4 min read

Why do employees who are hyperactive on Facebook become introverts on their company’s internal social networks? Is the lack of usage purely a ‘cultural’ thing? Why are some company intranets and internal collaboration sites more successful than others in engaging employees? What role does the technology platform play, especially when the end-user is not even aware of the choice? Does a management diktat help ensure increased adoption?

If you are an organization that finds itself troubled by these questions, here are some suggestions on what makes an intranet portal truly collaborative. These are applicable to intranets across various stages of digital maturity i.e. from being just an information publishing site to a document or content repository, to a consolidated platform for completing tasks, to a truly collaborative idea generation engine.

1. Make user adoption the focus

You may have built the best-looking intranet site using best of the breed platforms, but that doesn’t guarantee user adoption. Here are some practical suggestions you may find useful:

  • Avoid the ‘big daddy’ mandate-driven approach. Make intranet usage optional to start with, with gradual incentives towards migration. For example, send teaser emails on company-wide announcements, asking users to visit the intranet for more details. Start putting notices about company events on the intranet and use other media (such as email and notice boards) to remind users to go to the intranet to view details. Essentially, gently nudge your employees towards the intranet portal daily.
  • Try making the portal an essential resource tool for the employees. Get your staff into a habit of accessing the link daily. Perhaps your daily attendance could be through the portal.
  • Include a fun element. Run a contest for users with maximum followers, those with most cross-department comments, or those with most cross-geography ‘likes’ on an idea. Contests, polls, and quizzes, anything that persuades the user to share their responses or points of view, rather than just view the content passively. Another idea is ‘gamification’ of the user experience, where users could compete against others in a simulated environment. I have seen this increase user adoption dramatically.
  • Intersperse text with infographics, videos, pictures, charts and slide shows. For example, uploading a video or another digital asset might attract higher reward points, as compared to a simple text update.
  • Keep in mind cultural, language and time zone sensibilities to ensure adequate participation in a multi-country environment.
  • Try and provide personalized content to the user, rather than making the portal a dumping zone. As examples, ‘Recommended news’, ‘Your tasks’, ‘Suggested groups’ and ‘HR policies in focus this week’ may help.
  • Tag people frequently.

2. Make it mobile first, and good looking

Designing apps and portals specifically for the mobile users is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’. To ensure adoption, especially by remote workers and on-the-field sales force, seamless access the intranet without major functionality handicaps is key.

A recent Google survey said that mobile users are five times more likely to abandon the task they are trying to complete if the site isn't optimized for mobile use. A slick, intuitive, and responsive UX design is imperative. Additionally, for apps and portals in which user engagement is paramount, I recommend going for a well-made native mobile app.

3. Establish a good moderation framework

Establish an effective intranet steering group to manage the structure and rules of engagement, to direct good usage and developments, to discourage bad habits (for example, posting in wrong groups, comments with a sexist undertone and excessive people tagging), to do conflict resolution and auditing, and to handle change management needs. Recruit a team for the ongoing creation of content.

More importantly, listen to your employees’ voice on the intranet.

4. Make your intranet efficient

Ensure minimal overheads for the end user. Identify the top tasks which employees perform repeatedly involving multiple systems, and which out of those are easy to accomplish on the intranet. Push your IT vendor to integrate it with other LOB, HR and admin systems, so that employees don’t have to duplicate their efforts.

Get a process re-design expert to streamline your employee facing processes, and explore the possibility of putting those on the intranet portal.

5. Quick, iterative development

The portal may be designed keeping in mind the utopian state (and ask your business to make a future proof wish list), however keep the implementation process agile. You could plot requirements on a chart of business criticality vs. technical ease of implementation, and decide on the sprint-wise product backlog efficiently.

Maybe, it is as simple as implementing out-of-the-box features to start with, just to get things moving. Agree with your vendor on the key success parameters beforehand, and if possible, include the KPIs in the vendor payment milestones. Those parameters could include indicators on user adoption, user abandonment rate, the number of bugs, % downtime, etc.

6. Make sure you select the right intranet software

There are scores of COTS business intranet products to choose from. You could go with the established names recognized by analyst firms such as Gartner or Forrester or you could choose among open source and licensed products, and you could choose among technologies – Java based, .Net based or PHP based. My suggestion – choose a platform agnostic vendor first, one who could help you choose the right platform based on your needs. Not a vendor bound to a particular product, who cannot possibly do an impartial evaluation.

In the end, remember that the outcomes matter more than the platform. So whatever product you choose, the key is the quality of implementation and user adoption.