The humble intranet has evolved since the days when a static news update told you how Gerald did in the local 5k race – and we mean it’s evolved a lot. The technology revolution has hit the modern workplace in a big way, transforming how employees talk to each other, work with each other, get their jobs done.
But all that makes it sound boring and tecchy, which it admittedly has been in the past. Mention the word “SharePoint” to an internal comms team and you may just get an eye-roll and a swift change in conversation. The rise of the G Suite environment, first through Google apps for work and now Google collaboration tools and Google intranet solutions, is transforming how companies work, communicate and collaborate. The features they offer have a huge impact on productivity and efficiency while catering to the preferences of an increasingly Millennial and Gen Z workforce.
So what is this G Suite intranet? And why do you need an intranet anyway?
Keep reading to find out:
- More about the shift to the cloud-based digital workplace.
- How technology preferences change with age.
- Why intranets are more than just communications channels.
- What the G Suite is and why it’s on the rise.
- How you can use Google collaboration tools as an intranet solution…
- ...but why you need an added integration to make it work.
- And how other companies are harnessing the power of Google apps for work to transform their company processes.
The shift to the cloud
Remember the old server rooms? Those hidden doors, usually in the basement or some dark corner of the office, from which weird flashing lights and whirring noises emanated. They were usually fiercely protected by the IT department; signs warning “DO NOT ENTER” hung at the front and pale men darted in and out looking worried whenever there was a system outage.
If the Head of IT could’ve put an attack dog in front of that door – and a dedicated air conditioning system behind it – they would have, because those server rooms housed thousands if not millions of dollars worth of equipment to keep the business running.
It used to be that a workplace’s digital storage and intranet solutions were housed on-site, in those server rooms. The stacks of drives powered the entire office’s systems, letting you get online to access shared folders and get the company news from a clunky old intranet.
Many a traditional Head of IT still likes these on-premises rooms filled with computer equipment because they think they are more secure, less prone to attack, than their counterparts outside the door (or in the cloud). And when it comes to your intranet solution, the tools you deploy for your employees to collaborate and stay informed, security is important. That system houses your confidential information, including employee data, intellectual property, financial details and business strategy.
Securing an on-premises solution is something IT bods feel comfortable with. They know how to invest in firewalls, anti-virus, privacy controls. They know how to spot hacking attempts and fraud actors. They know the on-premises system lets them oversee testing and rollout of upgrades. They know they are in control of how it all goes down.
Moving to the cloud
But on-premises solutions are expensive – and the cost is mainly up-front. Even if you get the budget to invest in, say, the most recent Microsoft Office suite including SharePoint, you’ll likely be relying on that same technology for the next decade; there’s no automatic updates.
It also takes a long time to roll-out a new on-premises custom intranet solution, and you’ll need someone to own it and build out your intranet site, staying on hand for additions, new pages and improvements. That bumps up the cost significantly – both in terms of technical and human resources – which is why many businesses today are moving to cloud storage, collaboration and communication tools.
It’s predicted that 83% of enterprise workloads will be in the cloud by 2020 with on-premises workloads shrinking from 37% to 27% of all workloads by the same time, even with security continuing to prove worrying for CIOs. This is driven not just by the rise in flexible working, but also the reduced cost in infrastructure investment and management, and to end the cycle of investments going out of date.
Yet reliability and cost-effectiveness are seeing businesses migrate their applications and data to cloud-based solutions at an increasing rate. The cloud’s potential to improve productivity is clear, especially with services like Google apps for work, the G Suite for business and other Software as a Service (SaaS) business tools designed specifically with easier collaboration and communication in mind. And unlike their on-premises counterparts, cloud-based tools have lower set-up costs with quicker deployment.
Working in the cloud or using the G Suite for business for things like document sharing, communication and collaboration enables remote working and improves connectivity – anyone can access what they need to do their work, wherever they happen to be in the world, which means no more frantic emails or calls back to HQ asking if someone could just email you over the following documents from the shared drive because you forgot to download them before you left the office…
G Suite vs Office 365
When it comes to cloud-based workplace software, Microsoft is the traditional dominant force for corporates. They reckon more than 200,000 organizations use Microsoft Teams in 181 markets across the world, and that they have more than 135 million monthly paid commercial users of Office 365, their cloud suite.
Writing in its 2018 State of the Sector report, UK Internal Communications agency Gatehouse notes there is an “Office 365 effect” happening across businesses now Microsoft has moved to the cloud: “We heard how the juggernaut of Office 365 has continued to take our industry by storm, resulting in a relentless push towards using Microsoft products – whether or not we, as internal communicators, either ask or want them!,” they write in the report.
“In 2017, we christened this the ‘Office 365 Effect’ and we are only seeing that continue to grow with SharePoint and Yammer dominating the intranet and social scene – to the exclusion of pretty much all other technologies. The highly anticipated rise of Workplace by Facebook has been lacklustre and other digital platforms like Slack and Jive have similarly failed to gain ground in the past 12 months. What’s more, this year we’re noticing correlations between Office 365 usage and other digital practices, with 56% of Office Pack users planning on improving digital channels.”
