Simon is a web and intranet consultant and contractor. He was part of the 2015 Intranet Innovation Award-winning team for the Barclays Global Academies project. He enjoys a healthy love-hate relationship with SharePoint, but wouldn't want to be judged on it.
Two quotes from tweets have really got me thinking this week, and reminded me of a quote from Karen McGrane that is never far from my thoughts.
The first was this from Simon Rohrbach’s talk to the Leading Design conference about joining, building and leaving a company.
Having confidence in the business makes everything else easier
In some ways “having confidence in the business makes everything else easier” feels like a truism. When there’s confidence, uphill slopes feel flatter, minor irritations are quickly forgotten, and people know the work they’re doing has a direct impact on the way the business works.
While I’m never going to suggest that internal comms needs to sell false confidence, it has an important role in stitching together a coherent story from what the business actually does. Confidence has to be built up through communication and co-operation with leadership, the people who sell the business, the people who do, and the people who train.
In short, I see this as being about changing people, which brings me to this tweet by Bruce McTague.
I find it unsettling how many people in the organizational change business do not actually believe in people
Bruce was writing about “the decision to invest in a person” over the course of that person’s employment with a company. What chimed with me in the words “how many people…do not actually believe in people” were the times that compliance, HR, IT and other functions treated colleagues as something the business needed to protect itself from, rather than as Bruce says Truly lasting change & organization effect is within people themselves.
Which brings me to something I find myself quoting month-in, month-out. I’ll always picture mid-renovation London Bridge Station on a grey wet autumn morning, dodging between puddles in spite of being under cover, and trying to find a dry spot out of the way of the trudging crowds, so I could rewind and replay what I’d just heard.
My initial reaction would have been a defensive “no it’s not, don’t be stupid”, but there was something so compelling that grabbed me. So I took myself aside and there in the dripping, dark station played it back.
Karen said: The longer I do this, the more I realize every thing we do is change management. Every single thing we do. Our whole job. Our whole career. Every single one of you, your whole career is change management.
More than the idea of change management, it was Karen’s use of “every thing” that hit me. I had an “turtles all the way down” moment.
Change management could be as simple as helping people use our websites or services effectively, to get better at using them.
It could mean helping our users understand the tools we give them, the technology they use, the language we use, and it can mean helping them to help others manage the second, third or fourth degree of that change.
It could mean helping colleagues, bosses, leaders, stakeholders understand better ways of doing things, and to get better at doing work, learning from that, and feeding back into the work we do.
No change without people No people without confidence
Particularly in the digital workplace, every thing we do is change management. We need our fellow employees to accept that things are going to be a little different tomorrow than they were yesterday. Without engaging them as people, we can’t give them the confidence that we believe in them, and the confidence that participating in that change is going to benefit them.
It feels a little odd to be back at One America Square so soon after the last Intranet Now conference, not that I’m complaining. The previous Summer Edition was an experiment that I very much enjoyed (Intranet Now 2019 Summer Edition), and it is always a pleasure to immerse myself in the event.
Fintan Galvin (Invotra) The elements of a strategy
If what the attendees really needed to wake them up was a head-to-head comparison of the strategies of Ghengis Khan and Dominic Cummings, then it worked.
The theme of the conference was “the impact of a strategic digital workplace”, something Fintan admits he’s obsessed with. He neatly sneaked in a little plug for Invotra’s strategy of embedding customer focus in their culture, and contrasted that with their tactics to achieve that.
Fintan made a number of memorable contributions.
For many, Fintan’s comment that being a Google or Microsoft house is not a strategy that will go down well. I imagine there will be a few more raised eyebrows at “an intranet is not a digital workplace…a digital workplace is made up by a digital ecosystem”.
For me, the comment that made Fintan’s keynote was that “intranets are the most flexible systems in any ecosystem. This makes it harder to draw strategic lines.”
I’m not sure I see that as a bad thing. If we see the intranet as a tool that has the strength and the flexibility to take the load, to try things out, to learn more and subsequently move them elsewhere, then that’s a good thing. Think, perhaps, how easy it is to build a tool in SharePoint with a list or series of lists behind it. This can be seen as a strength, and the lessons learned can be turned into a proper solution. Even if the only lesson learned is that the demand wasn’t sufficient or the admin burden was higher, then the strategy will have paid off.
John Baptiste-Kelly (Wellcome) Measuring the value of a user-centred approach to intranets
The first in-house practitioner on stage, John highlighted a product team approach to researching, building and running an intranet, in contrast to hiring a consultancy or buying an intranet-in-a-box product.
