Five Intranet Trends for the Sustainability of Your Digital Workplace

An intranet is a company's image. Right now, things are changing for and within organizations, including, but not limited to, the digital transformation, Generation Y, Industry 4.0 and New Work. Many companies are quite sure that even more changes are on their way, or as the science fiction author, William Gibson wrote:

The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed.

In the article, From Intranet 1.0 to the Modern Intranet, I highlighted the progression from 'top-down' to user-centered, modern intranets, which should have several capabilities, including:

  • Informing employees about important decisions and news
  • Mapping of structures and processes
  • Identifying and enabling internal communication (communication, interaction, networking)
  • Search and knowledge management
  • Organization (e.g., dates, tasks) and collaboration
  • Support project management

Which trends should intranet managers pay attention to if they want to develop intranets with such qualities? To insure a successful future for their intranets, they shouldn't focus purely on the technical aspects. The purpose of technical features is to make an intranet's capabilities available for use. The trends are not only set by great new features, but also by social and economic changes.

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For years, employees often led two separate lives: one within the workplace and one outside of it. Employees – this includes executives, directors, business owners, and other managers – are all members of one or more organizations including being private persons and consumers. In the meantime, companies have looked at (or should be looking at) the fact that "employees" also make demands of their companies. For example, an organization that issues basic work cellphones isn't competitive if its employees are using their own personal smartphones to organize tasks and appointments in programs such as WhatsApp.

Thus, intranet managers should think about which social and economic developments should be considered. Not every societal trend will be considered effective economically or organizationally in the near future, but at the current rate of change companies should take a look at these trends and at least consider them for their own intranets.

1. New Work

The term "New Work" refers to a movement established in the English-speaking world that questions traditional work practices, such as fixed working hours, a permanent workplace, and the separation of work and personal life.

In Germany, "Arbeiten 4.0" is often used, referring to "Industry 4.0" - the fourth industrial revolution as a result of the internet. In 2015, the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs issued a report called,Arbeiten 4.0 - Thinking further.” In it, various aspects of the changing workplace are discussed.

The report neither commends nor criticizes the changes, but instead attempts to consider them objectively (Arbeiten 4.0 of the German Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs):

Automation, digitization, crowd- and clickworking
are rapidly changing work and life in general. The digital revolution creates new markets, products and working time models for employees and companies. New Work brings with it both opportunities and risks, and poses different questions. What is the future of work? What framework do we want to shape? What expectations do you have about the work of the future? We want to continue to work. With you. Share with us your thoughts on new work.

The business network XING also got involved, awarding the New Work Award and issuing the New Work Book:

The discussion of the workplace of tomorrow is ever-present. But what exactly is behind the term "New Work?" And which new concepts and ideas exist that can take advantage of the opportunities presented by the digital revolution so that tomorrow's workplace will be a better one? In the XING E-Book "Moving into a New Workplace", acclaimed experts provide important thoughts, stimuli and practical examples for the future of work.

Companies need to address these evolving trends so that they and their employees can adapt to meet the challenges of changing markets. Many have already initiated these trends (for example, by gradually increasing the proportion of project work, the involvement of external service providers, agencies and freelancers) without properly preparing their infrastructure and culture. Management has to realize that they should be able to identify the emerging needs for their intranets from the New Work or "Arbeiten 4.0" movements.

2. All Industries Affected

Financial and tech companies have for years been intranet pioneers, but this has since changed. Companies representing various industries are now using modern intranets. For instance, the Nielsen Norman Group's annual award for the ten best-designed intranets notes that the "utility and construction" industries have since taken the lead:

In the early Design Annual years, the technology and finance industries had the most prominent showing. In more recent years, the utility industry has dominated, and it is now the most winning industry. This year, we have two winning utilities, as well as two winners from the construction industry.

(Nielsen Norman Group: 10 Best Intranets of 2016)

This is also an indication that companies from these industries have taken the changes seriously and responded to them. Other companies in the more traditional industries need to remember that they are not immune to the challenges.

3. Geographically Dispersed Organizations are Especially Affected

Jane McConnell draws from her annual Digital Workplace Report that geographically dispersed companies are especially active in the development of the digital workplace and are thus quite advanced.

The more countries the organization operates in, the more advanced the internal digital workplace is. This applies as well to smaller organizations with people located in many different countries. Again, how else can you connect?

(Demographics and Digital Workplace Maturity)

Although the statement refers to the dispersion of organizations across several countries, the problem depends less on the number of countries and more on number of actual work sites and their distance from each other. My conclusion - based on my own experiences and discussions - is that companies with several locations (even in just one country) need to account for geographical distribution. Intranets of such companies need to support, for instance, both collaborative work on documents and direct communication.

4. Blue Collar Goes Intranet

Industrial workers and tradespeople working on location with customers often can't wait until the next day to communicate issues to coworkers or management. This is because they might need to exchange information of immediate importance or help to their colleagues or headquarters.

The challenges of sharing information within a company are increasing, but this isn't due to the development of “Industry 4.0” (e.g. the networking of devices, machines, and people). In communities of practice or communities of interest, for instance, organizations benefit from employees in the manufacturing sector sharing their experience with other departments.

5. “Social” is Normal

A few years ago, those who compared an intranet with "Facebook at Work" didn't take it very seriously. "Facebook" was "social," was "just for fun,” or even a “waste of time.” Meanwhile, Facebook wants to revolutionize communication in companies with Facebook at Work. Ibrahim Evsan, consultant and enthusiast, believes it likely that "smaller companies will now also jump on the Facebook bandwagon."
The disappearance of actual “break rooms" or "cafeterias" means that certain types of communication are lost between employees. Small talk and other rapport building help employees get to know each other better, and their experience, activities and overall knowledge can be better assessed by their respective departments. Great intranets can make up for such communication loss.

Coming Up

In the next section, you'll be able to find out about more intranet trends for the future of your digital workplace including:

6. App Stores in Organizations
7. Orientation Towards the User: Mobile and Comfortable
8. Organizational Communication
9. Agile and Quicker Development of Intranets
10. The Merger of Intranet, Extranet and Internet


Frank HammOriginal article "Fünf Intranet-Trends für die Zukunftsfähigkeit Ihres digitalen Arbeitsplatzes"  published in German by Frank Hamm.

Frank Hamm is a consultant for communication and collaboration who supports companies in their digital transformation. He has written for INJELEA-Blog about social business, intranets, enterprise 2.0 and company communication practices since 2005. Frank is an avowed nexialist and writes about this at Der Schreibende.

You can find more articles by Frank Hamm in our intranet special.