Category Archives: communication

I am going to Intranet Now. Are you?

I signed up today to go to Intranet Now, the conference / unconference about intranets and the digital workplace. I am looking forward to going because it is:

  • about the Intranet NOW – practical case studies, real experts, and advice;
  • serious about how the intranet serves its business;
  • concerned with engagement, collaboration, and communication;
  • not dominated by any one technology but illuminated by examples of good practice from many;
  • a place to learn from others (sharing mistakes as well as successes);
  • curious and open to new ideas with room for experimental and left field ideas;

I also want to find out if the governance of intranets and the digital workplace is improving and if so, how that is being done.

It will be a great chance to meet new and existing friends face to face instead of virtually for a change.

There is an early bird discount on  Intranet Now tickets until 24 July so don’t delay, get your tickets today!

10 free guides to help you create intranet content

It is not often that I recommend on my blog information to read that I believe is helpful and easy to read.  Today is an exception (not just because I played a very small part in its creation)! :)

ClearBox Consulting with Kilobox Communiqué noticed that while on the top level of intranet sites there is good quality content, as you get into the lower levels standards start to drop.  Often people have been trained on the publishing tool but had little guidance on how to get the most from an intranet as a channel e.g. how to write headlines, how to phrase links, etc.

They have created an excellent set of 10 FREE guidelines, each 1-2 pages long, covering the following topics in plain English:

  1. Effective headlines: help people choose what to read
  2. Images: attracting interest and conveying meaning
  3. Links: how to link to pages and files
  4. Layout: how to structure articles for scanability
  5. How to help people search for, and find, your content
  6. Content: write for your audience, not for your boss
  7. Documents vs pages: when to use PDF, Word, and other formats
  8. Engage: writing to start a conversation
  9. Channels: how to reach the right audiences with your content
  10. Mobile content

I recommend you read and share these with your publishers to help improve the overall experience people have with your intranet.

Thanks Sam and Wedge!

Strengthen employee engagement while working remotely

Happy New Year to you!  I hope you had a relaxing break and have recharged your batteries for 2014.

I was recently asked by Simply Communicate to follow up my 2014 predictions with one for internal communications.  Here it is:

Organisations increasingly face the challenge of how to strengthen employee engagement while their workforce increasingly work from remote locations or while mobile. There is a great opportunity for internal communications to take a leading role with developing a plan that addresses these challenges with greater use of communications channels.

What is different now from previous years is the range of tools and know-how which can be used to successfully have engaged and mobile employees. The key to this will be the rich experience employees will have online as they are able to read communications when they need to, where they need to, and be able to share, feedback, rate the value of the messages with other people who share a similar interest.

An example of this could be combining collaboration tools with traditional online communication channels will help provide that rich experience so a key company announcement video, CEO blog post and detailed background information available is strengthened by a discussion forum managed by internal comms to continue the conversation with quick polls on the awareness and understanding of key messages.

It is how it is implemented and how it is managed within a wider governance framework will help decide how successful it will be. Good luck with whatever you do in 2014!

Read about more 2014 internal communication predictions from simple communicate.

My 2014 predictions

I reviewed my predictions for 2013 and believe they are happening more as we move towards 2014.  So what has 2014 got in store for us?  Here are my five predictions:

Cloud

Organisations will more seriously consider what approach will best meet their requirements.  Factors that will need to be considered before a final decision is made are:

  • How much will it save compared with the costs of keeping it within the firewall?
  • Will you have better business resilience?  Will it remove the single point of failure problem?
  • What will be the levels of service?
  • Who do you trust with your data?
  • Will your content be secure?