Certainly, Wellcome’s Trustnet looks successful. Many will envy the statistic that 98% of employees will visit it in a 2 week period. Admittedly, Wellcome Trust has a highly-educated workforce, but the statistic that 45% of employees have posted an article in the last year is one to be admired.
Melissa Masterson (The AA) One small step back, one giant leap forwards
It’s a little unfortunate that the thing we’ll remember from Melissa’s engaging talk is that jellybeans go down well as an intranet promotion tool. Melissa, very honestly, admitted to knowing very little about intranets when taking her role, and thinking the AA intranet could be relaunched in 6 weeks.
What the talk should be remembered for is in-depth research, supported by Scarlett Abbott and an impressive launch that reached a large proportion of the remote workforce – 87% of colleagues accessed the service.
Kelly Freeman (Interact) Zhuzz up your content strategy
This was a really practical introduction to improving the quality of your intranet content, and of getting the right content for the right reasons. As Kelly says “What is the point of spending tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds on your intranet if you’re not trying to get it as right as you can?”
Kelly made three key points: define your goal, understand your audience, and audit against user needs. I particularly like the last. Her pup of intranet content will also go down in Intranet Now fame.
Martin Stubbs-Partridge (Scottish Natural Heritage) Alignment: a series of leaps
Martin shared a case study of the ups and downs of intranet at Nature Scotland. Hard work and research weren’t enough to guarantee success, but the arrival of a new CEO and her cycle ride around nature sites across Scotland helped change the way colleagues communicate and collaborate. I’d like to see more with this level of honesty.
Hannah Moss (Wilmott Dixon) Give the people what they want! (Then measure it)
Another positive case study, this time looking at bringing in Office 365 at construction firm Willmott Dixon. It’s clear that good understanding built on good research has contributed to its success. I particularly like Hannah’s slide of a decision tree showing what tool to use for a variety of different activities.
Simon Hudson (Cloud 2) Martin Hutchinson (Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust) Digital evolution in the workplace
A case study from Cloud 2 customer and now a convert to Microsoft Teams. Martin Hutchinson was a strong advocate but seemed keenly aware of some of the risks of getting things wrong. It would have been great to see the solution in action.
Kurt Kragh Sørensen (IntraTeam) The Impact of a digital workplace strategy
Kurt’s benchmarking graphs have become a familiar sight at intranet events, and are full of rich information. My main takeaway this time is that Enterprise Social Networks are most successful when properly embedded in the digital workplace.
Greig Rutherford (Standard Life Aberdeen) Not a long jumper
From the grand scale to a very specific research tool. Greig talked about a digital diary to really understand the tools being used by colleagues across the company.
The team used an app to survey 22 people over the course of a week, and a real-time dashboard enabled the team tweak it while in progress. This feels obvious, but we should try to remember Greig’s finding that when under pressure, people revert to the tools they know, and that tends to mean email.
James Mowatt (WM Reply) The intranet of now
Talking about WM Reply’s client British American Tobacco, James underlined some of the problems facing a company of 42,000 employees across 185 countries. A little more detail would have been appreciated, but it was good to see the benefits of rebalancing effort from development towards UX and engagement.
Annette Corbett Auditing your intranet content
Annette’s comment that “Auditing is the Spanx of your strategy as it puts you in good shape” will be remembered for years of Intranet Now to come.
And the remainder of the talk was full of good advice for auditing content. Looking forward, Annette suggests turning your audit into a working document so that you continue to benefit from your efforts.
Charles Fenoughty, Sequel Group Do, know and feel: A framework for understanding the modern workplace
Do (personal productivity and group productivity), Know (work information and practical comms), and Feel (communication) is a great lens to help plan your digital workplace. I don’t think it is perfect, but it’s a very good start.
As if that wasn’t enough, his Venn diagram will provoke a lot of debate more down to the positioning of IT, HR, and internal comms. The four sets of information, communication, collaboration and transactional process are a very good way consider the roles of a digital workplace.
Mark Owen (Affinity Water) A briefing counter – are they the one?
Another dive into a detail, this time with the challenges around a team briefing communication. Following a significant spell of design research, the team at Affinity Water came to understand the problem that email briefings were not being cascaded to all the people who needed them. Mark showed an impressively modest solution using Microsoft PowerApps to monitor the reach of these communications. This has helped to improve targeting and increased participation.
Jon Ingham Linking the digital workplace and organisation design
Jon is an experienced speaker and consultant, but new to the world of Intranet Now. Nevertheless he was an excellent addition to the conference, and a lot of us were contemplating buying his book The Social Organisation.
It was a healthy reminder that businesses have been trying to reorganise themselves since long before intranets, and that perhaps those of us who see things from a digital-first perspective really ought to be seeking out insights from the likes of Organisation Design.
