How and when organisations communicate with their employees in times of change is vital. With remote working set to continue for the immediate future, effective communication channels are more important than ever.

Up until now, many organisations have quite rightly been focused on priorities like collaboration and business continuity. The publishing of information and news is a secondary concern and as a result, many organisations have reverted to email as the main communication channel.

However, there are more effective channels available, says Paul Hunt, Principal Consultant for Office 365 at Trustmarque. Paul who is a leading member of the Office 365 community and regular speaker at both Virtual and Live events around Europe, believes now is the time to consider your intranet strategy.

He commented: “Traditionally a lot of organisations used on-prem intranet systems to broadcast information. With the rapid transition to remote working, organisations now need to think about what information they need to get to who and when. The traditional intranet needs to move away from the fixed perimeter and out to frontline workers and remote workers.

“We have the ability to share targeted, dynamic content to a range of users. And there has never been a more important time for organisations to stay connected with their employees and utilise the power of communication.”

What are the options? Teams Vs SharePoint Vs Yammer for communications

Intranet and comms, teams or yammer or sharerpoint

Firstly, it is important to note that all three applications are now integrated. While document sharing and collaboration in Teams leverages SharePoint infrastructure, Yammer has recently been further integrated with the Teams platform as part of a recent Microsoft 365 update.

In terms of deciding which channel to use, it really comes down to what you want to communicate and to whom.

Teams is a collaboration channel ideal for working directly with colleagues on joint projects. It allows colleagues to easily interact on tasks relating to their day-to-day roles. Teams Chat is also used by colleagues familiar to one another. Teams Live Events and video conferencing can be an ideal way to engage with staff to provide updates, briefings and training.

Yammer is an enterprise social platform that is great for cross-organisational outreach. It is good for publishing news and updates to reach colleagues outside of your usual network. Yammer can also be useful in creating common interest groups such as cycling, running, baking, whatever. This can be a great way to break down the silos between different teams or departments who can connect over something that is not explicitly linked to work.

SharePoint News is the best option for corporate communications like those from senior leaders, change management teams or marketing. You can use SharePoint News to create and broadcast content like blog posts which can be emailed as a stand-alone piece of content or in a newsletter that is sent to individuals, groups or all users. This makes it a great platform to target specific content at specific users.

SharePoint Intranet hubs act as the shop window to your corporate information – signposting colleagues to relevant content, pages or other platforms. They now have the added feature of multi-lingual capability, which can be somewhat automated through translation services in Bing. This enhanced editing experience is great for multi time zone, multi-national organisations, allowing them to get targeted information to range of users.

“In terms of which option is best, it really depends how your organisation wants to communicate and use the tools,” advises Paul. “There is always a flexibility in how we can use the tools available and how they work in parallel to complement each other. We’ve moved away from the world of ‘context switching’ or platform switching’ and it’s a much more seamless experience.”

How to secure intranet and comms in the cloud

“There is a perception that email is always safe”, says Paul. “We know that is not true. It requires security controls and user awareness. The same logic applies to platforms like SharePoint and Teams.”

There are layers of security you can add within Microsoft 365 to determine how content is shared, including:

  • Decisions on type of content available to individual users or groups
  • Conditional access control for viewing and sharing
  • Multi factor authentication for access
  • Read only access for access from personal devices

For staff conversations in Yammer or Teams Chat, Microsoft Communication Compliance allows you to monitor conversations in a non-invasive way.  The tool uses AI to detect anything inappropriate such as harassment, bullying or offensive content. Administrators can determine what the red flags should be within your organisation. For example, Communication Compliance is commonly used by the financial industry to monitor insider trading.

Paul says it is a careful balance between freedom and control. “We can give people the freedom to think, discuss and collaborate, but also put some controls around that for compliance and protection,” he commented.

Is the on-premise intranet redundant and what about those not yet ready for the cloud?

We know there are some organisations that can’t move to the cloud yet due to compliance issues. However, we expect for the vast majority of organisations, that will change. Compliance and attitudes will shift as providers like Microsoft prove their ability to provide a secure public cloud datacentre option even for the most sensitive businesses.

Paul commented: “Microsoft and other companies providing intranet and communication channels will move away from server platforms I expect. They will become increasingly interested in delivering services and not servers. However, we know that for the time being there is still a need and we can work with customers to determine how we can make on-prem more available and agile through solutions like Azure Active Directory Application Proxies.”

There is good news for organisations still reliant on on-premise intranet platforms. Microsoft announced recently it has extended end of support for SharePoint Server 2010 to April 2021 – it was due to go end of support this October.

Final thoughts on the future of intranet and comms 

Paul surmises: “The current situation has given digital transformation a huge kick-start across our society, driven by need. No amount of sales literature from the tech giants could have had such a shift. This has given us a great impetus to move forward and build on that velocity.

“We have the opportunity to consider how we make SharePoint accessible on different devices now it is out of the box – to bring dynamic content to any person, on any device, anywhere in the world. We can communicate and connect better than ever before.”

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By Katherine Murphy, content enthusiast