Podcast: How to create an effective intranet

Do you know how to create an effective intranet?

What questions should you ask when putting a business case together?

What does it mean to have an effective intranet?

What does good look like?

Today we are diving into all things intranet related via my Candid Comms podcast. Grab a notebook for this one!

You’ll leave with one thing to know, one thing to do and one thing to think about.

Candid Comms how to create an effective intranet


About Candid Comms

The Candid Comms podcast launched in January 2021. It is a weekly show designed to connect internal communication professionals to the advice and guidance, to help you thrive in your role.

You can find the Candid Comms podcast on your favourite player including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean.

Do let me know what you think of this episode and don’t forget to rate, review and follow, so other Comms pros can benefit too.

Resources mentioned in this week’s episode

Transcript of this week’s episode

You’re listening to the Candid Comms podcast with Rachel Miller. Tune in for practical advice and inspirational ideas to help you focus on all things Internal Communication related.

Hello, and welcome to the show. On today’s episode, we are focusing on How to Create an Effective Intranet and as ever, you will leave with one thing to know, one thing to do and one thing to think about. Let’s dive in. Intranets, or internal websites, inside an organisation can be amazing. However, they can also be the total opposite. They can be an absolute pain to update, they’re not used, they’re the place where PDFs go to die, and there’s a really awful experience happening inside organisations. So we don’t want that to be the case for you.

So the purpose of this episode is I’m going to share some advice and guidance with you from my experience working in Internal Communication and what I see and observe when it comes to intranets.

So, one thing I want you to know is why your intranet exists, or if you are putting a business case together now to have an intranet, why? What is the purpose of that website?

Is it a single source of truth for your organisation where your people are scrambling around wasting so much time searching for the final versions of documents or the final policies in which to decide who has to take their annual leave, or they’re trying to find out what the latest share price is, or the latest customer pricing structure is for selling your products and services?

They’re spending a lot of time searching for information to help them do their job. Or maybe they’re trying to find each other. Maybe you are a smaller organisation that is scaling up and scaling fast and your people don’t know who each other are anymore and they don’t know where to go to get credible, accurate, reliable information to help them do their job. That’s the purpose of an intranet and more often than not, I find it’s creating a source of truth for the organisation. This is who we are, this is how we work, these are our people, these are our products etc.

So you need to know that for your organisation.

Why does your intranet exist, what’s the purpose?

Or if you’re trying to plan one for the future, why? What’s the point? Also think about the business problems that you are hoping that that website will solve or go some way to solving. And if you are planning out your channels, and if you listen to episode eight in season one of the Candid Comms podcast, it will help you know how to plan out Internal Communication channels and in particular how to use a channels matrix. One of the columns of my channels matrix is purpose. You need to be able to articulate why does every individual channel or mechanism of communication exist?

Intranets in particular have the potential to be a huge investment in terms of time, in terms of money, in terms of resources. So if you’re putting all of that effort and energy in, it’s important that it not only works well individually as a standalone channel, but it also works well cohesively with the rest of your channels. So what I want you to know and I want you to be able to write down is the purpose of your intranet. And then that’s how you talk about it when you have an induction, for example. When new people join the organisation, how do you introduce them to the intranet? What do you say it’s for? This is where the purpose comes in. So it’s pretty short and sweet really.

But so many times, Comms friends, that is missing and I find particularly if I’m auditing an organisation or my team are auditing an organisation, and maybe we are doing a channels review or a desk review, as we call it, where from our desks, we review an organisation’s channel. So we perhaps have access to the intranet or the comms team will screen share and show us around their intranet. And one of the questions that we normally ask is why does it exist? What’s the purpose? What’s the point of you having an intranet? Because we’re curious about that answer. We want to understand how well does it fit in with the other methods and mechanisms of internal communication inside the organisation?

Something I want you to do is to do your research. So if you are curious about intranets, you want to know what other people are doing, there are so many examples online where people are sharing screen grabs on Pinterest, for example, where there are so many intranet vendor companies out there who are trying to encourage you to sign up to their intranets, where lots of those sorts of websites have different screen grabs of intranet so you can see behind the scenes of what people are doing.

All Things IC notebooks

Now we are very fortunate here at All Things IC because my husband, Jon, is an independent Office 365 entrepreneur. He runs his own business and is a consultant and therefore he creates beautiful intranets. He’s created one for us here at All Things IC, which we launched internally in 2022, a source of huge joy for me to have my very own intranet after working with so many other peoples’ for many, many years.

