Filed under: Intranets
Organisations are suddenly going fully virtual during the current pandemic, and the pain they’re experiencing is similar to past natural disasters, just on a hugely greater scale.
Cloud-based applications, online collaboration and modern intranets are now needed urgently. No longer a ‘nice to have’, these tools are now critical if staff are to remain productive.
Thankfully there is a wide cross-section of intranets — often out-of-the-box products — that can be installed in days rather than weeks or months. These solutions work wonderfully well, but there’s much more than just technology at play. If these new intranets are to be successful beyond the first few weeks, six key elements must be put in place:
- assign an intranet coordinator
- establish a guiding coalition
- encourage clear behaviour change by leaders
- bring together a community for authors
- ensure a steady process for growth
- write a one-page future direction statement
Each of these is explored in the following sections:
1. Assign an intranet coordinator
Resources will be tight during a pandemic or other natural disasters, so it’s unrealistic to expect a formal intranet manager role to be established from the outset.
It’s nonetheless critical to ensure that one person has allocated — typically part-time — responsibilities for coordinating the intranet. This may involve as little as half a day a week, but even a small amount of time will have a big impact on the success of the intranet.
In the initial weeks and months, the intranet coordinator will:
- build up knowledge on how the new intranet product works
- make ongoing changes and improvements, as the role of the intranet firms up
- engage with business teams and leaders
- support staff who are publishing news or adding content
This often informal role can then evolve into a more structured and full-time role once the dust has settled, and the intranet proved its value.
2. Establish a guiding coalition
Like the formal intranet manager role, there will be too much happening in the business to establish structured intranet governance. Instead, a looser “guiding coalition” should be brought together to help guide the intranet.
This group would consist of leaders or managers from internal communications, HR and IT, plus representatives from the business itself. This group should ideally meet monthly, covering topics such as:
- ongoing assessment of where the intranet is working well, and where it isn’t
- business issues or changes that could be supported or resolved by the intranet
- work priorities for the assigned intranet coordinator
3. Encourage clear behaviour change by leaders
New intranets will typically be expected to act as a communications channel that reaches all staff. This only becomes a reality if leaders choose to released intranet news items, rather than sending all-staff emails or relying on face-to-face communication.
This is just one example of where leaders need to commit to the new intranet, with clear behaviour changes that encourage others to join in.
In the case of a pandemic where staff are suddenly working remotely, leaders also need to model good use of any new collaboration tools that are also being put in place. There should also be a clear commitment to moving content off network drives and onto the intranet, in a form that’s useful for staff.
4. Bring together a community for authors
The new intranet will almost certainly be positioned as the ‘one stop shop’ for corporate information. For this to be a success, content must steadily be added to the site, and then maintained to ensure it remains up-to-date and relevant.
This will require new skills for many first-time intranet authors. There are many ways of providing support to novice authors, but an intranet authoring community is often the most effective (and most efficient in terms of time!).
If you have new social or collaboration tools, use these to bring together authors. Otherwise — or in addition! — meet face-to-face every month or two. Use the gatherings to answer author questions, provide additional training, and to foster a sense of shared community between the authors.
5. Ensure a steady process for growth
During a crisis, there will be pressure to get something — anything! — up on the new intranet to help address day-to-day business issues as they arise. For this reason, most new intranets will be small in size, with limited content and functionality.
Starting small is often a good thing, as it gives space to think more clearly about what the intranet will be used for (rather than being weighed down by a ‘lift-and-shift’ migration from a previous site).
All intranets, however, have to get to a ‘critical mass’ if they are to be successful and sustainable. That means a critical mass of news items, intranet pages and intranet functionality. While intranets don’t have to rush to get big, ensure a steady process of growth is put in place within the first few weeks of the new site being created.
6. Write a one-page future direction statement
Ok, what’s the new intranet for? It seems a silly question, but it’s a serious one.
While there was short-term pressure to create a new intranet, and immediate value that comes from it, that doesn’t give a clear future direction for the site.
The new intranet platform will have a wide range of tools, including collaboration capabilities, online forms, and more. The intranet will also sit alongside other systems and projects.
In lieu of a formal intranet strategy, a one-page intranet direction statement can be very powerful. It requires a certain amount of thinking, discussing and planning to pull together (but not too much!). It also gives language and details that can be used in internal communications to staff.
Start informally, and grow from there
Step Two has been helping intranet teams of all sizes for more than two decades, and these recommendations reflect what we’ve seen work in reality.
In all of these cases, we’ve recommended that organisations start informally with their intranets, and then establish more formal practices and structures down the track.
So while you should move fast to establish new practices during a crisis, don’t overlook the fundamental elements that will make your intranet a success. And don’t hesitate to reach out if Step Two can provide informal support, or more structured assistance.