Building an Intranet Workers Will Use

Large, spread out organizations should consider an intranet that is user-centric and provides reliably useful information employees need to do their jobs.Large, spread out organizations should consider an intranet that is user-centric and provides reliably useful information employees need to do their jobs.Much energy goes into designing an outward-facing website and generating compelling content. That same level of energy should be invested in building an intranet employees will use.

Larger businesses, nonprofits and public agencies with operations spread over multiple locations need a way to keep everyone in the organization informed and involved. Intranets are an efficient tool for the job.

However, intranets can take on the same liabilities of house organs, serving as a management mouthpiece as opposed to an online information hub. A good intranet is a place where workers want to go because it reliably provides up-to-date information they need to do their jobs.

The best intranets double as a virtual water cooler where employees can connect with the organization to understand its priorities, learn about significant changes and contribute to decision-making. This kind of an intranet turns a workforce into a strategic partnership.

Building an effective intranet involves the same design principles as a website. It should be user-centric and focus relentlessly on useful information. It should offer a comprehensive package of information so the intranet is a one-stop portal for employees.

Engaging users up front in the design of an intranet is a good way to ensure the information included is relevant and the interactivity is authentic. It also is a good way to transform the intranet from an electronic brochure to an active hub.

Most organizations like to delegate work like this to teams. But for an intranet to realize its full potential, its design must flow from the entire workforce, thus creating an opportunity for an all-hands-on-deck approach. This can seem intimidating, but it doesn't have to be if the effort is viewed as a cultural breakthrough and a fresh start.

The utility of the intranet will be a function of the information included and how that information is arrayed. For example, employees in different offices may have different health care plans. Intranet navigation should make it simple for employees to find the information they need without plodding through data that affects others. Intranet designers need to understand the employee persona just as they would a customer or client persona for a website.

The best website or intranet will be underutilized unless people actually use it. The organization-wide intranet design process is a good start, but you also will need to create buzz as the site progresses and ultimately launches. Employee champions should be recruited to demonstrate how the intranet functions, further reinforcing the concept the site as a key connection rather than a management handout.

A user-centered intranet can boost employee morale and solve chronic management problems of sharing critical information across a wide spectrum of offices and employee groups. A great intranet is well worth the energy and exit from your comfort zone.

(Ragan Communications wrote about the Starbucks intranet, which is an excellent example of a user-centered hub that connects employees with the mission of the coffee purveyor – http://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/47552.aspx#)