We sometimes get asked by our clients: “What are the intranet best practices we should follow?” In our first post, we covered fifteen intranet best practices – the approaches, techniques and tactics that we have seen work time and time again in helping intranets to be sustainable and deliver value for both employees and organisations. In this second and final post, we cover fifteen more intranet best practices across different aspects of intranet management, including design, adoption and content.
Of course, every organisation and intranet is different, and a tactic that works well in one place might not be so impactful in another. However, the intranet best practices we’ve listed here are all approaches that we’re confident will have a positive impact if applied in the right way.
Focus on user experience with user-centred design techniques
A strong user experience is at the heart of a good intranet. An intranet that is not designed primarily around the needs of employees will not be a success, and will end up with low adoption. Here, applying various user-centred design techniques to the research, design and build phases of an intranet project is essential.
These techniques range from running user interviews, to drawing up personas, to mapping user journeys, to rapid prototyping and carrying out various user testing. Essentially, they are all about involving users in your intranet project. Over at UX Mastery, there is a comprehensive list of user experience methods that is worth referring to when you’re considering your overall approach to an intranet project.
Have a user-focused and task-based information architecture
One area where it’s particularly important to apply a user-centred focus is your intranet information architecture and site navigation. Unfortunately, we still see intranet navigations that just mirror an organisational structure. This means that to navigate to a piece of content, a user needs to know which function manages that area; this is less than obvious in large, global organisations and even harder for a new joiner, making it hard to find the right content. Essentially, a navigation that is mainly an org structure is focused on the needs of content owners who own individual pages rather than on the needs of users and the way they think
To drive good findability, it’s essential to have an IA that helps employees find what they need and to get things done. Using intuitive and sensible labelling, avoiding acronyms and obscure brand names for different areas and shaping an IA around popular user tasks will make it easier for employees to find what they need and get the best out of your intranet.
Get users to help design and test your navigation
The very best way to ensure your intranet is focused on users is to involve them in defining and testing it. There are a variety of well-established techniques that can be applied here, including card-sorting and task-testing (sometimes called tree-testing) in order to define, validate, refine and improve the navigation. Whilst these techniques are often applied during an intranet project, applying them on a regular basis, along with insights from other data such as analytics and search logs, can help keep your navigation fresh and relevant.
Take a holistic approach to improving search
A key attribute of a successful intranet is having good findability; this is not only covered by a good user-focused intranet navigation, but also by having a robust search. Managing and improving search is a wide and complex field, and will depend on the tools, content and resources you have. Whatever you do, you will need to take a holistic approach and apply a range of tactics to improve your search.
A misconception about search is that you can just switch on a powerful search engine and you’re done. Poor search can be as much a content issue as it is a search engine issue; reducing the amount of content you have, teaching content authors to tag content correctly and using sensible headlines will have a significant impact on findability. Improvements may require foundational work like creating a taxonomy and establishing content types. Optimising the layout of search can also make a difference. Ongoing management such as examining search logs and making tweaks, collecting search feedback and adding best bets may also move the needle on findability. Realistically, you will need to employ some or all of these tactics to improve search.
Make your site accessible
Accessibility is a neglected area in the digital workplace, and it’s surprising how few intranet sites actually meet the AA level of the WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 guidelines – the acceptable level that most external-customer sites aspire to. Ensuring that your site and content is accessible is not only important from a diversity and inclusion perspective, but also improves the general usability of a site.
Making a site accessible is rarely a priority in an intranet project because it requires ongoing efforts such as testing and reviews, as well as commitment to considering the content that is added, such as providing transcripts of videos, ensuring you have alt text for images and considering colour contrast when adding images to a page.
Working with your D&I team or the right Employee Resource Groups can raise awareness of the importance of accessibility for your internal digital channels, which can in turn support the business case for investing in accessibility.
Engage and support your publishing community
Good intranets need good content. Most intranets are based on a decentralised publishing model, with small central intranet teams especially relying on the actions of their content owners to produce good quality content. In our first post about intranet best practices, we prioritised having good content governance with named content owners, as well as ensuring clarity surrounding their roles and responsibilities. However, you also need to keep them engaged and supported. Generally, managing their intranet area is going to be an additional activity that is above and beyond their day job.
Spending tine on an ongoing training programme, providing an online community, driving engagement through recognition and providing the right resources and tools which make life easier for a content owner can all make a huge difference.
Include user-generated content and social elements
Modern intranets are lively and dynamic channels that stimulate dialogue, facilitate collaboration and drive a sense of community. Including user-generated content with conversations and contributions is a must. There are multiple ways to do this, for example: promoting employee blogs, adding news commenting, embedding social feeds, introducing models where everyone can publish, featuring peer recognition, using polls, having photo contents, including communities of practice or interest and more.
If your intranet is top-down and only focuses on dreary corporate content, adoption will suffer and you’ll miss out on opportunities to engage employees, amplify culture and get valuable feedback from employees.