Tanya Burak, Chris Tubb, Tony Stewart Debate: Governance, it’s all about the G-word
The day concluded with a debate on governance. Tanya from Savilles argued for a light-touch form of governance, albeit with a firm foundation of understanding.
Chris, a consultant and co-founder at Spark Trajectory, took the opposite position, that without strong governance “you are not an intranet manager, but an intranet observer.”
Between these positions, sat Tony from consultancy Scarlett Abbott, arguing for greater nuance.
It was a good discussion with strong questions from the audience, and became more heated than I would have expected. My favourite contribution came from Charles Fenoughty, who suggested that the sides of the debate weren’t so different, but the problem was in fact being viewed from different positions. The word I wrote down while considering this was “provenance”, perhaps it isn’t governance we need, more a better way of measuring the quality and lineage of information.
Intranet Diamond Award
Having been invited to speak at his IntraTeam conference in Copenhagen this year, I could hardly disagree with the choice of Kurt Kragh Sørensen for the award. Kurt has been a major contributor to the community for years, he is a big supporter of new speakers, and never less than great company. He is, after all, the vegan who cheerfully eats salad while his guests tuck into multiple varieties of traditional Danish pork on the first night of IntraTeam.
One of the delights of the Intranet Now format is that it has room for the grand scale and the detail too. That we could see Greig Rutherford’s digital diary alongside stories of major launches, or Annette Corbett digging into the minutiae of content audits on the same bill as Jon Ingham discussing organisational design.
Also, in spite of the stated theme of Strategy, what really developed was the theme of quality research. It is now clear that successful projects are rooted in real understanding of employee needs. Similarly, doing content well is now part of the equation.
I will continue to think about Fintan Galvin’s comment about the intranet being the most flexible part.
All in all, I had another enjoyable day, I felt energised by it, and I’m already looking forward to Intranet Now in 2020.
And it’s not just that I admire them, each of these people has contributed to my knowledge, my experience and, in convoluted ways, to my career.
But, this post isn’t really about any of us, Lisa got me thinking about the people we meet who somehow have ended up working in intranets. It’s an amazingly broad range of people who do have a lot in common. To put it bluntly, there are amazing people doing amazing things in the digital workplace.
Intranet people are connectors
It’s not just connecting externally with our peers. Intranet people break through silos and connect across our organisations. You can see that in our careers too, we’re the HR people working in comms, the journalists working in IT, or the recruits who never stopped moving.
We are digital, but we understand the human impact
The place we work is online, our output is digital, our tools are digital, but we understand the effect of our work goes beyond that.
We know real people use the tools we create, so we strive to understand their needs, and consider how our work affects those in our organisations.
We embrace change and know things aren’t slowing
Not one of us would be where we are if we’d stopped learning. We are the coders who learned to write, the marketers who nurtured a passion for user experience, or technical specialists who discovered they could achieve more through communities.
At the frontline of change in the workplace, we’ve all told our bosses there are better ways of doing things and, for sure, we’re going to do it again and time again.
We demonstrate the power of collaborating
To do our jobs well, we know we need to be talking to people throughout the organisation and beyond. Then we need to get them talking to one another, and sharing, and working across those barriers.
We look beyond the constraints of how things have always been done and strive to find better ways. But we’ve grown up with data at our fingertips, so we see past the noise, and make decisions based on what works.
And we know the work doesn’t stop
We’re lucky to be able to see the instant effect of our work, and we know this. Intranet people may not be the crazy ones, but we know we can change things.
There was a tearful moment midway towards the end of the morning session of the first of two Intranet Now events for 2019. It may have come as a surprise to the many first-time attendees, but I hope it was understandable to them.
Giving the Intranet Diamond award posthumously to our friend Rupert Bowater was always going to be difficult, and organisers Lisa Riemers and Wedge Black took turns to choke-up while making the announcement. It was an emotional decision, and absolutely the right thing to do.
In some respects, Rupert seems an odd choice. He wasn’t a big name in intranets, he didn’t win awards or become a big-name speaker, but Rupert was more than a familiar face. He was kind, gentle, generous and a keen supporter to many of us. He was a real pillar of the community, and that was a point that Wedge (successfully, I believe) made. While it is a business, Intranet Now remains a community event, and the relationships formed in the last five years have contributed to supporting people in their work, their thinking, and as friends.
Jamie Garrett – Working together to give 90,000 employees a voice
Sponsors Invotra talked about some of the lessons learned at one of their biggest customers, a government department, and about changing the emphasis from merely “employee voice” to “employees with a voice”.
