We sometimes get asked by our clients, “What are the intranet best practices we should follow?” This is not a straightforward question. Firstly, there is a very wide range of approaches, techniques and tactics that can be applied to make your intranet successful. These cover different areas from adoption, to design, to content; there is a lot a team can do that will make a difference. Secondly, the term “best practices” always needs to be caveated. What works brilliantly for one intranet is not necessarily going to work for another. Sometimes “good practices” is a better term – “best” implies there is no room for improvement, but that’s not always true. You might disagree with us in some of our choices, too.
Having said that, we think there are some accepted common practices in managing intranets that we’ve seen work consistently over a number of years in helping deliver a successful and sustainable intranet. We’ve put our heads together and come up with 30 which we’re going to share with you over two articles. so, here goes for our first set of “intranet best practices”.
Always have an intranet strategy
Intranets are strategic-level investments that deliver strategic benefits. Therefore, you need an intranet strategy! Having a well-thought-through overview of what you are trying to achieve with your intranet that aligns with your overall company strategy, as well as an accompanying plan and roadmap of how you’re going to achieve it, allows you to maintain focus, prioritise efforts, win over stakeholders, unite different team members around the same goals and ensure your intranet keeps moving in a strategic direction. Without a strategy, an intranet is in danger of becoming directionless, running out of steam and ultimately holding less value.
Involve cross-functional stakeholders from across the organisation
Intranets facilitate different organisational processes including HR self-service, knowledge management, internal communications, leadership communications, collaboration, providing access to the wider digital workplace and more! Because of the intranet’s wide use and impact right across the enterprise, you need input and ongoing involvement from a range of stakeholders including HR, IT, Internal Comms, Business Operations, Leadership Function and more.
This involvement should usually be reflected in some kind of ongoing governance – perhaps through representation on an intranet steering committee or as part of an intranet working group. When different stakeholders from varying functions are continually involved in your intranet, it has more buy-in, relevance and value, and can fulfil its full potential to enable and improve a wider range of organisational processes.
Ensure you have an intranet manager
Not everybody may agree with this, but we think every intranet needs an intranet manager. A named person should have overall responsibility and oversight of the intranet as a whole, both in its everyday management and its longer-term development.
An intranet manager doesn’t necessarily need to be full-time; smaller organisations may have an internal comms person who is responsible for more than just the intranet, for example. It’s tempting to give different areas of responsibility for the intranet to different roles – this is certainly true for differentiating between content and technical areas, for example – but someone needs to be able to ensure all parts of the intranet are coordinated. Every single really successful intranet we’ve seen has had an intranet manager.
Provide clarity on who’s doing what
Even with a dedicated manager and central team in place, intranets are essentially an ensemble effort, with a wide range of roles involved in looking after different elements of the intranet. A typical intranet team in its widest sense could involve content owners, the technical team, communications professionals, product owners involved with integrations, digital champions who promote the intranet and more!
With central intranet teams invariably small, they are usually reliant on this wider group; it really helps to provide absolutely clarity on who is responsible for what, clarifying what each person needs to do, the associated processes and any expectations, while also keeping people engaged. A RACI Matrix (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) applied to all the sections of the intranet can be hugely helpful.
Carry out user research
You cannot define an intranet strategy or design and launch an intranet that is based on assumptions. Intranets must focus on the needs of users and be wrapped around the way they work; you need a thorough understanding of your employees, including their information needs and how they interact with technology, to design an effective intranet.
The only way to do this is to undertake user research; there are a plethora of technique options here, including interviews, workshops, surveys, observation, time studies, user testing, observation, reviewing relevant analytics and more. Taking this data-driven approach will also help legitimise and prioritise decision-making on your intranet, and is a good way to counter ill-informed stakeholders with “strong opinions” about the direction of your intranet that might not be beneficial.
Leverage digital and intranet champions for launch
Many of our clients have used a network of voluntary local champions to launch their intranet, invariably with very good results. By leveraging the energy and enthusiasm of voluntary champions, small central teams can get more reach in spreading the word about their intranet. They can also better explain its value through peer conversations which are usually conducted within a frame of reference that is relevant to the work done in a particular location, department or team, and resonate better than centrally-driven messaging. Ultimately, using voluntary champions gives momentum to an intranet launch and drives adoption.
