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Intranet Best Practices - How to Create an Intranet that Works
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​​​​​​​​​​​Intranet Best Practices - How to Create an Intranet that Works

​​​​​A White Paper from Geoff Talbot @Emgage

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​Before we begin we must ask "exactly what is an Intranet"?

Unless you are extremely clear as to what an Intranet is and what an Intranet is not, you will fall into creating an Intranet that looks good on screen but is actually completely ineffective when it comes to making your business more productive. An increase in productivity should be the primary goal with any enterprise software (Tweet)​.

At Emgage we define an Intranet as:

"Intranet or an extranet is a restricted access to resources that allows organization's staff, partners and customers to work together towards a common goal."

From this definition, we see that the best Intranet sites function primarily as a work tool for the end users. They increase the productivity of the end user by helping them access the resources that they need to do their work, more quickly, more cheaply and more efficiently.

Unfortunately in many cases, organizations invest thousands of man hours creating an Intranet that does not actually make work better for their users. As a result they end up with a corporate Intranet that very few of their employees use on a daily basis. Please do not make this mistake, our goal with this document is to help you create an Intranet that works and is adopted and used effectively by every member of your organization.

The SlideShare​ Presentation​​​ below will give you a visual outline of what we will discuss in t​he rest of this white paper.

Figure 1

​Principle 1: The Intranet Best Practices - Solve Significant Work Problems

Let me begin this section with a metaphor, "if you want to help me, then you have to know me."

When we don't know someone, if we haven't taken the time to listen, if we don't know what their actual problems are, then offering to help, or simply giving advice can be a pretty dangerous thing to do. Warning! Assumptions can kill! And in countless company intranet examples, intranet sites have died from a lack of use and attention because they were not created to address the underlying work problems of the end users.

How do you identify significant work problems that your Company Intranet could solve?​

You have to spend some time with your end users involving them in your strategic planning, surveying them in regards to their work. Asking them the following kinds of questions:

  1. Which parts of your work are currently too time consuming?
  2. What are you doing and what is frustrating about it?
  3. Where is your work inefficient?
  4. What kind of work information is often difficult to find?​​
  5. ​When do you feel blocked in your work? When are you waiting on others to finish your tasks?
  6. In what areas of interaction with others are you finding confusion and ineffectiveness?

​As you might have noticed, all these questions could be applied to any other IT project or work transformation, but what's specific about Intranets is its focus on person-to-person or team-to-team work. As our definition of Intranet states, it's all about working together towards a common goal. Individual work is just as important, but that's a completely separate animal and should not be a significant part of your Intranet project.​

Best Intranet Practices Step 1
​ Figure 2​​​​

Note: Different users are going to identify different work problems, so make sure you investigate every tier and every strata of your organization. The most effective and best Intranet sites specifically address and solve the collaborative work problems of each type of User (Tweet​)​​. Our problems are specific to us and great technologies are flexible and malleable enough to adapt to each individuals needs (See Principle 4)


Principle 2: Intranet Best Practices - ​Massively Solve These Problems

When we look at examples of Company Intranets that have high adoption rates, the one thing that they all have in common is this:

"They solve significant problems in a massive way."

To illustrate this principle, let's looks at the very practical work problem of moving a large pile of dirt (see Figure 3 below). In the past, before technology intervened, the primary way to move this pile of dirt was with a shovel and days of sweat. I am sure your User(s) can think of a number of work problems that this pile of dirt represents.

how to create an intranet
Figure 3

Typically, what a poor performing Intranet does is simply gives your tired old employee a slightly bigger shovel (Tweet). Not surprisingly, he doesn't really thank you for it, in fact he might even prefer using his lighter, marginally smaller old shovel because he is already comfortable with it. When you do not solve work problems in significant ways, you will most likely incur Intranet adoption issues.​

Whereas, in the example in Figure 4 below, if you offer your tired old employee a hydraulic digger to move that pile of dirt, he or she will almost certainly throw away their shovel and never move dirt manually again. Why? Because you have offered them a solution that makes their task of shifting dirt infinitely easier and so much quicker. When your SharePoint Intranet, or any other piece of enterprise technology makes the life of a User infinitely better, adoption becomes a non-issue and the overall productivity and efficiency of your business goes through the roof.

