The Insider’s Guide to Intranet Design

intranet design

According to Gallup, 63% of employees are not engaged at work. Almost one-fourth are actively disengaged, effectively “checked out” and merely going through the motions. Dismal stats for managers and business owners trying to figure out how to avoid falling victim to the disengagement epidemic.

Employee engagement (or the lack thereof) is a huge factor in retention, productivity and company success. And your social intranet plays a major role in getting and keeping people engaged at work. The community, collaboration, and open flow of communication makes employees feel in touch, part of something bigger, and valued for their contributions.

But, getting them engaged in the intranet can be a challenge. Especially if your intranet is new.

Today, we’re starting a new series on how to increase intranet engagement, participation, and usage.

We’ll look at theory, specific steps, and tips you can use to make sure your intranet delivers the most effective ROI for your company.

It starts with a great intranet design.

What is intranet design? Why is it important?

Intranet design is much more than the color scheme, layout, and functionality. It’s about planning both the cultural and technical aspects of your intranet. It’s important that access, integrations, and optimization efforts are in line as your intranet matures.

Your intranet is an important piece of your corporate communication ecosystem puzzle. It’s important to take this approach to build an intranet that can grow with your company.

The cultural components of your intranet matter.

intranet design - homepage - company culture

When designing an intranet, most people tend to jump to the technical specs, features, and functionality. But the cultural aspects are perhaps even more important. It’s critical to consider the people who will be using the intranet and the problems it will solve for them. Ask yourself:

  • Who are the users? Which employee groups?
  • What are their current attitudes and behaviors?
  • What do they need to do their jobs better?
  • How are things currently done around here?

Examine your team’s expectations, current performance, what motivates them, and where they get stuck. Being aware of these things can help you understand what you need to do to build an intranet that is useful, meaningful, and valuable for your company.

Intranet features should make people’s life easier.

intranet design - activity stream

Intranet design is really about the needs of your employees, not some laundry list of features. (By the way, here’s a list of 15 essential intranet features.)

Aside from the in-built features of the intranet platform you choose to implement, look at how you can integrate your existing systems and how collaboration spaces should be set up for improved productivity.

Designing your intranet for ease of use and streamlining the number of tools employees must use to do their jobs can have a major impact on their enthusiasm and engagement.

If the feature is something that makes their lives easier, they’ll be more likely to embrace it. For example:

  • Use a search feature that allows users to find what they need
  • Use groups that allow employees to opt-in for information and discussions they need to be a part of
  • Design an intranet that combines document sharing, communication, and other organization functions to cut the need to constantly switch from one tool to another.
Bonus: Learn how to launch an intranet for your organization with this free  guide.

Change is hard. But change is good.

“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.”
— Robin Sharma

When designing an intranet for the first time, it’s natural that employees and management may feel uncomfortable with the idea of “defaulting to open” — with free-flowing interaction, open discussion, and collaboration. Transparency is a good thing, but it can take some getting used to. And, it’s critical that management not make employees feel like they’re being spied on.

As your intranet matures and your business grows, you may find that your organization’s original approach takes a different direction altogether. Sales teams may start exchanging tips on how to sell better, teams may start to collaborate on projects in real-time, and managers and supervisors may start to use the intranet as a distribution channel for company news, announcements, and project delegation.

When done right, an intranet is like a living, breathing animal—it evolves with your team’s needs and behaviors. Your employees’ values, interests, and goals change over time, and so do those of your company. To support these changing roles, the systems in place must be able to accommodate the pace. Ignoring this fluidity during the intranet design aspect will make it difficult to adapt to changes as they happen. They may come too fast, or they may demand bending too much to the point that it hurts your organization’s bottom line. Both of these scenarios are not going to have a good turnout.

Encourage and allow for organic growth.

intranet design - collaboration

To reap the most benefits from an intranet deployment, it is important to consider the different use scenarios that may come up.

Rather than setting rigid or static parameters for how you think it should be used, let usage dictate the direction and intranet design.

As your employees get comfortable with using the intranet, it’s your job to help them get the most out of it. This is where careful cultural and technical community design (pre-launch) comes into play.

When you consider the potential use cases in the early planning stages you can speed up intranet adoption, usage, and engagement.

Social and group dynamics drive intranet design and evolution.

intranet design - social chat and comments

Social intranets evolve through interactions and communication on shared content and knowledge. These interactions create social processes, such as cultural bias, idea diffusion, and community evolution.

Networks or groups of people have a stronger cultural influence than individuals. These structures impact individual participation and dependencies in a social intranet.

Social dynamics change over time. Group dynamics involve formal and institutional relationships in social groups that may be short term, or may last for years. Short term groups begin and end without particular significance. Long term groups may undergo many evolutions and create secondary groups in the process.

The development and design of your intranet’s social groups also takes a variety of turns. People tend to be drawn to and interact with whom they share something in common.

At some point, these relationships develop stability. Depending on common goals, small groups may grow into larger groups. All this is dependent on the various individual skills, leadership differences, dominance, and development of authority. As you can imagine, these dynamics cannot be fully determined upon deployment, hence the need for a strong intranet design phase before the actual launch.

In Conclusion.

Intranet design is an essential component of any successful intranet deployment. It forms the framework that determines the future success of achieving business goals throughout the intranet. It plays a huge role in impacting a company’s success metrics.

That’s why this critical step requires careful and thoughtful planning, and is often an ongoing, evolving process. Taking into consideration existing work patterns and habits, as well as the unique aspects of your company and its employees, establishes a solid foundation upon which to launch a thriving, successful intranet.

Stay tuned!

In next post, we’ll cover the 1% Rule and how to increase participation and engagement on your intranet.


How to Know if Your Company Needs an Intranet


Written by

Tim Eisenhauer is a co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.


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