Most Intranets Are Trying Too Hard
If you’ve visited your company intranet in the last decade or so, you’ve probably noticed that things look a lot different than they used to.
No, this isn’t your grandpa’s intranet. It’s sleek, hip, modern. And it’s overflowing with cool new features.
Any modern intranet that’s up to snuff is designed to consolidate information, help people manage their workload, help with file storage, enable remote collaboration—you name it. Over the past decade, intranets have gotten a whole lot better at making this happen.
But not all intranets are equal. Feature overload has made some intranets more complicated, noisy, overwhelming, and, consequently, more inefficient. And when that happens, people get annoyed, stop using them, and pretty soon the company intranet starts to look like a ghost town—the sort of place only new employees visit to catch a glimpse of what things used to be like.
And that’s a shame because the purpose of any modern intranet should be to make our lives easier at work, not more complicated. The sad fact is: most intranets are trying too hard. And most intranets fail.
The life (and death) of intranets
A failed intranet is a sad sight to behold.
Things start out promising: a new shiny platform adorned with a million customizable features. Then comes a creative launch strategy with some good-spirited wisecracks from your CEO to get everyone onboard. After you launch your intranet, it gets even better: steady participation from eager, excited employees. In the early days, there’s even a boost in engagement.
At some point, however, people start to lose interest. Why? Larry in Sales struggled to find the most current version of a document too many times. Karen from Accounting grew sick and tired of the fifteen blinking chat notifications she encountered whenever she logged on. Pam the secretary stopped using it because the dynamic org chart was too cluttered and impossible to read.
On top of that, it was all just too much to manage for underpaid, overworked IT intern Craig, who had the thankless task of maintaining the intranet’s architecture. Broken links started to appear, bugged project management features slowed everything down to a crawl, and outdated content pushed people away.
Soon, former champions of the company intranet, power users like Bob in Operations, start bypassing it altogether, opting instead to communicate with his team by email. The rest of the organization eventually follows suit. By that point, the company intranet is deserted; its shiny features unused and abandoned. A lone tumbleweed blows by…
It may sound absurd, but that’s the life (and death) of a lot of intranets.
Why? Mainly because they’re trying to do everything at once. There’s a slew of intranets out there that’re simultaneously a chat/video conferencing application, a marketing analytics tool, an org chart visualization, a vacation/time-off scheduling application, the list goes on and on. A lot of intranets are trying to be the everything-app, the only tool your company needs.
It’s ambitious, sure. But does that really help solve the fragmentation and complexity of everyday working life? Throwing more features, bells, whistles, and doo-dads at a problem doesn’t always work as intended. And it’s not really what an intranet is for, either.
What an intranet should do for your organization
1. Provide simplicity
First and foremost, an intranet should simplify your working life—and keep it that way as your organization grows. Because although a lot of intranets work well enough at the outset, over time they can get bloated, bursting at the seams with too much content, data, and irrelevant information.
And that can waste time and make your job more difficult. An intranet needs to factor longevity into its design so that working life remains simple, efficient, and meaningful, even as your org changes.
What do I mean by simplicity? I mean being able to find the information you need to do your job well, whether that’s a particular file, a person, or access to a group discussion. It also means cutting down on the noise and confusion, and removing obstacles that might be preventing people from doing great work or enjoying their experience on the intranet.
2. Blend in
An intranet’s features shouldn’t be obtrusive, blaring, or overwhelming. An intranet should blend into the background of daily work, practically invisible. It should just be part of how you do your job, not something that constantly calls attention to itself or forces you to work a certain way.
All the best technological innovations become part of the underlying framework of the process they’re trying to improve. An intranet is no different. It’s ideally a platform that quietly facilitates increased collaboration, higher employee engagement, a robust company culture, and effective internal communications.
To achieve this, an intranet needs to be a place people go to without even really thinking about it. In other words, an integral part of their work process. And in order for that to happen, people need to be aligned.
3. Align teams
An organization’s success depends on whether or not teams are aligned. And an intranet should support and reinforce alignment, organizational and cultural alignment specifically. For instance, if people from one team prefer to communicate via email and another team hates email, that’s going to cause a communication blockage. Ideas won’t circulate, cliques may form, and the culture will feel fragmented and siloed.
An intranet’s job is to ensure that never happens by providing a platform that opens up rather than compartmentalizes the organization. People should be able to quickly find out what’s happening in another department or satellite office, understand who reports to whom so they can contact the right person, and be able to know at a glance the status of a given project.
An intranet that makes things transparent, open, and easy to understand also has a profound effect on your company’s culture. People should be able to see how they fit into their organization. That way, they better understand their purpose, the company’s purpose, and the ways in which their role intersects with others’. No more feeling isolated, alone, and unseen.
Don’t get me wrong, features are cool. I enjoy using an intranet with neat, groundbreaking features. But they also need to be relevant to me, the way I work, and the way my organization operates. Ideally, they’re easy to use, intuitive, and make my working life simple.