Recently I attended the Intranet and Digital Workplace Awards Roadshow in London. The event showcases some examples of the best sites designed to help teams communicate and get their jobs done.
The examples highlighted a couple of trends which chimed with my own experience of working in this field. It's in these areas that I think you can make the difference between a good intranet and a great one.
One difference between an intranet and a typical website is that you are likely to have much more insight into who your users are.
If everybody using your site has to log in and they're all members of your team you should, in theory, know all sorts about them:
Who they are
Where they are
What their roles is
Typical tasks they all need to perform in that role
Whether they're a line manager
Whether they're a new starter
This information is a goldmine when it comes to anticipating your users’ needs. You can make content or functionality most relevant to them easily accessible.
The difficulty is often when it comes to accessing this information. In large organisations, it will typically be held in many different systems. Some of these systems will offer ways to integrate with each other. Life is a lot easier if you can get all your data in a single location though. For organisations without existing databases to contend with, a CMS like Drupal can manage all that data for you.
If you can find a way to unlock the information you have about your users, you can offer them a much more tailored experience.
If that feels like a long term goal, a good start is offering users the ability to bookmark links to their favourite or most relevant content. On the homepage of their new intranet Merck allow user's to pin tiles as quick links to the parts of the site they use the most.
One key element of a successful digital workplace is having a way of sharing documents. For many large organisations, this will mean turning to a system like SharePoint. When introducing their new digital workplace, Dutch shipping company Anthony Veder Group opted to use Box as a scalable platform to manage their files.
A new file management system won't automatically make it easy for people to find what they're looking for though. Too often the structure of these systems will mirror the structure of the organisation. This can be fantastic for giving granular control over permissions, but finding a document can become reliant on knowing who owns it. Pause to think about the reasons why your team might need to access a particular document.
For instance, a line manager preparing for a new team member to start will most likely need paperwork and policies from HR, IT and Finance teams. Don't spread these documents across the various teams responsible for them. By grouping them together in a New Starters section, you'll save your managers time and trouble.
As with any kind of website, the design and development of an intranet should put the needs of the user first. That might mean a little more legwork for the site's administrators, but the end users will thank you for it.
While many enterprise-level solutions excel at file management, they fall short on communications. Many organisations tackle this problem by pairing a file management system with a separate platform for internal communications.
One of the key challenges in this area is trying to ensure that your digital workplace feels cohesive rather than a set of many separate systems.
Social intranets are one area in which there have been great leaps forwards in recent years. Products like Chatter and Yammer bring some of the experience your users are familiar with from social media into the workplace.
These new channels come with new challenges though. Often a change in culture is just as important as changing technology. Having clear and transparent communication channels depends on engagement from the whole team. You'll need to be prepared to face and tackle public dissent without shutting down conversation. If one person in your team is thinking in a particular way, you can be sure that others are too. The good news is that a social intranet gives you a platform you can use to do some myth busting. Engaging directly with your colleagues in this way can help to build a culture of openness in your organisation.
As part of their intranet with an emphasis on user engagement, financial services company LV= introducted a flexible forums platform where any member of the team can create a forum about a particular topic. These forums are a great way of creating a sense of community within a geographically dispersed workforce. To everybody's surprise, the forum which has taken off more than any other is for discussion of professional wrestling. If your team is using your intranet, even if some of it might not be in a way that's central to your business, they're much more likely to engage with the rest of the site. LV='s approach has led to a high level of adoption across the company.
Many intranets still lag far behind the usability of customer-facing websites. As with other internal systems, user experience can often be an afterthought. That needs to change though. The sites highlighted in this year's awards prove what a transformative effect a great intranet can have on an organisation.