59 intranet tips from leading global intranet experts

After a fantastic evening of intranet awards (keep an eye out for Nigel Williams’ blog coming soon), delicious food and flowing wine, day 2 of Interaction Intranet Conference 2015 was full of promise, excited intraneters and one or two sets of bleary eyes. Luckily this lot liven them up…

Building a sense of community in an online world

Richard Millington, Feverbee Managing Director, opens up the conference with a tale of a client who created a community. He had the expensive platform and the big commercial push. He crafted messages with the CEO and offered a reward for contribution. Over the first three months the level of activity increased until 1,000 people were contributing and then… it plummeted as there were no more people to reach out to.

Richard explains there is too much focus on technology – some clients will happily spend 6 figure sums on a platform but then have an intern managing it. Forget about technology. Unless you develop a sense of community it won’t work. Cramming people into a space isn’t enough, you need to make them feel they are part of it. A sense of community means high levels of retention, productivity, knowledge sharing.

Richard then shares his 4 principles to make it a success (and I couldn’t leave one out):

  • Membership. People want to feel like insiders of a group where they share similar interests, so the community needs to understand the boundaries that separates insiders from outsiders. People want to join the most exclusive clubs they can so make it something they get to do, rather than something they have to do.
  • Influence. The only people who participate are those who feel they can influence. You need to highlight great contributions through news articles and blog posts. Create status-boosting opportunities, such as interviews with designated experts, and suddenly people find the time. Also use discussion threads by converting askers into the experts when someone else asks a similar question.
  • Emotional bonds. Create a narrative so that every new member understands the history of the group. Unique experiences create a bond, whether that’s events, projects or chess-boxing!! Push discussions to deeper levels so members feel there is only one place where you can discuss this topic. Let members brag where it’s socially acceptable.
  • Needs integration. Satisfy users’ social needs by pushing conversations above the fold, like HR.com. Ask new joiners questions straight away to increase the quality of knowledge. Make it look successful by removing discussions no one responds to and highlight most popular discussions and highlight it. People need to feel it’s going to be better tomorrow than it is today.

Digital workplace roadmap

The intranet concept has been around for over 20 years and there’s an identity crisis looming as the things that it used to do are getting squeezed out. Sam Marshall, Digital Workplace Specialist and Owner of ClearBox Consulting, encourages us to ask, ‘how do you create a digital workplace and what are the things fulfilled by an intranet?

We were then treated to clips from Jurassic Park and Disclosure; the virtual reality scene in the latter being likened to a user browsing round your intranet. And the point? Sam explains that we need to focus on the needs of people, and then fulfil those needs with the best technology. It’s with this thought that he introduces us to the Digital Workplace Manifesto. Here are his top three:

  • Work is no longer a place. Productivity goes up between 10-11% when working from home. A work space still needs to be created (not in the Caribbean on a deck chair), but you can decide where the best place to work each day is.
  • Manage the outcome not the process. If you just give people objectives and don’t worry about how they achieve it productivity up by 35%. Bosses feel out of control, and peers feel colleagues are not working. In reality they do more and share it so it becomes visible.
  • Digital workplace should be a pleasure to use. Consumer IT is much more ahead of the game than workplace IT, so we know how nice software and apps can be.

Engaging employees in a newly merged non-profit

Anna Pietrowski and Nick Wakefield of Breast Cancer Now took us on their journey to engage employees as a newly merged charity. Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Campaign used to be rivals, so it was a challenge for staff to suddenly work side-by-side. This is why it was vital to get the intranet right. Here are their top three lessons:

  • Putting staff at the heart of the charity. Right from the planning stages they put the users first. They got 30-40 colleagues involved in a room together with a strategist to work out what they did and didn’t want from an intranet. A team of content managers was created to keep areas up-to-date and engaging.
  • Encouraging users to update their profile. With a merger and a sea of new faces, the profile is so important. Breast Cancer Now encouraged users to take responsibility of their own picture and bio. They ran a competition to give people a nudge and in just three weeks profile completeness doubled.
  • Being adaptable. Three months on they’re learning that people love sharing news, so much so that people were missing things and the size widget had to be increased. The Timeline has also proved popular as colleagues love praising one another. There is a core group who are getting others on-board, by liking things within teams others want to get involved.

