UX + Design

6 Key Ways Employees Judge Your Intranet

When it comes to intranet best practices we live in a golden age of knowledge. With publications like the Nielsen Norman Group’s Intranet Design Annual, competitions like the Intranet Innovation Awards and organizations like The Digital Workplace Group it has never been easier to peek “behind the login” and see what others are doing to put your own efforts in perspective.

Yet there’s another – less obvious – set of standards that our employees are judging us by every day. And we ignore them at our own peril.

“If Drugstore.com knows what I want, why doesn’t my employer?”

Your employees don’t know much about intranet best practices and they probably don’t care. Instead their judgment of your intranet is informed by the experiences they have every day on the consumer web. And they bring those rising expectations to work with them.

Let’s step inside the head of a typical intranet user…

  1. When they log in to your intranet every morning, they’re thinking about sites like amazon.com and drugstore.com that recognize them automatically, show them personalized content and let them pick up right where they left off last time.
  2. When they go to search to find what they need, they’ll be thinking about Google. The less your search works like Google, the more disappointed they will be.
  3. When they read your company news, they’re comparing the experience to favorite media sites like the New York Times, CNN.com or TMZ.
  4. Your emails and alerts are being compared to the increasingly snappy and personalized communications they receive at home from the world’s leading retailers.
  5. When they sign up for or check their employee benefits they’re thinking about the increasingly sophisticated and simple experiences they have with leading benefits providers like Fidelity and Vanguard, or cutting-edge personal finance sites like Simple and Mint.com.
  6. When they try out those new social intranet features you rolled out, well, you know who they’re comparing you to.

Does your video work like YouTube? Is your intranet accessible easily and everywhere like Netflix is? And let’s not even talk about mobile. Chances are you’re just getting started while “out there” rages a renaissance of consumer innovation and delight.

How do you compare?

No matter how big your organization and intranet is, you will never have the financial or engineering resources that the Googles and Amazons do. Thankfully your employees understand this and don’t really expect you to keep up with them. The name of this game is not to keep up per se, but to avoid falling so far behind the state of the art that you alienate your audiences and damage your employer brand. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Focus on the spirit over the letter. Don’t try to copy the best of the consumer web exactly. Instead conceive features within the spirit of those experiences, focusing on key user expectations and reflecting the overall feel. You might be surprised how far this can take you.
  • Prioritize more ruthlessly. Stop trying to do it all and instead settle on an intranet that does more with less. Decommission features that aren’t used much. Add functionality only when resources allow you to do it really well. This might sound obvious but there are far too many bloated intranets out there.
  • Test everything first. Before rolling out new or improved features, test them with users in prototype form to confirm that they’re ready for prime time. Or in fact needed at all.

The pace of innovation in digital today is thrilling, overwhelming and accelerating. Intranets are subject to these forces too. It’s a daunting reality for resource-strapped intranet leaders. You can choose to see this challenge as an impossible journey, or you can see it for the free and inexhaustible source of user insight and expectation that it is and use it.