Mike Hicks on rethinking intranets in the age of remote working

24 Mar 2020

Mike Hicks. Image: Igloo Software

Igloo Software’s chief marketing officer, Mike Hicks, discusses the importance of using workplace tools to ensure everybody is kept in the loop.

As businesses around the world are facing the remote working revolution no one wanted, many companies have to deal with the challenge of keeping staff in different locations productive and engaged. There are plenty of online tools that can help with this, from messaging software to project management platforms, but one company throwing its hat in the ring is Igloo.

Igloo Software is a Canadian scale-up that provides intranet software and digital workplace solutions to businesses of all sizes. The firm aims to solve common business challenges, improve employee engagement and help cultivate a strong workplace culture by rethinking the traditional idea of an intranet.

“If you think about the history of intranet, a lot of employees have found them very difficult to use, and very frustrating with the user experience,” said Mike Hicks, Igloo’s chief marketing officer.

“They couldn’t locate or find the information that they needed, so with Igloo, we have solved all of those problems by creating a product that’s very easy for employees to use. We’ve invested a lot in our efforts to refine the search experience, but we really focused on creating four additional destinations that solve four key problems.”

Hicks listed those problems as improving communication, collaboration, knowledge management and employee engagement for remote workers and teams.

“We have built this portfolio of digital workplace solutions that solve these very specific business challenges … and help to address a lot of the culture concerns we see with remote workers and different generations working together,” he added.

“We bring all of those people together to help them feel as though they are part of the same company.”

Competition in this market

Igloo was founded in 2008 and has since gained customers across the education, tech, non-profit, healthcare and finance sectors, raising $47m in 2018 to expand its footprint and services.

But Hicks said that there is still a lot of competition in this market, listing Microsoft SharePoint as one of the “big, incumbent vendors”, as well as the “wrapper” companies that put a better skin or UX on top of platforms like SharePoint.

“Then you have standalone intranets, which is what Igloo is considered to be. There’s also homegrown players, where an IT department decides to build its own platform instead of purchasing one,” he added.

“Globally, this market is worth a little over $5bn. It’s highly competitive. This market exists because there are more and more employees working remotely, multiple generations, and they all have their own work styles and preferred tools that they like to use.”

‘Remote employees feel like they miss out on important information because it was communicated in person’

Pointing to the “application explosion” that many office workers across various industries may have noticed in recent years, Hicks said that there are endless choices for employees when it comes to choosing tools. This can lead to multiple knowledge silos popping up across a business.

This, combined with the fact that many employees are staying at their jobs for shorter periods of time, is compounding the issue of keeping track of company knowledge and documents.

“When you add all of this up, there’s a lot of chaos in the workplace,” Hicks said. “How many companies are struggling to create and define the type of culture that they want in these environments?”

Linking in remote workers

Under the current global heath pandemic, most people who are able to work remotely around the world are doing so.

But before working remotely was a necessary measure forced upon the public to prevent the spread of Covid-19, there were some problems that remote workers regularly came up against – this may be set to change as the world gets more used to working from home.

“There are challenges that companies have when it comes to connecting remote employees,” Hicks said. “Remote employees feel like they miss out on important information because it was communicated in person.

“Others feel excluded from brainstorming because they were remote. These are the challenges that we want to solve, so technically, what we do is we look at all of the different productivity tools such as MS Office, Google Suite, Zoom and WebX, then the enterprise systems and tools.

“We integrate all of those and create a destination, and what this does is it takes the conversations out of individual applications and moves them into a centralised place. What we’re able to do is solve a lot of the knowledge management silos by bringing the conversations, the people, the files, the projects, the status, all into one integrated place.”

This way, he added, the information lives beyond the duration of a certain project or beyond an employee’s tenure at a company.

Igloo’s tools

Hicks said that Igloo’s goal is to become the “digital destination” where different systems that employees and companies rely on are integrated. The company’s SaaS platform can include team areas, a digital boardroom for leaders to communicate important info, a newsroom, a company directory, IT help desk, request centre, employee handbooks, onboarding tools, knowledge bases and social tools.

“We also have policy centres where all of the business policies can be stored and you can track read receipts on who has acknowledged that they understand them and who is still outstanding,” he added.

“We have things like brand knowledge bases, so if I’m ever wondering where I get the final version of a brochure or something like that, I can go to the brand knowledge base to get that information.”

Hicks said that having this combination of tools in one place helps differentiate Igloo from the competition.

“I think one thing that’s a hot topic is the likes of Slack and Microsoft Teams – there’s been an explosion in collaborative chat apps. A lot of readers might just ask: ‘Why can’t I use that as my intranet?’

“I think a lot of it comes down to the core idea that, yes, these are important tools, but these tools aren’t necessarily destinations.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic