As organizations around the world have switched to remote working, the online tools that employees use to access information and communicate have become key to getting work done. For many large organizations, the primary online tool is an intranet.
Unfortunately, for many employees, using their company’s intranet is a frustrating experience. Intranets can be plagued by confusing navigation, an unreliable search function, and outdated information, to name a few of the common problems. Some employees work around this by bookmarking a few key pages, while others avoid using their intranet altogether. Does this sound familiar?
Well-designed and thoughtfully governed intranets are out there but they are not publicly visible. They are a powerful tool for building culture. Instead of being a source of frustration to employees, these intranets empower them to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.
Here are just a few of the benefits of a well-designed intranet:
Efficient onboarding of new employees
Starting a new job can be stressful. New employees are trying to get up to speed as quickly as possible while worrying about making a good impression on new colleagues. New employees are afraid of missing important information but don’t want to bother their new managers or colleagues with too many questions. Too often, the company’s intranet only adds to this stress. Information is buried, outdated, and labeled in a way that requires knowledge of the organization, making onboarding frustrating.
Alternatively, a well-designed intranet can help new employees start on the right foot. It can help them to complete their practical onboarding tasks smoothly by giving them quick access to onboarding forms and needed IT programs. It can introduce them to the culture and values of their new workplace through the stories and images highlighted on the homepage. Some intranets even have a dedicated section for new employees to access everything that they need to get started.
New employees have the most to gain from an effective intranet and will greatly struggle without one. Therefore, it is important to prioritize their input during the research and design process. Be mindful of where their attitudes and behaviors differ from long-standing employees: this could represent an opportunity to break free of habits that have been learned over time but are no longer serving, such as organizing information by organizational silos.
Easy access to key tools and resources
One of the key purposes of an intranet is to give employees easy access to the key tools and resources that they need to get their jobs done. Too often, intranets will try to do this via a list of links on the homepage. This list grows over time, making it increasingly difficult for employees to find the ones that they need most. In the 2019 Intranet Design Annual by the Nielson Norman Group, they said that while “at almost any organization, the number of applications available to employees can be countless… but today’s intranets are very good at finding the applications that employees need and making them readily available” (Pernice and Caya, 2019).
The best way to identify what tools need to be made readily available to employees is through research such as employee surveys and web analytics. By using these methods, we can design an intranet that surfaces and highlights the most important tools instead of burying them within links that are rarely used. Some intranets customize the tools presented to employees based on their role, while others allow employees to choose what tools are shown on their view of the homepage. No matter what technique is preferred, using data to identify and prioritize the most important tools is key to an intranet’s success.
Clear communication of organizational priorities
Organizational priorities evolve and keeping both new and longstanding employees on the same page can be challenging. Alignment of priorities is important so that employees can make decisions that help contribute to shared goals. There are a variety of ways that an intranet can help with this:
- Reflecting the organizational priorities in the intranet structure. The way that an intranet is structured should be based on a combination of user needs and organizational priorities. Including a top-level category that reflects a strong organizational priority reinforces its importance and ensures that employees can easily access associated information and resources.
- Giving employees easy access to key strategy documentation, like the organization’s mission, values, and strategic plan. Employees should be able to access these key strategic resources any time they need to, whether they are new to the organization or just looking for a refresher. Surfacing this information and testing its findability during research will ensure that it’s always just a couple of clicks away.
- Providing regular updates from the organization’s leader or leadership team. Regular communication from leadership is an important way to reinforce an organization’s values and keep employees up to date. An effective intranet thoughtfully serves information to employees, telling them what they need to know when they need to know it. During times of crisis, keeping this content-focused, consistent, and easily accessible to all becomes even more important.
User-centered design helps serve your employees and organization
An effective intranet is key to an efficient workforce. Employees won’t waste time looking for the things they need to do their jobs, which will both ease frustration and increase productivity. It also presents an opportunity to reinforce the organizational culture, through a design that reflects the organization’s mission, values, and personality.
User-centered design is the best way to create an intranet that serves the unique needs of an organization. Decisions are made based on research data and design best-practices instead of assumptions and compromises. Employees are engaged at every step of the way, meaning that they have a real voice in the process.
We’ve guided many organizations through the process of design based on employee feedback. If you are interested in hearing more about what this method can do for your intranet and organization, don’t hesitate to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.