14 signs you’ve lost the #intranet plot

Posted by on February 28, 2012 in General, List | 27 comments

14 signs you’ve lost the #intranet plot

Time for some more intranet tough love this week as we take a look at those intranet features you should really avoid. If any of these ideas genuinely came up in your intranet user research, please take a LONG HARD LOOK AT YOUR COLLEAGUES and consider leaving. If you’ve put them in your scope documents, hang your heads in shame!

 

 

 

 

The Weather: You do not need the weather on your corporate intranet. It is significantly quicker and more accurate to simply ask employees to look out of the window for this piece of news. If you want to know the weather in different office, please instant message someone.

 

World Clock: You don’t really need to know the time in another office that much for it to warrant valuable real estate on your homepage. Please ask employees to add or deduct a pre-defined number of hours from the system clock which the good people at Apple or Microsoft have placed in the top-right or bottom-right respectively.

 

Empty Social Activity Feeds: Social functionality is not salvation to your communication and collaboration ills and the functionality itself, is only half the battle. A social feature with no comments is intranet pathos. You’re best off removing it — no need to remind your colleagues that the company spirit is dead.

 

Email widget: Email! Wow, there’s an app for that! But if you can’t find enough compelling content and services to fill up your front page, why not take up half the page with Outlook inbox and tasks? You do most of your internal communications via email anyway, don’t you?

 

Links to (and feeds from) lots of external sites: You’re on the edge of throwing in the towel here, aren’t you? You need your intranet to be good enough so employees want to stay. Failing that (and let’s face it, most intranets do), you need to force your employees to stay and read the CEO blog. Yes, yes, I know they can type a new address in the address bar, but really, don’t make it too easy for them by providing them links to Sky Sports or the BBC. At least ensure all but the smartest stay put.

 

Animated gifs: Never. Don’t even think about it. While we’re at it, I never want to see ‘under construction‘ images – don’t spend time putting these up, spend time fixing the page.

 

Photo of the Day: Why tell people something they might actually need to know, when, alternatively,  you could show them a nice picture of a giraffe (ironic hyperlink) that Melanie from Accounts took on holiday? If your other content is less important than Mel’s photos, then you shouldn’t even have an intranet.

 

A daily Dilbert cartoon: Hello? What year is this?

 

A whole-page page-viewer: So you want to give your employees access to the travel booking site mm? Page within page within a page? Clumsy, complicated. Please try hyperlinks, invented in 1965.

 

Icons: Why use an unambiguous word to describe something on your intranet page when you could use a 16 by 16 pixel square icon requiring your employees to squint and guess what the content section is, like some corporate game of Pictionary.

 

Logins: There is simply no excuse for ever seeing a login screen anywhere on your intranet. You’ve already signed into your laptop, you’ve authenticated on to the corporate network – hell, you’ve even swiped your way through security doors to get to your desk. They already know who you are. Logins are the sign of a poor budget or lazy coding — single sign on is an absolute necessity.

 

Click Here: Despite some commentators trying to make the case for the legitimacy of click here links, in truth, there’s absolutely no excuse for them. Such links are lazy and possibly even illegal (see our accessibility section on our 10 laws post). Treat yourself, use a unambiguous, meaningful hyperlinks.

 

The word ‘Welcome':  Is the intranet really something people need to be ‘welcomed’ to? really? Every time they visit? On every site?

 

Word of the Day widget: If you have one of these, the word is obviously ‘procrastinate’

 

The Summary Confessional

Time to confess: the Intranetizen writers have all been guilty of delivering some of the features about and we expect you have too. They’re all too common. We’ve seen them on award-winning intranets and those marked out as being ‘beautiful’, but it’s time to say no!

Confess all. Have you done any of these? What other intranet faux-pas should we have included?

 

Photo credit: TtotheStreet

 

 

27 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post, thanks for writing it! I had to laugh at some of the items on the list (world clock? weather? what were they thinking?). But others made me think harder, such as the log ins. It is a redundancy, but depending on what security measures are in place, a separate login for the intranet may still be necessary.

