You probably already know that your company’s intranet is not doing everything it could to support your employees’ daily work or your business goals. In fact, your business and employees are very likely getting along in spite of your intranet.

This is definitely true if any of the following sound like your current intranet:

  • It requires employees to search through a sea of links, pages, and clutter for important information.
  • It serves up information that is often out-of-date, inconsistent, incomplete, or just plain wrong.
  • There are no rules about what goes where, so everything goes anywhere (but mostly on the home page).
  • It’s hard for your technology team to update and it needs frequent important maintenance.
  • Employees have created hacks and workarounds to avoid it at all costs.

This is, sadly, the norm.
We know all about it. We’ve met these intranets. Many of them. In fact, this horrible state of being is the intranet norm. It’s amazing how something that companies build to help their employees do their jobs more efficiently usually accomplishes the exact opposite.

It’s a shame, too. Because, when planned and maintained correctly, your intranet has massive potential to be one of your most essential business tools. An intuitive, easy-to-use intranet can automatically increase employee efficiency, decrease opportunity costs, save on updating and maintenance time, allow for future growth and even streamline business processes.

From Frustrating Flop to Essential Tool

So how do you get an intranet like that, you ask? The secret is this: You have to change the way you think about your intranet – what it should look like and what it does. Right now, you probably treat your intranet like a second-class citizen. Most organizations do. And that’s why most companies have useless, ugly, poorly thought out, cold, utilitarian, cluttered, confusing intranets. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

But your intranet is just as important as your public-facing site when it comes to impact on your business. And you would never treat your public website like a second-class citizen. Imagine if your public-facing site looked and acted like your intranet. Yikes.

Your intranet should look and behave like any other website.
That means it should be complete with a home page, a navigation bar, an intuitive content hierarchy, motivating visuals, etc. This may sound obvious, but if it were, we’d see a lot more intranets set up this way. And we definitely don’t. You’ll be breaking ground when your intranet site looks and acts like an actual professional website.

Give your intranet the same careful planning as you would a public site.
To make your intranet into a real website, you’ll have to give it the same thought and strategic effort as any public site or app – even more so because you’re almost certainly dealing with integrating complicated databases and company systems. And that means…

Interact with your freaking users.
You have no excuse to not talk with, observe, and test your intranet users – they’re right down the hall. You have access to all of them. Like any other digital product, the only way you’ll know what your users need from your intranet is to engage them.

Fail to include users in your intranet building process and you might as well keep your cluttered, outdated, hard-to-use clunker. Seriously, your new intranet will slowly become a new iteration of the same awful thing if it’s designed without input from the people who actually have to use it.

Use your intranet to solve your worst internal business problems.
You know that big internal pain that costs your business efficiency and takes up time that employees could be spending elsewhere? Set out to fix it with your intranet. Implement an advanced people search so employees can spend less time finding phone numbers and department contacts. Set up a robust document management system with a killer search to help employees find files faster.

People are online to do things. That’s not any different for the people using your intranet. But you can’t help them do those things better if you treat your intranet like garbage. You’ll just get garbage in return.

Once you’ve tamed the intranet chaos, keep it that way.
After all the time and energy rethinking and bettering your intranet with careful planning and user interaction, you don’t want your intranet to become a cluttered mess again in just a matter of months. But that’s what naturally happens to intranets if they’re not built and maintained according to careful governance guidelines.

Just as you would on your public site, make strict rules about what goes on the intranet and where it can go. Inform your decisions with what you’ve learned about top tasks and content from interacting with your users. Not everyone’s link can be on the home page. Not everyone’s department can be in the main navigation. No one gets their own intranet page just because they ask for one. Once you’ve established order, set yourself and your technology team up to protect it, actively and aggressively.

Second-Class No More

You can have an intranet that supports your company operations, makes your employees’ jobs easier and more efficient, and helps you achieve vital internal goals. Stop treating your intranet like an unorganized, ugly afterthought and it will stop being one.

When you elevate your intranet to the level of any other carefully planned, well thought out, user-centric site, it will become the tool with impressive ROI you always meant for it to be. You have the ability (and, dare we say it, the responsibility) to set that ball rolling in the right direction for your technology team. Help them see that the intranet is like any other site and should be treated as such. Then get talking to users. This is the way to start, with the right vision and direction.

*There’s more to say about the tactics behind building a useful intranet. If you’re ready for that next step, check out Nielsen Norman’s video, 10 Things Executives Should Know About Intranets.

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About truematter

Our team has been doing the real work of user experience since the earliest days of the commercial web. We’re out to make your digital products a whole lot better.

We’ve seen our fair share of garbage intranets. And we’ve seen them morph into powerful, game-changing business tools when given the proper amount of attention and respect.

Author: @baileysendsword
Illustration: @djosephmachado
Editor: @ExperienceDean