Intranets outside the box: 4 examples of award-winning intranet innovations

With an ever-changing digital landscape, there is an enormous responsibility for businesses to stay up-to-date and relevant.

This is not least in intranet management which has seen features and functionality change dramatically over the years.

Companies need to think how best they can benefit from these capabilities, and think creatively to see how these features can overcome their organization’s unique challenges.

With this in mind, we showcase four businesses that have displayed creativity, lateral thinking, and innovation to improve and enhance their organization. Their innovative approaches to their intranets have been recognized at the Interact Intranet Excellence Awards and the Ragan Employee Communications Awards.

New York Racing Association, Inside NYRA

Trying to galvanize a 1500-strong workforce after several years of press pillorying and financial woes would challenge most companies. But New York Racing Association (NYRA), a 150-year-old thoroughbred racing organization, had a good idea about where their problems lay and the solutions to fix them.

In order to regain their identity, the Association decided that reconnecting employees and establishing a unified community was one of their biggest priorities.

Previously, staff were dispersed in offices across New York state and only a small percentage were receiving messages from the CEO. Inter-departmental collaboration was non-existent and there was a general feeling of disconnection and disengagement amongst peers.

The NYRA team wanted their intranet to represent a line in the sand that separated a fairly gloomy recent past with an exciting, successful future. Their main point of focus was their employees and staff were part of the process from the very beginning.

Involving workers to contribute intranet content ideas about what features would improve their jobs, enabled them to gain a valuable insight into how the intranet should function.

This created a basic structure with which the NYRA team worked closely with Interact to build. Categories including the racing calendar, important documents, and employee handbook were all laid out in an easily navigable interface.

But instilling a pride in the company’s legacy and an intimate knowledge of the infrastructure of the Association was also vital to rousing staff, and so a racing glossary, maps of each track and a short history of the NYRA was implemented into the system, named Inside NYRA, so users could have an intimate knowledge of where they worked at their fingertips.

New York Racing Association intranet homepage

But the features didn’t stop there. Inside NYRA won the Judge’s Award for Innovation through a number of unique features which included:

  • Knowledge hubs allowing staff to be more effective in their jobs and learn more about the sport.
  • The ability to shine the spotlight on employees who displayed outstanding or role model behavior. This also helped feature staff who weren’t often acknowledged.
  • A ‘water cooler’ feature which showcases employee milestones. From finishing a training program to celebrating a work anniversary, this helps to highlight the community that makes up the NYRA.
  • An archive area which celebrates NYRA’s proud history. When a race takes place, employees upload photos of their typical working day to share with others.

After shrugging off the torpor of recent years, the organization used their intranet to inform and align their workforce by keeping them abreast of exciting company news whilst observing their long and rich history.

For frontline staff who were previously disconnected, there are now monitors that have access to the intranet in communal areas. This has created a much more collaborative culture, nurtured a sense of pride whilst increasing employees’ knowledge base.

Our intranet has become the glue that brings us together – helping to familiarize people not familiar with horse racing to our world, and at the same time, creating a more unified atmosphere for the ‘race trackers’ – those employees who have spent their entire careers on the track.

Harshal Kadakia – Director of Technology Strategy, NYRA

MidPen Housing, LightHouse

MidPen Housing is one of the leading non-profit developers, owners, and managers of high-quality, affordable housing in the US. Established in 1970, their 440-person workforce has developed more than 8000 housing units in over 11 counties in California.

Their intranet was a classic example of meaning well but failing to accomplish any of its objectives. Their internal recognition program ICARE was put in place to promote its five core values – Integrity, Collaboration, Accountability, Respect, and Excellence. However, due to a number of reasons, it wasn’t being used and therefore failing to achieve its desired result.

The company was also struggling to engage employees with using SharePoint as their communication tool, and so a radical revision to find a solution to communicate with dispersed employees that is user-friendly, inclusive, timely and transparent was needed.

MidPen was after an intranet that would integrate with its existing Sharepoint DMS and turned to Interact to come up with a solution. LightHouse was a product of this collaboration, an internal communications system that would be a beacon for each individual employee in the company.

The reward and recognition functionality was the perfect replacement for their deficient employee award program.

MidPen Housing intranet Lighthouse homepage

Understanding that the highlight of a MidPen employee’s job was handing over the keys of a new home to a family, the reward system within LightHouse revolves around ‘ICARE keys’. Each employee receives 20 keys each month to award their peers with. They have complete autonomy over how many are given why they are given and to whom.

A note of acknowledgment is displayed on the intranet recognizing the recipient, which are hashtagged with whatever company value the person in question has displayed. These ‘keys’ are then redeemed for gift cards. Based on the number of virtual keys received, MidPen also introduced collectible keys and tags to commemorate the employee’s achievements.

MidPen keys

This simple intranet-based reward system has transformed staff appreciation in MidPen. Before the features introduced by Interact, employee recognition was around the 1% mark, with five employees recognized annually. Since the implementation, this has risen to 94% – a true success story. Now, more than 11,300 keys have been given with 3,000 expressions of gratitude and recognition shared.

Thorntons, JACK

One of the largest legal firms in Scotland, Thorntons has 57 partners and 428 employees spread across 10 locations. Despite their company’s success, their main legacy intranet was not providing the capability needed for the organization. It was outdated, outmoded and unengaging.

In order for its replacement to be embraced by the various teams that make up Thorntons, they launched a firm-wide competition to name the new platform. The winner was JACK – a nod to the soon to retiring company chairman, and an abbreviation of the new intranet’s goals, ‘Just Ask: Communication and Knowledge’.

Thorntons Law screenshot

Thorntons had a very short turn around time. This tight timescale meant that formation needed to be carried out quickly. To combat this, Thornton’s recruited a team of ‘JACK Jedis’ from each department within the business and assigned them each with tasks to create content and work on the different areas within the new systems.

The company would lay on day and evening JACK parties for the Jedis to get together and work on the build alongside their normal work. Among the cakes, games and party hats, staff were able to ask questions, put forward ideas and work on content.

The JACK Jedis approached worked so well, that it is now used as recommended practice for all Interact customers who are about to enter the build stage of their intranets.

We are continuing to encourage the Jedis to share their knowledge and expertise across their departments and locations, with regular meetings and Super-Jedi’s leading the way. We’re loving the collaboration and involvement that JACK has prompted across the firm and are keen to build on this success going forward. Feeling the force of the Jedis and loving the wisdom of JACK!

Shirley Phillips – Director of People and Associate Solicitor, Thorntons

Cruise Direct, iVoyager

Communication can be challenging when your workforce is in different offices, but when you have staff in different countries and on different time zones, the need for an effective way of keeping everyone unified and up-to-date with company news is even more acute.

Cruise Direct was set up in 1999 as an online cruise travel company and are already recognized as a market leader within their (very competitive) industry.

They also have employees spread across 30 different countries – and when they saw their customer satisfaction rates drop, they realized they had a real problem in sharing information effectively with their global teams.

An intranet was seen to be the best solution for allowing members to learn, engage with other employees and share intranet ideas. Cruise Direct collaborated with Interact to create iVoyager, a system that had a heavy focus on social elements such as Employee of the Month, Meet the Team and Daily Inspiration.

They also paid close attention to creating a comprehensive knowledge hub. This area contains everything an employee needs to know from instructions, video tutorials, scripts, and training.

In realizing the weak spots in their infrastructure, Cruise Direct showed an innovative approach to tackling employee engagement and improving the customer experience. They recognized the direct correlation between internal and external satisfaction and tailored iVoyager accordingly.

Cruise Direct

All businesses face challenges, but the strength of the organization lies in their finding solutions in the most effective way.

Finding solutions to a geographically-dispersed workforce, disenfranchised staff, a reward system that failed to take flight and a flat, outdated legacy system was helped not just by deploying an intranet, but also by the innovative thinking that took place in implementing it.