The traditional CTO with his penchant for Microsoft best be warned, though, because there are disruptors to the $15 billion market for business productivity tools, new players coming in to take the crown, with Google and the G Suite for business in the lead. Users, especially younger ones, are used to the Google interface and find it more intuitive and easier to use than the Microsoft systems their parents used. Former students who used G Suite throughout their studies thanks to Google’s education suite are coming into the workforce and having to learn Office – and that’s not great for productivity. Google intranet solutions become much more attractive as the workforce – and those procuring services – gets younger, too.
In an earnings announcement last year, Alphabet – Google’s parent company – said the number of organizations paying for the G Suite for business had doubled to more than 4 million, most of which are small and medium-sized companies. Big names that use the G Suite for business include Verizon, Nielsen, Airbus, Carrefour, Whirlpool, and Colgate-Palmolive. The low-cost, subscription-based G Suite even partly pushed Microsoft to unleash Office 365, a cloud-based version of its office software. As a cloud-native offering, Google apps for work has the upper hand in the new world.
“Schools and startups had been Google’s top business suite users since the package debuted in 2006,” writes Paresh Dave for Reuters. “They liked the low prices and collaborative features such as the ability for multiple users to edit a single document simultaneously… [But] About 80 percent of nearly 250 new G Suite features introduced last year, including an automated tool for redacting sensitive data from files, were primarily aimed at paying enterprises, according to Google.”
Integrate with other cloud-based tools
One of the real benefits to businesses using the cloud, though, and tools like a G Suite intranet, comes from the ability to integrate. Those old on-premises systems were the very definition of “silo”; to get systems to talk to each other often involved a developer scratching their head and writing reams of code just so you could move between tools. Cloud integration revolutionized the way businesses can get multiple systems to talk to each other.
First, a quick summary of cloud integration courtesy of Globalscape: “Cloud integration is a system of tools and technologies that connects various applications, systems, repositories, and IT environments for the real-time exchange of data and processes. Once combined, the data and integrated cloud services can then be accessed by multiple devices over a network or via the internet.”
In short, cloud integration joins the dots and breaks down the silo walls. It became crucial to optimising business processes with the growth of SaaS solutions; by integrating systems, you improve connectivity and visibility. Importantly, though, integrating systems and processes in the cloud leads to better internal communication and collaboration.
The G Suite and Google apps for work has an entire marketplace for integrations aimed at making businesses work better and smarter. You can get your accounting hooked up, your workflow productivity tracker, your conferencing and webinar systems, your marketing email tool, your social intranet or digital workspace – if you have a business need, there’s likely some integration you can use in the G Suite marketplace.
By integrating your tools and systems in the cloud, you have the benefit of a solution that is always-on, has less operational issues, requires less up-front capital – one that actually encourages and increases collaboration between employees because it was made for collaboration and file-sharing. As Nick Ismail points out for InformationAge, your team can be anywhere in the world and still work together.
“The advantages of cloud computing far outweigh the disadvantages. There’s a reason 85% of enterprises have implemented a multi-cloud strategy in 2017,” Ismail writes. “Cloud challenges have actually declined across the board since just last year, so it’s easier than ever to adopt and use.”
The flexibility and adaptability of cloud-based solutions is becoming evermore necessary as the profile of the workforce changes. We’re now seeing a new generation come to the office, making this the first time there will be four generations working alongside each other. That in itself brings challenges, which makes technological flexibility a must-have for businesses.
It’s a generation thing: technology preferences change with age
Gen Z: are you ready?
“Generation Z are coming for the workforce!” scream the headlines, as if the next influx of youngsters is the zombie apocalypse. Estimated to make up 36% of the workforce by 2020, Gen Z are true digital natives – they don’t remember a time before the internet, smartphones or social media – and so will look to leverage technology for collaboration. They have a basic assumption that devices should be connected.
Raised to be curious, Gen Z wants to be part of the solution. And if you thought the Millennial march for work/life balance was tough, Gen Z values balance even more - they place greater emphasis on physical, mental and social well-being. and want flexibility and control within their schedules and their workflows. They've also been raised in an "instant-reaction" world, writesChris Morris for CNBC, and want regular feedback - if they don't get daily interactions with their boss, they often think they've done something wrong.
“If you aren't a tech startup, it is in your interest to prepare your company by having an end-to-end software strategy or tech-enabled workplace that works across various devices," writes Debby Carreau for Entrepreneur. “Having seamless and usable software is particularly important as 60% of Gen Z indicated that they won’t use an app or website if it is too slow. They also prioritize the ability to access information and people instantly, and expect cross-functional teamwork.”
To survive the Gen Z apocalypse, make sure you have a full connected digital workspace ready for them. The G Suite for business and G Suite intranet can provide seamless connection and collaboration in an interface Gen Z has grown up with: Google’s.
Millennials and Google
The largest generation in the workforce today (numbering more than 80 million in the US alone, the largest cohort in history), Millennials have dominated work culture discussions for the last decade. There was all that talk of them being “lazy, entitled narcissists” (as the Time cover said), always on their phone. The “me me me” generation.
Yet the impact Millennials have had on workplace collaboration cannot be underestimated. These are the guys that oversaw the rise of coworking, of open-plan spaces and a blurring of the lines between work time and personal time. They are tech-savvy, connected, multi-taskers – 19% of employed young people in the UK have two or more jobs.
They also want instant gratification and are also much less loyal than their predecessors; a Deloitte generational study found 43% of Millennials envision leaving their jobs within two years – considering the gig economy to be a viable alternative – and only 28% saw themselves with the same employer beyond five years.