    The bottom line is to keep everything relevant and easy for the users.

    Speaking of relevance, I disagree with your inclusion of Dilbert daily cartoons on this list ;-D

    • I thought the login one might be the most challenging. I know that many of my employees state they would prefer not to have SSO for HR data for example, but there’s a critical reason why I think it should always apply.

      Laptops have a lock feature (Ctrl-Alt-Del on a PC, Shift-Command-Q on a Mac) which allows a user to lock down an entire computer. In my experience, users don’t use these features unless automatically activated and thus leave their laptops ‘open’ for access. It is this that is the problem, not SSO to application data.

      I think employees have a sharp appreciation of the confidentiality of their own data (and therefore often don’t want SSO to HR data), but also have a laissez-faire attitude to corporate confidentiality (and so don’t routinely lock their laptops). By enforcing SSO, you force the same attitude to all-data confidentiality and that’s why I think it’s a helpful feature.

      • Great insight. Thanks for this comment.

  2. Fascinating list – induces groans and nods of recognition in equal measure.
    Only one I would actually defend is the world time idea – it is a uesful element on pages on our intranet (where we have UK plus almost 30 offices worldwide) that we take up 15 characters to say: Local time: XX:XX. (oh yes, and ours is maintenance free, as it is generated by a widget which behind the scenes calculates the time based on the server time)
    It would take equal space to remind people that the office was + or – however many hours different, and avoids any errors in calculation when setting up video conferences or phone calls.

    • I confess that providing employees with the appropriate number of +/- hours was a somewhat flippant response, but do maintain the point. My company has 30+ facilities worldwide, but in reality, only three timezones. It’s not complicated for me to know the time in those three and I would expect that most colleagues would not have any international contact (thus not need any clocks) or have limited contact (that doesn’t require it for every location)

  3. Too many of the above have appeared on generations of my intranet.

    I think it’s worth pausing for a moment before condemning too quickly. Once upon a time, many employees didn’t have web access at work, and including things like weather or news was a nod to the information medium out there, as well as making the intranet more useful than it otherwise would be. Also, once granted access, many users had very little knowledge or experience of the web, and a multitude of links at least set them off in a good direction. This even remained an issue in our relaunch three years ago.

    Of course, intranets have grown up (or should have) since them, but some habits (welcome to, click here) die hard, and not every intranet manager can win every battle. What we’re seeing is perhaps the organisation’s failure to keep the intranet evolving.

    I think we all agree that a strong intranet is built on the foundation of understanding its users. Perhaps 95% of employees go to http://www.dilbert.com every day. A world clock might be of practical use – although knowing the time in another office is almost useless without knowing working hours and even days.

    The reality is nearly all of the above are an indicator of lack of user understanding and communication. Of someone seeing a solution without understanding the problem.

    Thank you for a good and stimulating post, and perhaps it will help someone challenge the next idea from the board/comms/HR/IT.

    • Writing this list was cathartic, Simon. The four intranetizen writers were as guilty as the next manager in having some of these features on our intranets at times.

      Whilst I do accept that a lot of users go to dilbert each day, I don’t believe it’s ever the job of an intranet to deliver it unless you’ve really got space to kill. Fun is an under-valued quality of an intranet and I’m all for having more of it, but the intranet doesn’t feel like the right place any more. It’s grown up. It’s a place of work.

      You make an extremely important point though about these features often being the reflection of a bigger underlying communication issue, someone seeing “a solution without understanding the problem”. That’s spot on Simon, I completely agree.

  4. What I think these all point to is understanding your people and environment. In some environments, maybe many of these things aren’t important. I know in our environment (hospital), there are shared computers for clinical staff, so logins are necessary to access the intranet. And some people work in a basement and don’t have a chance to look out a window.

    And it goes back to engagement. Many are still at the early stages of getting employees engaged. If one of these items creates engagement, is it such a bad thing? I would rather have an image on the page to increase engagement than not have the image and no one going to the intranet.

    • Shawn — thanks for your comment.

