Plek blog

Heembouw brings innovation to construction site with social intranet

Heembouw believes that innovation is something you do with the entire organisation. All employees can contribute ideas and respond to others. That is why we are currently developing an innovation module in close cooperation with the construction company, which the carpenters on the building site can also use. How do you get colleagues to look over the walls of the different departments? And how do you get maximum benefit from everyone's innovative strengths?

Innovation is not a department. Anyone, from executives to carpenters, can have an amazing idea. Or just an insight that saves the organisation costs, or saves money. Construction company Heembouw believes in this. But how do you bring innovation to the construction site? A good tool helps, especially if it is part of your intranet. Online Marketing and Communications Specialist Björn Bouwmeester leads both initiatives at Heembouw. Bouwmeester is a fan of new technologies. In 2011, he was tasked by management to do "something" with social media. Winning the Industrial Social Media Award, in 2013, was a crowning achievement.
Bouwmeester: "From that moment on, I started involving the internal organisation. In an internal roadshow, we shared the story of the award. We asked colleagues: we also want to help you become more social - what do you need to do that?"
"We asked colleagues: we want to help you become more social - what do you need to do that?" Björn Bouwmeester, Online Marketing and Communications Specialist at Heembouw.

The best match

Meanwhile, the organisation had a growing need for an effective intranet, to share news and knowledge and as an 'internal facebook. The existing intranet was inadequate - for example, it did not allow video sharing. A social intranet seemed to be the solution. "I started asking around in my network online: what party do you think of when you think of social intranet?" says Bouwmeester. "That's how Plek ended up on the long list. With them we had the best match. And we are also a Dutch organisation; we like using a Dutch product. That's also the advantage of Plek - everyone understands it, it's so simple."

"Construction may be known as a more traditional sector, but we didn't notice much of that at Heembouw," Plek's director Rik Mulder says of getting acquainted with Heembouw more than a year ago. "Together we started focusing on the 'front runners' in the organisation, the employees who show how they use social media and bring others along with them." Such ambassadors are important in the company, Mulder emphasises. "They drive the enthusiasm to share things with each other and they are the glue within the social intranet."

Looking over the 'departmental' fence

Mulder: "We observe in companies that employees are still too much in their own silos. Organisations then start working with a social tool, such as Plek, often with the goal of making connections between divisions and departments. In this way they hope to encourage knowledge sharing, and that colleagues can look over the divisional 'fence', in order to help each other."

But that doesn't happen automatically. "Employees often already have an overload of information from their immediate environment. In addition, a human tendency is to connect with people we already know. You don't quickly go browsing the staff list on your own with the thought: let me connect with someone. That is why at Plek we try to stimulate those kinds of connections. We already apply this in onboarding, for example; if you connect new employees on the platform with the first contacts from their introductory round, you have already created a network right away."

Smartphone and construction sites

Getting the entire organisations' buy-in to use the possibilities of the social intranet; Bouwmeester agrees that it does not happen automatically. Even the carpenters on the building sites, who could not use the old intranet, had to be connected literally and figuratively. Now they can also use Plek anywhere, on their smartphones.

"With our innovation coaches, we did a tour of the construction sites," says Bouwmeester. "You also have to show the carpenter. People have to experience for a while how easy it is to use Plek as a way to submit your ideas. When it was so cold last winter, there was a cart handing out chocolate milk ( = typical Dutch winter tradition) from Radio 538 on the construction site. One of our carpenters then immediately posted a photo on Plek. Others then also see how easy it is to share something like that."

"You have to show the carpenter. People need to experience how easy it is to use Plek as a way to submit your ideas." Björn Bouwmeester, Online Marketing and Communications Specialist at Heembouw.


The colleagues all have in common that they are proud of their work. Plek underlines that feeling with the "By us" channel, where employees can follow what Heembouw is accomplishing. "Via Plek we can easily share that. That in turn motivates others to show: 'Hey, I have a cool project too.'"

Almost all job groups are active on Plek, from management to carpenters. About half of the colleagues post messages themselves. Heembouw wants to increase that number. Bouwmeester: "At Plek they really help us thinking about which people we still miss in the conversation. We recently had a brainstorm about that. For example, it would be great if the management were more active on the social intranet. They have worked hard to get this going, but the next step is for them to get more involved in the discussion."

Bouwmeester cites an example: "We recently had an employee survey. A lot of input came out of that, but why not also ask a few questions through Plek? I do see a number of executives responding to Plek, but it would be even nicer if they also took a vulnerable stance and posted a question there. That's what we're starting the conversation about now, to give executives insight into the possibilities and results this can bring."

Innovation module

Already in the first meeting between Heembouw and Plek, the idea of an innovation module also came up. "We were already working with Professor Niels van der Weerdt of Erasmus University to come up with a theoretical model to stimulate and shape innovation," Bouwmeester says. "We developed a kind of innovation reactor in which we distinguished different phases: the breeding ground, the idea development, and the phases of germination, cultivation and flowering. We filled that 'reactor' with ideas that were already there; there are now about one hundred and forty in it on average."

"We believe that innovation can be an engine precisely for bringing different people and departments together on a social intranet," explains Mulder of Plek. "Under that theme, you can invite everyone to think freely and form working groups. Heembouw was already working with a specific innovation tool. When we suggested doing that on Plek, they were very open to it. They were enormously open-minded. They dared to ask themselves the question: why do we actually do it this way and can we do it better?"

Logical combination

Heembouw givs innovation a central place in the organisation by creating an open communication channel for employees. Carpenters on construction sites can now also contribute their ideas, large and small, and respond to others. The logical combination of a social intranet with an innovation module contributes greatly to this, according to Bouwmeester. "It provides an accessible way to bring people together and start conversations. Plek has also helped us think about ways to actively involve employees in innovation and ease the process. Now we can really start to create efficient innovation in all layers of the organisation. Construction of the innovation module is now in full swing. From September we will start using it."

"Now we can really start to create efficient innovation in all layers of the organisation. The construction of the innovation module is now in full swing." Björn Bouwmeester, Online Marketing and Communications Specialist at Heembouw.

Tips from Björn for getting everyone involved in social intranet

  • Ambassadors are super important; they need to be spread across all branches and departments
  • IT backend links always present challenges, start on time
  • Launch the intranet with a big bang
  • Make logging in as easy as possible
  • Keep promoting, and listen to user complaints

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