Companies around the globe are experiencing pressure to “digitalize” their workplaces in order to stand out from the competition or, in some cases, to survive. In addition, the current pandemic has forced entire companies to operate remotely. Employees, clients and partners must collaborate at a distance and this could continue for months. This new digital workplace has been flooded with virtual tools that are brand new, modern, exciting and innovative—and each one promises to increase productivity. This has resulted in companies adopting collaboration platforms in order to rethink how they communicate and learn other ways of working together. Intranet and extranet sites are examples of collaboration tools that are indispensable for making important decisions. How can these technologies be used to optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of organizations? Here are a few ideas.
Collaboration platforms can simplify crisis management
There are infinite uses for collaboration platforms when it comes to crisis management. Here are a few important ones that can help you through this critical period:
- Launching and operating a crisis command centre
- Supporting your employees and organizational strategy
- Maintaining business continuity and financing
- Strengthening the supply chain
- Remaining connected to customers
- Building digital capabilities
- Interacting with others in the company’s ecosystem
Times of crisis force both customers and employees to make decisions. Within an organization, crisis management means making decisions related to the company’s mission while dealing with increased pressure and increased attention paid to every action that is implemented. A collaboration platform can help companies to thrive during these difficult times by centralizing the flow of information into a single communication channel, leading to faster decision-making. That way, when faced with difficult challenges, companies have a better idea of how to adapt, which also makes their digital transformation more consistent.
Set up a high-performance intranet site
By definition, an intranet site is an internal digital platform that supports processes and information sharing, facilitating the daily work of employees. Research shows that employees who feel a greater sense of belonging at work are much more likely to weather the uncertainty of a crisis and be there to help the company recover and grow when stability returns.
An intranet site is the tool of choice for fostering employee engagement while managing a crisis. As long as the site meets user needs, it can take one of several forms, including:
- A portal that redirects users to several applications (telephone directory, announcement platform, document library, etc.)
- A mix of independent applications from diverse technologies
- An integrated system based on a single technology
In any case, an intranet site can provide access to a library of tools that span the various functions of the organization (human resources, finance, marketing, etc.) and that offer the advantage of being accessible at all times without requiring human intervention─that’s pretty practical in situations like COVID-19. Alternatively, an intranet site can simply be used for informational purposes and for posting documents, such as various company policies. Or, in addition, it could provide quick, efficient access to all of the organization’s applications. That way, during a time of crisis, all of the company’s information could be accessed through menus or a search engine.
To best fit the daily needs of its users, an intranet site should have the following features:
- Be adaptive for all screens
- A fast, precise search engine
- An optimal information structure
- A modern, ergonomic design
- Be based on user needs
- A familiar, well-thought-out interface
- Access to collaboration tools
- Workplace gamification
In short, an intranet site can be an internal hub that supports employees across the company and strengthens relationships between departments and employees. While managing a crisis, an intranet site can help to simplify internal communications, facilitate access to information and reduce the loss of knowledge.
A digital workspace
Intranet sites have become a digital extension of the workplace. They provide a central location for collaboration, foster a sense of belonging and promote the company’s brand image. They also provide a very secure way to connect other internal systems, such as payroll, schedules, vacation calendars, etc. While managing a crisis, if the company has to provide special training to employees, this can be done through the intranet site, so that everyone can assume their share of responsibilities during the emergency situation. However, not all intranet sites are created equal.
They can have different levels of maturity based on their features:
- Level 1: These sites basically communicate information to the company’s employees.
- Level 2: These sites contain self-service tools, such as schedules or room reservation tools.
- Level 3: The advent of social media has made collaborative intranet sites possible. These sites can include document sharing and project management systems or new tools such as blogs, all grouped together on a single interface.
- Level 4: These sites are company portals with internal and external information that can be customized by the user.
- Level 5: These sites contain business intelligence (BI) dashboards that provide real-time information (key performance indicators) to company managers.
- Level 6: These sites fully integrate all of the organization’s applications, interfaces, portals and tools (including email, VoIP calls, etc.) into a single dynamic interface that is also accessible from mobile phones.