To keep them, try gamifying your Internal Communications, offering rewards for collaborating online, and ensure your technology is fit for purpose. A Google intranet solution can act as a portal to everything they need, wrestling the easily-distracted into productive workers.
Gen X’s flexibility
It’s easy to overlook their impact on the world considering they’re sandwiched between the Boomers and the Millennials, but Lenmark Anthony Baltazar argues that the oft-forgotten Generation X was actually the architect of the productive offices of the 21st century – nap pods, open spaces, free meals, creative design, and lavish gardens were generally installed by Gen X leaderships.
They grew up playing video games and remember when workplaces started to get digital – it was when they were at the beginning of their careers for the most part, and it was exciting. They remember the fax machine giving way to email giving way to social intranets, and these days they typically spend more time plugged in to their devices and have less work-life balance than their millennial counterparts (according to a 2016 Nielsen report). They’re more likely than millennials to stay on their phones at the dinner table, and they bring this intense need for connectivity to the workplace.
Risking contradictions, Generation X workers tend to try to avoid distractions – they are hands-off managers, preferring to leave people to just get the work done, says Gwen Moran for Fast Company. These were, after all, the “latch-key kids” who walked themselves home from school and managed on their own until their Boomer parents got home from work.
“From an early age, they had freedom to make decisions and were left on their own to organize their time, do their chores, and get their homework done before their parents got home. This has made many Gen X managers entrepreneurial and independent in their management style—which can be a challenge for their millennial counterparts and direct reports who often crave more feedback and interaction,” she writes.
A Gen X worker is comfortable with technology, and expects an always-on environment, so they won’t be happy with having to be in the office to talk to colleagues online or access documents for that last-minute quick fix at midnight. Using Google apps for work will give them access to Google Docs, Google Drive, Google team collaboration and a cloud-based intranet, ensuring they get the flexibility and connection they crave.
Baby boomers do use technology
For the first time, we have four generations in the workplace – and the post-war Baby Boomer generation, once called the “me generation” for being self-involved, are not ready to retire just yet. Businesses need to be mindful not to go so full-on into the digital workplace that they alienate their oldest workers.
These guys have a strong work ethic, working longer hours and weekends, and like hierarchical businesses. They also have decades’ worth of experience that businesses should be seeking to harness and capture through knowledge-sharing. Boomers like to feel valued in the organization – they invented workaholism – but they do prefer to communicate in-person, often in a very formal manner that can frustrate younger workers.
“Between work ethic and sheer years of experience in the workplace, Boomers often represent a walking trust of organizational knowledge,” writes Jasmine Gordon of ADP for Forbes. “Unlike their younger colleagues, older workers were less likely to switch employers throughout their careers, according to Inc.
“In addition to the talent-specific concerns of filling positions vacated by Boomers in critical leadership and technology roles, HR leaders should also value their older workers' organizational knowledge. By establishing strong knowledge management and transfer programs, such as documentation, job transfers and mentor relationships, HR leadership can ensure that Boomers' critical experience and knowledge isn't lost the day they take retirement.”
But don’t forget the change the Boomers have seen in their work-life; they’ve had to learn and adapt to different technologies as the world evolved, and will no doubt have opinions on the best and most efficient ways to install workplace collaboration and communication. Don’t hold off rolling out a G Suite intranet or Google apps for work fearing it won’t suit your Boomer workers; you’ll be surprised at how adaptable they are. Don’t forget that most of them are on Facebook these days, so social online collaboration is second nature.
Best practice for communicating across generations
In this day and age, the vast majority of the workforce is able to use technology, if not comfortable with it, so is all of this talk about generational preferences actually a red herring? Internal Communications guru Helen Deverell, of Helen Deverell Communications, has a thing or two to say on the topic.
“There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about Millennials and Gen Z and the impact they will have on the workplace, particularly in relation to digital. Yes, they have grown up as digital natives, but technology has disrupted the world we live in, and most people, whichever demographic they’re in, interact with technology every day,” Deverell says.
“I frequently conduct internal communication audits and the reasons people don’t use social collaboration tools or digital workspaces at work is often because they don’t have time, the content isn’t relevant, or no one has explained the purpose of tool. Very rarely is it because they’re uncomfortable using technology.”
Deverell suggests segmenting your internal audiences by generation is “too simplistic” – that communications decisions are more likely influenced by factors such as job role, department, whether employees are desk-based or remote, the information they’ll need to perform their work, and so on.
“Studies have shown that Millennials are an extremely hard-working generation and expect certain things from the workplace such as purpose, quick career progression and flexibility. However, these are all undoubtedly things that many employees of all ages would like to see in their organizations.” she says.
“I think there are other ways we can segment our audiences that will be far more impactful. However, if you are introducing digital communication tools, I would always advise that you provide training, appoint champions who are enthusiastic about technology (and that doesn’t necessarily mean just Millennials and Gen Z) and provide ongoing support.”
“If implemented in the right way, social collaboration tools can be a great addition to the internal communication channel suite. But the challenge many internal comms teams face is keeping employees interested after the initial launch.”
“And, of course, there are some organizations where digital isn’t the right way to go, whether because there’s an older workforce or the ways of working and culture don’t warrant it. Never assume that because the world is going digital that your organization must introduce more digital communication channels. Do your research to understand your organization and how your employees prefer to receive communication before investing in a tool that might not be suitable.”
