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June 6, 2024
March 5, 2024
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What Is an Intranet? Meaning, Uses, Best Practices

What is an intranet?

Intranet meaning and definition

An intranet is an internal communications and collaboration platform used by companies of all sizes and industries. It's a secure network for a company's employees and trusted partners to share information, communicate well, and work together effectively.

Some of the key things an intranet can provide are:

  • A way to safely share internal information
  • Improved communication between leadership and employees
  • Increased alignment between cross-functional teams
  • A home base for companies to store and organize policies, guidelines, and standard operating procedures

In essence, an intranet acts as a company's digital HQ and go-to resource for employees to stay in the know. It's an invaluable tool for keeping teams connected to each other as well as their company’s culture and mission.

Traditionally, many organizations use SharePoint or custom platforms as their intranet. But as the world of work has changed, new user-friendly solutions have emerged, with benefits to meet the evolving needs of employees.

Benefits of an intranet

‍Implementing an intranet doesn’t just help employees stay connected and organized—it can actually transform the efficiency and productivity of an entire organization. Here are some of the biggest benefits of an intranet:

  • Improved communication: Intranets facilitate effective communication across the organization, allowing employees to share news, updates, and announcements easily.
  • Enhanced collaboration: With tools like shared calendars, project management software, and document sharing, they enable teams to work together more efficiently, regardless of their location.
  • Increased productivity: Intranets provide a centralized place for information and resources, reducing the time employees spend searching for information and allowing them to focus on their work.
  • Cost savings: By using an intranet for internal communication and collaboration, organizations can reduce costs associated with printing, mailing, and other traditional methods of information sharing.
  • Streamlined processes: Intranets can automate and streamline various business processes, such as HR tasks, expense reporting, and procurement, saving time and reducing errors.
  • Better knowledge management: An intranet can serve as a knowledge base, capturing and storing the organization's collective knowledge and expertise, making it easily accessible to all employees.
  • Improved employee engagement: Intranets can foster a sense of community and belonging among employees by providing a platform for sharing success stories, recognizing achievements, and encouraging feedback.
  • Enhanced security: With proper access controls and security measures, intranets ensure that sensitive information remains confidential and accessible only to authorized personnel.
  • Scalability: Intranets can grow and evolve with the organization, accommodating new users, content, and features as needed.
  • Integration with other systems: Intranets can integrate with other enterprise systems, such as customer relationship management (CRM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, providing a unified platform for accessing information and tools.

Why is a company intranet important?

In 2024, it’s more difficult than ever for employees to find the information they need to do their jobs, stay connected to one another, and stay up to speed on their company’s direction. In fact, a study by HBR found that only 23% of employees are actually aligned with their company’s strategies.

An intranet offers the following critical functionality that can help companies address this alignment gap:

1. Provide visibility across teams

An intranet is a great way to make information available to an entire company. Since every employee automatically has access, it’s easy to share updates from company leadership that apply to everyone.

Many solutions have sections for different teams. This makes it easy to see what others are working on. It also helps to stay aligned with the team's goals.

2. Offer a centralized place for document and content storage and retrieval

An intranet is a central location for employees to store important documents and information. It is searchable for anyone who needs access to them. This system helps employees easily find the information they need.

The intranet is a convenient tool for organizing and sharing important resources within a company. Rather than finding and sharing documents from systems like Microsoft Office or Google Drive, users can upload them to a portal and make them broadly available.

3. Simplify permissioning

When used with SSO or as part of a software suite, administrators can easily manage authorized users. They can add or remove users with just a few clicks.

Uses of an intranet

An intranet is a versatile and powerful tool that can change the way an organization operates. They can help with communication, collaboration, automating tasks, and supporting remote work, providing many benefits for organizations. Here are just some of the ways that companies use an intranet:

  • Internal communication: Sharing company news, announcements, and updates
  • Employee directory: Providing a searchable database of employee profiles and contact information
  • Document management: Storing, organizing, and sharing important documents and files
  • Collaboration: Enabling teamwork through shared workspaces, project management tools, and discussion forums
  • Knowledge management: Creating a centralized location for company knowledge, best practices, and frequently asked questions
  • HR and employee self-service: Managing HR processes, such as employee onboarding, benefits enrollment, and time-off requests
  • Training and development: Delivering online training courses and materials for employee skill development
  • IT support: Offering a helpdesk and resources for troubleshooting common technical issues
  • Policy and procedure distribution: Ensuring easy access to company policies, handbooks, and guidelines

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using intranet software?

