“Go back?" he thought. "No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible!
Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!"
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again
‘The new normal.’ ‘Pivot your business.’ ‘The virtual office.’
The dramatic changes of the past few months have drummed phrases like these into our consciousness.
Organisations and their employees have had to adapt without warning to a remote working set-up – and even with restrictions beginning to ease, the return to the office is going to be slow and cautious. Employers have a duty to safeguard their staff, who in turn will be cautious of exposing themselves to the potential risks of the workplace, and of commuting there.
In fact, it’s becoming clear that businesses are starting to reassess their long-term business model, as they – and their staff – realise the advantages of remote working.
Remote working allows businesses to draw on a wider talent pool, enhance their staff’s work-life balance, and reduce office costs.
Employees can enjoy greater flexibility in how they structure their day, spend less time and money travelling, and see more of their loved ones.
Making remote working work
Along with all these benefits, however, come potentially serious pitfalls. Fortunately, an abundance of technological solutions has sprung up to address them. Selecting the right software and using it correctly can create an environment where your workforce is fully connected and engaged.
Communication is a key issue. Tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack and Zoom can all facilitate interaction amongst dispersed workforces, as well as helping to minimise any feelings of isolation.
But perhaps the biggest challenge thrown up by remote working is information. It’s vital that a dispersed workforce has rapid, efficient access to the data it needs to operate effectively.
To achieve this, you have to use the right instrument for the job. For all its strengths, anyone who has tried to use Microsoft Teams to search for a document that was shared more than a day or two ago will know it is not designed for this purpose.
A new take on an old idea
The answer lies in a concept that may sound familiar: the intranet.
The modern intranet is a far cry from the sort of glorified message board that gave them such a bad name in years gone by.
Today an intranet is a virtual water cooler, a state of the art information storage and retrieval system, an interactive tool for every kind of office admin task, and even a mental health hub.
Whilst enterprise-level organisations will often have highly sophisticated, bespoke intranets created for them, there are also out of the box solutions that provide affordable, entry-level systems for small and medium-sized businesses.
Products like the SMLWRLD Essential intranet can be launched in a matter of days, and they make organising, storing and retrieving information and documents – from wherever you are – remarkably quick and easy. Staff should feel the process is no more complicated than if they were physically in the office. In fact, it may even turn out to be an improvement on the existing system, because the latest version of a document will always be available to everyone, together with all the associated history.
An intranet is an ideal place to store information and knowledge within a small organisation. Many SMEs will be using free tools such as Google Drive or Dropbox to hold their communal internal documents and data. The problem here is that these are likely full of complicated sub-directories and file-naming systems, many of which have been created by different staff members over the years. Navigating these messy structures can be quite tricky even for well-seasoned employees, never mind new starters.
An SME intranet allows the business leaders to set up the environment, the categories, the structure of their internal knowledge – and no matter who puts the info in there, it will remain organised and well-structured forever. Today more than ever this is so important – it is time-consuming and wasteful to be asking colleagues where to find information when we are all physically so distant.
Panagiotos Velachoutakos from Glasgow software company X402 puts it like this: “One of the most important functions is how easily things can be found on the intranet. If someone asked you about a document they are looking for, you can easily search for it, forward the link and save the day. Two days ago we had a training meeting, and our Technical Lead asked me about the VPN we had. I was able to quickly find the information and log in, so we saved the day!”
Going forward without going back
Another advantage of the modern intranet is that it can help ensure your brand identity and purpose is presented strongly and consistently. In an office-free world, where do you manifest your company’s internal identity? Where do staff turn up to every day? What real estate does the company have any more? The answer is – just like everything else nowadays – online.
An intranet is the natural replacement for a physical office space. It is branded with company identity, it is populated and frequented by staff members – who can see each other’s presence – and it is a private, communal place for the company to exist in a fully remote working world.
Once again this has long been a key purpose of enterprise intranets – there’s even a name for it: employee engagement. But now SMEs are making the move to remote working en masse, there is a renewed need for even a small company to have an online “office” substitute. The humble intranet is proving as versatile as ever, and in this new remote working world it may well find a home in new places that only a few years ago would have been thought impossible.
So whatever other challenges remote working may throw up, the answer to many of the fundamental questions should be: “It’s on the intranet!™”.
SMLWRLD is a London-based SaaS intranet provider, with team members working around the globe. In addition to delivering seamless internal communications, knowledge management, collaboration and transactional tools, SMLWRLD intranets are a vital tool for businesses in their quest for sustainability, staff wellbeing and greater Corporate Social Responsibility.To find out more, contact SMLWRLD Managing Director Dan Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 (0)207 502 3591.