Intranets are more than communication channels
Wait, what is an intranet?
We’ve talked a lot about this intranet thing, but you may be wondering what we mean; after all, the humble intranet has had so many lives in the last 30 years that everyone has a different understanding.
Let’s look to the G2 crowd, a leading software comparison site, for clarity on what exactly is classed as an “intranet”:
An intranet is a restricted and private communications network hosted online. Each intranet is typically accessible by a specific group of people, such as the members of a team or company. Employee intranets exist to provide staff with a centralized location to work together, share media, communicate, train, provide and receive feedback, or otherwise collaborate on a variety of tasks. Employee intranets live under the collaboration and productivity parent category. While team collaboration and structured collaboration tools bring users together on a shared software platform, employee intranets bring users together through a shared intranet portal. These portals can be configured in accordance with each individual company’s needs.
So, an employee intranet provides the ability, through accessing a portal such as a Google intranet solution, to collaborate, communicate and share with your colleagues, increasing productivity as a result. Digital employee engagement through intranets can make the difference between an engaged and disengaged workforce, and should be an integral part of any company’s digital transformation journey.
Happeo’s own intranet comparison guide distills this to four factors: collaboration, communication, community and information:
- Collaboration is about enabling your teams to work better together. Common features for this include the ability to edit documents, to discuss and brainstorm, as well as having the option to take this on the move with mobile support.
- Communication is getting the right information to the right people at the right time, which is the essence of any good Internal Communications team. The aim here is to make sure everyone is on the same page, that everybody understands the business objectives, and to create a two-way communication flow.
- Community is key. The most effective teams are the ones that feel part of something big and feel supported, so creating a community feel within your employee base is important and can be greatly improved with the use of a digital workplace tool.
- Information is the part where your people can access the information they need to do their jobs in the best way – including through training, wikis, process outlines and more. Having the information tailored to each individual means every login is relevant to each user.
Improving communication and engagement with an intranet solution
Just 15% of global employees report feeling actively engaged at work. Writes Gloria Lombardi for Marginalia: “Gone are the days when the workplace was merely a physical space employees went to during regular office hours. The always connected, instant access environment of the 21st century has blurred where work actually happens.
“Considering the negative effects of disengagement, any business should be looking for opportunities to improve employee engagement. It should be obvious that a useful and usable intranet is a positive step. Moderately engaged workers who make good use of the intranet are likely to perform better – and become more productive and engaged – than those who don’t.”
So how does an intranet improve employee engagement? Better communication is the first and obvious factor. An intranet – whether it’s a Google intranet solution or Office 365 or myriad other platforms – and associated integrations connect employees, no matter where they are. News functionalities and publishing ability help inform staff of developments, responsibilities and general goings-on. In general, it can help employees to have a sense of purpose and pride in their employer.
A tool to increase productivity and collaboration
Productivity doesn’t just mean getting more done – it also means the way in which tasks are completed. Any company can demand more of its workers, but unless it improves operational efficiency, that “more” is likely to come from longer hours and increasingly tired workers.
A well-connected and well-planned intranet can help connect workers to the right colleague to solve a problem, the right document for that particular job, the right training module to upskill. Search functionality and a cohesive content management strategy is key here, as is ensuring all documentation and articles have strong metadata to feed that search.
Intranets also act as a portal to the applications workers need to perform their roles. An intranet home page should signpost them to their document creation tools, their time trackers, their people directory, their chat systems. All of this saves time hunting down the right tool or the right person to get the job done, giving employees more time to focus on productivity through Google apps for work or their app of choice.
Mobility is key – especially for non-desk-based workforces
The intranet has taken on new meaning in the age of the digital workplace. Previously, it was incredibly difficult to communicate with workforces that were truly mobile – as in workers who are out on the road all day, or work in “office-less” cultures – or where they were not desk-bound (such as factory workers). The digital workplace has built that bridge, allowing workers to access company information and work together without being on company property.
IWG studied more than 18,000 business people across 96 companies and found that 70% of employees work at least oSne day away from the office every week, with 11% working outside the main office location five times a week. The study also found that businesses recognised offering flexible working strategies provided them with benefits, including increased productivity (82%) and competitiveness (87%).
Says Mark Dixon, Founder and CEO of IWG: “We are entering the era of the mobile workforce and it is hugely exciting. Not just for individual employees, but for businesses too. This is a huge shift in the workspace landscape globally...”
Through intranets and cloud collaboration tools, colleagues can work together on the same document in real-time; they can highlight great work and thank people for their help; they can access HR systems to book holidays or record sickness. The G Suite intranet enables this through Google Drive and Google collaboration tools, including Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Forms. The modern intranet is so much more than a news channel; it’s the lifeblood of any organization, big or small.
Best practice in intranet planning, from an expert in the field
Charles Fenoughty, Digital Director at award-winning Internal Communications agency Sequel Group, says the intranet has come a long way in the last few decades – but that the term is an old one, so it can mean different things to different people:
- The 1990s intranet was a central corporate portal for accessing practical tools.
- The 2000s intranet was the all-encompassing beast of news, process, forms, policy and procedure.
- The 2010s intranet is the socially-enabled digital workplace.
Fenoughty, though, prefers to think of the intranet as an informative corporate publishing tool that forms the central part of a digital workplace. It’s a centrally-managed location for the official corporate truth, ways of working and information “that I need to do my job” – something to get people working well and consistently from day one.