The advantages of an intranet

A modern intranet can offer tremendous advantages for most companies. Here are just a few:

  • Improved communication: It provides a centralized platform for employees to communicate and collaborate on projects, which leads to increased productivity and efficiency.
  • Streamlined information sharing: Intranets help organizations share company policies, procedures, and updates easily, keeping all employees informed and aligned.
  • Enhanced data security: They provide a secure platform for sharing sensitive information within an organization, reducing the risk of data breaches and other security threats.
  • Increased employee engagement: By providing access to training materials, employee recognition programs, and other resources, an intranet can help to keep employees engaged and motivated.
  • Cost savings: They can reduce printing and distribution costs by providing a paperless platform for sharing information, which can result in significant cost savings for organizations.

The disadvantages of an intranet

As we’ve seen, there are many benefits to using an intranet. However, they’re not all created equal. Unlike modern solutions, traditional intranet offerings often have the following drawbacks:

Traditional intranets require employees to navigate to another destination to access information

Real-world data does not support the claim that intranets are designed to be easily accessed. Knowledge workers feel overwhelmed by tabs, apps, channels, and information, which can cause context-switching and a loss of focus. Traditional offerings act as portals that act as yet another destination for employees to visit.

Traditional intranets often need IT administration to update, scale, and maintain

Traditional intranets are admin-heavy. They require specialized IT knowledge to maintain. This sometimes results in them being a bit behind the UX and security curve.

Something as simple as updating the “home page” can require multiple steps, and spinning up a new section for a just-formed team can take quite a while if the intranet doesn’t come with a built-in wiki section. Ideally, an intranet CMS allows for easy-to-update employee communications and documentation.

Traditional intranets don’t cut through the noise of information overload

Employees feel stressed by the quick exchange of information in chat and video apps such as Slack or Teams. This happens whether they are in the office or working from home.

The fast pace of communication can be overwhelming for them. Intranets may not be effective as a replacement or addition to some applications. They can also worsen information overload instead of improving it.

Traditional intranets get stale almost as soon as content is published

Intranets need good content to attract employees. Content teams sometimes use clickbait to encourage employees to use the intranet.

The other problem with stale content is that it’s often untrustworthy. This can lead to employees disregarding the information they find, and ultimately stopping searching altogether.

Traditional intranets don’t foster coordination across companies

Let’s face it, the digital town square of yore doesn’t cut it anymore. They’re as much a communication space as that sad ‘90s era mall that closed down in your town last year. Today, internal communication, collaboration, and coordination occur where employees already connect: in their “virtual HQ” located in Slack or Microsoft Teams.

Intranet best practices

If you’re implementing intranet software, there are a bunch of ways you can ensure everyone is getting the most out of it. To get the most out of your investment, follow these best practices:

1. Reach workers where they are

We are all working online now. It is important for everyone to communicate effectively. This is especially crucial in a remote or hybrid work environment. Use your portal to foster employee engagement by posting updates and information regularly.

An intranet, when used right, can be a tool for everyone in the company to collaborate, along with your chat system. Why not see if you can integrate the two? When you connect to Slack or Teams, you can send information and documents to anyone when needed.

2. Reduce time wasted finding important information

The best way to get the most out of your setup is to treat it as a single source of truth for all employees. Don't let your intranet get messy with old information. It will make it hard for people to find what they need.

If your setup has a content management system that makes it clear when a document was last updated—or, even better, if it can flag potential duplicate content—searchers will have a much better time finding what they need.