Most striking was that the fourth most popular group was employee support for menopause. Social tools in the workplace are genuinely giving people a voice, and I truly hope are making difficult circumstances a little bit easier.
Ayesha Graves – Transforming the field sales Intranet…
The Federation of Small Businesses is supported by a network of field sales membership advisors. To engage this essential part of the organisation, Ayesha simplified the interface they would see in MyFSB and made it more visual. This was simple and effective, and has contributed to changes within the broader intranet. A perfect case study for the short-form format of Intranet Now presentations.
Elizabeth Marsh – Digital Workforce 101
Elizabeth is bringing experience, a passion for learning, and academic rigour to the subject of digital literacy. She gave a tour of her digital workplace skills framework and made very clear arguments why we need to be doing more, and thinking more deeply about what learning and skills mean in the workplace.
Jesper Bylund – The Intranet Governance Game
By day, Jesper leads the intranet for Sweden’s Region Skåne, and by night he spends a lot of time thinking about how to do intranets better. Aside from his blog, an essential viewpoint from an intranet practitioner, he has now produced his Intranet Governance Game featuring more than 100 cards to help organisations understand their priorities. Later, at the table discussion sessions, attendees were surprised at how many challenges they shared.
Anne-Marie Kieran – Enterprise Social Network, Friend or Foe?
Describing a pro-active approach to the ESN at Kellogg’s, Anne-Marie shared some familiar approaches, but also made some important points that are often missed. I will smile for some time at at the thought of vlogging lessons for staff, but hope to think a lot more about the idea of not promoting the tool, but instead promoting what the tool facilitates culturally.
Mark Tittle/Dominic Shillingford – Unifying the digital workplace
Dominic, from sponsors LumApps, joined Mark from Just Eat to describe what strikes me as a simple but coherent vision of the digital workplace, with Google Apps appearing there on a page that combines news flow, a hierarchy of information, and social collaboration.
Sam Marshall – Sticking your digital workplace together
Sam described two types of glue, of search and of signals, that can help stick together the parts of a digital workplace. It was a timely raising of the subject of microservices to simplify an employee’s experience of online services.
Marion MacKay – First impressions count
I was left wanting to see more of the work done by the Scottish Government to simplify their intranet Saltire, as well as their onboarding tool that Marion discussed. For a large organisation, the customisation by agency must be complex. If indeed, 86% of starters say they’d completed mandatory training because of Saltire Tour, then that will be making a significant contribution to the culture.
Larraine has been talking about her task at recruitment firm Monster for some time, and her collaboration with sponsors Beezy is really showing the benefit. The platform is allowing a broad range of business information, and complementing it with social tools promoted both top-down and bottom-up.
Adrienna May – Going Mobile
Halfords, like many retailers, has the challenge of reaching employees where they’re working, especially since so few have access to computers. Nevertheless, with their mobile app and registration using personal emails and links, they’ve brought a useful tool to the business.
Nick Allport – Using data to target content appropriately
With 10,000 users and hundreds of tools and applications, South Wales Police have a significant challenge getting the right information in front of the right employees. Having identified 400 logical groupings in the HR system, and with the ability to update in near realtime, it appears to be a significant success.
Wedge and Lisa tried out a new approach of introducing more voices, and embraced the “this is a statement and not a question” attitude that tries the patience of conference attendees, and turned it around. Attendees could raise an issue, raise an issue, or even ask a question. In spite of it being discussed before, the audience was a little uncertain (I spoke first, thoroughly unprepared, because I didn’t see any hands being raised), but by the second SNAQ session people volunteered more readily. I’d really like to see this continue in future events, but with greater opportunity to include other voices.
Debate: What’s the best way to create an intranet?
The event concluded with a debate that really worked well. Christian Sutter had the most challenging position, that a business is best off building its own intranet from scratch. Sharon O’Dea had a lot of fun arguing the opposite, that the only way forward is by buying in the tool. Lastly, Allan Tanner took a mid-point in that pic’n’mix is best. Not only were the introductions fun and interesting, but the discussion that followed was rich.
All in all, Lisa and Wedge achieved a good balance that met their promise of a fresher, more summery Intranet Now. It was less hectic, and gave more time for conversation and even a hint of reflection. I look forward to seeing the autumn Intranet Now taking shape.
PLEASE NOTE: I am currently adding extra links and presentations where I find them publicly available. This page may change over the next few days.
After three days of workshops and conference at the IntraTeam Event 2019 at the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel in Copenhagen, I was exhausted, unable to take any more information in, several kilos heavier but, and thankfully, more energised and inspired by the potential of intranets than I’d felt in a long time.
With three tracks running in parallel, almost everyone experienced their own version of the conference, and I wonder what I’d be saying had I made different choices.
