4 Simple Things You Need to Support a Healthy Intranet
September 6, 2022
Intranets are often billed as your digital headquarters. They’re meant to be the heart of connection, culture, and knowledge in an organization, so it’s imperative their features and functionalities match its unique needs.
The problem is, they frequently fall short—but not always for the reasons you might think.
Because they can be built in-house, by an agency, or by a vendor, there are numerous, diverse interpretations on intranets—each with its own unique advantages, challenges, feature set, and presentation. With that great diversity among organizational needs and available features, it’s important to draw a line between features, functionality, and usage.
After all, the best intranet is the one that fits your team, and ultimately, the one they’ll actually use.
In this guide, we’ll review a checklist of core themes and needs that ring true for many teams. We’ll discuss how digital HQs can address them, and outline some tips to help increase the odds of success. Purpose-built features and functionality can make some of these things easier, but most are achievable no matter what tool you use.
Let’s get started.
1. Communication and Connection
One of an intranet’s primary functions is to help employees within an organization communicate, collaborate, and build stronger connections with one another. But what separates a quality experience employees look forward to from one that people go out of their way not to use?
Take a look at a magazine rack—or better yet, your Instagram feed—and it’ll be clear: people gravitate toward engaging presentations. That’s equally true in the case of intranets.
The way you present information to an audience can make all the difference in how actively they’ll engage with it. If your content isn’t engaging, don’t expect everyone to flock to your latest posts and start commenting.
Some intranets make it easier to deliver your content and communications in a compelling format. Some provide helpful guides, and even guardrails to ensure even the least creatively-minded individuals can craft content that gets attention and traction.
No intranet will generate engaging content on its own.
So, whether you’re crafting content yourself, orchestrating it, or facilitating it, get to know the options you have available, lead by example, and help others build their own understanding.
- Who is developing the content? Designate a champion, or ideally, multiple champions to ensure there’s a healthy flow of engaging content that reaches your audience. Content champions are often organizational culture leaders, but that doesn’t mean they must be senior leaders.
- What is the goal for your content, and why are you sharing it? Is it a quick, but important announcement? Are you communicating a major tidal shift in the way your organization operates, fostering organizational culture, or promoting a fun company event? To earn audience engagement your content should start with a goal.
- How is your content delivered? Can you embed images, video content, or assets from other applications you use? Empathize with the audience and focus on bringing them the best presentation you can.
- Where and when is your content delivered? Who will see the content you post, and what format will it be in (mobile, email, Slack/Teams)? The more accessible the information is, the more likely a greater, more diverse audience will engage with it.
In a world where many employees aren’t in the office, and each side of the organization has a separate set of tools they use to get their work done, it can be hard to communicate effectively.
Engineers often have their own way of tracking projects and collaborating with one another, as do marketing, sales, customer success teams, and so on. Although those specialized tools help expedite and support collaboration among individual teams, there’s a point where that separation becomes problematic for interdepartmental collaboration.
Members of a specific team might have a solid grasp of what’s going on in their realm, but that information is trapped within the confines of their individual collaboration stack. If you ask someone in marketing what’s going on in engineering, and vice versa, expect a shrug unless your organization is working to bridge cross-departmental and organizational communication.
This is one area where intranets can be incredibly impactful—especially if they have the right toolset.
Reaching people in the context of their work
Instead of expecting everyone to abandon their workflow to check in for new content, bring it right to them in the context of their work. Reaching the right people in the context of their work depends on what that work is.
For office workers, that might look like a Slack/Teams notification, an email, or a desktop notification. For deskless workers, that might look more like a mobile push notification, or any number of other mediums. Ultimately, the more flexibility you have in delivering communication where it’ll actually be read, the easier it is to maximize its benefit.
But you don’t have to stop with one-way delivery. It can be just as helpful to bring the essential information from their work to your system of record. The key to accomplishing both reliably is to make the process as seamless as possible.
Most intranets include some form of employee profile. Employee profiles might seem like a small part of the overall picture, but they’re central to the experience. Just like any other piece of content on an intranet, employee profiles can be authentic and engaging, flat and commoditized, or anywhere in-between.
But why does that matter?
Authentic and engaging employee profiles are key to sparking communication and collaboration—especially among colleagues who don’t share an office space. When you’re not bumping into one another in the hallways (and even if you are), it can be helpful to give employee relationships a head start. Whether that’s knowing you share an alma mater, a love for cooking, a common language, or design skills, having that bit of scaffolding can make getting to know your colleagues feel easier and more natural.
Company events were tricky enough to pull off successfully, even before remote and hybrid work. The present and future of work bring an entirely new set of challenges. Like many of these functions, some intranets have features that can help make planning and hosting company events easier; however, they can’t make that happen on their own.
Event Planning and Organization Tools
No matter if they’re hosted locally, globally, or online, as anyone who ever coordinated a successful company event knows, planning is key. It’s more than simply putting together a list of activities, or an agenda. You need to account for the diverse needs and preferences of attendees.
Whether you have an all-in-one tool, or cobble together a handful of solutions, it’s important to have a way of tracking and managing those attendee preferences. A common place for that is in event RSVPs.
- If food is involved, check for and accommodate dietary restrictions
- Handing out t-shirts? Check for sizing.
Ensure that everyone who wants to participate has a way to do so.
For organizations with globally distributed teams, that can be more challenging. Live streaming and sharing interactive posts with recordings for events like lunch-and-learns can make it a lot easier for a wider range of employees to attend.
These are just a couple common examples. Think about events you have coming up and how you can use your intranet to make them more accessible and inclusive.
