By Spencer Perry

Habanero Consulting Group sponsored the April Employee Communications meet-up, and here is what Jay and Spencer had to say about improving your intranet.

Intranets are one of the many tools an internal communicator uses every day. In most organizations, intranets are places for communication, collaboration, and document management.

There is immense potential for your corporate intranet to do more for your organization and internal communications strategies. Here are few tips to improve your portal and demonstrate the value of a strong intranet experience to the rest of your organization.

  1.  Start with research

Analytics from your current intranet are a great way to start planning for a portal redesign, upgrade, or enhancement. Tools will tell you what kinds of content are popular, the locations with the highest and lowest access, and what kinds of terms are searched most often.

While these numbers give you an understanding of areas to direct your intranet investment, often the best place to get supporting data is your employees. Interview people to find out why they use or don’t use the intranet, but don’t just stop there. Observe people as they work and use the current portal, noting the way they interact with pages, search, and content. This qualitative research is great to test ideas and validate your hard data.

As with anything related to measurement, ongoing monitoring is key. On a regular basis, survey your users to find out how the intranet supports their day-to-day tasks. Analytics and research is not an area you can only look at every few years before you perform a major upgrade.

  1. Get governance going

Governance is a topic that nearly everyone has a different definition for. For us, it encompasses all of the aspects and players it takes to keep your portal not just operational, but evolving.

This includes things such as:

  • Operational activities such as live help desk tickets and site provisioning
  • Technical considerations like patch upgrades, performance, security, future customizations and application integration.
  • Content processes, including determination of who is going to write, edit, review, approve, and archive content.
  • Strategic direction, and establishing who decides what the short and long-term vision for the portal are.

No portal is successful without considering all of the above items, and the quicker they’re considered, the more time you and your organization will be able to address them.

  1. Involve senior leaders early

Involving senior leadership from the beginning of an intranet project is key to success and support within your organization.

One way to gauge a leader’s support for an intranet is to include them in pre-project user interviews. You may find a senior stakeholder in an unlikely department, and someone who already uses and loves the existing solution is an advocate you can include to build consensus and organizational support.

When formulating your roadmap and design vision, get decision makers in the room who will be there to support each phase of the project. Once this work is done, your team will have a network of people throughout the company who understand where the intranet is going, why decisions were made, and what needs to happen to accomplish the goals you set.

  1. Design to fit your audience

An intranet has to feel like it fits with your organization’s culture. Instead of choosing platforms on features and functionality, evaluate the effectiveness of a platform based on the value they’ll provide. Take a close look at areas like social, integration, and access for employees on the go.

With that, there are a few aspects you have to consider to match an intranet to a culture.

  • Focus on the social

Not every organization is ready for a rich social experience, but every company can benefit from simple interactions such as likes and comments. If you feel your company is mature enough for richer media like user-generated photos, videos, and discussion boards, make sure there is a plan in place to educate employees on how to use these tools.

  • Use plain language in navigation

Navigation is one of the cornerstones of a great user experience. Instead of dividing up your intranet based on departments, break up the information based on the tasks a user needs to complete.

Simple buckets like “How Do I…?” or “Employee Essentials” make it easy for people to find what they want. You can use drop down menus to show people what’s inside each section before they navigate to a particular page, site, or document.

This style of information architecture works because it enables people to proactively find what they want, instead of trying to figure out if a vacation request form is in the HR, finance, or accounting site.

  • Provide anywhere access

Creating a mobile-friendly intranet experience should be a part of any portal discussion. Adding responsive design to your project will allow you to connect field workers, employees on the go, and remote teams to your broader corporate culture. It’s a way to integrate the people who are out there meeting customers, representing your brand, and growing your company with teams in the office.

There is definitely a technical element to getting this done, so it’s critical to build a strong relationship with IT to support this type of vision.

  1. Ensure post-launch engagement

Employees need to see leaders and prominent people in your organization using the intranet, especially in the period right after the launch.

Start with encouraging an initial group to engage in ways that everyone will see, such as commenting on an article, posting an update, or recognizing someone’s contribution. These simple interactions go a long way, especially in a big organization or a company that’s never had an intranet before.

Engaging decision makers at the beginning of the project, especially in the context of a portal roadmap, will make it easier to get people involved after launch. When everyone has an understanding of where the intranet is going what needs to happen to get there, they’re more likely to get excited about using it and proving the business value.

All these points considered, there are a few ways communicators can lead or guide an intranet project:

  • Come up with a detailed communications plan that explains how the team will update the company on progress, stay connected to decision makers, and communicate internally. Even if timelines and specifics aren’t finalized while you do this, there is a big benefit to getting this started as early as possible.
  • Lead an internal campaign to generate feedback and ideas for an upgraded intranet. This data will support your research and provide everyone involved with a clearer path to move forward.
  • Determine how you want to launch the intranet to the rest of your organization. See if you can use video and internal meetings in a way that hasn’t been seen before to celebrate the launch. In the weeks leading up to go-live, maybe build momentum with some teaser content on the existing intranet or other internal channel. The more excitement you create before launch, the more attention you’ll have in those crucial early days to create adoption and demonstrate the value.

Jay O’Hara works with organizations to drive outcomes and boost innovation, collaboration, and communication. He is known for building strong relationships to foster exceptional intranets and workplace experiences.

Spencer Perry has years of experience with internal communications, marketing, and social media. Spencer came to the world of communications and intranets from a background in journalism and artist management.

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