Designing an intranet that staff will use - some mistakes to avoid

Designing an intranet that staff will use

Intranets are tricky things.

Ask around and many people are more likely to be disparaging about their company or organisational intranet than complimentary. Typical complaints range from not being able to find things, content being out of date and the site being full of 'management propaganda'.

While some people do tend to look for negatives and overlook the positives, some of their discontent can be justified. These are some of the things we have discovered over our years in the industry.

A key problem people come across when planning and designing intranets is that everyone is an expert and everyone knows what they think they want. This can lead to some muddled thinking and an intranet that is stuffed full of content but not very easy to navigate or to search.

A common mistake is to build the site around what the content publisher thinks works, rather than thinking through how information is accessed and used.

Intranets can go wrong when they are planned around organisational structures, rather than around tasks that people need to do.

Staff, especially in big organisations, don’t always know what department specific information come under they just know they want something. They need to be able to search for the particular piece of information they want, without having to first find the category it comes under and who is responsible for it.

Another mistake is to assume that staff want to browse around and read about the organisation on the intranet; by and large they don't - unless you have a mature intranet that is also working as a social or learning intranet. Staff can go to the website for news, organisational history and so on.

Typically they go to the intranet because they want an expenses form, or a policy document, to find a phone number, to print off up-to-date service information for a client, or to complete some other task.

Essentially they want information to help them do their job.

So when planning your intranet, the first and foremost thing to establish is what staff go to the intranet for and how they set about finding that information. The secret to a successful intranet design is to establish how staff work, what they do when they visit the intranet and to build a design that makes this quick and easy for them.