3. Keep your team productive by preventing time-consuming interruptions for key employees

It happens at every company: a few subject matter experts (SMEs) who hold lots of information are frequently interrupted by colleagues who need answers. A study by the University of California and Humboldt University found that it takes workers up to 23 minutes to regain focus after being interrupted.

Experts can avoid disruptions by adding their knowledge to a single source of truth to make it accessible by anyone who needs it, when they need it. A little more effort upfront can have huge time management implications down the road.

4. Avoid wasteful context switching to keep employees productive in the tools they use every day

Integrating with your chat platform is great, but integrating with all the other tools employees need to do their jobs? Much better. Look into next-generation solutions that can serve information in any web-based tool.

How do you create a company intranet that improves productivity and drives employee engagement?

If your current intranet is suffering from low adoption, don’t panic! Check out this specific action cycle designed to help you build buy-in, identify a replacement (if you need one), roll out the new approach, and create a sustainable solution. Learn more about creating urgency in change management.

1. Make a plan for adoption

First, figure out what you think went wrong the first (or 47th) time. What were the major factors preventing long-term, widespread adoption, and what are some specific ways to resolve them?

2. Set goals

Some examples of goals to set are:

  • Timelines
  • “Employee feedback gathered by June 1st”
  • “Decide whether to keep or replace our intranet by July 31st”
  • “Rollout new guidance/tool by October 1st”
  • Measures for success
  • Include regular and stretch goals
  • Regular goal: People use the intranet at least 1x/week for 6 months on average
  • Stretch goal: People use the intranet at least 1x/day for 6 months).

3. Seek employee input

Ask people how they feel about the solution they’re using. Do they like it in theory, but find it too cumbersome to use? Have they used different solutions or approaches at other companies? Do they wish they could use what friends at other companies are using? Learn how to create an efficient tech stack.

4. Select an intranet platform

If your current platform’s issues are unresolvable, do your due diligence and find a new intranet provider. Look into employee recommendations, and search on review sites like G2 and TrustRadius.

5. Assign tool ownership

Determine who will be responsible for the overall success and rollout of your new intranet (or approach). Learn why you might want to use a knowledge manager.

6. Configure your selected tool

Time to get your team settings, spaces, and permissions figured out!

7. Develop the content

This might involve importing documentation from elsewhere, creating entirely new resources, or completely rewriting existing content. Learn why bite-size information is best.

8. Employee initiatives to improve adoption

Avoid long, tedious trainings. If you need training, consider using self-service modules instead of traditional all-day sessions. For more exciting options, offer swag or host a party!‍

9. Measure success

Don't forget to check in on your goals.

Important features of intranet software

If you’re ready to create a truly great employee experience, you know that you have to find the best intranet software—a tool that can do more than traditional ones.. The latest knowledge management and company wiki solutions take everything great about intranets and make them even better. Here’s what you can look forward to:

Amazing UX

The staid, overstuffed, ‘90s (and not in a cool way) look of the traditional intranet is best quickly forgotten. Guru has a simple—but intuitive—user experience designed to serve trusted answers whenever and wherever employees are working.

Strong search capabilities

You should be able to find what you need without knowing all the details. In the Guru platform, that means advanced enterprise AI search that works in whatever app or tool you're currently working in.

Integration capabilities

Context-switching kills productivity. That’s why Guru overlays every website via a browser extension and has native integrations with Slack, Microsoft Teams, and other communication and collaboration apps your team is already using, so you don’t have to stop what you’re doing to use it.

Keep information accessible everywhere

No matter where your employees are or what tool they’re using, getting an answer should be simple. Get served context-specific knowledge before you even know you need it with Knowledge Triggers, or take knowledge on the go with the Guru mobile app.

Analytics

Guru’s deep analytics allow admins and authors to continuously evaluate the setup for company-wide knowledge gaps and inefficiencies, in addition to giving detailed product usage analytics.

Track how users engage with content

The worst feeling is putting work into something—and then having no one even see it. Guru allows you to see not just who has read your Card, but how many times people have copied or favorited it. Don't know what people are looking for? Use search analytics to see what people are searching for and eliminate those content gaps.

