5 Tips for Building a Phenomenally Powerful Intranet

author Brett Dixon, April 21, 2017

For more than a decade, intranets have been a pivotal element to business communications. The odd thing about them is that their arrival occurred before the age of enterprise social media and the social networking epoch that is now all the rage.

Many might question whether intranets are on their way out in the face of giants like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but that could not be further from the truth.

Despite the rise of social moguls, intranets retain their position as critical tools in any business or organisation’s productivity and communication efforts. Let’s take, as an example, Diplopedia, the intranet wiki utilised by the U.S. State Department. It is utilised to share and collect information between various employees, desk officers, and ambassadors. Its content is entirely collaborative, authored by everyone, and the use of Diplopedia results in a dramatic reduction in ramp-up time taking place for new recruits and between assignments.

As another example, let’s suppose a multinational manufacturing giant created employee profiles and used them as the base of their intranet. Employees could utilise the site in order to locate individuals with expertise in the areas they were specifically interested in. Once they found a colleague and viewed their profile, they would be able to browse their content contributions and access charts containing details of their reporting relationships, in order to determine if that particular employee was available. Once satisfied they had the right person, and that person was available, they could easily send them secure messages.

The majority of fortune 1000 businesses use intranets, and where some efforts have been doomed by poor approaches and a failure to effectively implement the sites, many have flourished. With the aid of new cloud-based options such as Google Sites, the process of creating and maintaining intranets is now considerably simpler.

Here are our five tips for building a phenomenally powerful intranet…

1. Pay attention to your users

Your internal staff are essentially your customer base in this context. Listen to them and ensure you get the insider’s perspective when designing your intranet. Don’t make the (easy) mistake of assuming you know what your users want. As employees it’s easy to gain their input. This will afford you a unique perspective that will allow you to make a far superior intranet, tailored to your users’ specific needs. You may not be able to implement all the ideas this produces straight away, so create a list of ‘future improvements’ to make certain you don’t forget or lose that vital information.

2. Make it easy, attractive and intuitive to use

You will get far more out of your intranet if the user experience is pleasant. Do not under appreciate this vital element. It’s essential that users can easily find what they need. The content and various tools on your intranet will be invaluable to everyone, but if it’s difficult to navigate or access, nobody will use it and that knowledge base will never be created. Any content that does exist will never be used. Carefully consider exactly what your users will need to do. Ensure there is a simple way for them to complete each specific outcome required, and design everything around that. Don’t just consider functionality; ensure users don’t require a lot of training (make it intuitive), and that the whole thing looks good.

3. Be Zen in your execution

Start with the basics and build on it. It’s easy to get bogged down with the magnitude and minutia of a huge project. Start by building the bare essentials to make it work, and give your users a good reason to engage with it. For a lot of businesses, an employee directory will be the most useful thing you can start with. Ensure it answers questions concerning hierarchy and specific job roles, then make improvements incrementally but continuously. Where design is concerned, go for simple and straightforward over bells, whistles and complicated technical architecture, which will need daily micromanagement, and comes with a hefty price tag (not to mention headaches).

4. Cultivate a community and network

Ensure your intranet is wide open to all your users. Allow them to contribute their own content and add value. Cultivate a community who are socially engaged and sharing relevant information. Ensure workers without a desk or computer can still access the network through their mobile devices. You will have sensitive information on your network and the temptation to lock it all up, and make every user jump through exhausting hoops in order to log in, will be great. Resist it. Give them easy access anytime, anywhere.

5. Govern

Your intranet is not going to thrive and grow organically, it will take work. There needs to be a framework in place to achieve the self-sustaining community you are aiming for, or active contributors constantly editing and updating content. There needs to be a system that decides whether user feedback gets implemented, and who is responsible for what content.

Such a framework requires a governing group and a supporting set of rules and guidelines, including stringent policy and suggested best practice. Make sure you have a governing body overseeing the intranet as a whole, keeping it healthy and functional, and then have smaller groups with specific areas to regulate.

Need help setting up your intranet? Get in touch, we’re happy to help…