By Gloria Lombardi

With just 15 percent of global employees reporting that they feel actively engaged at work, engagement is one of the biggest crises facing the workplace. What can organisations do to address this most urgent concern?

Gone are the days when the workplace was merely a physical space employees went to during regular office hours. The always connected, instant access environment of the 21st century has blurred where work actually happens. Considering the negative effects of disengagement, any business should be looking for opportunities to improve employee engagement. It should be obvious that a useful and usable intranet is a positive step. Moderately engaged workers who make good use of the intranet are likely to perform better – and become more productive and engaged – than those who don’t.

But what does an engaging intranet look like, and how will the experience evolve to meet emerging expectations? MARGINALIA speaks with Tami Matthews, Content Strategist at the digital workplace hub, ElevatePoint, to find some answers.

Gloria Lombardi: How can an intranet help improve employee engagement?

Tami Matthews: It’s about making people more productive. In order to be engaged, people need to feel able to do their work without obstacles. They want to have pride in what they’re doing. They want to feel connected to other people. And they want tofulfil their purpose. These four needs – being productive, having pride, connecting with people, having a sense of purpose – are all interrelated. An intranet can support and reinforce all of these intrinsic motivations.

GL: How does the intranet help employees be more productive?

TM: Productivity isn’t only about what is produced, but how efficiently it’s done. Workplace productivity, in part, depends on being able to find the right people and the right reference material or facts. A decent intranet should bring people and content together, and provide search tools that feel intuitive to use. Often though, people are frustrated by search results.

A modern intranet, combined with good content management practices, can provide the expected and needed search results. ‘Pinned’ results draw attention to oft-needed content; ‘best bets’ promote what the search manager / intranet manager believes is needed; contextual search limits the range of results to the current area of the intranet.

Naturally, people need easy access to their applications. The digital workplace is about getting things done, not just reading material. Most intranets can help people find the usual office apps, but a modern intranet should offer some integration – helping employees to work when and where needed.

GL: In recent years, search has been boosted by the Microsoft Graph and Delve. What are the latest trends in search?

TM:  Search makes all the difference to the overall experience. There’s lots that can be done to hone search functionality to the organisation’s priorities. We recently worked with a government agency, working in law. They needed very particular search results to help them find not only certain types of documents, but specific versions of a document. Meta-data (author, date, area of law covered) was very important. They, like most people, expected a great search experience on their mobile devices too, especially when they were in court.

Smart bots can help a person find exactly what they need – not a whole document but rather the answer they need. ElevatePoint is about to release a bot that could help. We want people to be able to ask questions about their benefits, for example, and get the answer directly.

It won’t be too long before regular search is augmented by artificial intelligence (AI); the system will come to understand the type of information different people search for, when, and perhaps why.

GL: Returning to engagement, I think pride is integral to progress and satisfaction; how can the intranet support such emotional drivers?

TM: People want to feel good about the work they do. They want to see that their company is meaningful to society and is doing good work, and that they themselves are doing good work that they can be proud of. The intranet can be a key communication channel for sharing success stories, and can also be a place for community and conversation. Colleagues can offer congratulations or support, staying involved with community objectives or project progress. It could be possible to give a colleague a virtual high-five for outstanding work. Certainly, the intranet is a place for gratitude and recognition. Kudos to the hard-workers, I say.

To showcase the organisation’s good work, brand stories can highlight how the organisation’s products – or even better, employees – help customers. Brand stories should show how every employee at every level is involved; it’s not just about front-line workers, it’s the whole chain of events that lead up to customer success. And there’s no reason why such stories can’t include ‘internal customers’ in larger organisations.

People want to make and see progress. Overall organisation goals are important, so communicating progress is crucial, but think about all the initiatives, programmes, and projects that run through the years too. Are we getting there? Are these initiatives having an impact?

Communication, conversation, and community – there are plenty of ways to engage people across the intranet and support pride in their work and the company.

GL: Community feels important; what are your thoughts on the need to connect with people?

TM: Everybody needs friends, and developing friends at work is healthy and normal. Work friendships and connections are levers of engagement; few work well when isolated. People stay at the same company longer when they have friendships in the office.