Developing a social intranet

Lia Crooks, Internal Communications Manager at CIPD, gave us a fascinating insight into how the organisation approached a culture shift towards thinking digitally. They put together teams of people and set each team an objective to be completed in 90 day sprints. Lia and her sprint team set out to work on their intranet; a static site that was transactional, limited in terms of social capabilities and full of forms not working correctly.

The new intranet had an array of social tools. Here are Lia’s top three tips:

  • Hashtags work really well in projects and to share work. It’s good for people to see that social tools are work-related as well as fun. Hashtags have also supported the HR team with onboarding people. They use #hellonewpeople and @mention from HR; it gets lots of likes and extends networks.
  • Encourage people to update their profile. The sprints had a digital day in which they took profile pictures on mobiles, emphasising the point that it doesn’t need to be a corporate photo, it can be changed by users whenever desired – it’s their profile.
  • Learn from your mistakes. When developing hashtags, it’s important to bear in mind user confidence. They launched #oops to encourage people to feel comfortable with making mistakes, which didn’t take off as people didn’t feel confident to share this information.

Panel debate

Sam Marshall, Richard Millington, Kelly Freeman and Steven Osborne took to the stage to answer those burning questions…

  • If you went back to your first intranet, what would you do differently?

Richard: understand the importance of getting the concept right, base it around the specific goals you are trying to achieve and invest in the idea before spending money, such as starting simple discussions to see if you can get ten people talking.

Steve: be more assertive with content and process owners. If you don’t change to be set up for end users you are going to end up in the same trouble, just on a different platform.

Kelly: re-assess the purpose. What is the point of this intranet? Have you got any objectives you want to achieve when switching it on?

  • When do you need to have a full time resource?

Kelly: There is no absolute, it all depends on the size of the organization, for example, a company like Unilver would require a dedicated resource, while a smaller company probably doesn’t. With a federated model of governance, managing the intranet can be part of everyone’s job description, so it doesn’t belong to one person or department.

Sam: At the beginning you could be looking after the intranet project full time, but on a temporary basis. It all depends on the governance structure, as if centralised there will be a bigger intranet team. It works out as one full-time intranet manager per 2,000 employees.

Richard: you need a full time manager to grow, not just when your intranet is up and running, however most people can’t do this so you have to work with what you’ve got. It’s probably something you have to make the time to do, so it’s about using the time you’ve got to initiate discussions or recruit new members. The minimum amount of time would be 2-3 hours a week.

  • What can you do about negativity from management?

Kelly: there is a perception that the software will solve all your problems. Management are not the experts, they don’t usually get involved in the thought process. It’s the role of the person in charge of the intranet to change the culture and help the SMT be a part of the journey.

Steve: like Starbucks, recruit success partners to be influencers and demonstrate the behaviours needed to get behind the intranet. It’s about removing the rocks for people to hide behind.

Sam: you don’t have to get leaders to contribute first as it can be risky. In one organisation the CEO congratulating people narrowed the possibilities, as that’s what everyone else did.

Data boundaries: enabling cohesive workspaces

Stephen Emmott, Head of Research at J. Boye investigates how employers fit within the digital lives of their employees. The workplace is no longer a superior experience. Home mobiles, computer bandwidths and cutting-edge online services all amount to an exceptional customer experience that the workplace doesn’t provide.

Approximately a third of professionals are carrying around two devices, so essentially have two personalities. Governance is the big challenge; how do you deal with a trend towards mobiles if there’s no agreement? Policy is a key instrument in governance, it’s about shaping the path you can follow so your employees can make decisions and carry out actions.

The results were so interesting I broke the top three rule and put them in an infographic:

59 intranet tips from leading global intranet experts_Stephen Emmott infographic

30 lessons from 12 leading homepages

Elizabeth Marsh, Director of Research at Digital Workplace Group takes us on a whistle-stop tour from 12 big brand homepages, including Adidas, Coca-cola and Ikea. The key trends include modern design, that’s boxy and clean, includes news carousels, social streams, personalization, app-like design, balancing news, search scoping, user research/personas and consideration of how the intranet can help to evolve the culture.