Best practices in creating in creating Intranets
Figure 4

Principle 3: Intranet Best Practices - ​Adoption Issues Need The Correct Diagnosis

As we mentioned in our webinar, too often intranet adoption issues are incorrectly diagnosed and the wrong problem is solved. One of the common corporate intranet ideas currently permeating the web is to wrongly see poor intranet adoption as a symptom of low employee engagement. In other words, if your expensive technology has not been adopted throughout the enterprise then you should investigate the relevance of the technology instead of the blaming the employee for “lack of engagement” or calling it an “adoption problem”.

Let's look at the graphs below to clearly illustrate the cause of low Intranet adoption/utilization.

Best Intranet Sites and Adoption Rates
Figure 5

As you can see from Figure 5, the less that your Intranet improves work for your Users, the more effort (time and money) you will have to expend to encourage your employees to adopt. Even if your Intranet doesn't improve work at all (less than or equal to 1x), you may still get your people to adopt; however, it will come at a great cost to your organization and you will see no return on your investment (no work improvement). Worse yet, as soon as you pull back on your efforts, your adoption rates will plummet, leaving you in a worse place than you began with.

You can avoid all this mess if you manage to solve significant work problems with your company intranet. And in doing so you will expend much less effort encouraging user adoption and you will see a massive improvement in productivity and effectiveness.

When you look historically at the adoption of the Fax Machine (Figure 6), you can see that the Fax Machine really did improve work significantly, addressing the problem of business-to-business communication, making it considerably faster, cheaper and easier to send documents between organizations and people. Yes, adoption effort was still required, companies advertised, training manuals were produced etc. (there was also viral propagation at play, if you had a fax machine, then your vendors, business partners etc. also needed to get one to communicate with you) but the adoption efforts were small because the Fax Machine made a significant difference in the work life of the user (Tweet)​​​.

Very best Intranet practices
Figure 6

Email then further assaulted the work problem of inter-office communication, providing a solution that was a significant improvement on the fax machine. Now, the user didn't even have to even get up from their desk to communicate, they didn't have to print out a hard copy, remember a fax number and then wait for the other party to send information back to them. With email they could now communicate with the other party in real time, almost instantly backwards and forwards via their personal computer.​ Because email was so hugely transformative, because it provided a solution to a real work problem that was at least 7.5 times better than the original solution very little effort was required in terms of encouraging adoption. It was so good, it would be foolish and antiquated for an User not to adopt.

Top Intranet Practices
Figure 7

One of the problems that we're seeing today in the world of Intranets, is that many companies are being deceived into thinking that there are superficial solutions to their bad Intranet issues (Tweet​). These solutions are like putting a stack of Band-Aids over a hemorrhaging wound, you may not be able to see the wound anymore but it is there, underneath the Band-Aid's bleeding away profusely. Most of these superficial solutions involve investing a large amount of time and money into increasing your adoption efforts. They include things like:

  • Creating social campaigns that encourage use and interactivity.
  • Constantly broadcasting company success stories.
  • Changing the color scheme regularly.
  • Using contests and gamification.
  • Getting the Executives and Leadership involved as early adopters.
  • Featuring local company events.
  • Using humor.
  • Having your CEO write a blog.

Now, on face value there is nothing wrong with any of these ideas, and you may see an increase in utilization with your efforts, but at the end of the day if your company Intranet isn't really helping the User with work then it's like putting lipstick on a pig; he will be a pretty little pig and he may get some attention for a while, but he will still be a pig when the makeup wears off. These tricks and techniques will speed up adoption but they should be used only once you have created an Intranet site that is hugely beneficial to your employees (See Principle 5).

The best Intranet sites that we've built at Emgage work because our clients have first done the hard work of identifying (with us) the actual work problems that their company Intranet needs to solve, and having found solutions for them, can we begin creating an intranet that works.

Principle 4: Intranet Best Practices - ​Your Intranet Must Be Flexible and Adaptable

In the previous section we stated that you need to solve real work problems in massive ways if you want your Users utilizing your Intranet. Well, any organization worth their salt will have a good-enough IT department that could achieve this. But the real problem is not simply solving this problems in big ways, but it is continuously solving these changing problems.