2. Knowledge Sharing
For most organizations, knowledge is a precious and valuable resource, but despite that, it’s often tucked away in the least likely of places. Intranets can make that information more discoverable, but not without some help.
A Centralized Source of Truth
Organizational knowledge has a way of hiding itself where you least expect it. Some organizations share institutional knowledge like an oral history—passed on from one person to another, changing a little each time like a game of “telephone.”
By design, intranets provide a place where key knowledge and information can be documented clearly, and live on for anyone to access and learn from. There are a few things that can get in the way of your intranet’s role as the central source of truth for your organizational knowledge, and many of them relate more to how it’s used, rather than how it’s designed.
An intranet is a perfect centralized storage space for organizational information, but just like your kitchen junk drawer, it’s easy for it to become cluttered and disorganized. This is where governance becomes essential.
Governance depends on numerous factors, like information freshness, access, accuracy, and organization. Some intranets and knowledge management systems provide tools to help streamline governance, but ultimately, each of those factors relies on people.
If you were to audit your current system, the following questions should be fairly quick to answer:
- Can employees trust the accuracy of the information in the system? How frequently are company knowledge resources updated and verified?
- Can employees find the information they need easily? Is there an established organizational structure employees are aware of?
- How consistently is that structure followed?
- Do employees have a place to put things they need to share? If they do, do they know where it is?
You can have a mountain of knowledge, but without a way to search across it and find what you need, you may as well have nothing. While thoughtful creation and cataloging of content will always be important, it’s one half of the equation.
Search can be especially helpful for new employees, who may not have a grasp on the way your information is organized yet. The key is in how search is performed. The more intuitive and inclusive your intranet’s search engine is, the more employees can lean on it when they need information quickly.
In the best case scenario, both governance and search are working in concert. If your search functionality is lacking, you’ll be forced to lean more heavily on governance; if governance is lacking, you’ll likely need to lean more heavily on search.
As a quick evaluation of search capabilities, you can run some of your own search queries as though you’re looking for a specific document or resource and measure the relative ease (or difficulty) you had in finding it.
- Did your search uncover what you were looking for?
- How much effort did your search take?
- Would someone with less experience and context be able to find the same information?
An intranet shouldn’t compete against your team’s favorite tools—it should compliment them. We live in a time where most people have a stack of tools tailored to their work that make them more efficient and effective. If it’s going to be successful, a modern organizational hub should reflect that, supporting a diverse range of workflows and toolkits.
Having stale rosters isn’t just a pain for administrators to deal with—it can be confusing for other employees. If your organization is small, managing roster changes like titles, employment status, and reporting relationships might seem manageable by hand. But as you grow, this becomes more difficult to maintain. Once you reach the size where you no longer know everyone you work with personally, roster changes become nearly impossible to keep updated without some help.
This is where user management integrations can help, if your intranet supports them. When someone joins the team, they’re added automatically. If their role changes, there’s no need to update their reporting relationships (and also their manager’s).
If your intranet is running smoothly, it should be easy to answer these questions:
- When someone joins the team, how is their account provisioned?
- What happens when someone’s title or employment status changes?
- How do we display reporting relationships?
- Is that information accessible to everyone?
Document Sharing and Storage
An intranet can make it easier to collaborate, simply by bringing people and resources together in the same place. This is especially true as it relates to the diverse range of document formats used across an organization.
Some intranets integrate with various storage applications like Dropbox and Box, and some also integrate with productivity and collaboration software like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365. That can make sharing, searching, and finding documents much easier, but even if your intranet doesn’t integrate with tools like these, you can still use it as a source of truth, linking to the most recent documents within those platforms.
Enriching communication with external media has been a staple since the days of presentation boards, slides, and overhead projectors. If your intranet supports it, embedding media in posts and resources can go a long way toward making your content more rich, engaging, and helpful.
4. Security and Stability
An intranet is only helpful if you can access it. There are varying degrees of downtime to consider. A helpful litmus test for uptime is whether or not your intranet is able to perform the functions it was built and implemented to do. For example: If an intranet is technically working but bugs or slow performance make it unappealing or impossible to use effectively, that’s not really effective uptime.
How often is your digital HQ available at full speed? If disruptions are noticeably frequent, that’s a problem worth addressing.
Your intranet hosts some of your company’s most crucial information, from employee contact information, to private documents, and resources. Just like you wouldn’t leave an important filing cabinet open, or the main doors unlocked at night, it’s equally important to have faith that sensitive information is secure.
There are multiple layers of data protection, but two crucial layers are systems and people.
For systems, you can check that providers have achieved SOC-2 or ISO 27001 compliance. These are independently audited checks that help ensure providers are managing data securely.
But security doesn’t end with systems and outside influences. Even within an organization, there’s often a need for layers of data access. Intranets are often built with permission structures in mind.
Some use a group-based structure that can make permissions a bit more intuitive, but no matter what system you use, it’s important to know your data is safe. If you’re not aware of the safety protocols in the systems you use, it’s vital to check for and address weaknesses.
It’s crucial to have a way to share sensitive information without worrying that it might be accessed by unauthorized personnel, or worse yet, published outside your organization haphazardly. If you don’t have an easy way to share information securely, there are two unfortunately common outcomes:
- The information is too difficult to share securely, so it won’t be shared at all.
- The information will be shared insecurely, potentially exposing it to unauthorized viewers.
An intranet can be a safe place to store and share sensitive information, depending on its own security posture, and that of your organization.
Intranets can be a game-changing tool, whether your team is distributed, local, remote, in-office, or hybrid. But just like any powerful tool, it’s important to understand how to use it to your best advantage and to maintain, or even upgrade it frequently.