He believes even the smallest businesses need an intranet as these portals are a vital part of working; official documentation, policy process and procedure must be held somewhere central and easily accessible, after all.
Where the intranet got waylaid was the attempt to be all things to all people. In fact, research undertaken by Sequel Group on behalf of a client showed more than 80% of people at that company wanted an intranet that enabled their jobs first and foremost; after that came the fluffier stuff like news and information.
“Every worker has three needs to get their job done: information, communication and collaboration,” says Fenoughty. “All of these need to be met by something, whether that’s an ‘intranet’ or the digital workplace is down to people’s interpretation. That’s why I say the “corporate publishing intranet” is the centrally-managed, highly-governed official source of practical truth. If it’s formal, central and governed, it is trusted and therefore vital and needed.”
Good intranet practice has a hierarchy of messaging; where the “horrid megalithic beast intranets of the late 2000s and early 2010s” failed was trying to be all things to all people. That just resulted in a complex world of confusion and poor search. Sequel Group’s ethos on this is to embrace a suite (G Suite vs Office 365 aside) for the digital workplace that includes:
- A pared-back corporate intranet for trusted information and announcements of official news.
- A more engaging area for deeper, longer format reads, getting to know the business leaders, direction and strategy.
- A nicer place to get people caring.
They call it the “hands, head and heart” strategy, where “hands” is practical information to get you working, “head” helps you understand business direction, and “heart” makes you become a true employee advocate for the company. Different tools in a digital suite suit different messages, but Fenoughty’s parting wisdom is to think of your challenge in this order: define your need, work on your content, and think about platform last.
“Best practice is to not switch anything on until you’ve defined the right way for it to work for you. As long as you embrace the principles of clear channel definition, understanding what to put where and for which audience, and then you produce great quality content, then the technology you do this on matters the least. I love it when organizations think about their people and needs before choosing a solution.
“Proper planning and execution of a clear organizational purpose far exceeds the choice of tool in importance.”
The rise of the G Suite environment and G Suite intranet
Google does collaboration: What is the G Suite?
Formerly known as Google Apps for work until it was rebranded in 2016, the G Suite is the name given to Google’s group of productivity, creation and collaboration tools. It’s where you’ll find the ubiquitous Gmail, as well as:
Consumers can get access to these for free, but the lure for businesses is the ability to get a custom domain and additional administrative tools and advanced settings through the Admin panel and Vault, plus the digital interactive whiteboard Jamboard and the app development platform App Maker available on some plans.
There are three different plans available for G Suite for business, with cost depending on how many users you have and what you need access to – for example, the business and enterprise plans will give you access to a low-code app development environment and unlimited cloud storage with Google Drive, but that could be going overboard for a small business or startup.
The rise of the G Suite was so great that Microsoft launched its own cloud-based suite, Office 365, in 2011 partly as a reaction to Google’s efforts.
Who does it suit?
“Google’s ecosystem of apps and collaboration tools was a big deciding factor for us when choosing how to work,” says Lee Dobson, Head of Strategy at Bulldog Digital Media. “The G Suite was a no brainer for us as a business, especially as we were growing so fast we needed a system that scales as quickly as we are. The G Suite for business does that, and then some!”
With team members spread across three cities, collaboration was a key consideration for Bulldog’s operational decisions: “As an agency we tend to do a lot of collaborative work and are usually sharing documents around departments, so being able to work together on documents, even if we aren’t in the same office, means we can work effectively and efficiently.”
Bulldog’s various teams use different tools in the G Suite, but the main common ones are Google Drive, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Calendar.
“The collaboration and email tools make day-to-day tasks easier,” Dobson says. “G Suite for business also hooks into some of our other tools, such as Hubspot, which speeds up tasks even more.”
It was a similar case for Rock Salt Consulting, a London-based startup helping other startups to grow. “We started off with Microsoft Office,” says Director Jessica Williams-Chadwick, “but the freelance community I am part of uses G Suite and I was impressed by its flexibility and ease of use.
“It was easy to switch over. We could get personalised email addresses which looks more professional, and I prefer the 'feel' of the G Suite. However, I am from a startup background and not a corporate one, so I didn't have to get used to a different system as I was already using several Google applications in my personal life.”
For Rock Salt Consulting, it had to be a cloud based intranet and collaboration, so Google collaboration tools were the obvious choice.
“A cloud-based solution was extremely important for us as our whole business is mobile and flexible. This means we work from different places, home, cafes, a co-working space, and share computers often, sometimes switching mid-session, so everything being stored online, accessible and shareable is key to the success of our business. We use Google Docs all the time for collaboration, both internal and external, as it's much clearer than an email trail, and the calendar integration is useful too.
“As with many things and different operating systems, the functionality has become more or less a level playing field, and it has become more about the overall UX or even what people are comfortable with. As a startup, we found G Suite for business suited us perfectly: the way we work and collaborate with clients fits with the software, and the flexibility of the Google apps for work mean that as working parents we can maintain a good work-life balance across different applications.”
But it’s not just startups and agencies; UK supermarket chain Morrisons, fashion brand GANT, the Canada Games Council, FMCG brand Colgate-Palmolive, and insurance company Generali Hungary show the depth and breadth of companies making the most of the productivity and collaboration offered by the G Suite for business.
