Intranet Love Affairs: Can the intranet inspire real love affairs?

13 December 2011 by

Admittedly “intranets” and “love” aren’t words that are often used in the same sentence. More often, intranets are associated with negative emotions, according to Amplicate’s recent customer opinion survey. Out of some 200 responses 80% of people said they “hated” intranets, whilst only 20% said they “loved” them. And of course there’s all the recent storm-in-a-teacup about intranets being “dead”, and the accompanying implication that no one particularly minds.

But dig a bit deeper and there actually may be a long and often secret history that can now finally be revealed. Intranets have always been good at connecting people, but for years have intranets actually been facilitating particularly close connections? Are intranets actually responsible for starting relationships, inspiring what can genuinely be described as “intranet love affairs”? It’s time to look at the evidence!

At this early stage I’m going to declare a slight bias in that I actually met my wife when we were both working on an intranet-related project to do with improving the employee directory at the firm we were both working at. I wasn’t looking for a potential girlfriend at the time but I knew that she was the one for me when I first laid eyes on her. When you know, you know. (Whilst our marriage is very happy ironically the employee directory didn’t go the distance. In fact I hear it’s about to be replaced with SharePoint My Sites.)

It’s also important to say that some companies either ban or actively discourage dating between co-workers, IBF isn’t specifically condoning work colleagues getting together if that’s off the organisational agenda. There are however some isolated examples where companies have actually encouraged relationships to blossom, and used the intranet to help.

As early as 1999 Somerfield, the UK supermarket chain which is now part of the Co-Op, actually formed its own virtual lonely hearts facility for 1600 white collar workers. Allowing them to post personal information just like established dating sites, this actually may be the world’s first truly social intranet. At the time a spokesman claimed they thought the site would help improve productivity as people “who are happy in their private life will also be happy at work.”

A more recent example is Indian-based outsourcer WIPRO, which is based in 37 countries, but has 75% of its workforce based in India. In 2004 WIPRO introduced an official “matrimonial service” on their intranet “Channel W”. Titled the “Cupid Section”, after a year the site had over 600 people signed-up and had reputedly resulted in several marriages. Bijay Sahoo, Wipro’s vice president of talent engagement and development, said “We support having both spouses work for us. The emotional bond with the company gets stronger.”

More recently the growth of “social intranets” and internal networking has also been facilitating connections between co-workers. It’s still the case that most people meet their long-term partner at work. Recent studies suggest that over the past three years 36% of people have met their spouse through work or study, whilst another suggests 20% of people, excluding those who met over the internet, met at work.

With this high level of love affairs starting at work, intranets and social tools that help people get to know each other are almost certainly going to help bring about relationships. Perhaps sparks of interest were seeded through an exchange on a micro-blogging thread, sealed by a mutual glimpse of each other’s employee directory photo (even though most of those look like ‘prison mug-shots’) and then confirmed via connecting into each other’s network?

OK, this is a rather frivolous post, but I do think there is a serious point to make about the “social” function of intranets. To a certain extent intranets are a reflection of the organizational cultures and the people that work there. They’ve always been used for non-business use, and that was even before social tools were deployed. From departmental pages full of photos from a social evening, to virtual book groups to fantasy football leagues to humorous exchanges on Yammer.

So perhaps if intranets don’t create actual love affairs, they certainly reflect and support the friendships between work colleagues which help to create happier workplaces and ultimately better performing organisations. Even if the intranet contributes a little to the social life of the people working for an organization, then that has to be a reason to love your intranet.

This is a guest post by Steve Bynghall. Steve was the content producer for IBF 24 2011 and helped research Paul Miller’s forthcoming book on the “Digital Workplace.” He has written two research reports for IBF. Steve is the founder of Two Hives Ltd, a consultancy specialising in KM, collaboration and web-based projects. Steve previously worked at accountancy firm BDO in a variety of knowledge roles, including managing their global extranet programme. He has just co-written a book on crowdsourcing with Ross Dawson titled “Getting Results from Crowds.”

Categorised in: Collaboration

Steve Bynghall

Steve Bynghall is a freelance consultant, researcher and writer specializing in the digital workplace, intranets, knowledge management, collaboration and other digital themes. He is DWG’s Research and Knowledge Lead, a benchmark evaluator and research analyst for DWG.

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