Use newsletters to drive adoption
Often, an aim for an intranet is to reduce the proportion of email notifications which end up unread and clog up everybody’s inbox. However, email is still an important communication channel. One common practice is to send out a weekly email newsletter that contains a round-up of the key intranet stories with links back to the relevant items. This helps keep employees who still live out of their inbox informed, but also successfully drives traffic back to the intranet.
Use a SharePoint intranet if you have Microsoft 365
We anticipate that not everybody is going to agree with this point, but we think it’s important! If you have a Microsoft 365 digital workplace, your intranet should be based on SharePoint. Successful intranets integrate with other elements of the digital workplace, and a SharePoint intranet has completely seamless integration with the Microsoft universe.
A SharePoint intranet means you can use Microsoft search on your intranet, embed Yammer feeds, provide a personalised list of Microsoft Teams, utilise SharePoint document libraries and facilitate integration with Communication sites. It also means you can embed access to the intranet within Microsoft Teams more easily, meaning the intranet is brought into the daily flow of work. To put it bluntly, if you have Microsoft 365, an intranet based on SharePoint is a no-brainer.
Limit intranet customisation if possible
Nowadays, the generally accepted practice for most IT teams is to limit customisation of platforms and applications as much as possible. This view is heavily influenced by the development of cloud-based services and platforms like Microsoft 365 which are constantly updated, but also offer more flexibility around configuration to meet the majority of potential needs.
This approach has completely flipped the world of intranets that in the past were heavily customised, very expensive and arduous to develop and then virtually impossible or too expensive to upgrade. The combination of Microsoft 365 and intranet software like LiveTiles likely provides over 90 percent of what you need on your intranet, with room to configure to your specific needs. Where there are gaps, you can usually find an app, a plug-in or customisation options to suit. The days of heavily customised intranets are over, and that’s definitely a good thing.
Have a brand for your intranet
If your intranet is bland and corporate, you’ll likely miss out on an opportunity to give your intranet some personality and make it engaging enough to drive adoption. An intranet should always have a “brand” – typically one that mirrors your organisational culture – with an appropriate name, logo and design.
Perhaps your intranet is “social” and informal, or maybe it’s more work-focused. Perhaps it’s mobile-first, or even a bit of everything. Considering your intranet brand and aligning it with your intranet’s core objectives and how you want it to be perceived by employees will make it more memorable with your audience, and you’ll consequently be better placed to position it to drive adoption and craft a consistent and impactful experience.
Accept that an intranet is never finished
An intranet is never finished. There are always features you can add, content that can be improved, adoption levels to improve, integrations to create and gaps to fill. Employee needs and expectations are constantly changing, and organisations are always restructuring.
When you accept that an intranet is never finished, you can start to focus on a process of continuous improvement that ensures the intranet stays fresh and sustainable, and drives value. Continuously improving through small, iterative changes based on analytics and feedback also means your intranet stays closer to the needs of employees, and further supports adoption and growth.
Involve your security and compliance teams early on
It’s essential that your intranet ticks all the boxes from a security, privacy, legal, regulatory and risk angle. This spans everything from data security, GDPR, where data resides, sector-specific regulatory issues and more. Of course, most intranet teams already know this, but there can be elements that get missed or emerge late in the day, putting an intranet implementation date at risk. There are also lesser-known ongoing issues, such as educating content owners and users not to add copyrighted material and images onto your intranet.
One thing we’ve learned from hundreds of intranet implementations is to involve your security, risk and compliance teams early on in an intranet project, and to maintain dialogue with them as new issues arise. This approach usually catches any potential issues that could block or delay an intranet project, and also means actions can be taken to mitigate those risks with less impact on the user experience.
Manage your intranet within the digital comms ecosystem
An intranet is often the central platform for your digital communications, but they also exist within a wider multi-channel ecosystem of other digital channels including email, social platforms, apps, digital signage, HR systems, IT service portals and even your corporate website. The opportunities for duplication and information overload are high, leading to disengagement, inefficiency and missed opportunities to drive more effective campaigns. You may also want other channels such as email to drive visits back to your intranet.
Therefore, an intranet should never be managed in isolation – it needs to be regarded as part of the wider cross-channel landscape where content and communications are co-ordinated to drive engagement and efficiency.
Network with your peers
The thing about intranets is that they are hidden from view and not available for everyone to see, so it can be harder for intranet teams to pick up tips, best practices and the latest innovations that can really help to get the best out of your intranet. It can also be quite lonely running an intranet; teams are often actually just one or two people, and the rest of your organisation doesn’t usually understand exactly what you do.
There can be great value in networking with your intranet peers in other organisations to swap approaches and tactics, get inspiration, or even just have someone who understands intranets with whom to let off steam. The good news is that there are a lot of networks, communities and events that offer opportunities to network, and most intranet people are very friendly and open to help! We certainly love working in the wider intranet and digital workplace community.
Want more information? Get in touch!
That’s a wrap for our intranet best practices. Don’t miss the first 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.