Here is an overview of the top three:

  • Adidas Group: 50,000 employees. It’s a young demographic with an average age of 30. It’s important for their intranet to deliver a consumer-like experience. The homepage is shockingly simple, with carousels, social feed and app iconography (for key tools) so people feel familiar with it and to project collaboration.
  • Adobe: 125,000 employees. It’s a branded and beautiful experience. People want continuity of experience – it’s about user experience and engagement. There is a mix of news and social tools, however it is slightly overwhelming. Personalisation is based on profiles. When a user visits in the morning they are asked what they are working on that day, which then appears in the activity stream, bringing through a sense of what’s important.
  • American Express: 80,000 employees. This site’s main objective is mobile responsivity. There’s lots of visuals, infographics and catchy headlines. It’s clean, modern and relaxing (with pleasant colours). The app icons are familiar and easy. The users demanded a world clock, which they can personalise according to the colleagues they work with across the globe.

Sport England: replicating social interaction in an online environment

Inside Track is Sport England’s intranet. It’s the primary comms channel for employees, but it took a lot of work to get there and bring people on the journey. Matt Phillipson, Internal Communications Manager at Sport England explains how they introduced social tools to engage employees.

Here are Matt’s top three tips:

  • Social doesn’t just happen. You have to be patient, tenacious and persistent. Some colleagues, leadership team particularly, may have a hard time understanding the value, so you have to work hard to reach people.
  • Understand kinks and quirks. You have to be flexible. Use tools and resources the best way you can to benefit you, whether that’s gamification or competitions. Engage with people and enhance certain behaviours.
  • Let it go. Let your site grow organically, as if you lock it down you’re not giving people a chance. When you give people permission to contribute they are aware they are accountable and commenting in a transparent way, so you shouldn’t have to remove any content.

How do you encourage and maintain user engagement – the $64,000 question (but without that budget!)

Michelle Baillie, Senior Communications and Marketing Officer at The Children’s Trust gave a moving presentation showing how they connect their 600-strong workforce and 600+ volunteers, all with different motivations, on one platform. Here are Michelle’s top three tips:

  • Connectivity is key. As part of one little boy’s therapy program he wrote a blog on The Loop about his trip to Mercedes Benz World. It was included on the weekly bulletin encouraging people to like or comment and this boy has been inundated with offers from people inviting to take him back to Mercedes. This has now become the most popular piece of content on the intranet.
  • No one size fits all. You can be creative with no budget. The Loop looks like it’s had money spent on it, so people are surprised when they discover it didn’t cost them anything. Find ways to engage staff, such as promoting social events like a bake off and encouraging blogging.
  • Low cost, high impact. An intranet is about parenting. The Loop is now in the toddling phase where it’s easy to lose people on the journey so they have monthly induction sessions, training for new starters on their first day and Michelle goes to people to find out what they want.

Happy people work harder

In this enigmatic talk Wendy Jordan shared Wheatley Group’s tips for engaging employees to ensure that they feel motivated to give their very best when in the office. Here are Wendy’s top three tips to help:

  • Your people matter. Treat employees as internal customers, listen to them and give them support when they need it.
  • “A job isn’t just a job it is who you are.” Employees do care about more than just their salary and holidays so share customer feedback as it provides a sense of pride within the team.
  • Get personal. Give your intranet a personality, make your content human and relatable to your audience.

Engaging a geographically diverse workforce

As Head of Employee Engagement and Benefits for Arriva UK, Malcolm Cotterell shares his experiences of uniting a uniquely distributed workforce with limited technology access. Here are Malcolm’s three key points to help:

  • Trust is a two way street. It’s really important to build trust within your organisation, if you want people to participate you must ensure you provide feedback for suggestions and next steps.
  • Give everyone a voice. Not everyone will use or have access to the same tools, make sure you cater for everyone so they all have equal opportunity to join the conversation.
  • “Talk a good talk but make sure you walk a good walk.” Lead from the top, if you want your employees to use the tools make sure your senior management team are using them too.

