Wednesday, May 07, 2008

10 Tips to Increase Intranet Use

Making an intranet usable ...

"In addition to simply providing access to documents and procedural information, an intranet has the potential to unify a corporate culture, emphasize core company values, and develop a sense of community among employees. Unfortunately, some intranets have simply grown organically as a collection of disjointed web sites or departments and are only used as document repositories for the different groups. The value of the disjointed experience to users of the site is limited. As a result, fewer and fewer employees use the intranet and fall back on other modes of obtaining what they need to do their job.

Companies that are looking to fix this situation and improve their intranet face a fundamental problem – employees just aren’t use to going to the intranet. Even if the content is improved, usability is updated, and the intranet offers more value overall, if employees don’t visit the site, it’s like a tree falling in the woods. Our experience with a number of intranet re-design projects has revealed a set of best practices or features that drive interest and repeat visitors to the site. These best practices include a set of considerations for site navigation, features, functionality, content and style. Many of the features are appropriate for an intranet home page, but they can also be interspersed throughout the site. The key is to apply the strategies and variations that work best within the context of the site.

It’s Not All About the Firm
Employees have interests outside the company and want to feel connected with what’s going on in the community around them. If you don’t provide content that interests them on the intranet site, they will go elsewhere for it. Enable employees to stay up-to-date with their interests by incorporating regional news, stock tickers, sports scores and other news right on the intranet. Even silly features like quotes or photos of the day provide a quick diversion of interest and a draw to come back. Bulletin boards for employees to offer items for sale or trade are also popular.

Make the Mundane Great
There are basic tools that employees need all the time – conference room locators, people finders, printers, cafeteria menus, etc. If it is difficult to use the essential tools, employees are unlikely to give other features of the site a chance. Focus on the usability and experience of these tools. If they work great, employees will appreciate them and be forgiving with other sections of the site that may still be a work in progress.

Design It!
Looks are important. The visual design of an intranet should not interfere with the usability of the site and findability of content, but just because it’s an intranet doesn’t mean it has to be bland. In fact, during interviews with employees about out-dated intranet designs, they will often say that the design reflects poorly on the company as a whole. In addition, an out-of-date design gives a connotation that the content in the site is out of date as well. Evaluate several options for visual design, imagery and style for the site, hire designers if necessary, and re-evaluate the look on a regular basis.

Let Them Interact & Contribute
People find user-generated content valuable. On consumer sites for example, user ratings and reviews are often ranked as among the most valuable features. Similarly, on intranet sites, employees are interested in hearing about the opinions or experience of others. For example, how have others used a particular set of sales materials? Or, what kind of problems do customers run into during implementation? Even if a robust discussion option isn’t feasible, simple polls or quizzes are engaging and drive repeat visits. People want to see if their answer is the same as everyone else!

Offer An Easy Way Back
Employees may be wary of IT policies that dictate what their browser home page should be. In absence of such a policy, it is likely that browser home pages will vary widely. To remind employees that they can switch, provide an explicit link on the intranet that allows visitors to make the intranet their default browser page. Minimally, provide a link that allows employees to quickly bookmark the site for easy access.

Don’t Be Scared of Video
In today’s TV culture, people are used to watching video rather than reading. Leverage the inclination for this type of content by providing key messages using video or other dynamic multimedia. Keep bandwidth considerations in mind, however, so as not to overload the technical infrastructure. For bandwidth intensive content such as video, the best practice is to offer the content on-demand, requiring the user to press play to start the video if they are interested."    (Continued via TMCnet, Michael Hawley)    [Usability Resources]

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