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People in conversation at tables on a terrace

Some thoughts after attending Intranet Reloaded Berlin from home 2020, and 4 key takeaways.

Transforming a two-day physical event into a 100% online experience is no easy task!

Kudos to the we.CONECT team – a great job to adapt the format of the physical event.

In numbers

Over 400 attendees for 2 days, packed with over 20 sessions.

Intranet Reloaded Berlin, is the kind of conference I love to attend!

I’ve supported many event organisers enhance their attendee experience with online community platforms. Yet I realised this was probably my first full online event experience as an attendee.

And that after over a decade of working remotely from home!

What I was expecting

My recent professional focus has been away from intranets. Knowledge management, collective intelligence, and distributed organisational learning have kept me occupied. Then throw into the mix some artificial intelligence, chatbots, and machine learning! 😉

That said, I hadn’t completely disconnected from the social intranet and internal communications space. I was looking forward to re-engaging, picking up the pulse, getting a sense of where we’re currently at. I hoped to see something fresh, and be surprised by progress.

Networking is always a key component of any event, and I was eager to see how I could both contribute and connect.

What I got out of it

With Ana helping me out to get into the event platform after a missed email my end – thanks spam filter! – I joined the live session and got my bearings.

Components of a successful online event

A successful online event needs an integrated platform – video, audio, chat, and networking for attendees. W-connect ran Intranet Reloaded on their proprietary platform, with the sessions streamed via GoToWebinar. This worked well. It was easy to find my way around, though it did feel a little disjointed.

I missed the presence of other attendees, a sense of a visible audience. Seeing a live list of attendees in the sessions would have helped. A live chat window to give us the opportunity to contribute and interact with the content and each other.

Empty chairs in a conference room
Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

Like any conference, there are sessions we each get more or less out of, some resonating more than others. I always like to hear the authentic stories, it was great to see these.

A free tip for vendors…

When given a sponsor slot, bring a customer, let them talk and tell us their story! 😉

Whether it be a short workshop or a two-day conference, our energy levels and attention spans get tested during any physical event. This was no different. Attending remotely, I found myself observing this in myself, how and why I was dropping in and out of focus.

Energy boost!

I found these fluctuations in attention more apparent with the long-form virtual format. Keeping us all engaged demands the injection of more energy. Too easily it can slip into feeling like a string of back to back webinars.

I was disappointed that I didn’t find the networking opportunities easy or encouraged. Though since I missed the start I may be lacking some context. The matching idea was good, with further potential there. By instigating matches and encouraging attendees to mix and interact, a valuable social element could be added.

People in conversation at tables on a terrace
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash

I’d suggest building some time and activity into the event agenda specifically for this. Encourage breakouts and spontaneous conversation. Much like what happens between sessions and at coffee breaks during conferences. A lot of value to be had there for all.

Here they are – our 4 big takeaways from Intranet Reloaded Berlin

Logistics aside, it is always the attendees and the speakers that make any event great. Here we didn’t fall short!

A week on from the event, now the stimuli levels have settled and I’ve had some space for reflection, it’s time to share some observations.

1. COVID-19 is demanding Internal Communications teams step up and play a new role

Coronavirus was always going to be an obvious theme. There’s no hiding from it as we’re all challenged by the current crisis.

Organisations are now moving beyond the initial reaction stage. Supporting the workforce displaced to the home is a priority and focus.

It was great to hear examples of interactive intranets implemented before the crisis hit. They have immediately become critical in supporting employees, enabling connection, and coping.

There is still room to embrace deeper community-centric approaches.

We need to further enable and empower employees to support each other. We cannot rely upon a centralised approach that would have come from the now empty offices of HQ.

We’re seeing that we can trust employees to not just work and be productive remotely. There is also evidence they can support each other too. Beyond the firehose of “WFH tips” posts, there are some great initiatives, such as the IBM WFH pledge.

“Created by IBMers, this grassroots initiative took shape by listening to colleagues and wanting to help with their challenges, this has evolved into a company-wide pledge with the simple goal of making work (and life) a little easier while we’re working at home.”

Arvind Krishna – Chief Executive Officer, IBM
The IBM Work From Home Pledge
The IBM WFH Pledge – Credit Chris Ferris on Twitter

I see no reason for this to get rolled back and not become the norm moving forward.

