Your Intranet is the Backbone of Your Digital Workplace

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Your Intranet is the Backbone of Your Digital Workplace

So the digital workplace is not a fully automated machine that munches humans. It’s more a sophisticated work environment that is fueled by the human brain.

Intranet vs. Digital Workplace

Initially offered as a replacement term for the oldish “intranet”, the “digital workplace” has quickly become a trendy term. After a few years of musing, we now have some very smart definitions. Most of them broaden the scope of the intranet. But nobody is duped—it’s the intranet people who forged that concept. Yet, beyond the buzzword, the term “digital workplace” attempts to capture radical changes in the way people work.

The name suggests that the digital workplace is the virtual equivalent of the physical workplace. Many commenters seem to feel that the term suggests higher expectations than a simple collection of digital tools that we use at work, such as our email client, our intranet, and our business apps. Whatever form it takes, a workplace remains first and foremost an environment where we communicate, collaborate, cooperate, and accomplish tasks. And by connecting people with technology to perform their work, the digital workplace aims at delivering a superior work experience.

Historically, and increasingly, intranets have been gathering information, applications, collaboration and social interactions. Nowadays, with digital, social, and mobile being all the rage, can a mature social collaborative intranet act as the backbone of your digital workplace?

Harnessing Signals

In 2011, Marc Andreessen explained us that “software is eating the world“. He was right, the number of software applications that an average employee has to deal with daily has exploded in recent years. And beyond software, we are literally bathing in a digital environment—GPS, 4G, WIFI, Bluetooth, and NFC are ubiquitous now. The boundary between physical and digital worlds is vanishing. Many of us carry multiple devices like smartphones and watches that can interact with the digital world. Although it creates new opportunities and expectations for knowledge workers, it also challenges them to handle a larger number of signals of all kinds.

A social intranet, when properly interconnected to the information system of an organization, should be able to federate business signals. Let your CRM post deal status in an activity stream, let your project management system post the status of your tasks in the team’s workspace, hold your meetings over IM, and let the intranet store the conversation as a minutes report that can be shared and searched by others afterwards. Hence, an intranet has the potential to integrate, filter, and contextualize these signals into flows that help workers make sense of them.

Seamless Access to Tools and Information

This permanent connectivity allows us to contemplate access to information and rich interactions, anytime and anywhere. The concept of a digital workplace recognizes the imperative for mobility. Work is an intellectual and physical performance, not a location. You’d probably finish this important presentation slide deck faster at home more quickly than in that noisy open space. When visiting a customer, you would leave a much better impression if you could draw this new product data sheet from your intranet when the conversation shifts from its initial scope. When you receive a 50-page report minutes before leaving work, you would feel better if you knew that you could read it on the intranet with your tablet during your train commute.

Modern intranets allow workers secure and seamless access to tools and information, on the go and on a wide range of mobile devices. If you can retrieve all your documents, be able to interact with your colleagues, start any work flow from anywhere, using any of your devices, a great deal of friction between you and your work is removed. Hence, a mobile-friendly intranet can enable agile work for the entire organization.

People First

While technology is a facilitator, work remains largely a human activity. And that’s why the best asset of a company is its staff. They can fill the gaps when technology falls short, and they can also drive innovation, provided the management culture allows it. Leveraging the full potential of your workforce requires tools that foster open communication and collaboration. So the digital workplace is not a fully automated machine that munches humans. It’s more a sophisticated work environment that is fueled by the human brain.

Social intranets are user-centric by nature: they provide people the ability to connect by interest rather than solely through hierarchical relations. They also encourage interactions and ad hoc formation of groups. They are deeply conversational by nature, which fosters a sense of belonging. Ideas can emerge from these conversations and people tend to be highly motivated and engaged when their ideas are retained. The open nature of a social intranet enables knowledge to be spread across the organization and supports the emergence of natural leaders who will constantly share, animate, and inspire others.

Reducing Complexity

Since people are so important, a key success factor of the digital workplace is the user experience. Enterprise software can no longer afford to be unattractive and painful to use. Because successful consumer applications have defined high standards regarding usability and aesthetics, employees won’t tolerate sluggish interfaces at work. And rightfully so.

Software has come a long way toward being approachable for humans, but in a context of interconnected software systems like the digital workplace, it causes serious heterogeneity challenges.

No one should have to remember 15 different passwords in order to get through the day juggling between a mail client and a share folder, another software for the CRM and the ERP, payroll, and the flock of homemade business apps that haunt our corporate information systems. Such complexity gets in the way of doing our work. It undermines our productivity, our motivation, and our ability to see the big picture. When you’ve spent hours fighting with your tools, you’re left with little energy to be creative in solving problems.

By integrating sign in, business processes, and access to business applications as well as the events they support, a social intranet can act as a privileged gateway that simplifies our work. Working on or through the intranet sounds like a good way to enhance the employee experience of the digital workplace.

Beyond IT

The scope of the digital workplace answers to radical transformations that are taking place in areas like knowledge management, employee motivation, and both personal and collective productivity. HR and Internal Communications departments are the first who should be seeing its potential. From the corporate standpoint, the digital workplace holds a promise of positive cultural change, increased innovation, and a more agile way of doing business.

Yet, to achieve this vision and liberate its full potential, the digital workplace requires a deep engagement of IT departments. Such initiatives are fantastic opportunities for IT leaders to involve other departments in making their intranet the new cornerstone of a company-wide transformation.


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I am the product officer at eXo. I oversee product management and product marketing. My teams design, create and promote the features of and improvements to eXo Platform. As a former enterprise software developer turned product manager, I have a passion for how IT can improve people’s lives. In this blog, I write about some of my personal interests, such as productivity, alternative forms of management and corporate organisations, collaboration, open-source and emerging technologies.

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