The added value of digital collaboration tools – Does an intranet necessarily have to be social?

Annika Willers · Digital Workplace Trends · Last updated on January 12th, 2021

The fact that collaboration tools as well as new technologies, Big Data, or artificial intelligence are changing the structures at the workplace is nothing new. However, collaboration tools are central to collaboration and teamwork in companies and are becoming increasingly important – also regarding the competition for talent and market share. Many terms describe the phenomenon of social applications within a company: Digital Workplace, Social Intranet, Social Collaboration Tools, or Enterprise Social Networks (ESN). But what is actually behind these terms? Why should you and your company choose such an application? Learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of ESN and the aspects that are being researched.

social collaboration tools

What are digital collaboration tools, the Digital Workplace, or social intranets?

Basically, these terms represent similar concepts. The Digital Workplace is a collective term for online platforms that connect tools, information, networks, and people to work independently of time and place. Social intranets and collaboration tools are applications that form the Digital Workplace due to their networking and availability of information.

Enterprise social networks in technical literature

More and more specialist literature is dealing with social networks in companies and their effects. Here, for example, the advantages of social software for improved communication, more structured collaboration, or more flexible organization are discussed.

Another aspect of the phenomenon is the changed communication culture in organizations. Through Web 2.0, collaboration tools enable a new attitude to life within companies, which makes employees feel better informed, enables them to understand decisions, and makes the common thread within an organization more visible.

However, the risks and obstacles of such applications are also highlighted. These would be, among other things, uncertainty in the use of the tools, residual expectations of the users, skepticism towards the new tools, and the effort to convince them of the value of such software and thus bring about its advantages. Therefore, various factors play a role in the introduction and organization of social networks; such as the central role of the management level and its role model function, as well as the management style.

If we look at this objectively, the question arises whether the advantages of social software can be justified in terms of the effort, risks, and influences. Is it absolutely necessary to provide social functions in a collaboration software?

The hurdles of enterprise social networks

If an ESN is introduced in a company, it can cause many problems, often caused by the users themselves. Employees are often skeptical about new software. This is due, for example, to security concerns and uncertainty about storing and sharing data, knowledge, and (sensitive) information. This attitude often results in users not accepting the ESN, knowledge not being shared, and the software itself not being used.

There is also a risk that users will misuse the ESNs. For example, by using the wrong groups and pages to share certain information which creates chaos. If the ESN’s goal is to create a knowledge database, this behavior of the users would not be appropriate, since incorrectly stored data causes confusion and the knowledge cannot be retrieved. Therefore, users need clear instructions on how to use such tools.

Did you know that companies in the IT industry use the most sophisticated collaboration tools? Closely followed by the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, as well as the communications sector. (German Social Collaboration Study)

The advantages of enterprise social networks

The lack of knowledge exchange has real consequences, as this is important to remain competitive. However, a functioning internal communication promotes the establishment, distribution, and preservation of knowledge, which in turn increases competitiveness.

Furthermore, web-based interaction helps to promote collaboration and team spirit. Practical examples include versioning of documents and files, easy access to information, simple uploading of content, feedback functions, chats, comment functions, and cloud solutions through which all employees can access the tools at any time and from any location.


Example of a revised document on the social intranet, where older versions can be tracked.

How do collaboration tools actually ensure collaboration?

As the “German Social Collaboration Study” found, ESNs increase networking among employees: They know more about the expertise and contacts of their colleagues. Which means that ESNs improve the exchange of knowledge. Knowledge management, which gives employees fast and flexible access to the information they need, allows them to act more informed and promptly.

In addition, ESNs break down silos by allowing teams, departments, and employees to share information quickly and easily, improving the flow of information within the organization. This is also related to a changed corporate culture in terms of communication caused by the collaboration tools. According to the study, employees are more motivated and feel more up to new challenges. This increased satisfaction promotes the retention of qualified specialists. By eliminating the isolation within the company, internal communication is improved as a result.

According to the German Social Collaboration Study, social collaboration applications serve companies as a motor for innovation, among other things, because people in the company work up to 30% more effectively with these applications.

Are the social functions actually needed for this?

The social functions in enterprise social networks are often very diverse. They can allow users to ask questions, comment, interact, use a search function, find experts, or share information. All these features support and promote the above mentioned aspects. For example, an employee can search for experts on a certain topic when posing a question. This means that instead of having to contact several colleagues to find possible experts for a specific question, the employee can find them independently and quickly.

With an eye to the future, applications and tools that a company uses internally can serve as an advantage in the acquisition of specialists and young talent. Younger generations in particular, expect a digital workplace with contemporary applications and opportunities to get involved.

Digital tools are becoming increasingly important for recruitment. Employees expect better networking in the workplace to give them a better work-life balance, more fun at work, the ability to pursue new ideas faster, and flexible access to information. (German Social Collaboration Study)

So, what does that mean?

For you and your company, ESNs are relevant to ensure that you are not left behind in the long term. According to the German Collaboration Study, this is on the one hand due to the fact that more and more companies are using collaboration tools and establishing the Digital Workplace, enabling them to exchange information, communicate, and share knowledge more quickly. On the other hand, more and more teams are distributed over different locations and remote work is becoming increasingly popular. This requires applications that allow employees to work together regardless of time and place. In the competition for talent, this can be a decisive factor.

The advantages and benefits of social software have now become clear. Nevertheless, the complexity of establishing such tools should not be underestimated. ESNs offer many advantages. Nevertheless, it is crucial that you adapt them to the specific needs of your company. Since such a decision is, therefore, not an easy one, you should take a close look at the topic and weigh up the advantages and disadvantages with regards to your company. Among other things, the German Collaboration Study advises you to choose an application that can be accessed on the move and has a high degree of usability.

Furthermore, you should plan to establish such a tool in your company and clearly communicate its benefits, purpose, and advantages. Consequently, social functions in a business software have a lot of potential that is just waiting to be exploited by you.


Rossmann, A., Stei, G., & Besch, M. (2016). Enterprise Social Networks: Erfolgsfaktoren für die Einführung und Nutzung – Grundlagen, Praxislösungen, Fallbeispiele.

Rüffler K. (2014) Kulturveränderung durch Einführung von Social Media. In: Rogge C., Karabasz R. (eds) Social Media im Unternehmen – Ruhm oder Ruin. Springer Vieweg, Wiesbaden

Stei G., Rossmann A. (2018) Einfluss von Führung auf die Nutzung von Enterprise Social Networks. In: Keuper F., Schomann M., Sikora L., Wassef R. (eds) Disruption und Transformation Management. Springer Gabler, Wiesbaden.

Wilms, K., Brachten, F., Stieglitz, S. et al. Wissensaustausch in Unternehmen: Wahrnehmung von Enterprise Social Software als Tool für den Austausch von sicherheitsrelevantem Wissen. HMD 56, 94–108 (2019) doi:10.1365/s40702-018-00488-0

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