The advantages of Google logins for single sign-on
And of course, one of the big advantages to the G Suite for business is that you can use your Google login across all tools and apps. This alone saves time and increases productivity as it eliminates the need to log in to multiple systems – and come to mention it, it increases security as there’s no spreadsheet or post-it note full of login details hanging around.
Plus it’s super easy to switch between your Gmail accounts, whether you’re on a desktop or a mobile – just tap on your icon and choose the account you want to be viewing. It’s UX like this that has younger users flocking to Google collaboration tools.
Single sign-on and Google logins are second nature to Millennials and Generation Z. They’ve grown up in and become used to a world that doesn’t work in silos, where they can switch between websites quickly without needing to login each time, and any company that tries to force them down that silo route is a company that takes its future into its own hands.
What impact has the G Suite had on business?
Google commissioned Forester Consulting to conduct a Total Economic Impact (TEI) study examining the value that Google’s customers achieve by implementing the G Suite. Forrester measured the total economic impact over three years as organizations moved from legacy on-premise infrastructure to the web-based solution by interviewing six G Suite customers. They then created a composite company – a global B2B multinational services company with 10,000 employees using G Suite and $4 billion in annual revenue – by aggregating the data.
The composite organization achieved some pretty big benefits:
- 304% return on investment (ROI) over three years, risk-adjusted.
- US$8 million in collaboration efficiencies by working together in real-time, saving employees up to two hours per week.
- US$5 million in mobility benefits through the ability to work anywhere and join meetings remotely.
- US$4 million in legacy IT cost savings from decommissioning legacy servers, software and phone systems
The Google intranet: what’s the best intranet for G Suite?
What to pay attention to when searching for an intranet for G Suite
Given all the collaboration and communication tools that come as standard with the G Suite for business, you’re likely wondering if you really need an “intranet”. And it’s true, all your collaboration, storage and communication needs are handled through the various apps and tools available here.
The whole ethos of the G Suite is that you get everything you need in one package – everything you need to do your best work, from wherever you are in the world, using whatever device makes sense for you.
Google apps for work were built around the four areas that the ever-suffering IT department and communications team want for a business. In Google’s own words, those are the ability to:
- Connect – to reach your colleagues wherever they are.
- Create – to bring projects to life.
- Access – to store files and find what you need, instantly.
- Control – to manage users, devices and data securely and easily.
Let’s go through those four aspects in turn and analyse how the G Suite handles them.
Connect your workforce
We’ll tackle this first because your business can’t run without connection. Perhaps Google’s most used and most famous tool beyond the search engine is Gmail, and in the G Suite you get a secure, private and ad-free email system for the whole company.
IT admins can centrally manage accounts across both organization and devices, while data is stored safely in the Google web environment. Migration tools are available to import legacy environments, including from those old corporate chestnuts Lotus Notes and Microsoft, making the G Suite vs Office 365 question more about usability than “we’ve always done it this way”. And unlike with the personal Gmail offering, the G Suite one gives you a custom email @yourcompany, as well as the ability to create group mailing lists.
Outside of email – and a fairly straightforward calendar app that does what you’d expect, including checking colleagues’ availability and setting up shared calendars – the G Suite connects colleagues through the Hangouts feature.
Hangouts Chat, they proclaim, is a messaging platform “built for teams” to enable easy and efficient collaboration, from direct messages to group conversations and threaded conversations. There’s also dedicated virtual rooms to house projects, each of which can support up to 8,000 members, helping you to track progress and follow up tasks.
Hangouts Meet is the Google apps for work video conferencing app, and the suite’s deep integration makes this so much easier than setting up rooms on external software and checking if people have the right link (because that usually delays a meeting’s start by at least 10 minutes, right?). Invite people directly from the video call itself, or join directly from a Calendar event or email invite whatever device you’re using. There’s even specific Hangouts Meet hardware for your conference room to make it even more seamless.
And all of this works together in a deeply integrated way. For example, you can collaborate in Google Docs from your Hangout Chat, and the Meet bot integrates directly with your Calendar to schedule meetings for you. Setting up a meeting in Calendar automatically adds a Hangout, or you can initiate a Hangout in chat or video form, right from your Gmail inbox, for those times when it’s easier to just talk, or when the email trail is getting ridiculous and you just want an answer.
Create and run projects transparently
Once you can communicate, you’ll need the ability to create documents. The G Suite for business has what you’d expect, but it adds a Google twist for productivity:
- Google Docs, its pimped-up version of Microsoft Word, is an online creation tool allowing real-time collaboration on documents and easy sharing, even if someone isn’t in your domain.
- Google Sheets is a cloud-based collaborative, smart and secure spreadsheet app that empowers you to get insights fast, powered by Google AI and with the ability to pull in data from multiple sources, including BigQuery.
- Google Slides is the presentation app, allowing you to create and edit polished presentations right in your browser; it follows the real-time collaboration theme of other G Suite apps and ensures everyone is on the same version.
The G Suite also has multiple options not necessarily available as default with other productivity and collaboration systems:
- Google Forms lets you create surveys and forms easily – the internal communicator’s best friend!
- Keep is the online to-do list that allows collaboration with teammates and reminders to stay on track, syncing across devices.
- Google Sites is Google’s website-maker for dummies, enabling anyone to create a website with no programming or design skills necessary – there’s even an intranet template available.
