Intranet quandary: Is home access your employees’ only access?

For many retail businesses and manufacturing plants, floor employees can’t tap into the company’s intranet. The Intranet Benchmarking Forum asks: Could they do so in their time off?

It’s a frustration point that CVS Caremark’s 170,000 retail employees don’t have in-store access to the company intranet, said Stan Dorsey, director of corporate communications for the pharmacy chain.

Bandwidth in stores has to be used for pharmacy work and sales, Dorsey said. On the list of priorities, getting floor employees onto the intranet is pretty low, he said. Plus, in-store workers don’t really have time for it.

“It’s more the nature of the work environment that’s the hurdle,” Dorsey told listeners to the Internet Benchmarking Forum’s monthly IBF Live (formerly Intranets Live) program.

CVS faces a challenge that lots of retail outlets, manufacturing companies and other businesses have trouble with, said Mike D’Angelo, a usability benchmarking expert with IBF.

“In other corporate intranet spaces, there are issues with people in large call centers who don’t have access to the intranet,” he said.

If it’s somewhat untenable for employees on the floor to access the intranet, how can they get information regarding benefits or company initiatives? CVS currently relies on print communications to get its corporate messages to stores, but is considering offering its retail employees at-home access, Dorsey said. “That is the avenue we’re really pursuing,” he said. CVS employees have said they’d be in favor of it.

Other companies have had success with that setup. A commenter who works for UPS said the company’s 400,000 employees all have intranet access at home.

Home intranet access was just one of the many topics covered on Tuesday’s episode of IBF Live. Among the other areas of discussion:

“Positive crisis.” How do you facilitate planning for a huge event? Maybe even a royal one? Imogen Levy, online editor for Westminster Abbey, had to come up with a quick response to that question when she found out about the impending nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

“As soon as the announcement was made, we put a special tab on the homepage,” she said. “We’ve got to make it easy for people using it.” The tab includes lots of information about the April 29 wedding, including daily summaries of staff briefings, Levy said.

IBF Founder and CEO Paul Miller says adding the tab was a good response to a “positive crisis.”

“It says this is important, but it also kind of defines it into a certain area,” he observed.

Intranet psychology. Business psychologist and Human Factors International Chairman Adrian Atkinson joined the program to discuss how people react to intranets. He defined three types of intranet users:

  1. People looking for information to help them do their jobs.
  2. People looking for social features to connect with co-workers.
  3. “Dominants” who scour the intranet to find tidbits to “help them win.”

Employees look for different things from an intranet, Atkinson said. “The way we individually respond to it tends to dominate our thinking,” he said.

Likewise, company cultures can define much of what people want from the intranet. Some companies are very individualistic and task oriented, he says, while others are “groupy” and want to bring people together. “In the end, you’re never going to come up with one intranet system that will serve everybody,” Atkinson said.

You have to construct your intranet “a number of ways, just not one way,” he said.

Downtime. How much downtime can your intranet handle? Dorsey said the CVS intranet site is up 99.5 percent of the time.

Chris McGrath, co-founder of ThoughtFarmer, said clients have asked him for intranet uptime of 99.9999 percent, which would equal about 30 seconds of downtime a year.

“Reducing uncertainty.” That’s a key role of an intranet, Atkinson said. “To what extent do people abuse the intranet?” he asked. “People in everyday life abuse their relationships with other people. What we don’t want is the intranet to be a voice for people abusing other people.”

That response was to a question from McGrath about why organizations tend to be scared to open comments up to employees.

Jane Randel, senior vice president for corporate communications and brand services for Liz Claiborne, said employees at her company have lots of opportunity to comment on an intranet wall, but they don’t. Where they do tend to “go to town,” she said, is in an anonymous suggestions section. That section isn’t live, she noted. It’s monitored.

McGrath replied, “The whole idea of anonymity scares me,” citing the nasty things people said about Rebecca Black’s “Friday” music video on YouTube.

But D’Angelo noted that “there really is no anonymity” in a business setting. Emails, IMs and other communication on company machines are company property.

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