So I get to talk about intranets all the time at home, where Jon will always give me advice and guidance when we’re looking at our clients intranets, and he very often creates beautiful intranets for clients, too, where you need a really good relationship with IT. So part of you doing your research in-house is having that good relationship with your IT department. You need to know whether they’re on the Google Suite or whether they’re 365 and SharePoint, whatever they’re interested in and whatever their agreements are internally, you need to know that because that impacts the tools you have at your disposal as an internal communicator.

So part of your doing your research is what are other people doing externally? What are other organisations doing?

Maybe looking at award entries, who’s winning intranet awards, for example? Can you get in touch with them, have a conversation? I’ve got blog posts on allthingsIC.com/blog, where organisations have shown their intranet and talked about it, from what to call an intranet, how to name it, should you name it, what other things you should think about, to sharing what their intranet looks like and the processes that they’ve went through to get the site ready for launch. So there’s all sorts of resources there. I’ll include some in the show notes for this episode.

Further reading via the All Things IC blog on intranets

So that research is twofold, it’s not only looking at what are other people doing externally and having a sense of what good looks like for other organisations, but having a really good quality conversation with your IT colleagues to understand what are their plans? Are you following the Microsoft roadmap? Are they going to be suddenly launching new things and launching new products and services that are tied into Office 365, for example? So you suddenly have a lot more things at your disposal to work with. To create an effective intranet, and I’m using the word intranet. Over the years, we have used all sorts of words in the wonderful word of Internal Comms, some people talk about a digital workplace or talk about digital employee experience to describe their portal.

When I think about an intranet, I often describe it as a window into your culture. So when I’m looking at an intranet, there’s various criteria in mind for me, but I should be able to see this window into the way you do things around here. I should get a sense of who your people are, what’s important to the organisation, seeing stories from your colleagues where you’ve got an opportunity for them to share their views, their voices, their perspectives about the work that you are doing. Now, if you have an intranet in place, be really honest with me, is it a window into your culture or is it the place where PDFs go to die, where it’s really clunky and it’s really outdated?

Be really honest with yourself and think about if you already what the purpose is, is it working hard enough for you as a channel or does it deserve some investment? Does it need to be refreshed and revised? And what could that look like? Are you using the latest versions of things? Could you let go of some control for example. I wonder how that feels when I said that. I often recommend that inside organisations where if you, as a comms team, are holding on really tightly to the content of an intranet, actually it’s not just a window into your culture, it might be a filtered view through the lens of communication. I find a really good way to think about digital workplaces or intranets, and particularly if you’re using an enterprise social network, so there might be something like Yama, or maybe you’ve got slack feeds going on, I describe all of that as a conversation owned by the organisation.

So an intranet is not a comms thing, it’s not an IT thing, it’s a business thing because it is a window into your culture. It should be a really vibrant place where people go as a source of truth to network, to interact, get the information they need to then carry on with their day jobs. We are going to take a short break and when we come back, I’m going to share something for you to think about. See you in a moment.

Learn about internal communication with All Things IC Online Masterclasses

Welcome back. In the final part of today’s episode, I’m going to share something for you to think about and what I want you to think about when you are trying to create an effective intranet is I want you to think about involving your colleagues, involving your employees. Let me tell you what I mean.

Very often I observe inside organisations, there’s decisions and discussions that happen between the IT team and the comms team and they don’t often branch out and listen to other people. You need to do that branching out. You need to listen to your end users, as our IT colleagues would describe them or our people as we would describe them as internal communicators, because you need to know whether your intranet is fit for purpose. I very intentionally called this episode How to Create an Effective Internet because the word effective is subjective for each organisation.

So what effective looks like in one organisation will vary to what another one looks like and the nuance there, the differences there, is caused by the type of organisation you are and particularly the type of employees that you have. So if you have frontline workers, for example, so maybe these are people who are not in front of computers all the time, maybe they are driving trains or buses, or they are serving customers in store, then they’re experience and their business requirements for your intranet could be very different to somebody who is sitting working from home or working in a hybrid manner or in your office and they have access to a computer constantly.

So think about that for your own organisation. When you are planning an effective intranet, defining what good looks like is really, really important. So being clear where you might have personas, for example, so you might create personas for your frontline workers, where you’re able to say, “Typically these sorts of people doing these sorts of jobs, have this sort of access to our intranet,” for example. And what I would expect to see here is mobile first.

So you need to be clear in terms of how are our people accessing the intranet? If it’s on their mobiles, how does it show up? Is it a responsive design? Does it render really well on mobiles or is the experience better if they’re on a PC or a laptop, better on a desktop environment? You need to know that because if we are just focusing on desktop, but 80% of our colleagues access our intranet on their mobile, for example, then maybe there’s a requirement there to invest some time, money and effort in the responsiveness of the website in the mobile design. So how it shows up on their devices in their hands is really important because it impacts the experience that they have.