- Jamboard is – yes, we’re serious – a cloud-based whiteboard; while you do get free access to it through the G Suite for business, writing by mouse can be a bit tricky, so unless you have access to a stylus and touchscreen (tablet, maybe?), you might need to buy a special Jamboard for your workplace.
- And taking it to the limit, the G Suite also gives you App Maker, based on a drag-and-drop UI design; you will need dev skills for this one, but it’s a low-code development environment and included with the Business and Enterprise editions of the G Suite.
What does all of this mean for your business? Well, imagine an Internal Communications team empowered to create an intranet, run surveys, develop competitions, create training, inform colleagues of developments, brainstorm across offices, create a strategy together and then present it to the top team via video call, all without needing to remember a million logins or crash the network mid-call. This is what the G Suite and Google intranet solution empowers.
Access anything from anywhere
Storing important files on your local desktop and emailing multiple versions is not a productive nor efficient way to operate – but that’s generally accepted wisdom in this day and age. Cloud computing means we don’t have to operate like that anymore, and the G Suite’s Google Drive app provides the perfect alternative.
Companies can store, access and share files in one secure place with Drive, and those files can be accessed from anywhere on any device. Streaming directly from the cloud also saves on the need for disk or server space, saving IT infrastructure costs, too.
Google’s search algorithms – including predictive search – make it easy to find anything you need quickly and simply, right across the G Suite’s apps, including Gmail, Google Docs and more. That means no more scrolling endlessly through bad search results just to find the sickness policy or that strategy document you were working on last week.
Control access and users securely
All of this sounds great, but you’re sitting there wondering what the CTO will say when you present a plan for cloud operations and Google collaboration tools, right? Try to appease them with this: the Admin panel provides centralised administration using integrated Cloud Identity features to manage users and set up security options like 2-step verification and security keys.
And as it’s the G Suite, it’s all manageable from any device, anywhere. Got a midnight alert about a phishing attempt? Handle it quickly from bed instead of dragging yourself to that musty server room in the office.
What about legacy data, though? You don’t want everything to be stored forever. The Vault lets you archive corporate data from G Suite products including Gmail, Google Drive, Teams Drive, Google Groups and Google Hangouts. Set retention policies either on supported content or for specific units, and track and keep logged data for legal audits.
This isn’t some cowboy system; the G Suite for business is a fully-fledged, corporate-ready, safe and secure system with all the control even the fussiest CTO would demand.
Why Google Sites won’t cut it alone
You’ll have noticed we’ve mentioned “Sites” a few times now – and let’s face it, you’re reading this article because you’re looking for a G Suite intranet, so that must sound like your prayers are answered. As an intranet, Google Sites touts itself as a way to “effortlessly create impactful team sites” that “look great on all screens”, “all without learning design or programming”. With a sales pitch like that, it’s no wonder users flock to it as a solution for their intranet needs.
And it works – to a point. Google Sites makes it really simple to display your team’s work and share news and information, all while making the rest of the G Suite – from Google Docs to Google Drive to Calendar and beyond – readily and easily available to users, making collaboration and communication straightforward. The editing works on a drag and drop basis, and the design gets rearranged automatically.
But it’s not automatically restricted to your employees – when you publish the site, you’ll need to choose who can see it, from anyone on the web to anyone in your domain (i.e. your company network) to targeted specific people. This could lead to trouble, as human error might result in your company intranet – and all your company information – going live to the world.
While a Google intranet solution Google Sites is a good enough way to get an intranet up and running, is “good enough” what you want for your business? There are solutions available as add-ons to the G Suite for business that can turn “good enough” into “right for me”.
What are your G Suite intranet options?
So… you’ll need an add-on
Knowing Google Sites was just good enough, tech companies the world over started to develop their own intranet Google sites solutions for the G Suite. These solutions for an intranet for G Suite integrate seamlessly with the G Suite while providing much more power and collaboration to companies. A quick (Google) search asking what’s the best intranet for G Suite will bring up a ream of possibilities, all sounding just as good as each other.
“We’re trying to show our customers a new way of working, so it’s not just about changing your email system or using some new way of writing documents. It’s about increasing collaboration, innovation within the organization,” says Fintan Murphy, CEO of Damson Cloud, a Dublin-based agency working with companies to deliver digital transformation. Damson Cloud has been a Google partner for more than 10 years, aiming to leverage the cloud as much as possible for digital transformation.
Murphy notes that while there are thousands of digital workspaces options out there, there aren’t many that integrate with Google collaboration tools. There are frontrunners though, leaders in the industry that can make Google suite sites work for business needs. G2 Crowd’s grid for employee intranet can give some ideas, but we’ll look at three potential integrations for Google team collaboration that can provide an all-singing, all-dancing solution. Of course, we’ll throw our own hats in the ring, because why not – it’s our website.
Just for you, we’ll put our impartial hats on for this bit.
Happeo is the community-driven employee communications platform. It empowers internal communicators to connect with employees in entirely new ways, according to G2 Crowd. Some call it a digital workplace designed for the G Suite for increased employee efficiency and engagement. Its digital workplace combines static intranet content with dynamic collaboration and social features that empower more productivity with a modern and familiar user experience.
