Company intranet FAQs – Answering your most popular questions

3 December 2020 | Faye Waghorn

Company intranets: Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome; chances are you’ve landed here because you’d like to learn more about company intranets. But the information out there is dizzying, isn’t it? So many choices and decisions to make, which, if you don’t have much experience of intranets, can be daunting.

And during your research, you may be coming up with more questions than answers. Like, what’s SharePoint got to do with intranets, and is an intranet the same as a digital workplace?

Well, relax brave heart; you’ve come to the right place. Here, we answer the most popular intranet-related questions people ask Mr Google:

  • What is an intranet, and what is its purpose?
  • What’s a digital workplace?
  • What’s the difference between an extranet and an intranet?
  • What is a local intranet?
  • Can an intranet be accessed remotely?
  • Is SharePoint an intranet?
  • What’s an intranet page?

And one of the biggest questions of all – what makes a good intranet? So, read on for the answers.  

What is an intranet? And what’s the purpose of an intranet?

Net – short for network. Intra – Latin for within, on the inside

An intranet is a network inside an organisation which can only be accessed by authorised users – typically employees. It’s a home for:

  • Accessing useful content. An intranet is a repository of information, like company policies and processes, people directories and organisational charts, forms, document templates and more.
  • Internal communications. In these days of information overwhelm, it’s all too easy for an important email – say an announcement from the CEO, to be quickly buried. The intranet is a place to put critical messages front and centre. And it’s great for reaching people who aren’t sitting in front of a computer all day, like frontline staff on mobiles. Some intranets have the functionality to display targeted comms, say by job role or geography, and can send alerts, too. 
  • Collaboration. The best intranets aren’t stuck on transmit – they’re a place where your people can come together, share ideas, and learn from one another. In this era of remote working, intranets are ideal for fostering a sense of connectedness and belonging.
  • Supporting culture. An intranet showcases your organisation’s identity and values; its personality if you like. And we’re not just talking about mission statements; it’s about deeds, as well as words. If an intranet is stale or sloppily built, then it’s saying something about that company. Your investment in an up-to-date, considerately designed intranet shows you care, and your people matter.  
  • Driving change initiatives. An intranet can reinforce management-driven changes, with supplemental information like monthly video updates for all staff. 

And of course, modern company intranets are not static objects; they enable you to create – and be creative. They give you the flexibility to build new pages, sites, and content hubs.  

You might also like How to Make Your Company Intranet Sing.

What is a digital workplace?

A digital workplace is a turbo-charged intranet. Its purpose is to drive productivity, engagement, internal comms, and collaboration. If we could sum it up in one sentence, we’d say this:

A digital workplace is a living and breathing environment where your

people go every day to get their stuff done.

It’s your employees’ superfast highway to all the systems they regularly use, like your HR, CRM, or ERP systems, Microsoft Teams and Yammer. It’s their one route to every internal and external application they need, without having to open multiple browsers.

In short, it’s their virtual office. By way of an example, we’ve taken our customisable digital workplace for Office 365, Fresh, to show you just a selection of things your people can do: 

  • Find who or what they need effortlessly, from colleagues to documents and news.
  • Curate stuff that’s important to them, like tasks, docs, events and external links, and pin them to their home page.
  • See their recent documents and email attachments, rather than having to hunt for them. 
  • Discover popular documents colleagues are working on, and ones recently updated by team members.
  • Personalise their profile, incorporating elements of social networking. So, from simple things like adding their pic and background image, to professional details like skills and expertise and projects they’re working on.

A bonus of a digital workplace is that it encourages the adoption of other tools. With Fresh, these tools are from across the entire Office 365 productivity suite.

Because the Office 365 tools are, quite literally, at peoples’ fingertips, it encourages them to explore and discover new ways of working. The Fresh digital workplace for Content+Cloud includes a Microsoft 365 learning centre, packed with videos and bite-sized ‘how to’ guides.

What’s the difference between an intranet and extranet?

intra – Latin for on the inside, within

extra – in addition

An intranet, as the first part of the name suggests, is an internal system for an organisation’s employees. Broadly speaking, intranets are not searchable on the World Wide Web and are generally accessed via secure private networks.

While you might come across some intranets on the net, you’d need login details to get any further.

Similarly, an extranet is a controlled private network but has a broader reach. Extranets enable people who are not employees of the organisation to access it. For example, contractors, business partners, suppliers, customers, or students. 

What is a local intranet?

In simple terms, a local intranet is on-premises, unlike a hosted intranet, which is in the cloud. You’ll also hear the term local intranet zone; this means the geography or area it covers, like an office, factory, or campus.