2. Microsoft Teams

It is clear Microsoft Teams is being widely adopted. The platform claimed 75 million daily active users last week, a jump of 70%.

What was good to see were concrete examples of Teams being used in creative ways, not just for daily check-ins and video calls.

Infographic: Microsoft Teams Sees Jump in Usage as Remote Work Surges | Statista

Find more infographics at Statista

Microsoft MVP Michael Greth’s show and tell on “the ad hoc introduction of Microsoft Teams and SharePoint Intranets in crisis mode” covered real-world examples of taking physical events online at short notice.

It will be very interesting to see if the staggering adoption numbers are sustained. How much is simply a reaction, fitting the newly-imposed needs of WFH? How will usage shift as some organisations inevitably don’t adapt, returning to old ways post-epidemic?

Without doubt Microsoft is benefiting from Teams being ready and available for companies as part of their enterprise licensing.

IT functions are accelerating making it available. I know of large organisations that have deployed Teams in the last couple of months. Both IT and employees having to do much learning as we go – not necessarily a bad thing!

There is a huge amount of this imposed learning happening right now. An awful lot of great experience being gained.

Whether companies begin to evaluate alternative and complementary solutions based on these learnings remains to be seen. Addressing these identified requirements will be essential to support collaboration and productivity longer-term.

3. We need to invest more in creative design

Yes it is true that many of the platforms dictate – limit – much of the creative flexibility we can apply. Corporate branding establishes many of the boundaries.

Yet we’re still way too conservative when it comes to the visuals.
In particular O365 doesn’t help here, many of the O365 and Sharepoint intranets are oh so similar. There is something about the UX that leaves me feeling “meh”!

Why is this so important?

We know that good design leads to better engagement – it can be measured. We need to ensure our intranets incorporate design, usability and UX practices that have been proven at scale – across numerous internet applications.

Our intranets cannot be let down by outdated design!

And this is not limited to the UI. Content has a huge part to play. We’re not marketing to our employees, we need to learn to engage them. There is a fine line to be woven between brand, tone, culture and delivery.

But we can do better than titles and copy more suited to a press release, and stock photography constantly smiling back at us.

Particularly now.

4. We’re still too controlling of our intranets

There is an understandable tendency here, these are our babies. We pour incredible amounts of passion and energy into them.

Yet we need to venture beyond top down, centralised command and control. Of not only the message, but everything from information architecture, branding, and personalisation.

I’ll accept a top-down approach makes sense – to an extent. We need to establish direction and parameters around aspects such as the structure and design. Yet we also need to embrace emergence – allow for organic growth and encourage user contributions.

I like to think of the intranet as a garden to be nurtured and kept healthy, rather than a building to be architected, built, and maintained.

I’m loving seeing the examples of threads of pet pictures, “views from the home office” and dressing up in costumes for video calls! But let’s encourage these at the widest organisational level. We were doing this 12 years ago @ CSC on a single global platform. It created long-lasting, deep connections.

“Personalisation” is also not a top down thing – “we’ll decide what you can choose from”.

We should not be paternalistically applying an e-commerce or marketing term, along with its associated techniques, to “our” employees.

Again, we’re not marketing to them. Empathise, let them subscribe if they choose – if our content is important enough to them!

We can learn from what resonates, engages, and what doesn’t. We can up our game and improve our messaging where needed.

There is a fantastic opportunity for leadership here. Adopt an authentic, transparent approach to communicating across our organisations and teams.

Internal communications can shape its role. Become a true enabler of connection and the flow of information, rather than be perceived merely as the messenger.

We still crave meatspace

This was a great event that really gave me a feeling for the current state of play for communications and intranets right now – mid corona-crisis.


We’re offering a complementary virtual intranet assessment.
If you’d like to get an objective, impartial and actionable opinion on your current intranet or digital workplace, book a 1hr assessment call with us.

We’ll be kind, promise!

It was wonderful to see so many of you taking the time to share your stories, experiences and learnings with us. Particularly when our priorities are understandably elsewhere.

My thanks and appreciation to all who took the time to attend, organise and present. I’m looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible in person in the future. Either later in the year or at next year’s Intranet Reloaded Berlin.

That something special about the physical realm!

In the meantime, feel free to connect with me here or on LinkedIn.

I’d love to hear your take. What did you get from this year’s online version of the event?

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