With half a mind worrying about my presentation the next day, I chose workshops that would help keep me up to date with changes in SharePoint and Microsoft 365.
Christian Buckley makes three hours pass very quickly. I didn’t get any revelations about his subject Extending your IA to Microsoft Teams, but huge amounts of practical details and confirmation of themes that would recur across the three days: engage the people around you, focus on business needs, and grow based on testing and iteration.
Benjamin Niaulin is another engaging speaker who can talk SharePoint for more hours than there are in a day. He guided us through what is possible with search in Office 365. I found a lot of this to be a valuable refresher, with useful clarifications coming up time and time again. I’ve been a long-time fan of what’s possible using SharePoint’s search to build content, and Benjamin gave some useful examples, and also clarified some of the challenges between using SharePoint’s Classic and Modern pages.
Benjamin also covered a learning intranet tool he’d previously developed. This showed some of the potential for search-based tool to present learning materials “at the right time and at the right place based on who you are and what you’re doing“. This allowed the dynamic display of resources to people depending on their role and other profile details.
After the usual introduction from Kurt Kragh Sørensen, the actual conference got off to an outstanding start.
We talk about the importance of meeting real user needs, but rarely do we see such commitment or such benefits. Neil Barnett explained how the Heathrow intranet project put half of their resources into user research. I wasn’t convinced when Neil showed the personas created, and how they fell into six clear categories (Heathrow Express, Airside Operations, Baggage, Compass Centre, Security, and Engineering) but the more I think about this particular operation, it was absolutely the right way to approach things – live status updates for operations personnel are clearly essential. I will definitely consider using two of Heathrow’s user research exercises: mapping an individual’s day onto a clock helped reveal activities and pain points, while “Design your own employee app” yielded more insights into people and the way they saw the organisation.
Heathrow not only built tools. Their change programme included 130 digital mentors, 15 business representatives, and an impressive 45 content authors. This content would primarily be designed for mobile use which is very heavy on brand engagement. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the staff discounts section is the most popular page. Aside from the communications and support, every employee received a new laptop plus an hour’s one-to-one training with an IT engineer to get them up to speed.
I opted to see Richard Harbridge in the next session Intranets in the Cloud: What you need to know and this was another good choice. Like Benjamin and Christian on Tuesday, Richard whizzed through some of the opportunities and challenges of Microsoft 365 intranets. He was very clear that this option is a lot more cost-effective than managing your own SharePoint and servers, but could have gone deeper into the potential performance issues. He shared some advice on planning and analytics, and qualified some of the benefits to improved navigation – I particularly liked the search-based navigation.
I was speaking in the following session with Lessons from Learning and had lunchtime to recover before switching back into attendee mode.
Liberty Mutual’s digital assistant was a fine winner of Step Two’s IDW Platinum Award in 2018, and the company has spun-out Workgrid to sell their technology to other organisations. Gillian McCann spoke on the potential of AI to take us From Digital Workplace to Intelligent Workplace. For me, this was really about bringing the right information to people from numerous sources when they need it, and I think that’s exciting. I remain to be convinced by some of the promises of conversational agents for complex working processes.
Patrik Bergman has been a trailblazer and proponent of learning in the digital workplace world for some time, and his writings have introduced me to a significant number of experts in learning and development. Knowledge Management in Office 365 – some concrete examples was entertaining and imbued with learning and philosophy. There was also practical advice: encourage ESN users to tag important queries with #ineedhelp is profoundly simple and valuable.
The final session was the presentation for the 2019 Danish IntraTeam Prize. I wasn’t as wowed as by last year’s winner (the Danish Police intranet PolIntra), but reflecting on my notes it’s clear that Kræftens Bekæmpelse (Danish Cancer Society) is another worthy winner. Confronted with an unrealistic timeline, the team responded with a more realistic 8 months and set about simplifying, engaging, and building the foundations for a solid and practical intranet.
We regularly hear suggestions for prioritising content, and the team got a laugh from the audience when they revealed that of all the content classified Red, Yellow or Green, only the green content got published. There is a determination to ensure that materials are kept up to date (or archived, and then removed), while departments are given leeway to control their own content and designs.
I’m not sure if it’s intentional, or whether having the Twitter name @digitalsanity has taken Elizabeth Marsh down this particular route. On Wednesday, while I was speaking, Elizabeth’s session was about mindfulness, while on Thursday she spoke on digital literacy, an area she’s been studying for some time. In So you’re transforming the digital workplace – but are your people ready? Elizabeth raised a number of statistics showing how important it is for organisations to develop employees’ digital skills but emphasised how it is a shared responsibility for staff too. What struck me most looking at Elizabeth’s Digital Skills Framework for the first time since last autumn is how much it is really about developing the learning flexibility to develop new skills as much as it is about teaching digital literacy.