A modern intranet can be the connection platform – social networking with the opportunity for community and conversation across the site. Yes, it can be work focused, with people around the same office and different offices discussing things, and leaving questions and comments. But it can also be about community, the wider community I mean – charity work, volunteering, recycling, and the things people feel passionately about that also help their company.

Connecting with people is so important. At another company, I used to work remotely; I didn’t see my teammates very often – if I was lucky once a year. The internal social network platform kept me involved and engaged. It’s so important to build rapport with colleagues, and to develop friendships, especially when you’re remote.

GL: And what about purpose? Meaningfulness?

TM: Nobody wants to be a little cog in a big machine. Everyone wants to see their work as integral to progress, to success. You can take pride in the smallest of jobs when done well, knowing that it matters to others.

Most people want to feel they have a purpose; they want to feel like they’re getting up in the morning for a reason. We want to make a difference. A modern, well-used intranet can support these feelings – showcasing the good people are doing and the good the organisation is doing.

Further, the intranet can be a conduit for real-life development and progress – offering training opportunities, volunteering opportunities, mentoring opportunities, and career opportunities.

Of course all this depends on culture and individual responsibility – different people want different things out of work. I like to work within the wider community, so volunteer opportunities are important to me, as part of my larger purpose. Seeing my company care about society makes me feel better about the work we do.

Don’t forget that a modern intranet is personalised to the individual. So the opportunities and information someone sees should directly relate to their interests and work. For example, if they are working within Marcomms, they could have quick access to the AP Style Guide, the brand guide, links to MARGINALIA and favourite websites. The intranet offers a different experience for different people, and so can become a truly personal workspace.

GL: Looking at the future of work, how will the intranet continue evolving to meet the needs of workers?

TM: Everything we have discussed so far will become even more important in the future. More people will work remotely; they will not be at the same desk every day with the same people. Online connections will be of greater significance; to enable the needed sense of camaraderie and pride, and support authentic relationships, organisations will need to ensure their digital strategy focuses on the human elements.

This is already true for many companies, such as those with traveling sales people, consultants, or construction workers who work on site. Even medical professionals rarely sit down, and roam large buildings as needed, doing their admin standing up, or in between seeing patients.

A recent study by Flexjobs indicated that 99% of white collar workers have worked remotely in the last year, and this trend to work at home or from clients’ offices (or the airport) is bound to grow. Think about it the way FlexJob’s CEO puts it: “Everybody’s working at the weekends, everybody’s working after hours.”.

GL: What’s the future of work if engagement is so low?

TM: Because employee engagement is so low worldwide – it’s estimated to be at about 15 percent – and because we have an exodus of Baby Boomers who are retiring, this is the time to really think about how organisations keep their existing employees and how they attract new talent.

Millennials and Gen Z – the latest generation coming into the workforce – demand, maybe even more than Gen Xers, to have online tools that they find enable productivity. They are digital natives. They grew up on digital. Companies must be strategic about how they use digital workplace tools to enable and empower employees. They should work through a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis. They should identify disruption within their industry, and understand any rapid changes. What are the tools that will help solve emerging problems? What might strengthen their strengths?

Organisations also need to think about their leadership succession. As Baby Boomers leave the workforce and new employees enter what does the future leadership of the business look like? How will digital transformation help?

As much as I’ve spoken about technology as an enabler, it’s time for businesses to address engagement as a company priority. Looking at the world right now, I think most CEOs and CIOs/ CTOs are thinking about cybersecurity and other big issues. Employee engagement is just as important – partly because employees are such a large factor in cybersecurity and information protection. If employees understand the processes and rules, they’re better prepared to follow them. I mean, many hackers penetrate the company network because of human error. Employee engagement is necessary to meet goals, produce quality products, provide excellent customer service and more.

Digital employee engagement can make the difference. Many HR and internal communications professionals understand the all-encompassing impact of engagement, but I’m not sure the majority of executives feel the same yet. As the labor market because tighter, I believe they will. If we’re to continue on the digital transformation journey, employee engagement must be acknowledged every step of the way.