Mobile

I know a lot has been said about mobile and how it is driving the transformation of intranets towards digital workplaces.  But how many employees still only use their smartphones for emails and texts?  Organisations need to get serious about realising the benefits and consider:

  • Increased productivity by people able to find information, complete tasks, share problems and knowledge when they need to without delay
  • Save accommodation costs and reduced dedicated workspace so people share as and when they need it
  • Support new ways of working with distributed teams and managers enabling and facilitating rather than controlling or limiting activity
  • Fear of the unknown is not a good business reason to stop employees using mobiles for their work
  • Bring your own device is a solvable problem when everyone wants to reach agreement over intellectual property, security and building trust and behaving sensibly

Collaboration

I am starting to see real examples of collaboration which showing through on business’ bottom line and getting the attention of senior manager.  This will bring benefits as it is taking more seriously and investment decisions are easier but the pressure to continue delivering larger savings will also increase.  Examples include:

  • Project teams sharing and creating online documentation without having to meet face to face or email each other
  • Solving problems more quickly using tools to find people with similar skills and experience
  • Sharing knowledge that helps others to solve problem and the organisation’s culture increasingly supporting this way of working

governance

Organisations are realising, especially if they are implementing SharePoint, that all the areas where content is published need to be managed.  The problems of gaps in information managed and risks it can create are being recognised more.  More robust frameworks are being developed and used.  Examples include:

  • Different types of content such as accredited e.g. policies, news articles, and collaborative e.g. comment in discussion group, blog post are being accepted
  • All the different areas for content are being joined up e.g. content management, document management, project spaces, and news.
  • A hierarchy which sets out roles and responsibilities help identify overlaps and gaps in managing information
  • Publishing standards are being applied in smarter ways taking less time and effort with digital workplace teams

Value

As intranets are transforming from their original purpose as communications tools towards digital workplaces that are critical business tools that people in that organisation increasingly need to rely on for their work, so their value is increasing and the need to measure that value.  Examples are:

  • Productivity savings are accepted in principle now even if the amount is not agreed by everyone
  • The impact on property usage and type is becoming more linked to new ways of working
  • The value an organisation places on a person’s digital assets e.g. knowledge in documents is starting to match that of any physical assets e.g. computer
  • Business resilience is critical to organisations and along with plans to use the cloud are plans to benefit from a more distributed workforce that no longer has to be in just one location

This is my last post of 2013.  I hope anyone reading this has had a great 2013, will have a relaxing break over the Christmas period, and be hoping for more success in 2014!

The digital workplace is for everyone (not just office-based workers)

In my last post ‘BT field-based workers use the digital workplace‘ I  talked about the benefits and drawbacks of people who work remotely adjusting to huge changes in the way they work.

It made me think of when I have discussed with clients or people at workshops or after presentations who had the view the digital workplace only affected people in offices or more specifically ‘knowledge workers’.  They were surprised this wasn’t the case.

So, let me say now very clearly (big drum roll please) the digital workplace is for all employees.  In fact it can extend to their customers, suppliers, and other third parties who they share a working relationship with.

A digital workplace’s prime aim is to help and support employees whether office, mobile or home-based, to be more effective.  That will mean being more productive – no delays finding what you need, completing tasks when you need, sharing knowledge online with other people – and effective so your organisation benefits too.

Examples of how other employees, not office workers, can benefit from using a digital workplace are:

  1. Retail staff using tablets to stock-take on products and order more.
  2. Retail staff at check-outs having latest news shown on equipment they also use for payment of products.
  3. Mining of minerals using vehicles and tools operated from remote locations away from the mining area.
  4. Meter readings for customers’ use of utilities e.g. gas, electricity, and water uploaded in real-time for bills to be created and issued while the person is still continuing to visit other customers.
  5. Parcel deliveries tracked using GPS by customer service to monitor and send updates to the delivery person’s mobile device.
  6. Field engineers able to use mobile devices to receive customer information before visiting and update with the outcome before moving on to their next customer.

These are just a few examples to illustrate the point I am making here.  The digital workplace affects all employees.  The level of impact will be different depending on the work but it is hard to think of work that is NOT influenced in some way by a digital workplace with news, collaboration, online tasks and processes.

What examples can you think of?

Is SharePoint ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

Many people have asked me if I think SharePoint is ‘good’ or ‘bad’?  It’s a great question to ask but it is harder to give the right answer based on my experiences with SharePoint creating strategies, leading project teams, implementing  governance frameworks or just using the many features.

I have seen with each SharePoint version – 2003 to 2013 – how some new features help but other features can hinder how an organisation needs to use it….but one thing is clear, Microsoft don’t package up ‘good’ or ‘bad’ versions of SharePoint.

