Intranets and Kevin Costner

Have you ever seen the film Field of Dreams? If so, chances are ‘Build it and they shall come’* has just popped into your head (sorry about that). Sometimes, this very same thought pops into the minds of teams building a company intranet too.

However, you can’t just build a portal and expect staff to use it instantly and willingly each and every day.

A ‘top down’ approach may be great at ensuring all the right corporate information is available for staff to access. However, it doesn’t mean they’ll use it regularly. You could end up with an under-used platform which hangs around the ether like an empty baseball pitch in a corn field, for example.

So how do you plan and create an intranet that people will be more likely to use?

The first thing to remember is that staff are people – not robots. All of us want quick and simple solutions to help make our lives run that little bit smoother. Whether it’s booking a holiday, doing the weekly shop or arranging a catch up with friends, the sites we visit and the social platforms we use, live and die by how user-friendly they are. If the all-round user experience is good, we’ll be more likely to continue using them.

The same applies to intranets.

It may well contain all the latest corporate news, documents, contact lists, links to timesheets and company social feeds but if it’s difficult to navigate around and find the info in the first place, users will find other ways to get the information (sometimes the wrong information) and that’s the battle lost.

Similarly, if the design looks cold, clunky and nothing like the kinds of sites your staff visit socially, they’ll be even less likely to use it.

Oh, and if the content is dry and uninspiring, that won’t help either. No matter how many coloured bars and fonts you’ve used on that company project timeline

Here are a few tips to avoid the pitfalls

“A goal without a plan, is simply a wish” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

The first step is of course to plan, even if the pressure is on to deliver the site yesterday. What are the corporate objectives and what role will your intranet play in helping to deliver against these? Is it to boost collaboration? Raise awareness of company plans and news? To provide a global hub to improve efficiencies across far-flung depts and teams? Once the objectives are clear, ensure user metrics are in place to help measure progress against these targets.

Involve staff

It’s important to involve staff in the planning process and allow a little time for user testing of wireframe. Staff are pivotal to this. Albeit tempting to deliver a ‘top-down’ vision of what you (and the boss) think the intranet should look like and contain, it’s worth remembering that staff are the end-users and its success (and yours!) will be down to them. How do they navigate the site and what type of content would they like to see? What would they find useful? What would help them to engage more with the business and support them in their day-to-day role?

Internal communications

Don’t work in a vacuum. Let staff know of your plans and that users/staff are fully involved in the planning. Plan launch activity and identify ‘champions’ within departments/locations who can be trained and act as the point of contact for queries.

It’s all in the presentation

Don’t let functionality alone drive the look and feel of the site. If you want the site to be positioned at the heart of the business it needs to look great, on brand and on par with the kinds of sites staff visit socially. Think carefully about the personality you’d like the site to adopt and where it sits in terms of tone of voice based on the company’s culture. Does the intranet have a name to give it an identity staff can relate too? Perhaps run a naming competition raise awareness and boost interest?

Engagement – Content is king

Everybody loves a company policy process document, especially if it’s 40 pages long and in 8 point text with no pictures. However, if it’s that important and requires staff to download and memorise it, is there a way to bring it to life a little better? Would an animated video help people relate to the content more and more importantly, absorb it?

Collaboration – Keeping it simple

Intranets are at their core, a staff hub – a meeting point where staff and suppliers from across different departments and locations come together to access and share ideas. However, a common barrier to collaboration is often the simple fact that John in New Business doesn’t have a clue what Sue in Accounts looks like or that Amy in the Brisbane office might be able to help him on a creds deck for a mutual client. Which incidentally, is a key client account he didn’t even know she worked on in the first place.

Enterprise Social networks such as Yammer and Chatter have an obvious role to play here. However, the simple step of raising the visibility of staff via enhanced profiles (client portfolio, work skills, interests and bios) and search can help break down silos and make a global spread of offices seem that little bit closer to home and more accessible.


Ohh, accessibility. That’s another key point to reinforcing engagement and boosting take up. By introducing simple elements of gamification such as profile completion progress bars/wheels will help encourage staff to keep their details up to date. These could be extended to include leader boards for staff article contributors or highlighting Yammer contributors/followers to help encourage. It’s simply a case of reframing the tasks in a way that staff can’t help but want to take part and engage with.

Like all things, it’s about striking that happy work/life balance. Namely, building a platform that delivers against your company objectives, builds collaboration and improves efficiencies while presenting it in a way that chimes with the user and reflects the broader corporate culture.

Only this way will you have a platform which delivers all the information and tools staff need to complete their tasks efficiently and MORE IMPORTANTLY a hub that staff want to use.


*I know that in the film it actually says ‘Build it and he will come’ but I wanted to make a point!