The best company Intranet sites are highly flexible and adaptable, quickly adjusting to the Users work needs. It is imperative that your Intranet's rate of change can match your ever-changing work problems and needs. If those two don't match then your Intranet will soon fall behind and become irrelevant.

The best intranet sites have a flexible framework that unleashes the full power of your user (Tweet​). They do not rely on developers because development is not cost or time effective, and it is difficult maintaining a cohesive understanding of the needs and user paradigms while the problem is being solved.

One of the key measures of a good Intranet is how quickly it allows your Users to quickly create, use, manage and change their own work solutions (custom applications and forms) without needing to write code. In this way your Intranet becomes a vibrant, changing, continuously adapting work tool that promotes efficiency and productivity on a daily-basis. Your Intranet needs to also work wherever your User is. Are they working remotely? Are they looking to access the portal on a mobile device? Modern work is not locked down to a physical location, so it is critical that your Intranet is highly responsive and available on any device from any location.

Another feature found in most successful corporate Intranets is the idea of personalization, or surfacing. That is to say, your Intranet should have a memory and intuitive smarts; it needs to customize itself to each particular User's needs without any cajoling or unreasonable effort. The User shouldn't have to spend hours looking for content, finding contacts, undertaking deep searches for resources, responding to processes, or engaging in work. If these things take too long then your Intranet is no longer solving work problems in a massive ways, and the Users will start to abandon it for historic tools that are tried and true.

Principle 5: Intranet Best Practices - ​Speeding Up User Adoption

Your adoption efforts should begin only once you have finished creating an Intranet that massively solves work problems (Tweet​) and allows for rapid change and intuitive use. Once have accomplished these things, then you will not be able to hold back your Users from utilizing your intranet. But even in this situation, you still need to do some work in encouraging Users to adopt your new intranet. See Figure 8 below.


Figure 8

Your Intranet should be attractive. When it comes to workplace productivity, your environment matters. This is true of both your physical office space and your virtual office space (your Intranet). The best Intranets sites typically provide the User with an attractive online environment​ that fully reflects the organization's brand. If you are using SharePoint then you will probably need​​​ a third party product (Like our Prime Product​) to quickly and easily brand your Intranet.

As we mentioned earlier, your Intranet needs to be easy to use. Your Intranet Adoption rate will be depressed if it isn't intuitive and easy to use. Unfortunately, with SharePoint, ease of use is NOT an out-of-the-box feature when it comes to your Intranet. Again, not to oversell, but you are really going to need an InfoPath Replacement (See Turbo) here, because it is imperative that your Users are not expected to know code when it comes to creating sophisticated applications and forms that address new work problems.

Availability and dependability are also critical when it comes to the User forming new work habits (involving Intranet use) that cement the adoption process. If your Intranet isn't reliable and always available then adoption will be hindered. In today's world it is critical Intranet access is permissible 24/7 on every kind of device.

Layered discovery is also an important component when encouraging adoption, this also overlaps with the ease of use category. It is imperative that your Intranet is designed in such a way that the new User does not experience "feature overwhelm" when they first land on the site. Give any human being too many choices and they won't choose. Layered discovery, is a feature of most successful company intranets, it allows the end User to dive beneath the surface and do really deep specific work that solves big problems.

We mentioned viral propagation when we discussed the example of the Fax Machine. Viral Propagation is without doubt the single most important tool in your Intranet adoption briefcase. To put it simply, ​when Users' are forced to rely on your Intranet to get their work done efficiently, then adoption no longer becomes an issue.​

In Conclusion

In the beginning​ of this article we asked the basic question, "Exactly, what is an Intranet?" Having created this article, I would like to give you a different definition that truly embraces the potential of your Intranet. "Your Intranet is an online hub that can greatly increase the productivity of your business, though helping each of your users do their work in a much faster, simpler, more efficient way."

My question to you now is simple: Are y​ou putting this definition right in the center of everything you are doing with your intranet?

At Emgage, we are passionate about helping Users do their work more effectively and more efficiently, and all our products are designed to help you do this. To get ​a free personal one-on-one demonstration of our products, fill out the form below.​​​​​​

 

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