Reaching out: getting non-deskbound staff to access your HR intranet

A traditional challenge for all intranet teams is how to reach out to staff that are not based in the office. How do you get somebody on the shop or factory or restaurant floor who has little or no access to a terminal to log-in?  This is a considerable logistical challenge for most large organisations, especially those in retail or industrial sectors.

It’s particularly important for HR-intranets and employee portals where, to get employee self-service to be viable or to deliver HR information more effectively, you need employees to be accessing the intranet on a regular basis.  If not, core processes may still tend to rely on email or even paper-based forms.

This is not a new problem. Back in 2006 James Robertson wrote a post which suggested that providing remote access to the intranet was a far more effective solution than providing ‘intranet kiosks’ at work. I believe this still holds true, and it’s a theme which I’ll touch upon in this post.

The future is mobile but…

In some respects the near future solution to all this will be to provide mobile access to the intranet through non-corporate devices.  With BYOD now being normalised, this is starting to happen. For example earlier this year UK supermarket giant Sainsbury’s announced they were providing the ability for staff to access corporate email and the intranet from personal devices.  However in this example the emphasis appears to be on access to corporate information for store managers, rather than access to a core employee portal for all staff.  The truth is that most organisation’s mobile intranet journey is still agonisingly slow and we are still a long way off from having mobilised intranets available to all which play to the strengths of the device.

Create simple home-access via SSL

Whilst waiting for mobile, the best option may be to provide employee’s the ability to access the intranet at home from their own desktop device or equivalent. This was the approach provided by BMW in Germany in the mid-noughties. In a case study which I wrote for Paul Miller’s book The Digital Workplace: how technology is liberating work  BMW in Germany provided and encouraged home access to their intranet as the most effective way to avoid a ‘digital divide’ between blue and white collar workers, for example allowing all employees access to benefits relating to BMW vehicles.

There is a good post, written again by James Robertson in 2010, which gives some practical tips in creating home access.  There are also some telling comments to the post which reference some real world experiences where organisations have been successful in rolling out home-access. The over-arching message seems to be that home access must be simple for employees to carry out to be successful – and that means a simple SSL link rather than having to rely on tokens and one-time passcodes.

Give access to core systems

One example of a successful employee portal aimed at non-deskbound staff is McDonald’s UK with their “Our Lounge” site.  Over the past few years McDonald’s in the UK has increased staff retentionand levels of employee satisfaction, and the portal has been one of the elements in place to deliver those positive changes.  A 2010 webinar (registration required) revealed that the portal was receiving an impressive 40,000 unique visitor sessions per day, almost 80% of which were being accessed from outside work, even though there was a terminal available in each “crew” room within each restaurant.

One of the reasons for Our Lounge’s success is that it is the gateway to core systems which employees need to access. This includes the delivery of e-learning (which McDonald’s have invested in extensively), but one suspects the “killer core-app” is access to their McTime system where employees can view and change their rosters.  I believe this alone guarantees the success of Our Lounge.  A similar tactic might be to access payslips, for example.

Make it feel less corporate

Another very noticeable element of about “Our Lounge” is the name and branding.  It’s not called MyMcDonalds, and the predominant colour is purple – in other words it is very deliberately designed to be distinguishable from a normal corporate channel. The implication here might be that it is owned by employees and staff rather than internal communications.

There is also “non-business” content for example the inclusion of competitions, stories about employees and details of appropriate staff discounts. This is fairly standard for HR intranets, but I wonder if it sits easier and more convincingly in a less corporate-branded environment, particularly where there is a younger workforce.

Keep some content open

Another tactic which is being increasingly deployed is to allow public access to content, even though the intended audience is primarily internal. This is the case at the Royal Mail’s “My Royal Mail” and Tesco’s new Our Tesco.  The advantage of this approach is that there is absolutely no barrier to access these initial pages so the reach may be greater. It also gives prospective employees a taste of what it is like to work at the company, and enhances an organisation’s CSR efforts. The disadvantages are fairly obvious in that there is no sensitive content (usually the people stuff need to access). However as a tactic to draw employees in to protected areas or distribute important messages it can work.

No magic solution

Overall there is no magic solution to getting shop or factory floor staff to access HR portals. However providing home access through the internet, and then both access to core apps and less corporate / lifestyle content, is a tactic that is being applied by some organisations with some demonstrable results.