For Thursday, IntraTeam organised a specific track dedicated to intranet search, and this is where I spent much of the day. In Searching for people is no. 1, Kristian Norling from Region Västra Götaland in Sweden described some of the efforts possible to make people search useful to users. This brought together results from 15 sources and more than a million documents. Kristian advised us to think about needs and not, just, about hierarchy. One tiny detail that caught my eye was the ability to save a search that you do regularly, and access from an option beside the search box. Another neat detail was to allow different addresses (postal, visiting, and internal) to be displayed on user profiles. Presentation: https://www.slideshare.net/kristiannorling/searching-for-people-is-no-1
Of all the speakers, I’ve probably seen Martin White speak most often, and Eight ways to improve Search Satisfaction saw Martin at his best. He advised us of the trade-offs central to designing good search tools, that one size doesn’t fit all, and to understand the science of information retrieval. It’s hard not to like his assertion that a search team needs to have the visibility of a lighthouse.
Steve Sale from AstraZeneca drew upon some of Martin and Kristian’s themes in Using Search to break the silos, find experts & provide 360 views of your organisations data. He described some of the effort required to combine large amounts of potentially useful data into a resource that helps find people and expertise, and touched upon the risks of over-enthusiastically associating potential search terms with people.
Another highlight came from Jesper Bylund from Region Skåne in Sweden. His talk Top tasks, information architecture and search changed the way I think about Gerry McGovern’s Top Tasks methodology, and quite possibly personas and personalisation of content. By slicing the top tasks, Jesper has been able to design flexible page designs that meet the needs of particular groups while working. I’m also intrigued by the decision to move navigation to a fat footer, with a smaller hyperlink triggering a scroll to the bottom of the page.
My final session saw Christian Buckley at his storytelling best, if not necessarily at his most to-the-point. No-one will forget Christian’s story of embarrassing his son while at high school, a blunt tale illustrating behaviour change. His third and final story will be familiar but of long-term value: the use of a whiteboard superficially as a project management tool, but ultimately as a communication and stakeholder training tool.
This year’s IntraTeam was excellent, and there wasn’t a session where I didn’t feel torn between two or more different talks – it feels harsh that my biggest complaint is that I had to make some tough decisions. I don’t feel the roundtable format at lunchtime were as useful as I’d like, and it would have been nice to have a few spots for discussions with larger groups. I was saddened not to have seen Laura Rogers or Stacy Wilson speaking.
I was most excited to see personas in a more practical and less dogmatic way, and what’s possible with when applied to Top Tasks analysis sliced by groups. Secondly, provision of materials to mobile users has become normal now, but it was good to see a deeper understanding that mobile users need more than reformatted desktop content. Also, we’re seeing a much greater effort being put into getting content right for time, place and need, and the importance of making that content findable by search.
So thank you to Kurt and his team, and to all the people who made IntraTeam 2019 such a friendly and inspiring event.
I’m delighted to have been invited to present at the IntraTeam conference in Copenhagen, 26-28 February 2019. I will be building upon my Lessons from Learning presentation to further explore the potential in integrating learning and intranets.
IntraTeam this year was my first international intranet conference, and I found it an outstanding three days of well-curated workshops and talks, topped-off by great conversations with experts from around the world.
Last Friday saw the fifth Intranet Now conference, and the first after co-founder Brian Lamb stepped down. Lisa Riemers joined the remaining founder Wedge Black to introduce a series of lightning talks and mini-workshops. I was attending as a speaker and volunteer.
Billy Clackers: Keeping people engaged in a gig economy
Billy joined Invotra as an apprentice an absurdly short time ago, and now he is opening the UK’s most important intranet conference. He introduced an increasingly familiar world of gig working, and made an important point that often gig workers are kept at arms length, and are disengaged, from company intranets. This was a talk that was both practical and insightful, and it also introduced a new area for intranet people to consider.
Emma Morrison and Usman Hasan: Putting employees at the centre of your intranet redesign
Talking about recent work at the Hyde Housing Group, Emma and Usman Hasan shared an entertaining presentation that covered a lot of familiar ground. Nevertheless, it was succinctly put, and will be of value to a lot of attendees.
Janet White: User research on a shoestring
Janet has been working on a very limited basis with the Fairtrade Foundation, but appears to have achieved some very practical results in the time available. She illustrated the value of user research and that it is possible, even in difficult circumstances.