Put content governance in place
An intranet is only as good as the content published within it. For content to be relevant, up-to-date, well-written, accurate, engaging, purposeful and on-brand, you need some kind of content governance in place. This includes a variety of different elements including defining publishing standards, ensuring each page has a named owner, carrying out content owner training, supporting content owners with appropriate page layouts and templates, applying approval workflow if necessary and having regular reviews of content, using automation if possible.
Act on what you measure
Using metrics to track the success of intranet is a given, and many intranet teams collect analytics on adoption and usage, reach, engagement, user satisfaction, search results, the individual performance of different content and more. However, while everyone may have to produce pretty charts for a quarterly report that goes to senior management, there is little point in measuring in detail unless you’re going to act on what you measure and deliver a better intranet as a result.
Measurement works best when there is a regular process focused on continual improvement. When you measure, ensure you take time to analyse and understand what the numbers mean, make changes or adjustments, measure again to see what the impact was and then make further changes. In this way, measurement is part of the process to drive improvement and becomes a powerful tool. You also need to make sure you’re measuring the right things that will drive long-term improvement.
Use employee feedback to drive improvement
Another essential approach in improving an intranet is to utilise employee feedback and suggestions regularly to inform changes. Getting employee feedback not only provides highly valuable and relevant information about how your intranet is used and perceived, but also engages employees who can see their opinions are valued and make a difference, meaning they’re likely to continue contributing feedback. There are various techniques to support gathering feedback, including creating a regular user group, running polls and surveys and creating feedback mechanisms via the intranet itself.
For intranets to succeed, content and experiences need to be relevant to different roles, divisions and locations. Internal communicators also want to be able to target items to different sections of a workforce to deliver effective messaging. Leveraging personalisation so that relevant, targeted content appears based on an individual’s profile (usually based on Active Directory) is now a must-do approach for a successful, modern intranet.
Give your entire workforce access
Intranets are a channel that everybody should access, as they help underpin transparency and accountability and support a level playing field by giving everybody access to information. During the pandemic, it has become clear how important is it for everybody to be able to access up-to-date digital communication channels.
Your entire workforce should have access to the intranet, either via the desktop or a mobile device. In the past, frontline workers were often excluded from accessing the intranet, creating a digital divide, although they are generally far more connected now. Outsourced or seasonal parts of a workforce sometimes still do not have access, although there can be some logistical or compliance-related reasons for this.
Make your intranet available anytime, anywhere on any device
Intranets can play a significant role in helping employees work from any location, as well as providing the information employees need to carry out their role and complete tasks. We are now in the era of the hybrid and flexible workplace where employees will be working at home, in the office, from a client or on-the-go, with the location potentially changing throughout the week. An intranet must be available at any time, from anywhere and on any device to support hybrid working going forward.
Make sure your leaders are visible
Intranets provide a highly effective vehicle for leadership communications, particularly during the pandemic. Leaders should be highly visible on your intranet, not only through news updates and videos, but also through participating in social channels and setting a good example for other senior management by exhibiting digital behaviours. This drives intranet adoption and participation, and demonstrates the importance of the intranet through effective senior leader endorsement.
Balance homepage news with features
An intranet is a digital communications channel that keeps everyone updated with the latest news, but it’s also a platform for completing tasks and finding information to support everyday work. The truth is that most employees do not primarily visit the intranet to view news, they go there to complete tasks; however, when accessing a link to an app or checking their annual leave balance, they do view news. Resist the temptation to dominate your intranet homepage with news – balance out these items with features, integrations and information that employees will find useful and make them want them to return to the intranet every day.
Make your intranet the front door to the wider digital workplace
Over the past few years, intranets have been morphing into front doors to the wider digital workplace, providing the single-entry point into the wider portfolio of applications used by employees throughout the enterprise. This helps save time for employees and supports good intranet adoption.
There are several ways to achieve this, including integrating apps with your intranet such as Workday, encouraging employee self-service; providing a central directory of apps through which employees can bookmark favourites and easily access them will also help. Additionally, deeper integration with other platforms, especially across Microsoft 365 with embedded Yammer feeds or links to Microsoft Teams spaces, will further promote the intranet.
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Those are our first fifteen intranet best practices. Watch out for the next part of the series!
If you want more information on any of these intranet best practices or would like to discuss your intranet project with us, then get in touch.