Connected: Intranets

New jobs always bring new challenges. Names to learn, security to navigate, kitchen etiquette to observe. But one of the things that can strike fear into the heart of anyone, no matter how steely, is what awaits you when you log in to your computer – your new intranet.

connectedThe net which must not be named

In every organisation I’ve worked in, saying the word “intranet” is usually accompanied by an unconscious flinch. The muscle memory of frustration, as people recall the swampy world of bad experience design. It’s a place to avoid, until you need that one piece of information you have to go there to get.

But at heart, all intranets want to be good intranets. Most of them were built with big dreams in mind. Sometimes the people doing the building, however, don’t ask the right questions of the people who will be using the intranet. The builders get swept into another direction, distracted by shiny-sounding features, or they build something without thinking about the daily requirements of others.

Entropy by design

When a new intranet is built, you can expect a big shiny launch for it. The design team will promote all the ways this new intranet will totally and completely be better than the last one – “we promise”. But this dance is always the same, and after a few months of steadily decreasing interest, the system slowly loses its veneer and people go back to whatever workflows they were using before, even if they’re technically less useful. 

With the spotlight shifted elsewhere, the intranet gets a bit forgotten. Pages date, things end up in the wrong place and important information might not even end up there. What’s left is a tangle of pages, and no clear map to what’s still useful. Navigating the intranet becomes more of an archaeology expedition through ancient ruins.

Maybe I’ve just had bad luck with the intranets I’ve met in my life. Maybe there are beautiful intranets out there, palatial havens of landscaped beauty, meticulously maintained, updated and cultivated. Everything an intranet should be, and nothing it shouldn’t. Maybe, you never know.

Our digital spaces represent us

So how do you build a good intranet? It comes back to one thing – who are you building for? Just like having a good physical workspace, good digital spaces support positive office culture. They show respect of people’s different experiences and abilities with technology. An intranet should be designed to meet the continuing needs of the people you work with. And since those needs will change, your intranet needs to change too. 

Connecting via intranet

Intranets are a place to show off to and celebrate your colleagues. They can set the tone for the day. Regular updates from people you don’t get to see in person can help you to feel connected to your wider organisation. 

We so often let ourselves get siloed into our own little corners that it can become all too easy to forget we’re actually in this thing together. We have a common goal and direction, and the intranet can be a way we broadcast this to each other.

We’re not living in the early days of the web. We can expect more than the delivery of information. You don’t want a dinner that’s edible, you want one that’s delicious. We shouldn’t settle for ‘acceptable’ when we can have ‘delightful’ with a bit of work.

Time and attention spent internally might seem like a lower priority than customer-facing things, but in the long term it will ensure we’re all better connected and can deliver better service.

By Jem Yoshioka