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In our increasingly dispersed world of remote work, a well-designed employee portal has renewed purpose and importance. Besides connecting everyone in an organization under one digital roof, it makes for a more streamlined workflow and a more engaged employee base. In this article, SVP of Strategy and Research, Mike Stutman, shares his thoughts on what leaders should be considering when reinvigorating employee portals to drive engagement and productivity.

Employee portals and Intranets...are they still a thing? Like email and websites, their demise has consistently predicted over the years. In an employee world where digital communication and collaboration are increasingly dominated by the cool, new, rich kids on the block (e.g. Slack, Box, Zoom, Facebook Workplace, and Teams...each with multi-billion dollar valuations) where does the Intranet fit in? Is it even relevant among the cool-kid crowd of digital players?  And, if so, what is its role, value proposition, and business impact of an employee intranet?

Well, if recent experience is any indication, Intranets are anything but ready to fade into digital oblivion.  At a time where unprecedented disruption, remote work, employee isolation, and continuous change intersects with the dispersion of communication channels (e.g. slack, email, and Teams, oh my@), the Intranet's role as a consistent, reliable, vetted source of truth and community has, for many companies, never been more important. In fact, it has become a lifeline in some organizations, relied upon now more than ever to drive both employee engagement and productivity.

The pandemic caused many companies to double down and quickly scale investments in complementary employee experience platforms such as Slack and Zoom.  At the same time, while Intranets' importance was also elevated significantly as a result of COVID, meaningful changes to these often outdated platforms with rigid, legacy, technology has been slower to materialize.

There are challenges that inhibit their usage and business impact.  Outdated and rigid technology.  Redundant digital platforms and content. Lack of personalization. Poor navigation and dated design.  Mobile experience fails. The intranet of yesteryear is not without its merits but is undoubtedly due for an upgrade and an update.

Looking forward to 2021 and the prospect of both some greater normalcy but also permanently altered workforce work patterns, if you have been avoiding your Intranet, now is a great time to be thinking about optimization, reinvention, and investment.  We've compiled 5 principles to guide your thinking about what's next for your Intranet.

1) Impact focused: Create a clear, renewed, vision for the business impact of your Intranet that all of your activities can ladder up to.  Focus on areas such as employee engagement and productivity.  Put in place analytics and qualitative feedback mechanisms to regularly gauge success against your business goals.

2) Holistic ecosystem:  There is so much richness and capability among digital platforms that serve employees today that companies need to take an ecosystem view of the capabilities they seek and the platform to enable them.  Rather than competing with each other, digital platforms should complement each other.  One common model, though by no means the only successful model is putting the Intranet as the central ecosystem hub and source of truth that other channels can complement, leverage, and build from.

3) Employee/moment-centric: When rethinking the Intranet, put users at the center.  What are their pain points, behaviors, gaps, and delighters?  What are their meaningful moments?  How do these differ among key employee segments?  Mapping employee personas, journeys, and meaningful moments is essential to getting this right and gaining higher adoption and impact.

4) Mobile ready: Yesterday’s intranets often assigned mobile as an afterthought.  At this point, and especially thinking towards the years ahead and the next-gen workforce, mobile has to be at the adult table with strategy and design decisions.  If you are paying attention to the cross-channel employee journey noted above, this should be abundantly clear.

5) Adaptable and emerging tech: Many of today’s outdated Intranets are built on complex, rigid, content management systems that make adaptability and employee content authoring prohibitive.  For your next generation intranet, choose technology that invites more dispersed content creation and collaboration and has an adaptable foundation to enable continuous iteration.   Also, consider the potential for emerging tech such as conversational bots and machine learning driven personalization / knowledge graphing.

Your intranet made it through the most rapid changes to employee behavior that have ever occurred.  It survived.  As we evolve to a new world of work, look ahead in 2021 to how you can make it thrive.  For employees.  For your business.  For good.