Develop your intranet in a week

The intranet is changing. No longer a corporate internal website, the intranet is evolving into a digital workspace for your employees — a gateway to the information, functions and transactions that enable your business to function. If this doesn’t sound like your workplace yet, here are a few ideas to transform your company intranet.

Monday – Go social (because your business already is)

Take a look around your office today. What’s actually happening? What’s really going on? No doubt there is the rhythmical tapping of keyboards and a whole bunch of people pretending to be busy, but there’s also a lot of talk. Ideas are being exchanged, motivation given and projects have just been moved on a notch. Importantly, knowledge has been exchanged, rapport generated and human networks have been extended and it’s all great for business.

Great social intranets allow the serendipitous discovery of the “Unknown Unknowns” — gems of ideas that you didn’t know you didn’t know, but are now central to your operation. Social intranets facilitate this communication, collaboration and knowledge exchange and it’s completely aligned with how your business already operates. Subscribe to Twitter, Facebook, Quora, Yammer and LinkedIn – look, learn and employ the best ideas on your intranet.

Tuesday – Make your intranet easy to access Part 1

As Martin Risgaard Rasmussen’s excellent post points out, access to your intranet is critical to its success – or rather, easy, uncomplicated and fast access to the intranet is critical. In the free market of the internet, consumers of web content vote with their feet if the content isn’t easy to get at but your intranet users, your employees, are not so lucky. Don’t be complacent – employees still have a choice about their intranet usage but instead of switching to an alternate site, they will simply switch off.

Focus on the basics. Work with your development team to ensure that the page is optimised for speed and work with your network team on the same. Many organisations do not have dedicated bandwidth for their intranet so consider making that change. If your intranet pages don’t load quickly, without errors, consistently, then your employees will do all they can to avoid using it.

Wednesday – Make your intranet easy to access Part 2

Take another look at your business. How are people accessing the internet? (Are they accessing it even?) If you’re all office based, then I suspect a lot of the access will be via a laptop but in organisations that have factories, distribution networks, mobile sales teams, many will be accessing the internet via a smartphones, kiosks or from home.

Adding these new access points will bring new audiences to your intranet and new insights to your business but they may not be enough to make the difference on their own. In many organisations, time away from the factory shop floor for employees to use intranet kiosks is not given, working-from-home is often considered a euphemism for taking time off and surfing from a mobile is seen another work avoidance measure. Policy change and cultural shifts may also be needed to maximise the value in the technology.

Thursday – Bring the intranet to your employees, don’t expect them to come to you

Consider a few of these steps to ensure that intranet content comes to employees regardless of whether they click through to your intranet.

  • As part of your standard PC setup, subscribe your employees to the main intranet content – likely news or teamsite content – within their email client. If your office is like mine, your colleagues will have Pavlov compulsion to jump straight to email as soon as their iPhone pings or the ‘You’ve got new mail’ popup appears. So if that’s where your employees are digitally, then take your intranet content there.
  • Add an RSS screensaver to your PCs and again, subscribe to the intranet. Sure, it won’t help that particular employee (unless they’re in the habit of just staring at a screen!), but it will bring your content to others around
  • Digital Signage is another great way of surfacing your intranet content, particularly in supply chain environments that might not have easy access to PCs
  • Push notications to iPhones and BlackBerrys – will your colleagues be able to resist looking?
  • Provide email digests of that week’s top intranet content
  • Bring important company announcements to the sections of the intranet that your employees do visit. Sometimes, you’ve just got to accept that your colleagues will not read every page of the intranet but rather, will destination shop the content. So be it the HR pages, the canteen menu, the teamsites, or the CEO blog, consider adding the important stuff there.

Friday – People are your business, make people the heart of your intranet

When I’m looking for an answer, I have four big questions: Who knows what I want to know, where are they, when are they available and how can I contact them? If your intranet employee directory doesn’t answer at least these questions, then you’ve just identified a huge 2011 intranet opportunity.

Given that these questions are far from rare, your people finder tool should be in a prominent place. As Alex Manchester of StepTwo Designs says on his blog, “the traditional staff or corporate directory is the key to unlocking the intranet as a social, collaborative hub. It should be the starting point for any intranet overhaul, redesign, or new build, and it’s already the killer application in most organisations. If you want to design an intranet for the future, focus on the directory.”

But what information would be useful? Beyond the answers to my 4 original questions, consider this list of fields compiled by Neil Phillips. They may not all be applicable to your business, but a good selection of these will really help connect your employees and kick-start the social revolution.

