Intranets — I’ve known a few

Day one of a new communications job, the year circa 2006.

“Can I see the intranet?” I asked, keen to learn more about my employer and brimming with the kind of enthusiasm generally found only in a new recruit.

“Intranet? We just have this” my colleague responded, presenting an acid green screen lined with a shockingly confused list of policies, procedures, notices crafted in Clipart and Comic Sans; and an advert for some guinea pig holiday accommodation.

The list scrolled on, and on, and on. The last time I’d seen something even vaguely reminiscent of the horror in front of me was when it was being heralded as modern software on my primary school’s enormous cream and brown shared computer. But that was in the mid-Eighties.

“This is the Digest!” my colleague declared. And not without a hint of pride. Something told me the Digest would’ve been more aptly named the InDigest.

The years that followed saw this basic Lotus Notes database masquerading as an internal communications tool undergo several unsatisfactory overhauls. When budget was finally found it was killed off and replaced with something that could legitimately be called an intranet. A vocal minority who had grown fond of the Digest’s unique charms forgot its many shortfalls and mourned its loss. Others celebrated the arrival of something a whole lot better.

Two organisations and several intranet deja-vu situations later I’m now the manager of an internal comms channel of which I feel pretty proud. Our intranet isn’t a graveyard for pdfs and things that don’t sit anywhere else, and it’s not a one-way repository for dull notices. In the 18 months it’s been around it’s started to become a lively beating heart of the organisation. Created by colleagues, for colleagues.

Of course it’s far from perfect and there’s still plenty of work to be done. I don’t claim to have unearthed the key to eternal intranet happiness, but experience of the early days of the Digest and those that followed has taught me this:

You need to make friends with IT

Without their support and buy-in, you’re stuffed. If your IT team know their technical onions and will gladly step in when things go wrong, that’s great. If they also genuinely care about the intranet and want to see it flourish as much as you do, then you’re very lucky.

Know who’s in charge of what

When it comes to managing content, be firm and establish responsibilities from the outset. There’s nothing like the arrival of a new intranet to unearth hundreds of out of date, wrongly branded policies with no apparent owner. There’s also nothing like trying to hand the job of finding and updating said policies over to Comms.

Keeping a tight rein on the homepage is also important, and be clear on what does and doesn’t warrant a front page story (cake sales are always a no).

Take control, but not too much

In direct contrast to the above point, the hands-off approach can work well in some areas of the intranet. Blogging in particular. As a comms professional it can be painful to see something published without a bit of comms polish, but a Housing Officer, Customer Services or Finance colleague writing from the heart in their own voice can have real impact. Rachel Miller of All Things IC talks about this ‘Wonky Comms’ approach in a recent post.

Be human and humorous

It’s likely your colleagues like a bit of a laugh now and again, so it’s good to reflect that on your intranet. A decent site carries a mix of important information to help people do their jobs, and a social, more light-hearted element too. Ours has been the catalyst for one of the first company-wide Christmas parties, a vehicle for chats on the latest series of Homeland, and even seen cats rehomed. Who knows, perhaps the guinea pig holiday accommodation will crop up again too.

Incentives are good

It’s strange how former intranet naysayers are willing to make exception to their boycott of the channel when a competition with a tasty prize is on offer. Shopping vouchers, cakes and in particular, a John Lewis hamper, tends to work wonders in converting those cynics. And if they spot and read something useful or important when chancing their luck on a wicker basket of pork pies, artisan tea bags and shortbread then that’s all good.

Ten years on from the green-screened Digest, if the tables were turned and a new recruit asked me to show them the intranet, I’d tell them there was always room for improvement, but I’d be proud and feel confident to show them the one I work with now.

This post first appeared on Comms2point0

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