Ensure compliance requirements are met and kept organized

Don’t stop at seeing who’s read a Card once. Send an announcement in Guru when something changes and track who’s seen and acknowledged it. That's an easy way to make sure nothing is getting lost in a busy inbox or lengthy document.

Easy adoption

A great intranet solution should make employees want to use it. After rolling out Guru, not only has “Did you Guru it?” become a standard response, but companies see a long-term return on investment thanks to high adoption.

What is an extranet?

An extranet is a subsection of a company’s intranet. A private network like an intranet where vendors, partners, and authorized customers can access information from a company's network.

The term "extranet" gained popularity in the early 2000s. It was used by organizations to refer to a central location for sharing data. This data could only be accessed by specific workgroups.

Since the extranet is structured like an intranet, it relies on IP and TCP for data exchange. Extranets also have security features such as firewalls and password-protected login details to prevent unauthorized access.

Examples of extranets

  • A distribution network to maintain communication between suppliers and distributors
  • A central collaboration tool for a franchise to communicate across numerous locations.
  • Cross collaboration across government agencies
  • Ecommerce site integration to exchange inventory data via a secure network
  • A project management tool where a project manager can share documents and contracts with subcontractors and other stakeholders
  • A board portal where members of an association can access meeting minutes and board documents
  • Onboarding documents for subcontractors or freelance hires who do not have access to your employee intranet

Intranet vs. extranet: what’s the difference?

An intranet and an extranet are both private networks that use internet technologies, but they differ in terms of access and purpose.

Intranet:

  • An intranet is a private network accessible only to an organization's employees.
  • It is used to share company information, resources, and tools internally.
  • Access to an intranet is restricted to authorized users within the organization and typically requires a login.

Extranet:

  • An extranet is an extension of an intranet that allows controlled access to authorized external users, such as customers, suppliers, or business partners.
  • It enables an organization to securely share information and collaborate with specific external parties.
  • Access to an extranet is granted to specific external users through authentication methods like usernames and passwords.

Basically, an intranet is limited to internal use within an organization, while an extranet can be accessed by external parties. Both types of networks aim to facilitate secure communication, collaboration, and information sharing using internet technologies.

Key takeaways 🔑🥡🍕

What does intranet mean?

An intranet is a private network accessible only to an organization's staff. It is designed to support internal communication, collaboration, and information sharing within a company.

What is intranet vs internet?

The internet is a global network accessible to anyone with an internet connection, while an intranet is a restricted network used internally within an organization. Intranets are used for sharing company-specific information and resources securely among employees.

What is an example of an intranet?

An example of an intranet is a company’s internal website where employees can access HR policies, project management tools, and company news. Guru’s customizable intranet features offer a branded homepage for teams to access important documents and announcements​​.

Is intranet still a thing?

Yes, intranets are still widely used as they provide a secure environment for organizations to share sensitive information, collaborate, and streamline internal processes. Modern intranets have evolved to include advanced features such as integrations with other software and AI-driven content suggestions​​.

What is the simple definition of intranet?

An intranet is a private network used within an organization to share information, resources, and facilitate communication among employees.

What is intranet vs internet?

The internet is a public network accessible by anyone, whereas an intranet is a private network limited to an organization's internal use. Intranets help businesses securely manage internal communications and data​​.

What are the three types of intranet?

The three types of intranets are:

Collaborative Intranet: Focused on team collaboration and project management.
Communications Intranet: Used for sharing news, announcements, and company updates.
Knowledge Management Intranet: Designed for storing and organizing company knowledge, documents, and resources​​​​.

What do you mean by intranet?

An intranet is a secure, private network used by an organization to facilitate internal communication, collaboration, and information sharing. It serves as a centralized platform for employees to access company resources and documents.

What is intranet and its examples?

An intranet is a private network within an organization used to share information, communicate, and collaborate securely. Examples include a company’s internal portal where employees can find HR policies, project management tools, and news updates. Guru’s intranet features, for instance, offer a customizable homepage for team-specific resources and announcements​​​​.

Written by
Mark Whelan
A version of this article was originally published in 2021.
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