I believe it is how an organisation implements SharePoint that helps you feel if it is good or bad.

Here are five factors that can help you decide if SharePoint is ‘good’ or ‘bad':

Strategy

It is important you have a strategy for your intranet or digital workplace that SharePoint can be shown will help to achieve. A strategy helps set the direction you are moving in.  It helps identify key priorities you need to achieve to help your organisation.  Timescales also help to manage expectations and show what is practical from what is aspirational.

You should not just have a SharePoint strategy.  That can lead to you delivering technology solutions that don’t meet the aims of your organisation or cover wider aspects of cultural change.  Your strategy must not be based on SharePoint: it should be wider and align with your organisation’s overall strategy and related areas e.g. IT, Comms, HR, etc. and measure the benefits.

Governance

You need to have a governance framework that underpins your strategy in the long and short term.  This means having clear roles and responsibilities, linking these together into a hierarchy with publishing standards, training and processes for new content editors.

Without a governance framework people could be unclear on the purpose of each SharePoint tool e.g. MySite, TeamSite, and how is the best and most appropriate way to use them.  Without a governance framework there can be chaos and a digital mess that can be very difficult to untangle and gain any benefit from for a long time.

Planning

Have a clear plan for why you need to use SharePoint, what you need to achieve, how you plan to achieve it, and when you need to complete each phase by.  This helps you to see what is the best approach and prioritise the way you introduce SharePoint to people in your organisation.

If you are planning to replace many existing online tools e.g content and document management systems and/or collaborative tools it is critical that you consider the impact that actions taken in an earlier phase could have knock-on effects during a later phase (which maybe 1-2 years ahead) e.g. permissions, SharePoint Designer.

Without any plan the consequences for your organisation and people’s online experience could be disastrous.  SharePoint is a very powerful tool and needs to be managed carefully!

education

You need to have a strong communication and training approach to anyone who will be touched by SharePoint whether that is your CEO, content editor or casual user or contributor.

People publishing and using SharePoint information need to appreciate that it is not all the same in its value (something I will be writing about in the future) e.g. a policy is unlikely to change frequently and be inaccurate but an opinion expressed in a discussion group may be inaccurate, incomplete, change next day.

People need to understand the differences in the information they use and behave accordingly in their judgement and actions based on how much value they place on it.

SharePoint is more than a change of technology, it can change business policies, processes and how people behave when they have a problem or want to share some helpful information.

business need

I have heard how IT have approached the business saying “we have this free tool option on top of X product that we’ve bought which we’re going to use for Y purpose”.  It’s a natural reaction to test out something for free but many organisations have found it doesn’t work out the way it is planned.

Firstly, you need to make sure you have a business problem that SharePoint is a good (note I didn’t say the best) technology solution to solve.  Sometimes I have seen the introduction of SharePoint create problems that didn’t exist before.

Make sure you involve people who will be affected by any changes you plan to make as early as possible who can also test these to see if they do help as you expect SharePoint to and feedback any issues to be acted upon before it is launched.

Your organisation needs to be clear on what the problems and their root causes are before considering whether technology, and if so, which solution e.g. SharePoint can best help resolve the problem.

summary

I hope this can help you to appreciate there are factors that influence why people feel SharePoint is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ apart from the technology itself.  It is more likely to be how you have approached and implemented SharePoint rather than the tools and features people can use that affects your view when you think about it more deeply.

Please leave a comment with your views and contact me if I can help in any way.

Why not use a wiki to develop policies?

Ever since organisations have existed there has been a need to manage how their people behave by encouraging, sometimes even mandating, how work tasks need to be carried out and by whom.

There can be various reasons for policies: business, regulatory, and legal are the most common.  The way that policies are created, updated, and developed has changed very little in my experience working in or with organisations.  There will normally be an owner, champion, or stakeholder who will have overall responsibility for creating and managing the policy throughout its life cycle.

When a policy is created or needs to be reviewed it will normally be the owner who will start some form of a consultation exercise.  This may simply be an email to a few people across the organisation who are most affected by or can influence the policy asking if there are any changes they need to be made existing policies or what needs to be included to new policies.

