6th Jul 2020
3 Min Read

What’s next for the intranet? An interview with Wedge

IC & Engagement

At the beginning of 2020, our World Changers report highlighted emerging trends likely to have a big impact on the world of work. Digital transformation featured in our look at ‘Born Again Intranets’.

But we could have never known just how much we would come to rely on digital collaboration in the following months, as the coronavirus pandemic forced us to completely upend our ways of working.

We spoke with Wedge, expert consultant and co-founder of Intranet Now, to get his take on the evolution of the intranet, and whether Covid-19 has fundamentally changed the way we use internal communications platforms.

There’s a meme floating around the internet that asks, ‘who made digital transformation happen in your organisation? Your CEO, CTO or Covid-19’. What do you think?

It’s funny because it’s true. Not to dismiss the massive efforts made by the IT department, internal communications, and facilities management teams though.

While most organisations want to improve their digital workplace while considering efficiencies and productivity, transformation is only undertaken when the market forces it. Digital transformation is always disruptive, even destructive. It’s more than a change, it’s a metamorphosis around how business is conducted, not just how technology is used.

So, while some organisations have transformed, many have only improved and digitised their collaboration practices; they have yet to address their digital strategy, processes and services.

How have the past few months changed the conversations you’re having with clients?

Aside from how more people are willing to turn their cameras on during video calls, it feels like people are very focused on practicalities.

It feels like people are more interested in whether a solution will work well for colleagues, rather than the solution sounding nice on paper to the board. Maybe nothing has changed, but we’re now talking about adoption and user experience based on getting things done, rather than around employee engagement.

When lockdown happened, many organisations weren’t prepared in terms of technology and perhaps didn’t have the budget to find better solutions. Where has this left them now?

I know loads of people who wrangled Microsoft Teams at scale. It feels like they did whatever it took to connect people and teams to each other, but I haven’t seen a strategic roll out or governance around recording important conversations (think regulatory oversight) or document management (think duplication, lost information, and loss of version control).

End users could quickly get to grips with using Teams for conversation and document review, but I’m unsure they initially realised there’s a whole SharePoint team site where their documents are stored. I don’t think organisations have got to grips with access permissions, intranet search scope or site sprawl.

I think there will be a lot of clean-up work to do in the months ahead. But who’s responsible? Internal comms can’t lead on collaboration and IT is unlikely to guide business processes unless asked for advice. So, unless the organisation has a dedicated digital team, I think the governance mess will continue for too long. This may be a time for knowledge managers to step up, grow their teams and take charge – but they’ll need to humanise their communications and procedures; have you seen how dry KM guides can be?

Many IC teams will have spotted opportunities or gaps during this time which they will need digital solutions for. How do you think they can best launch these to a fragmented workforce?

Thinking about employee apps, intranet solutions and moving away from dead-drive storage to cloud-enabled collaboration, I think internal comms teams and digital teams can more easily justify investment in tech and digital literacy. New ways of working have to be implemented and these must go far beyond swapping one comms channel for a more modern one. It’s about employee skills and attitude.

People may have accepted rapid change in March and April, with enforced roll-out of collaboration and chat solutions, on top of cloud or VPN systems, but too much change will annoy people. The next wave of improvements needs to be designed with employees, not just for employees.

Everybody has a better understanding of what distributed working, flexible working and cloud collaboration means to them. The next phase of change should be about formalising the digital strategy and governance – learning from all the lessons of 2020, recognising the gaps and the solutions – and considering the user’s needs, not just business needs.

You founded Intranet Now as a way to bring providers and IC teams together. The next event is slated for October. What are your plans?

Truth is, I’m unsure. We’re trying to imagine how people will feel about real-world conferences by autumn. If we see the right signals, we’ll need to start engaging in-house speakers and talk with sponsors to find out their levels of confidence. Intranet Now has a lot of moving parts – and it’s only a part-time focus for us; we’ve got day jobs.

I know a lot of people come to Intranet Now events every year. There’s a friendly community that welcomes new people, so I’d hate to disappoint them. We’ll just have to see. Keep tabs on the Intranet Now website and Twitter.

This interview was inspired by our look at ‘Born Again intranets‘, one of ten trends covered in our 2020 World Changers report

Want to join the conversation?

Wedge will be joining our head of digital Tony Stewart and senior consultant Daniel Lambie to discuss the digital future of internal communications on Friday 10 July.

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