Saturday – Provide compelling functionality and make your intranet business critical, shopkeeper!

If you get 100s of emails, panicked calls from your helpdesk and your phone buzzes off the hook when there’s an intranet outage, then congratulations – it appears that your intranet actually matters to your employees! In itself, having a business critical intranet is not in the slightest bit important, but to be considered as such is a clear reflection of the value of the content and functionality to your employees.

Imagine you’re a shopkeeper, running a small convenience store. Shoppers come to your store for destination items: Cigarettes, newspapers, milk and confectionery, but because these items are readily available,profit margins are weak and you want your customers to buy other items as well. Tempting to spread these destination items around the shop to encourage browsing isn’t it? Trouble is, that’s hardly convenient for the shopper who just wants to get in, make their purchase, and get out quickly. On the surface, this feels like a battle of wills: Do you block the destination items together so that the customer has the maximum convenience or do you spread them around the shop, encouraging browsing, maximising your profit and their inconvenience?

The answer, obviously, is the symbiotic sweet spot between these two. A good balance between these two scenarios is mutually beneficial since it provides you with additional income but also gives the shopper that opportunity for a serendipitous and valuable purchase.

Your intranet is just the same. Your intranet is a shop.

You need to spend time researching your employees to find out what their destinations are. Identifying these compulsions to visit and then delivering them, will ensure that people will always have a reason to visit, but they must be more efficient information or transaction shopfronts than any current option to be fully successful. HR transactions, such as updating your home address or checking your pay advice, are common examples of such intranet destinations. Careful consideration of your information architecture and navigation will ensure that your employees get to their destinations quickly as well as discover other communication and collaboration opportunities.

Sunday – Create personalised digital destinations for every one of your employees

Creating these digital destinations adds obvious value to your intranet, but surely not every employee wants the same things? Bluntly, your idea of a destination may be very different from mine. So how can this be accommodated on your intranet? Allow personalisation: allow your employees to decide what’s important to them and allow them to create their own homepage. Whilst this seems a very egalitarian approach, it’s important to consider the fact that only 20% of your employees (via NetJMC Global Intranet Trends 2011 survey) will actually take the time to do this. Consider too that many of those who will customise their intranet, will customise it in a very similar way. This remains an excellent initiative but care should be taken with your approach.

  • The Fixed Page Option – recognise that 80% of your employees are unlikely to customise their page at all and thus spend all your efforts on designing a fixed page, with no customise options, that will suit the vast majority.
  • The Profile-Generated Option — using your employee profile information as a data source, you generate a range of pages for your employees. Let’s say you’re in London, you work in Sales and you’re a Director, you would see the same as every other London-based Sales Director, but London-based marketeers might see something different. It’s a smart personalisation option since it provides a range of options without the intranet team having to think them all out.
  • Fully Customised – just provide a library of webparts/applets and allow the user to choose.

What do you mean ‘you don’t work weekends’ ? Ok, maybe it’s a little disingenuous to suggest you could do all this in a week, but start the thinking today and you’ll soon have a better intranet.

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  1. IntranetLounge

    Develop your intranet in a week –…

    This article has been submitted to IntranetLounge, a website with a collection of links to the best articles about intranets…

  2. Andrew Wright

    Hi Jonathan – nice article. I just have a comment about Saturday. I don’t think the intranet is like a shop. In a shop you only have one physical location you can put an item – you have to decide where that one place is going to be. For example, you may decide to put all the conveniant items together, or all the dairy products together, etc

    With most intranets and content management systems that allow meta data and tagging, you are able to make your item appear in many places. For example a project plan template may appear under a section called Templates, but if the template is tagged correctly, it may also appear under a section called Project Management or even under section call Popular Documents. So I don’t think there is a need to identify the ‘sweet spot’ because you can have many ways of delivering the content. More important is to identify the most useful meta data and the range of different ‘views’ that you want to provide.

    There is a great article about this topic called:
    Card Sorting Doesn’t Cut the Custard

    It’s well worth a read.


  3. Jonathan

    @Andrew – you make an interesting point, thank you for writing. You’re right that tagging, or application of meta data, allows for content to be published in one location but consumed in many. The net effect is to dissipate the sweet spot somewhat.

    In this context though, it’s the content, function or transaction that is the sweet spot. It’s the hook that pulls employees in that is critical to identify — in that sense, a destination within the intranet shop.

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