      I can see some circumstances where a log in is needed, such as where you have shared computing facilities, but as you may have seen from my earlier comment, I think it’s important to get the login in the right place. I think it should be at the computer level, not intranet (and categorically not at the application within intranet level)

      As other commentators have said, I think these elements all depend on the maturity of your intranet to some extent ie. how engaged your employees are in the tool.

  5. Brilliant list Jonathan – love it. I see these things on potential customer intranets every week. It is amazing how many people want to put a welcome message on the intranet. People still see it like a website and think that they will get new visitors every day. The intranet is a tool to improve productivity and help with collaboration and communication – welcoming people to it just doesn’t matter!

  6. Excellent little post and entertaining to boot. I find myself agreeing with all items. Especially the “Welcome” one. I changed our Intranet ages ago so it now say “Oh, your back”.

    • [Pendant Alert] Hopefully it say’s ‘Oh, you’re back”

  7. Just ungritted my teeth and straigthened my toes (is this proper English? :-)) to congratulate you on this great post, which must have been a joy to write. I do love Dilbert (but I have an app for that) and the world clock comes in handy for international teams – in their team site.
    What do I miss?
    – Large pictures used for navigation – with no words.
    – MARQUEES!!!! You know, those horizontally moving texts which keep going forever and just irritate and hypnotize the heck out of you! I still saw one on a site created end of 2011!

    • You’re so right — see our latest post. Thank you!

  8. Ok…I have to put my two cents in. And I may be the only one defending weather, but here we go…

    While I realize having the weather on the homepage of an intranet may be silly to some, it’s something our employees value.

    We took the weather off once to a barrage of complaints.

    Asking employees to ‘look out the window’ when they work in a plant environment is condesending. Not to mention that to some companies the weather plays a major role in operations. The weather is a major factor for a utility like ours.

    Is it easy enough to type in weather.com and your zip code? Sure. But isn’t it easier to just open your browser with your intranet homepage and have it already populated right there for you to see? Especially when a lot of employees have to share one computer in a break room.

    That’s my argument for weather.

    And I agree with others about some of the other points – login can be important, especially with shared computers. Benefits information and sensitive data sometimes require a login to protect privacy laws, etc.

    My husband works for the government and has meetings with other employees in his organization all over the country. I bought him a watch (it’s enormous) as his wedding gift that has multiple clocks on it for multiple time zones. If he’s at work, he needs to know what time it is where his colleague is before he calls. Probably not a good idea to call someone’s cell at 3am their time when you’ve just gotten into the office on the opposite end of the coast. I think having clocks for other offices on the intranet is helpful – a quick glance can show you what time it is there. Why waste time guessing (or money on an enormous watch) to figure out what time it is where, when you can just pull up the intranet and see for yourself.

    And we don’t have a photo of the day, but I know of a utility (and I’m sure you know who I’m talking about) who has major real estate on their homepage for a photo of the day. It’s not that the photo is that important in itself, but the photos are about recognition, company history, important events, etc. and it draws employees in to the intranet who might not otherwise bother to even look.

    I think there are good points here (I loathe animated gifs)…but, the beauty of intranets is that one size does not fit all. It’s about finding the ‘plot’ that fits your organization. Weather may be silly to some when you can just look out the window, but to others, it’s a major factor of the business operations.

  9. I once read that you should never copy another company’s intranet, but should be prepared to learn from every aspect. An intranet should be a bespoke tool for your company alone which is why it’s a little dangerous, as I have, to post a list of “don’t ever do’s” as there might just be occasions when these features fit the scope.

    I have read the strong support for weather widgets and timezone data but remain unconvinced. Let’s take weather:

    “Needed for business operations” – Weather is a vital element in the business that I work for day-to-day, but no weather widget could ever provide the insight really needed to help run a business.

    “Some people don’t have a window” – I know, it’s a sad fact of life but I don’t see a weather widget being a fair replacement for warm sun on your face.

    If people really need the information (and as an employer, you really believe you need to provide it), then reluctantly, you must provide it. I just don’t think an intranet weather app is the best use of valuable homepage real estate.