Baxter Willis: How our digital workplace changed the vodka bottle
From consultants WM Reply, Baxter shared an entertaining tale from their work at Diageo that shows the benefits of both knowing the organisation in depth, and exploring a company’s history.
Tanya Burak: Do we still need an all-in-one intranet?
Tanya, from the property company Savills, introduced an fairy tale from an apparently happy kingdom suddenly threatened by visitors bringing new social tools, that would be familiar to anyone worried by the rise of shadow IT. Her pragmatic solution, I believe, is at an early stage and I look forward to hearing more about it.
Kelly Freeman: Intranet No-nos
My favourite of the vendor talks this year, Kelly shared the benefit of her experience working with Interact, and filled her 9 minutes with solid advice. If “don’t wait for it to be perfect” and “treat it like a process, not an event” were all attendees took home, Intranet Now would have been valuable conference.
Simon Thompson: Lessons from learning
My perspective, as I saw this from the lectern, might not be the best. Please find my notes on this page, Lessons from learning. I hope attendees started to think about how their intranets can become better points of access to learning tools and resources, and the potential effects this may have on culture and the way the organisation works.
Howard Thain: Driving User Adoption
As I returned to normality, it was good to hear Howard talking about taking an intranet towards becoming a digital workplace. He introduced the ADKAR model for change management and shared some adoption advice from years of implementing intranets with CompanyNet.
Ellen Van Aken: The Usual Suspects
Ellen was the deserved recipient of the Intranet Now Diamond Award last year, and shared some of her experience at Azkonobel and touched on a number of familiar points about adoption. I’d love to hear more from Ellen at a more leisurely pace.
Sukh Ryatt: How to kick ass as an engagement ninja
Sukh, representing Oak Intranet, was delighted to present the company’s status as the originators of intranets as dubbed by Martin White two years ago. He also worked Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey into his discussion on engagement.
In another of my favourite talks, Dana discussed the massive investment in the digital workplace in order to support organisation growth. She described the importance of building a compelling business case, and how understanding users’ pain points could contribute to this.
Ralf Larsson: How we refocus to regain trust
Ralf, from Electrolux, shared the day’s most frank presentation. He discussed some of the failings in their latest intranet and the approaches they’re making to improve. I love their content idea of the “Grand Factory Tour” as a way to spread knowledge of the making part of the organisation.
Jeremy Stewart: If you can’t beat ’em…
This year, intranet software firm Sorce did the unthinkable and embraced SharePoint with a new product. His message-on-a-t-shirt said it best “technology is just an enabler” although I may not forgive him for his endless SharePoint “Working on it…” animation.
James Robertson: The power of digital employee experience
James was more than up to the challenge of the after-lunch slot, rapidly telling the audience “I’m not afraid of the i-word” even if he would then focus on digital workplaces and the importance of DEX or Digital Employee Experience. In his “Superpowers of DEX” approach, James has found a strong way to preach beyond the intranet converted with a vision that is powerful and communicable.
Adam Pope: Building a knowledge system for digital tools
Adam was highlighting some of the connected thinking at engineering firm Arup. In particular, their Global Tools Register which makes it much easier for staff to find the right tools, reduce duplication of effort, and helps Arup know what Arup’s people know.
Alex Scott: Scotty
Scotty, named for Scottish Water, not Alex, is the utility’s new intranet, and an impressive Step Two award winner. Alex shared some of the employee-centric thinking that led to its launch and ongoing improvements.
Suzie Robinson: Lessons and learnings from inheriting a new intranet
For the final intranet-related presentation, Suzie shared what she’d learned having taken up ownership of caterer WSH’s intranet a year before, and it’s exactly what a intranet manager needs to hear. Yes, things hadn’t been going as planned. No, the intranet had had no user research. But, with effort to reassure colleagues and management, by making simple but visible improvements, and focus on real needs, Suzie is is getting the intranet back on track.
Donna Noble: How to give yourself more time
In a brilliant change of tone, yoga guru Donna Noble took the audience through a simple breathing exercise. The single minute felt like ten, much to the surprise of me and many others.
The rest of the afternoon
A series of workshops hosted by sponsors appears to have been well received, and I must credit each of Invotra, Oak, WM Reply and Sorce for the effort they put in. Running alongside this were a number of table panels, and I enjoyed the discussions.
The day closed with the Intranet Diamond Award, naturally going to Intranet Now’s co-founder Brian Lamb, and a final panel session. Drinks were provided by the Digital Workplace Group.
As an attendee, I think the 9 minute talk format is about right. As a speaker, it’s really hard to condense what you want to say into that time. The day felt better paced than before, but I’d have liked some of the table discussions to have allowed more in-depth follow-ups. The sponsors made their presentations far more practical than before, and I appreciated that.