We need a new intranet!

As the Global Intranet Manager for Hogan Lovells LLP, Jon Olson took us on a journey of their intranet project so far and some of the challenges they have faced. Jon shares his three key learnings to date:

  • Don’t stop planning. Think about what’s coming next, don’t stay ‘business as usual’ for too long as your business is constantly changing and you need to stay ahead of the curve.
  • Don’t be afraid to break up your intranet project. Make it easy to focus on specific areas by breaking up your project allowing you to focus on key objectives and deliverables.
  • Don’t take stats at face value. Look a little bit further and you will uncover the true story. Stats at Hogan Lovells showed only 20% of lawyers were accessing the intranet, however the majority of their secretary’s were accessing the site everyday to get the information the lawyers needed.

Intranets in Retail

As Head of Internal and Customer Communications for the UK’s biggest chain bookseller, Waterstones, Suzie Robinson shares some of the internal communication challenges faced in a retail environment and what they are doing to address these. Here are three tips from Suzie to help overcome internal communications challenges in a retail environment:

  • Make sure key content is never missed. Waterstones send out a weekly bulletin that rounds up all of the latest news from that week on their intranet to make it easy for employees to stay on top of what’s going on.
  • Minimise impact of major issues. Waterstones use a News Flash on their intranet homepage to communicate any major issues such as internal IT problems. This not only provides information to those affected but it also minimises the number of calls IT receive about the issue.
  • Tone of voice. To ensure blogs and comms are read on their intranet Waterstones have developed a friendly and engaging tone of voice that speaks to users as human beings.

Six guaranteed ways to make your intranet magnetic (number three will shock you!)

Intranet Consultants, Matt McCourty and Haydn Smith discuss how we can use techniques from the web in business environments. For this one, I’m only going to give you the top two (only kidding).

  • Know your audience. Understand your demographics: consider remote working, age, gender and location. Remember the stuff you want people to read isn’t necessarily what they want to read so you need to make the content interesting.
  • Establish your objectives. Make it clear to people if they want to, click and read more or move on if it isn’t relevant. Use this formula: bite > snack > meal.
  • Master the headline formula. Formula: Number or trigger word + Adjective + Promise. For example, before: How to bathe an elephant, after: 18 unbelievable ways you can bathe an elephant, business example: five Monday morning tasks for a successful week.

Fall in love with your intranet all over again

Your intranet should delight and Nigel Williams, Community Manager, steps up to talk us through the emotions it takes you through. Here are his top three:

  • Joy. Make it quicker and simpler to access information, so your site becomes more effective and gives you a sense of success and feeling of joy.
  • Fear. Help technophobes by showing people how it works from scratch with training sessions and videos. People have a fear of breaking the intranet, so you need to build trust.
  • Sadness. If content gets no response, no one likes or shares and there is a lack of followers, engagement is going suffer.

Moving Beyond Engagement: A consumer focused workplace

Steven Osborne, Interact Lead Strategist, says we need to treat users as if they were customers who have a “choice” and a “voice”. Here are his top three tips:

  • Alright is not enough. Your site needs to delight, as ‘alright’ will not capture someone and keep them engaged.
  • Use segmentation on your intranet. Who are the users? Do they fall into different categories or groups? Can they see different homepages?
  • Don’t make assumptions or ask line managers what people do on the intranet. Speak directly to your users.

And so that was a wrap for Interaction 2015, but not without a few final presentations, and beverages of course.

59 intranet tips from leading global intranet experts_Charity sponsor cheque

Simon Dance was delighted to present Interaction’s charity sponsor, The Children’s Trust, with a cheque for GBP1,245 – GBP5 from every ticket sold.

59 intranet tips from leading global intranet experts_The Loop homepage winner

The winner of the homepage competition, decided by delegates across the two days, was The Children’s Trust, with their homepage The Loop. Michelle collected the prize which was a delicious chocolate hamper.

59 intranet tips from leading global intranet experts_Simonne apple watch winner

There was a competition running throughout the event where delegates entered their details to win a nifty Apple Watch. The lucky winner was Simonne Alliott from Mizuho Bank