TECHNIQUE: EMPLOYEE COMMUNICATIONS: The intranet: creating a common culture

From sharing marketing data to building a corporate culture, Paul Cordasco looks at how intranets can offer valuable two-way dialog and boost internal comms efforts

From sharing marketing data to building a corporate culture, Paul Cordasco looks at how intranets can offer valuable two-way dialog and boost internal comms efforts

Most folks working in an office environment in the mid-1990s can be forgiven for missing the fact that intranets were a revolutionary technological tool. While the effects of e-mail and the internet on the workplace were immediately obvious, intranets emerged as something of a quiet afterthought. Indeed, for the first few years of their existence, most companies seemed to view their intranet as a cyber repository for human resources materials, such as vacation request forms and 401(k) applications. Yet in recent years, many companies have seized upon such systems as more than just a way to help the HR department save on office supplies. There is little doubt that the corporate intranet has emerged as an important employee communications tool. Those familiar with FedEx's almost religious commitment to internal communications will not be shocked to learn that the shipping behemoth has become a leader in the cutting-edge use of intranets. FedEx has merged its intranet with its in-house broadcast television network FXTV. FXTV is arguably the largest corporate television network in the country, broadcasting original content at least three times a week to FedEx employees. Many times, these broadcasts are geared to specific divisions within the organization. For instance, if there is a change in the protocol of how certain deliveries will be routed on land, there might be a broadcast directed at the ground operations that would address the change. The broadcast becomes a sort of a seminar for those workers affected by the change. Many of these broadcasts are also interactive, and give employees the opportunity to give input and ask questions. The fact they can be archived on the intranet gives employees who may have missed a broadcast the opportunity to view it at a later time. It provides a resource of information to which employees can refer. FedEx operates in over 200 countries, and its intranet helps bind the company together across its many locations. "We have learned that two-way communication is a very powerful tool," says Bill Margaritis, SVP of communications at FedEx . "This is particularly true at FedEx, where speed, reliability, and collaborative decision-making are central to the business model. It's a tool to facilitate information exchange, decision-making, and knowledge-based actions." According to Margaritis, the internal network has also helped address some of the issues raised by the series the acquisitions FedEx has made in recent years. "It can really help create a common culture," he says. Heather Rim, manager of IR and PR at managed-care giant WellPoint, says that although her firm's intranet incorporates 17 other sites from the company's various departments and divisions, it has been pivotal to maintaining consistency across the corporation. "Our intranet has been designed to accurately reflect our corporate brand," says Rim. "We have put a lot of effort into reaching out to the folks running each of the many parts of our intranet to make sure that every part feels and looks the same." Rim says the uniform design was part of WellPoint's plan to make the intranet the place employees first look when searching for information on the company. The site provides employees both logistical information from each department and news sections that offer both internal and external views on the industry and company. The effort seems to have paid off, as the site attracted 17,000 unique visitors in June. Some technology experts think future intranets will be in part judged on how well they can "push" the right content to the appropriate audience within a business organization. While many companies have become adept in recent years at gathering and even synthesizing data, many are still struggling with developing a real-time method to get this information in the hands of the people that have the greatest need for it. Several software firms have popped up to fill this niche. The idea is to wring more productivity from your workforce by getting people the data they need to do their jobs nearly as quickly as the organization itself receives the information. Proscape is one such firm that offers companies software that allows intranets to supply a sales force with real-time marketing data. "I think you'll see technology evolve to the point where companies are providing specialty views to different types of people in the corporation who each need different types of information," says SVP Derek Pollock. "There's so much stuff up on many intranets now that if you're in sales, you just can't spend time looking around for the information you need. Instead, you need a view that will let you quickly extract the information you need, when you need it." Nevertheless, some firms are using their intranets to gain increases in productivity in a more mundane way. Princeton, NJ-based Gillespie PR decided it had to quell the often humorous, but unproductive, public e-mail banter it had seen arise within its office in recent years. So the firm's chief, Dick Gillespie, established a public discussion board on Gillespie's intranet. It's a place where employees can sound off on topics ranging from TV programs, birth announcements, and office jokes and stories, which leaves the e-mail dedicated to work-related issues. "We have a lot of comedians around here," says media relations director Gretchen Ramsey. "Now they have somewhere they can go to deal with non-work-related matters." Technique tips 1 Do encourage employees to work together on projects using the intranet 2 Do make the intranet easy to link with the internet 3 Do allow individual business units or groups to restrict access to some areas to the intranet 1 Don't allow only tech support staff to arrange content on the intranet without allowing for input from other employees 2 Don't run an intranet without periodically evaluating how employees are using it and in what capacity 3 Don't allow content from different areas of the intranet to be presented in very different ways - there should be a good level of site uniformity

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