It may involve a more robust approach being taken:

  • maybe a focus group
  • a request to a wider audience who have an interest in the area of the policy
  • or a project team who work through the detail and check back with their business function or stakeholder for guidance on the progress being made.

The variety of approaches used by organisations when creating new policies or reviewing and updating existing policies hasn’t changed much in recent years.

But the ways that organisations can now engage their people to create or update policies are changing.  There are new approaches being used which help encourage people to be more involved in what their organisation’s purpose, aims, values, and culture – amongst many others – should be.

Adapting social media tools used successfully on the internet include:

  • people using blogs to give their views and opinions
  • feedback any questions to news articles
  • share information through discussion groups about a wide range of work related activities.

I believe a corporate wiki that any person in the organisation can use is a great way to create a new policy or to update an existing policy.  It gives the chance for any person with an interest in the policy – maybe they are affected by it and want to improve it – to give their views.

Have you tried this in your organisation?

My 2013 ‘fabulous five’ predictions

Several people have asked me what my predictions are for 2013 for intranets and digital workplaces.  I couldn’t resist the temptation to give my view from more of a practitioner’s perspective than maybe others have done.  So as that legend in his own lunchtime, Tony Blackburn on Pick of the Pops  (c’mon you’re not that young to not know him in the UK at least! :) ) says “Ok pop pickers, here is the fabulous five!”.

1. Not just a flexi fortnight

In 2012 we had the fantastic experience of the London Olympics and Paralympics.  Many blue chip and dyed in the wool organisations with office workers in London had a big shock and had to wrench their employment practices quickly into the 21st century by letting people work away from the office at home or other more local places.  People were trusted to work as normal for each of these games events.  Amazingly it all went smoothly with many organisations realising here was a quick way of helping to save costs with pressure on their business performance.

I predict many ‘flexi fortnight’ organisations will invest heavily in making the digital workplace permanent in 2013 and help change many people’s work/life balance for the better as well as improve overall business performance.  They will need help though!

2. SharePoint will be ‘good enough’

SharePoint 2010 and increasingly 2013 will continue to be the major technology deployed by large organisations transforming their intranets into digital workplaces.  Why?  Well, there are not many alternatives to choose from now or likely during 2013.  Organisations may not choose it for the right reasons ‘herding sheep’ is sometime the image that comes to my mind.  Where the real challenge will be is the perennial areas of strategy and governance.

I predict many organisations will need help unpicking poor decisions taken without the full knowledge of what SharePoint is capable of.  We know that it can be capable of many good things if in the right hands – then again the opposite happens too.

3. ‘Social media’ a threat to internal comms?

And the problem is partly the term ‘social media’ which is misleading in my humble opinion.  I always use terms which are more practical and relevant when talking with clients.  The same should apply for intranet/digital workplace practitioners when talking to their internal partners and customers.  So we’re helping people to find other people with similar interests to help solve a problem quicker, easier and maybe cheaper rather than ‘knowledge management’ and improving communications by people showing how much they value it by sharing, liking, rating, and commenting on it rather introducing ‘Facebook’ or ‘social media’.

I predict internal communications will ‘get it’ and see this as a big opportunity to gain better employee engagement.  Use the right terms and examples to get a better understanding of what it’s all about.

4. Security and compliance taken more seriously

We have seen several high-profile examples of organisations with previously strong reputations and brands suffer severe setbacks because of insecure processes and training and not complying with regulations and legal requirements.  It really is time that organisations looked at ALL the legal and regulation requirements as a joined up picture for what is needed in a digital workplace.  There has always been a risk that sensitive information can be mislaid since the written word many centuries ago so it’s not a new problem.

I predict organisations will ensure their digital workplace governance and processes are robust using software and education to make sure the right behaviour is encouraged to minimise risks of sensitive and commercial information being found by the ‘wrong’ people.

5. Intranet practitioners become INTRANET or DIGITAL WORKPLACE PRACTITIONERS

Yes, it’s my shorthand method of saying the profile for practitioners will grow in 2013.  I do believe as intranets transform into digital workplaces, organisations are realising the value they give them.  I also believe your profile will increase as you engage with more senior managers over wider areas that are relevant to a digital workplace than just to intranets.  I sincerely hope the value you provide in your role will be recognised and rewarded.