I’d wanted to speak at Intranet Now since the first event in 2014, but this was the first year that I really felt I had something worth sharing. That said, I didn’t count on how much effort it would take me to find a format, make the content work, design the slides, and then cut and cut again so I’d be confident I wouldn’t rush the talk. Waking on the Friday morning, I was surprised to feel a general sense of ease.
My thanks need to go to Lisa and to Wedge their belief and support, and to Ian Fenn who confidently told me a year ago that I should go for it. Also, I’m grateful to Scott McArthur, a confident and able speaker who, at IntraTeam in Copenhagen this March, made me feel that I really could take that step forward.
Jane Hart’s annual list of the most used tools for learning. It might be a surprise to see YouTube and Powerpoint as the number ones in Personal and Professional Learning (PPL) and Workplace Learning (WPL) respectively, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. https://www.toptools4learning.com/home/
Lee Bryant: Bridging the Digital Skills Gap in the Digital Workplace
In 2015, I attended the Learning Technologies show at Olympia, London, to try to better understand what was happening in an area adjacent my world of intranets, and what could be learned to improve the already award-winning Barclays Global Curriculum project. What I found was less adjacent, and more parallel. It felt like I was in a strange parallel universe where intranets didn’t really exist.
In spite of this, I learned a lot and was pleased to make it back to the exhibition after a gap of three years. Learning Technologies has moved on in that time.
It is notably bigger, and there is clearly more money involved than before. There is a lot of focus on types of training, and the trendy areas are video, animation and VR, but I can’t say I noticed any mention of augmented reality. One provider I spoke to discussed putting training into a song (they’ve even used company choirs in the past), and an escape room in VR. Naturally, there are also businesses building blended training programmes.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that there is a lot of potential demand for training tools and services via mobile devices, and a lot of businesses are trying to fill it. One challenge is how to manage corporate training on personal phones and tablets. For all of the exhibitors talking about mobile, I saw nothing to suggest that there is an easy solution.
I would suggest there were more Learning Management Systems, and they don’t appear to be focusing on the trends of three years ago, of social tools and gamification. A couple of people I spoke to were pleased to see the passing of the frenzy for badges with everything. I only noticed one company talking about another former buzzword, xAPI (aka Tin Can API), which appears to be successfully helping businesses track the success of training, for example, in retail stores.
In 2015, I only noticed a handful of mentions of SharePoint or Office 365. By 2018, there were even fewer. I find it uncanny that a vast number of knowledge workers make use of SharePoint, but training isn’t being delivered to them on that platform.
One I did find, was a company whose LMS tightly integrates with 365. This sent my mind racing around the potential and ease of setting up Teams for different learning cohorts, with associated file storage and such – this substantially raises the potential for team-based learning. It was also good to see the potential of SharePoint’s search and card-type previews actually in use. They’re also using a chatbot interface to speed access to courses – instead of hundred of courses with leadership somewhere in the description, they list the top 10 leadership courses. I’m told that younger employees are unlikely to search, but will query a bot.
This challenge of finding the right training materials is central to the success of any service. At least one supplier of ebooks and other resources has tried to simplify that with integrations can be completed in as little as 15 minutes. Shorter, to-the-point, training materials can contribute a lot too, but perhaps you lose out on the big names.
While I find it strange that the Learning Technologies exhibition has such a blind spot to intranets and SharePoint, I feel it is perfectly understandable. The primary customers are in HR or even in their own domain. There’s also a loose, but natural, affiliation between the the providers of training, and the systems that make it possible. To take things further into the realm of the digital workplace requires a lot more time, effort, and thought.
A few more reflections on learning
There is no doubt in my mind that training tools and materials should be available from the front page of an intranet and throughout it. A commitment to learning is also good for communications and culture, it seems obvious that showing pride in the training materials can contribute to better employee attitudes and overall morale.
However, even with the best materials and company leadership, an employee needs supportive management. For someone without a desk or a laptop, finding a quiet space and/or device may be a challenge in its own right. This may be too disruptive for management who only regard face-to-face training as “real training”. Conversely, managers may dislike the hassle of losing staff time to away-days with an uncertain gain.
Consider the explosion in businesses offering video for use online. I’ve come to the view that we will see a similar demand and, therefore, provision of digital training. It will be up to HR and digital workplace professionals to ensure these materials are managed and curated in ways that lead to a better experience. If you’ve worked in a large organisation, you’re likely to have seen it drowning in courses, videos, ebooks and more.
It doesn’t surprise me that training and other learning materials are poorly represented in the digital workplace: it’s not easy to do this well. That’s why it’s such an opportunity.