages, such as a new working from home policy appearing in both the Policies section and the Working From Home section. It also means owners of content only needed to manage one version of that content.
- Easy for search for information. Great intranets come with powerful enterprise search capabilities. Best Bets, for example, can be used to display search results you want staff to see. If someone searches for 'leave policy', you can ensure the first result is the new information page you've created around special circumstances due to COVID-19 or another crisis!
Corporate Knowing Sharing
All organisations need to store and manage the vast amounts of knowledge that flows through and within their business including processes, policies and procedures, product and service information, FAQs and much more.
This becomes difficult when staff no longer work in the same location and at the same time. Often, this information isn’t documented in an easy to find and easy to use location. Instead, it is buried in email inboxes, lost in collaboration platforms threads or found only in the mind of the resident expert who is now working from home.
Organisations must give staff the tools to ensure that they can share the knowledge they possess.
How intranets help
- Capture knowledge and make it easily shareable. Intranets serve as an easy-to-navigate knowledge base - either from having a specific knowledge base area or capturing information segmented in an easy to find way such as in a HR specific section.
- Personalise knowledge sharing. Oversharing is a common challenge with hybrid and remote workforces. For example, what nurses in a hospital don't always need to see what head office employees see. With intranets, you can personalise knowledge for staff such as those working on the frontline vs. office vs. home and the different shifts they have.
- Let people manage and contribute their own content. Modern intranets are built for non-technical users to manage. Simply set up a department page, and create publisher accounts for people in those departments to manage and update content. In a more informal setting, you can have knowledge bases or social Q&As where all staff can contribute content - ask or answer questions, start or add to a discussion or share ideas - all of which is captured in a central interface with enterprise search capabilities.
Automate manual processes
From filling out repetitive paper forms to double handling data and spending several minutes finding information - even the simplest manual tasks when done over and over, can waste an enormous amount of time and resources.
Though many organisations continue to keep these processes with no time, budget or resources to overhaul existing processes.
The COVID-19 work from home directive, however, meant many of these outdated manual processes became particularly cumbersome or worse, inaccessible.
Many of these routine tasks can be automated and streamlined with an intranet.
How intranets help
- Automate key processes. A good Intranet will automate key business processes including content, documents, forms, events, projects, HR and learning management. For example, streamlining simple approvals for HR-related requests such as annual leave and sick leave forms using online forms and associated workflows.
- Digitalise IT processes. With the IT team facing added pressures to support hybrid and remote working arrangements, digitalising their processes including supporting the helpdesk and the use of applications, has a real impact on productivity. Intranets can host user guides, videos and FAQs on different applications and other IT practices. Again, streamlining simple processes such as making an IT request or logging a call with the helpdesk through custom forms and workflows can save countless hours in manually processing paper forms or forgetting to follow through on email requests that get lost in cluttered inboxes.
- Take employee onboarding online. Intranets can be used to provide a checklist of all the tasks that need to be completed, as well as relevant information on required onboarding steps such as videos, messages, organisation charts, mission statements, upcoming events and so on. Intranets such as Elcom also provide an integrated learning management system, which allows you to offer formalised training courses remotely.
It's clear from Elcom's Intranet Survey and several other studies, that digital technology including intranets is a staple for organisations looking to thrive in this world focused on hybrid working arrangements.
With staff no longer working in the office together 5 days a week, digital tools and a digital first strategy will be needed to keep them productive, connected and engaged.
Want additional insights?
Check out our free on-demand webinar. We explore how you can foster confidence and engagement in your workforce. You'll walk away with actionable steps to support your distributed workforce in a more meaningful and impactful way.