Can an intranet be accessed remotely?

If the intranet is hosted in the cloud, then the answer is yes. But if it’s a local intranet (see above), then it’s likely you’d access it via a LAN (a local area network). A LAN is a network of computers within a limited area.

To access the local intranet, you’d need to be on-site, or access it remotely via a VPN (a virtual private network) if there is one.

In this era of remote and scattered workforces, the case for accessing an intranet from home, the bus or anywhere else is compelling.

And during times of crisis and fast-breaking news, the ability to reach your people quickly and without fuss makes life considerably easier.

You might also like Crisis Communications: Advice for Employee Comms in the Covid Era.

Is SharePoint an intranet?

Okay, let’s start with a basic explanation of what SharePoint is. Fundamentally, it’s a place for storing, organising, and sharing information. To access it, all you need is a web browser.  

Many organisations use SharePoint to create intelligent intranets and other sites for publishing content.

Some intranets, like Fresh, are hosted in SharePoint Online, taking advantage of its powerful capabilities and layering them with a set of must-have features and benefits.

What is an intranet page?

Like a website, an intranet comprises of various pages. An intranet page is simply an element of a company intranet, e.g. its home page. Each page serves a specific purpose. For example, by surfacing information, enabling users to perform an action or access a tool.

As a Content+Cloud company, we drink our own champagne and use Fresh as our company intranet. Here’s an example of just some of the pages on our Fresh digital workplace.

What makes a good intranet?

When thinking about this question, it can be tempting to get carried away with a shopping list of bells and whistles. But let’s strip this back to the most crucial question of all: what do you want your intranet to achieve? Do you want it to be a vibrant, evergreen hub for your company? The place where your people connect and collaborate? The place they go to expand their networks, find stuff, learn, and share?  

And different teams and departments will have different motivations for your intranet. For example, your HR team may want to use it to onboard new people and publish policies. Your internal comms folks need it to relay engaging and relevant information. Your board wants it to drive cultural change.

So, before starting with the ‘what’, start with your ‘why’. Here are some of the core principles we believe make a good intranet: 

  • Connectivity – can be accessed securely from anywhere and on any device.  
  • Design – thoughtfully designed for engaging user experiences. The navigation should be user-friendly, so as not to frustrate people. And the design should be responsive, so the pages render correctly on mobile devices.
  • A solid foundation – the underlying architecture should have the flexibility and scalability to accommodate future requirements, without creating a Frankenstein-style mess of content that becomes difficult to control.
  • Simplicity of management – picture the scene, it’s 9 pm, and your leadership team needs to get an urgent message out to all staff. You need the autonomy to do stuff like this, without jumping through hoops or going through third parties.
  • Current –deliversinformation that’s genuinely relevant and useful to your people.A regular tick of quality content will keep them coming back for more.
  • Human – creates a safe and authentic space for social interactions and enables your people to build supportive networks. 
  • A single source of the truth – links to the most up-to-date versions of your documents, policies, and forms. As well as giving your people one convenient place to go, it eliminates the risks of them using the wrong versions.
  • Enables parity – the best intranets are so much more than a mouthpiece for your company. Parity means giving your people – whoever they are, an equal voice. If Arjun in packing has a brilliant idea to improve efficiency, your intranet can be his go-to place. 
  • Accessibility – recognises and supports the different requirements your people might have, e.g. impaired vision or learning needs.
  • Searchable – your users will thank you for a search box. 
  • Supports culture – and we don’t just mean sticking on your logo and mission statement. It’s a place for championing the good stuff, celebrating achievements, and welcoming new people. The best intranets mirror your values and beliefs. 
  • Ownership – an intranet needs an owner because, without a designated lead person, it could flounder, and people won’t know where to go. Ownership will also prevent your intranet from becoming a wild west of messaging and content. You might also like Good Options for Implementing Your Intranet or Digital Workplace.
  • Grounded in SharePoint – we believe in leveraging the best that Microsoft has to offer. It’s why our Fresh intranet is underpinned by SharePoint Online, for rich and trusted functionality for managing your content.
  • Personalisation – enabling your people to customise their profiles helps engagement and has the bonus of enriching your people directory.
  • Includes tools and links – effective intranets are the gateway to the applications, websites, and online resources your people use, giving them one place to get their stuff done.

We’ll dive into these intranet principles – and more – in a future blog. So, don’t miss future insights!

Are you ready to start your intranet journey? If you’d like an informal chat or a demo of our Fresh intranet, please click here. We’d love to hear from you. Meanwhile, thanks for reading and stay safe.  

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