  10. Despite having used a few of these, it became pretty obvious once we considered the context which belonged on the homepage and which didn’t.

    I find a reminder of another person’s timezone useful on their employee profile because the information is useful to me when I’m looking up their contact details, but not on the homepage.

    The text “Here you will find…” annoys me on a landing page, but that might be more personal.

    • “Here you will find” — yes, when I come to write the second volume of this post, I’ll include that — annoys me too.

    • Love the idea of the timezone/time info on the profile as opposed to the homepage. Smart.

      • Agree. Smart. Good thinking Richard.

  11. A very good list, and capable of being extended to 100 or more without much difficulty.

    I can see the point you are making about world clocks and weather but in a global social intranet it is very useful to know the times at various offices, especially when like New Dehli and Adeliade they are not full hour differences. If you are in London and want to make an early morning call to New York it can be useful to know there has been a snow-storm overnight.

    On several good international intranets I’ve seen very neat ‘office profile’ links which provide information on the weather, time zones, and things like local religious and public holidays which enable employees to assess a good time to call a colleague in that particular location. Adding this information to a personal profile assumes the person has a profile, does not travel and you know their name.

  12. I enjoyed your account above. If you want to read more items in a similar vein check out these items.

    I am sure some of your readers will have had time to read all three web pages of my ‘Don’t click here’ article and will realise I am not making a case to use ‘Don’t click here’. The article collates the pro and con arguments and my conclusions do not match your item above. The title of the article is just a hint!. But the exceptions do make the rule.

    • Hi Malcolm,
      Thanks for the comment and for the original provocative post.
      My view is that there is never a case for ‘click here’. I’d stand by our claim that using them is lazy, insulting to your reader and (probably) illegal. I’m pretty sure that using them is a well established ‘bad practice’ and we’re not suggesting anything new here.

      Let me take your pro-‘click here’ claims in order:

      More accessible – no way. The W3C Accessibility (WCAG 2.0) guidelines say don’t use it

      Progressive step – in all of your examples the words ‘click here’ add nothing. The ‘stop 2′ or ‘buy item’ would be just as, if not more useful.

      Call to action – only if you are using it as a con. Yes, some people will blindly obey the command to click – that doesn’t mean you are helping them or that you are getting them to useful content or that you are achieving your objectives.

      Banner confirmation – this is just another call to action. Using more helpful signposting would always be better. i.e. Make the banner look like its clickable. Use button and/or link style conventions. Make the banner content useful and helpful so that people want to find out more.

      • Hi Luke ,

        Replying to each of your points,

        1. More accessible:

        W3C only refers to the words ‘click here’ used on their own for blind readers who will be unaware of what they might be clicking to without additional wording. It does not object to the use of the words ‘click here’.

        My article refers to specific audiences :

        … the very young, the very old, those with dyslexia, those with cognitive disabilities and the computer illiterate – being told what to click on will ensure that the navigation is used correctly.’

        I did not say ‘only use the words click here’.

        2. Progressive step:

        Fine, use other words then! But that’s not a contra argument!

        3. You seem to agree with me that it works. You are saying you need a strategic reason, I agree, that was my point.

        4. Banner confirmation – fine if you want to disagree with accepted advertising practice. It would be a boring world if all ads used the same techniques!

  13. I for one think the world clock is great. We also need to bring the blink tag back.

    what better way to say something important? Perhaps some auto-music will spice up the expeirence?

    ….shamefully admit, I’ve done all this

    • Blink tag! I’d forgotten that heinous crime. Look out for volume 2…

  14. The thing about world clocks is that they frequently don’t tell you the information that you want to know. You don’t actually want to know if it’s 9am in Bangalore, you want to know if you colleagues are in the office – depending on the shiftts that the office works they might not be. This can be better displayed by a display showing overlapping working hours and a line for current time. A quick glance then tells you that yes, they’re in the office, but the shift ends in 15 minutes etc.
    Agree with the rest of it though!

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