When selecting the right technology to develop a company intranet site, there are many factors to consider:
- The type of intranet site and features desired based on the needs of the organization
- Alignment with the corporate culture, as well as the expectations and digital competence of employees
- Integration of the platform with other internal tools
- Data security and governance
- The affected departments, services and employees
- Ease of use (updates, content integration), simplicity, intuitiveness and user-friendliness
- Ability to customize access
- The ease of upgrading the platform
An important communication channel
During times of crisis, internal communications are of critical importance. How can you make sure to effectively share all information with employees? An intranet site is a way of keeping employees up to date on the various initiatives implemented within the company and of explaining the reasoning behind decisions and organizational strategies. Whether your company is facing a period of accelerated growth or downsizing, an intranet site can simplify communications to help create a stable environment.
An intranet site makes it possible to:
- Allocate the necessary resources to communicate changes
- Demonstrate that you are transparent by making sure that information is accessible to everyone and frequently updated
- Communicate with employees on a regular basis to help them understand the situation and what is expected
After all, employees are a company’s main audience. Internal communications sent via the intranet help to strengthen trust by reassuring employees and answering their questions. The communications are centralized so that everyone receives the same information.
Get equipped with an engaging extranet site
The current crisis caused by COVID-19 is likely to accelerate the structural changes made by companies during their digital transformations. To face this challenge, collaboration is needed both within companies and outside of them with external stakeholders, such as partners.
One tool that could help with this is an extranet site—a controlled private computer network that connects a specified group of external users and gives them access to resources that are not available to the public. For example, an extranet site could be used to maintain relationships with customers during an economic slowdown caused by a crisis. By definition, an extranet site is an extra system that gives a company’s customers, partners or subsidiaries privileged access to certain computer resources via a web interface. Setting up an extranet site means creating a comprehensive information network that can be integrated into a company’s processes in various ways.
You can use the extranet site to provide access to collaborative work tools that are useful at all times but even more so in times of crisis. Here are some examples:
- External document sharing and computerized data exchange
- Instant messaging tool to communicate with partners
- Access to clients for project follow-ups
- Order and inventory tracking for suppliers
- Online training for employees and partners
- Data management for authorized users
- Joint use of software applications with other companies
- Support for production processes
In summary, an extranet site makes it possible to improve collaboration and save time during interactions between employees, suppliers, partners and customers. In addition, the social isolation brought about by COVID-19 showed how an extranet site can serve as an important link between a company and its customers and partners, helping to strengthen loyalty.
An efficient exchange network
Having an extranet site gives companies many advantages. These advantages include optimizing collaborative work. During a crisis, an extranet site makes it possible for employees and various partners to quickly exchange data, improving processes and helping all stakeholders to find optimal ways of working. In addition, these new ways of working provide time and cost savings.
Better management of production and delivery lead times combined with improved overall efficiency helps the entire company to focus on making major decisions and carrying out important actions to deal with the crisis.
A dedicated customer area
During the digital transformation process, companies commonly set up a customer area. Whether its a bank, a telephone company or an electric utility, any organization can benefit from setting up a customer area, especially at critical moments like this. Building a relationship with all customers is a prerequisite for good crisis management. So, when a crisis strikes, how do you avoid making blunders and deliver an effective message? You can use an extranet site as a source of information that is accessible to specific users. It may take the form of a customer area accessed through a website that is directly connected to the company’s CRM, where users can log into their accounts with a user id and secure password.
There are many advantages to having this type of portal:
- Easy access to information through the online interface with no geographical restrictions
- Option to place orders or make complaints
- Development of a relationship between the customer and the company based on a sense of proximity
- Customization according to customer needs
During times of crisis, customers can remain in direct contact with the company through such a portal and find all the important information they need. A business continuity plan may be posted on the site, setting out which departments and services are still in operation and what roles certain individuals are assuming during the emergency situation. This reassures customers who feel they can keep doing business with the company and, above all, feel a renewed sense of commitment and support towards it.
A reliable ecosystem can trigger change
Of course, it’s also possible to connect the intranet and extranet sites to form a complete ecosystem where all technologies can communicate with each other. Information is stored in a safe, central location where it isn’t at risk of being lost or distorted. It’s ready to be used to trigger the changes that any emergency situation brings. Another important element of crisis management is succession planning. A reliable ecosystem made up of collaboration platforms makes it possible to quickly reflect on various possible outcomes with partners and employees.
So, does your company use collaboration platforms? If so, were they ready (technologically speaking) to deal with the crisis caused by COVID-19?