I predict 2013 is the year when many intranet practitioners will find by the end of it their career on a much stronger path with many people showing more interested in wanting to be part of this journey and more willing to help you.

Whatever happens in 2013 I hope you achieve your ambitions!

Who should not own the Digital Workplace?

In my last post I asked ‘Who should own the Digital Workplace?’.  From my experience one function that I feel should not own the digital workplace is Internal Communications.

Communicators’ first priority is to communicate.  Their first reaction to collaboration between employees using blogs is to increase the frequency of communications and their prominence on the intranet.

But digital workplaces are used by employees primarily to do things or find information or people, not to read communications.  They still do read communications but it is not their main purpose or first priority.

This is a dilemma that communications will need to resolve as they find a new role that continues to add value to the organisation that is more strategic.  It is NOT a good approach to seek to own the digital workplace from the view of communications being its main purpose.  It isn’t.

While communications still has a key role, increasingly it is human resources, knowledge management and business functions that are largely affected by or have a high influence on how the digital workplace is created that are increasingly involved.

A group of senior representatives who are stakeholders in the digital workplace should form something like a digital board, responsible for strategy, high-level decisions, and priorities for collaboration, communications, tools, and mobile use.

This group should have cross-organisational recognition and support that needs to be seen to be acting in their interests.  A clear strategy and prioritised action plan for the short term with owners and timescales will achieve that.

But there still needs to be a leader of the digital board whose authority is accepted.  The obvious choice would be the CEO of the organisation.  However the reality is the CEO probably won’t have enough time to focus on leading the digital board.

The next best solution is for the CEO to nominate someone or, if not possible, for there to be a senior person who is naturally seen as the ideal candidate by other digital board representatives.  The main criteria are someone whose finger is on the pulse of the organisation, is involved and aware of the key decisions being taken, and has the respect of everyone involved.

It is essential to have the right people in place who own the digital workplace strategy and future direction it will take that will benefit both the organisation and everyone working in it.

Am I unfair in my views on internal communications?

Who do you believe are the best people and functions to own the digital workplace?

Who should own the Digital Workplace?

I read with interest Jane McConnell’s blog posts on governance in the digital workplace.  Jane’s Digital Workplace Trends 2012 survey showed how a strategic decision-making body can increase the chances of creating an effective digital workplace.

Now, before I go any further I have a confession to make.  I was the BT Intranet manager for nine years.  During that time I helped transform BT’s intranet into one benchmarked independently and accepted as one of the best globally.  I also was heavily involved in developing the wider digital workplace which I define as ‘work is what you do, not where you go to’ to support BT’s ambitions.

My intranet role was in Group Communications as part of a team focused on intranet, internet, web publishing, design and development.  Being in Group Communications felt naturally the best place to be to improve the intranet.  It was seen by other parts of the business as right too and our authority was accepted and not challenged for managing information online and to work directly with our IT partners on business needs.

However as more tools were used for online processes and activities – room bookings, training, performance management – so the difficulties of managing these became more apparent.  To brand these tools with a BT mark was very involved and conflicted with an ‘out of the box’ and ‘no customising’ approaches taken by IT.

Combine that with a defensive reaction to introducing wikis to share knowledge, podcasts to show and tell how to do things and most importantly blogs which made every employee potentially a communicator across the BT and you can see the landscape is changing for communicators.

I believe despite the success of the previous years where most successful intranets have been managed by communications that it is time to think differently as digital workplaces expand that role and function.

The digital workplace is more than a news channel or document store.  It can become the natural way of working so everyone is more productive and your organisation more efficient with:

  • People working from any location as well as their normal place of work
  • Everyone able to collaborate, search and complete tasks
  • Individuals choosing tools – RSS, mobile, etc. – that help them
  • IT infrastructure giving the same or similar experience
  • Physical workplaces to meet future needs and ways of working
  • Organisations measuring benefits and encouraging the digital workplace

This expands the role beyond information management traditionally championed by communicators who own the intranet.  It also needs more than one person and it needs people who represent other key functions within the organisation.

Who do you think should own the digital workplace?