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Nigel Danson

Importance of having reasons to collaborate online

By Nigel Danson July 14, 2011

Being able to demonstrate the purpose and benefits of online collaboration will help people choose to adopt newer, faster, ways of working. If we design and build our intranets around our company’s objectives we’ll be able to establish that the intranet supports the business. Demonstrating the purpose of the content, widgets, features and functions of the intranet is important in winning hearts and minds.

If people can clearly see how the intranet helps them do their jobs and get their work done they’ll use the tools provided. A tool without a purpose is not going to become popular or deliver any value; people are busy and want tools that help get things done with the minimum of fuss or learning.

Intranet managers, and IT departments, are under pressure to continually improve the intranet or suffer the criticisms that it’s ‘slow, difficult and irrelevant’. But adding whistles and bells is not the answer. Crowding the intranet with ‘everything’ just in case someone fancies having a go at managing, say, a Wiki, isn’t the way to deploy new features. Learning what departments and people do in their day-to-day work is vital in order to understand how to integrate new tools into the intranet.

“Collaborative features are part of a mature, essential, intranet – along with content, knowledge management and business processes”

Improvements can be made without upgrading the entire intranet and ‘starting again’, although if you’re considering a fresh start, focus on the needs of your people and not just what the system can do. Incremental improvements can be made to the menus and structure, and modern functionality can be bolted on with a new module and any accompanying widgets. So there’s lots of scope for making improvements and delivering new functionality, and it doesn’t have to be a major project – just a well-managed one.

Major reasons to support collaboration within the digital workplace

Dion Hinchcliffe (@dhinchcliffe) identifies three major benefits of digital collaboration methods, which I’ve gone on to summarise:

  1. People can find information and colleagues they need faster with social tools. Finding people and info is consistently raised as an important daily chore. Social tools make information more visible, findable and shareable.
  2. Reduced use and overhead costs of older (inflexible) communication tools and platformsAsking questions (and getting answers from various colleagues) and working on content and documents online means that reliance on email goes down – surely this is a good thing in and of itself! Online collaboration is ‘live’ interaction rather than ‘dead’ email writing. Few of us are paid to write emails, yet sometimes it feels like responding to emails is our job!
  3. Correlation between increased marketshare and socially networked organisations. McKinsey’s “Web 2.0 in business” survey results statistically show that “Market share gains reported by respondents were significantly correlated with fully networked and externally networked organisations. This, we believe, is statistically significant evidence that technology-enabled collaboration with external stakeholders helps organisations gain market share from the competition.”

The importance and impact of finding stuff when you need it shouldn’t be dismissed as just something about poor document storage on the shared area / network. When you know you need something but you can’t find it, everything grinds to a halt. Emails create dead information – yes the individual might mine their inbox for rare pieces of gold, but email will hold multiple versions of the same document and records of long-since rescinded decisions. Online collaboration tools keep everything available to the involved parties, and really help new team members get up to speed on what’s been going on.

IBM goes further, and says that social collaboration empowers an effective workforce and accelerates innovation (for your customers and employees).

Fostering collaboration can help people work more effectively and draws out their expertise and discretionary effort, which can create a competitive advantage to your company. This is all about employee engagement – and that’s a real concern these days isn’t it? Distributed team and ad hoc team members, whether in different towns, departments or just on different floors in your office building, can work together on projects and documentation without having to sit next to each other all the time, or wait for emails.

Wherever there is a high staff turnover, or a high level of recruitment and training (which may be seen in customer service departments) a robust Knowledge Management system is often relied upon; an intranet with some collaborative features can help make sure that information is kept up-to-date faster than the usual ‘annual reviews’ of content.

Some people, in certain departments, won’t have any need to participate in collaborative work; 100% up-take of collaborative functionality isn’t necessary to reap rewards. People can passively benefit from improved collaborative features, like faster access to more up-to-date information. Access to better quality information should decrease mistakes and help people make better decisions, faster. Qualifying decisions and processes with expert colleagues has got to be the way forward, and intranet collaborative tools can support these social aspects of work.

Collaboration can be as simple as talking to someone with more or different experience than you; but how will you find them if you only know the people you know? A People Finder or staff directory that can be searched for skills and interests (rather than just surnames) can be a fantastic tool to get the right people together.

The network effect means that the more people who use a tool or system, the more people in turn will end up using it. A telephone, by itself, is of little use; the more people who have a phone service the more necessary it becomes to everyone.

Commenting on news articles or reference intranet articles is an easy way to help validate the contents and provide extra context. Often, you’ll see comments that provide links to pages and documents that support the article, pages and documents the original author might not have known about. When social collaborative features are embedded in the intranet, and the culture, self-serving staff members and helpful colleagues mean that support calls to the IT and HR department go down over time.

Don’t let the word ‘collaboration’ be dropped into planning meetings without meaning; let’s make sure that we all mean the same thing when we’re looking at the benefits. Collaboration is really an approach to working. There are various tools and online functions that can support collaborative working practices and not all of them are as radical as some people might fear. If we define the business challenge and only then consider the technology and governance to meet it, we can craft intranets that are useful and usable.

For further thoughts, read ten ways to encourage collaboration.

Follow Wedge and InteractExperts on Twitter.

Nigel Danson

Nigel Danson

Nigel Danson PhD is an intranet expert and CEO & Founder of Interact. He has vast experience of not only designing and implementing effective intranet solutions within the public and private sector, but also of helping organisations maintain user centric, effective and up-to-date intranet.

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