So if the experience isn’t great, whether pictures don’t really work very well and the text is too long, then their experience is not going to be good, therefore your intranet is not viewed as effective. So if you are then asking them, say in an employee survey, about your channels and you’re asking them about the intranet, they’re probably not going to score it very highly. So I like to start as I mean to go on by listening. I like to listen inside an organisation. I like to see it when the IT team and the comms team work with employees to have a sense of, “What’s the business problems that we need this site to solve and what does good look like for all of our different colleagues?”

I did a project a number of years ago, alongside John, where we worked with an organisation who has never had an intranet before, they weren’t digital at all and they have… the majority were frontline employees. So when I did focus groups with them and I was listening to their colleagues, in fact, it was London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo here in the UK, so the organisation is the Zoological Society of London, ZSL, and it’s very, very separated out between the two zoos and then you have the Zoological Society. If I’d had gone in, bearing in mind, they weren’t digital at that point in time, and if I’d had gone into those focus groups and said, “What would you like on the homepage of the intranet?” I would’ve lost them because many people had long service inside the organisation, and therefore they’d never seen an intranet anywhere else.

So the questions I was asking were, “What are the business problems that you have that we would like to try and solve through this new development?” And the questions that people had and the issues they had were all solvable. It was things like, “We don’t know what time the zoos open,” because it changes from various times of year due to daylight hours. So they were looking for source of truth. They were looking for credible, accurate, reliable information to help them do their jobs. And therefore, in my mind, as they were answering these questions from me, I was thinking, “Well, that’s your news. Well, that’s your fast facts. That’s your…” I could see, in my mind’s eye, the different parts of the intranet that would need to be in place to solve the business problems.

Measurement Masterclass with Dan Holden

Another example is people were saying to me, “We don’t know who each other are. We don’t know how to get hold of each other across the different zoos. We don’t know the numbers for people, we don’t know exactly their jobs, we don’t quite know what they look like as well, if we turn up to the other sites, we don’t really know who we are looking for.” And I was thinking, “Well, there’s your people directory, we need to make sure there have photos in place,” et cetera. So that’s something I want you to think about is I believe the key to creating a successful intranet is making sure that you are listening to and having the right conversations with your colleagues, that you have a really good quality discussion schedule in place where you are talking with your IT colleagues, you’re communicating with your frontline workers, you’re helping your people managers understand what exists on the intranet. And don’t just assume that everybody knows it.

So when you’re having people join an organisation, for example, how are you introducing the intranet to them? How are you describing it? What’s the purpose? What’s the point? Why does this site exist? That’s really important. So having that consistent approach is super important for us as internal communicators, where anytime you talk about the intranet, you have a very clear sense of this is why this site exists, this is what good looks like. And it may be that involving your colleagues extends out to having comms champions or intranet champions, doesn’t really matter. It will vary inside organisations, doesn’t matter what you call them or how often you listen to colleagues, the most important thing is that you do.

If you’ve never done that, if you’re sitting here thinking, or if you’re out for a walk or walking the dog or in the supermarket as I know that Candid Comms listeners like to do while you are listening into this episode, if you are listening to this thinking, “Well, Rachel, I’ve got an intranet and I don’t think it’s great. I’m not really sure what to do. I don’t know if we’ve got any budget. I don’t know if we’ve got any time.” I hear you. You’re not alone.

There are many internal communicators who feel frustrated by their intranets because they think it could be so much more, but they’re not sure where to start. A great place to start, from my experience, nail the purpose. Be really, really clear. Do your research in terms of what are other people doing, what options are available out there?

But most importantly, create those good strong networks internally, continue to listen to your IT colleagues and your HR colleagues and your people to help make informed decisions. That is what a great effective intranet looks like for me. It’s one that is informed by the business, it’s creating solutions to the problems that the organisation has, it’s a window into the world in terms of the culture and it’s fit for purpose, which is a really overused phrase, but fit for purpose from my perspective means it works and it works well. It renders beautifully on a mobile, it’s kept up to date, and it’s interesting. It’s a place where people want to go to celebrate success, to find out what’s going on, and to have real consistency in terms of answers to problems that they have.

I hope you found this episode useful. I love hearing from you. Do let me know what you’re going to do differently as a result of listening to this episode of the Candid Comms podcast. You can find me on Twitter @AllThingsIC, look me up on Instagram, @RachelallthingsIC, you can find me on LinkedIn as Rachel Miller, or get in touch via the website allthingsIC.com/contact. And remember, what happens inside is reflected outside. See you again soon.

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 15 October 2022.

Content cannot be reproduced without explicit written permission.


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