Happeo targets its solution not just at Internal Communications, but also at IT teams to get more value from existing productivity tools and put the intranet in the hands of everyone, and at managers to share ideas and brings departments together to collaborate and share knowledge. It’s all about the workplace productivity shift, according to the Happeo team. The company has experienced 280% growth, and claims more than 200,000 users with a 92% adoption rate. It’s used by the likes of Randstad Sourceright, South China Morning Post, and Trimble Solutions.
Reviewers note it’s easy to use and simplifies teamwork, collaboration and productivity. The “Channels” tool proves particularly popular as a way to have threaded conversations and collaborate on documents in a dedicated project space. However, the reviewers do note there’s room for improvement, and ask for tools like design and page layouts included as templates to make building easier.
What’s possible with the G Suite and a dedicated Google intranet
ZPG transformed company communications
Natalie Allen, Head of Employee Engagement at ZPG, had tried lots of platforms in the past but found everything led to a lot of push communications; everything was one-way, and employees couldn’t interact or engage with news in any way. By rolling out a dedicated Google intranet platform, Allen says they have transformed communications – it’s more about interaction and conversation, and employees can share their own views and information, too.
Changing to a G Suite intranet was also about consolidation for ZPG. They had multiple platforms in use, from Trello and Slack for collaboration through to endless places to store information. It made productivity and efficiency difficult.
Allen names the new starters process as a great example; instead of having to deal with each new starter individually, ZPG’s team has populated an entire Google group page with new starter information that’s automatically pushed when needed and always available. It makes the whole thing much more scalable, she says.
“[This platform has] added a whole new depth and dimension to the way that we communicate with the business as well as to them,” Allen says. “Within the HR team and the wider shared services team, too, it’s been a game-changer in terms of moving our business much more towards self service. We’re automating processes, making it easier for people to do things for themselves, find things for themselves, rather than spending hours and hours on admin going backwards and forwards with individuals.”
Randstad Sourceright brought 17 countries onto a single platform
“It was really hard prior to launching our system to know how anyone in the business was interacting with each other,” says Anna Tolley, Global Internal Communications Manager at Randstad Sourceright, a global talent and acquisition management provider that spans 17 countries around the world.
All communication for the company was either email-based when globally-relevant, or extremely localised; Tolley’s team had no idea what was working or who was listening. Rolling out a Google intranet solution has “given us an opportunity to really understand how engaged our people really are with our communications and allowed them to interact with each other,” she says.
Before the roll-out, Randstad Sourceright was totally siloed; something as simple as an email address was impossible to find if you weren’t based in the same country. The G Suite and a Google intranet solution – which they’ve dubbed “Sourceity” – has “really pulled the company together”.
Trimble made collaboration more mobile
Taina Saarikoski wears many hats at Trimble, a positioning technology company (think GPS), but one of those hats has her responsible for Internal Communications. She was trying to wrangle outdated information and technology before moving the company to the G Suite and Google intranet. She finds the new solution both easy to learn and to use, which has made her work “a lot easier and a lot faster” – something that’s important when that responsibility is just one of your many hats!
The G Suite intranet has also enabled interaction across the business, resulting in a diminishing amount of email traffic: “Conversation is easy,” Saarikoski says, noting that now they can also track and store those conversations for future reference: “There was previously a lot of tacit information that was sort of hidden because it was maybe people talking over the coffee machine, it was one on one, whereas now we have a tool and you get your conversations more visible. A lot of the hidden information became visible and that is a plus.
“We were very much in the Microsoft world before,” continues Saarikoski, speaking about their G Suite vs Office 365 debate, “and people were complaining that the tool was a bit too complicated and contained a lot of old outdated information on that intranet platform. Having the possibility to also interact mobily, that was a novelty to us. Being able to access the necessary information via your tablets or your mobile phones, this is really a great advantage because people are moving around and doing remote work. It has given us a lot more flexibility.”
A G Suite intranet enables employees to collaborate and stay informed
Today’s workforce is diverse, dispersed and determined. A large percentage of it is digitally-native, and your grandma’s intranet will no longer cut it when it comes to collaboration and engagement.
The technological revolution has brought us more online apps and tools than we’ll ever need, and your workforce has no doubt explored them all at some point. That’s because the modern workforce is facing more distractions than ever before and they need a way to stay focused on the task at hand. On the other hand, they’re less about downing tools at 5pm, and are more willing than ever to work out of hours – if you give them the tools to do so.
The G Suite for business, and the accompanying Google intranet platforms and Google collaboration tools, provide the solution to companies wanting to get these far-flung workers on the same page, working together for the greater good. A G Suite intranet platform with deep integration with Google apps for work – such as Google Docs, Gmail and Hangouts – can transform the way you work, bringing productivity and cost efficiencies to bear.
As more and more businesses shift from on-premise infrastructure to cloud-based solutions, the G Suite vs Office 365 debate will become deafening. Choose the tool that works best for your business, but don’t forget the workers’ preferences – they’ll be the ones using it daily, after all. Make sure you consider aspects such as:
- The user interface and ease of navigating.
- The users’ familiarity with how things work – is it intuitive or will it require a lot of training?
- The ease of signing on and switching between tools.
- How robust the search tool is.
- The integration with the collaboration tools you’re already using – or your business needs for collaboration if you don’t have any yet.
- How you want to communicate with your user base, but also how they want to receive news and information
- But most importantly, will it make working easier, more productive – and more fun.
And if you need some help in determining what’s right for your needs, our intranet comparison guide is a good place to start. Happy collaborating!