How to Create a Custom Intranet Your Employees Will Actually Use

Ralph Otto author photo
Ralph Otto Director of Product
Planning & Strategy

Every business recognizes the importance of delivering a strong user experience when it comes to their customer-facing website. When it comes to serving their users with an intranet, however, organizations too often face low adoption rates with the audience they aim to serve. Why? In this guide, we’ll help you figure out how to create a custom intranet your employees will actually use.

Well, out-of-the-box solutions offer quick set-up options, but they require customization to be effective. Alternatively, if an organization builds its own custom intranet, it often falls out of line with modern usability standards. As users struggle to find what they need, they abandon the product and any potential return on investment is lost. Remember, just because you build it does not mean they will come.

When crafted thoughtfully, an intranet is a powerful means to streamline operations and keep your teams on the same page. Instead of allowing an intranet to go neglected by falling between the jurisdictions of IT and your marketing team, you can provide your teams with a useful, well-designed tool. But like any digital project, you have to first think about users’ needs.

Identify How Your Intranet Stacks Up

Planning to build a team intranet? Or already using one? Use this checklist to ensure your company’s intranet is truly worthwhile.

A Custom Intranet Based on User Needs Yields Stronger Results

Unfortunately, when organizations evaluate how to implement an intranet, the decision is often based on software. For example, if your IT team already uses a lot of Microsoft products, then chances are that your teams will be asked to use SharePoint to satisfy their intranet needs.

Off-the-shelf platforms are typically loaded with features, but they complicate the interface. As a result, your intranet becomes cumbersome and difficult to learn as a result of an effort to satisfy too many needs at once.

Without a clear strategy to appeal to your varying stakeholders, a custom intranet quickly becomes a collection of add-ons and afterthoughts. Faced with a poor user experience, internal users abandon a frustrating product just as quickly as your customers would. You have to consider your intranet’s UX as carefully as you would for any customer-facing marketing project

To create an intranet that’s both useful and well-used, you have to think about who it’s for and what your organization hopes to gain. Then, with a strategy in place, you can decide on the right technological platform and design implications.

Follow these 4 steps to build a better intranet that your internal teams will actually want to use.

1. Start Simple by Satisfying Your Internal Users

To best serve your internal teams, you need to understand their roles and most pressing needs. If your organization hasn’t used an intranet previously or has had little success with implementing such a tool in the past, your first step is to get your employees on board. Instead of launching with an intranet that tries to do too much, begin with a version that focuses on what’s most valuable to them.

In the early stages, your users will come to your intranet for the information they need. By starting with providing a centralized platform for company-wide announcements, you’re underscoring the message that the intranet is the best resource for finding up-to-date information about their workplace.

Now, repeat after us: “I will keep my intranet’s navigation and search simple.” Starting small to encourage adoption is key, and perhaps counter-intuitive to everything you dream your custom intranet could do, but hear us out. Use analytics to determine what’s being used and what isn’t. Disable anything not being used to prevent hampering usability with clutter. From there, focus on building your intranet’s audience and momentum for its adoption. We promise those dreams can come to life but only after a thoughtful strategy and initial adoption is in place.

2. Prioritize Custom Intranet Content with Input from Each Department

Once your organization has begun working toward implementing an intranet, you have to ensure it’s serving the right content. Along with satisfying individual employees, a well-designed intranet should be a vital resource for your department heads as well.

To that end, an effective intranet requires input from stakeholders in your organization. Just as you would use customer feedback or A/B testing to inform the design and functionality of your website, your internal team members and department heads can set priorities for your intranet.

Once you understand the features that are most valuable, you can build a resource that becomes essential to your employees. For example, some departments will value the ability to use the intranet to publish their own news and status updates. For others — like sales and support teams — ensuring access to a company-wide directory may be most critical to their goals.

In one instance, one of our health care clients had been inundated with requests from employees to create new ID badges, which were frequently getting lost or damaged. Rather than continuing to burden the marketing team with making and distributing new IDs, the company created an intranet allowing team members to log in and print their own automatically generated badges.

Though only offering a single service at the outset, the intranet was already essential to the company’s employees. Once you’ve established adoption rates among your internal users, you can then expand your intranet’s features even further.

3. Use API Integrations to Centralize More Information

As your intranet evolves, you can incorporate details from other platforms used by your organization. Rather than attempting to replace these tools, your intranet can become a centralized resource for employees through thoughtful API integrations.

For example, human resources management often requires that employees access various tools for benefits, PTO requests, time tracking, and payroll. By pulling information from each of these platforms, your intranet provides a richer, one-stop experience.

The tools used to create an intranet can also be repurposed to serve different needs. Once you’ve built a resource that centralizes information into a single platform, you can adopt those capabilities to portals to serve existing departments or even external users.

Though your intranet may begin by satisfying a single need, you can easily adapt its capabilities to serve a wide variety of audiences.

4. Iterate Toward an Optimized Intranet

Whatever internal resources you design your intranet to deliver, your users will only be drawn to the information if it’s valuable and unavailable anywhere else. Then, once users adopt your intranet as a vital means to find what they need, you can leverage that attention to add more useful content.

Does management want a monthly blog to distribute information to your company’s leadership and other internal teams? Can the intranet be used to disseminate details about new HR policies or benefits? As you add new features, you can also measure your intranet’s performance through tools like Google Analytics. Just as with an external-facing website, you can monitor trends in user behavior that will help your organization shape its content.

As you further expand and tweak your intranet’s features, your other business units will see its value and think about ways to extend its capabilities.

For example, upon login, your customer support teams can access an internal knowledge base that can inform their efforts during service calls. Or, you can create custom dashboards that compile and prioritize lead information and customer data for sales teams. Though an intranet often begins as an internal marketing initiative, its applications can continue to expand.

With each iterative improvement, your intranet becomes that much more useful to a critical audience for your organization – employees like you.