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I’ve recently been doing some research for an IBF report titled: “The inclusive intranet: Meeting the needs of hard-to-reach staff” – soon to be released to DWG members! So it seemed appropriate that I started this blog post while working in a cafe today, connected up to work on my laptop and mobile broadband, with all the usual connections to the world and my colleagues via email, IBF extranet, Twitter, Yammer, Twirl etc.
The ability to work anywhere, anytime is increasingly being demanded by workers across a range of industries, and as we keep hearing – by the time Gen Y enters the workplace this kind of flexibility is going to be expected as a matter of course. But as well as being the product of shifting patterns of work, the ability to connect to the tools and information needed for work is a fundamental issue for some, hard-to-reach groups of employees. For example:
- factory workers
- retail staff
- field engineers
- building inspectors
- sales teams
- flight and rail
- catering staff
- building inspectors
- call centre
Intranet managers looking to bridge the gap and extend the intranet experience to such groups face a number of challenges:
- Work location can mean no computer access or slow connection speeds where access is available, and with the potential unsuitability of the environment restricting options for offering intranet access.
- Mobility can be an issue where staff who are frequently on the move only have limited access to the intranet on company premises – security fears or cultural issues such as trust can hold back moves to extend access.
- Job role can impose constraints such as computer use being seen as detrimental to productivity (for example, in a factory or retail environment), time constraints (for example, in a call centre) or even no intranet access for staff in temporary roles.
So, why bother extending the intranet to these audiences? As part of the research I interviewed five very interesting case studies – from ArcelorMittal, Boots, Centrica, CoreMedia and Nokia – to find out about the benefits they’ve realised, and which included:
- Better communication – for example, fast and effective communication to factory workers via intranet kiosks.
- Increased productivity – for example, eliminating re-entry of data by enabling data entry from the field via mobile devices.
- Better engagement – for example, enabling staff on the move to build relationships and make connections with colleagues.
- Cost savings – for example, automating key processes via the intranet and making them available to all employees.
- Improved customer service and sales – for example, enabling retail staff to track performance via in-store PCs and tills.
- Attraction and retention of talent – for example, providing mobility options to employees in the sales force.
- Improved business continuity – for example, mitigating the impact of a disaster by enabling remote access to critical business functions via mobile devices.
The report also offers recommendations on how to overcome the challenges and realise these benefits, also looking at the technology options for extending intranet access in innovative ways. Highlights of the advice and best practice covered in the report include:
- Not delivering what the intranet or communications team think that a particular audience need!
- Getting stuck in locally can be very revealing for a head office team who may have no previous experience of (for example) how a call centre representative or field engineer works. Even if this isn’t possible due to travel restrictions, much can be done to get a real insight to local needs.
- Getting senior management backing, often from a local senior manager of the audience in question. For many companies, extending the intranet to (for example) a field sales force or large factory population may be seen as an essential progression for the business, rather than having a hard and fast business case.
- Helping users who may be less familiar with computers to get up-to-speed by offering appropriate training and support options such as a helpline, encouraging use by migrating key procedures online, or training a core group of champions/managers to help others. A gradual approach seems to work best in most cases and also allows for any cultural barriers to be brought down.
- Establishing rigorous governance – once a previously hard-to-reach audience gets intranet access it can be a case of the floodgates opening and head office (unintentionally) bombarding them with information. In a way it’s a “champagne problem”, showing that the new tool has really struck a chord. Nevertheless it will require rigorous ongoing governance to protect such audiences from overload, and help head office get the best of the new channel. Having managed a call centre intranet myself, I know that this challenge shouldn’t be underestimated!
The report is packed full of practical examples which I hope will help other intranet managers successfully navigate the road to extending their intranets to hard-to-reach staff… coming soon to the IBF extranet.