Have you ever heard the saying “the cobbler’s children have no shoes?” Well, there is no better phrase to describe businesses and their intranets. We tend to be so busy helping our customers that we have little time to address our own internal needs.
Understandably, the intranet tends to be last in priority. It’s not uncommon that the mere mention of the word intranet can invoke feelings of embarrassment, shame, and frustration for employees. If this sounds familiar and you’re wondering how to start improving, then perhaps the following intranet best practices can guide you in the right direction.
1. Design the intranet for the needs of your users
Your company needs an intranet that is just as unique as your employees and culture. To create a unique intranet experience, you’ll need to understand who your employees are and how they do business. Consider reviewing any available analytics information to better understand intranet usage and interview employees across the organization. If you’re redesigning an intranet, it’s also beneficial to understand the problems users may have with the current experience.
How can you better understand user needs?
- Learn more about your users and how they’re segmented. Common user segments include managers, new hires, or contractors.
- Know what your users need, what they want, and how they think. This is best accomplished through stakeholder interviews or employee surveys.
2. Assist users in performing necessary tasks and activities
As you learn more about the needs of your users, you’ll get more insight into tasks and activities they perform every day. Some of the tasks and activities will be specific to the company or specific user segments, but most will be common to all employees. Understanding the task or activity and who performs it will help guide your intranet design. The tasks and activities that apply to the most user segments should be featured prominently.
How can you make these tasks and activities easier for users to perform?
- Ensure tools used every day are readily accessible.
- Ensure forms, procedures, policies, guides, and manuals are easy to find.
- Include comprehensive search capability, as well as easy-to-use navigation.
3. Include ways for employees to communicate or interact
Email and instant messaging are the norms in the workplace, but they aren’t always the best way to share ideas with large groups of people. Providing your users with a place to share ideas goes a long way in helping your users feel valued and heard in the workplace. It’s also valuable to leverage common social media interactions to help foster a sense of community and spread company news.
How can you improve intranet collaboration among employees?
- Assist users in sharing ideas by including a forum or wiki, which can facilitate innovation and collaboration.
- Give users ways to interact with content, e.g., liking, commenting, or sharing.
4. Make it easy for users to upload and maintain content
Spread responsibility for intranet content management across the organization so that no one individual or team is responsible for all content. This means that content stays fresh and information remains current.
How can you make your intranet easy to maintain?
- Keep content in a repository or content management system (CMS).
- Facilitate quick approvals by digitizing your workflow.
- Provide easy-to-use tools for authoring and publishing.
5. Give the intranet a user-centered focus
User-centered design means designing for the needs of your users. Your users typically approach the intranet with a specific task or activity in mind. Kara Pernice of the Nielsen Norman Group states that “searching for colleagues is the most common task that employees do on intranets, and is arguably the most important task.”
How do you give your intranet a user-centered focus?
- Refrain from using corporate jargon as navigational items.
- Provide a space for each employee such as a profile or bio.
- Make it easy for employees to find other people in the organization.
- Personalize content and pre-fill known data where possible.
6. Ensure the intranet is accessible from mobile, tablet, and desktop devices
According to Statista, mobile internet usage accounted for 52.64% of total global online traffic as of February 2017. The increase in internet mobile usage also effects how users do work. Users frequently reach for a mobile phone or tablet to do their work when they’re on the go, so it’s imperative that the intranet be accessible from mobile devices.
How can you ensure that the intranet is accessible from any device?
- Design your intranet using responsive design. This means serving up the same code, content, and functionality, so the intranet displays appropriately regardless of device.
- Keep pages simple and focused on the most important function or information.
It’s not unusual to feel as if your company’s intranet is not up to snuff. While it’s difficult to dedicate time to improving it, understanding intranet best practices can help you focus on what’s needed most. Prioritize business and user needs and then work to improve the intranet experience a little at a time. Investing in your intranet benefits your employees and your company by building community, reinforcing the desired culture, and as improving efficiency and productivity.