How To Build An Intranet People Will Use


The evolution of intranets

One of the first things that most businesses did after setting up a website in the 1990s was to set up an intranet for its employees.  The logic was simple--if a web site provided an easy way to publish information to customers and the outside world, an intranet offered the same communication channel to employees.


Today, almost all companies of any size have an intranet.  Yet despite their ubiquity, intranets tend to be little-used.  While intranets serve as a repository for official documents and policies, very few employees use them for any purpose other than downloading official forms.


Why intranets languish

So why are intranets underutilized?  First, most intranets focus solely on formal communications, and as such, are largely read-only repositories.  Yet this isn't how companies work; the official is only the tip of the iceberg.  Most of the information employees need to do their work lies hidden outside the intranet, in email inboxes, as file attachments, or within desktop folders.  This makes this information hard to find, hard to share, and hard to update.

Second, many intranet tools are too inflexible to support the needs of individual teams.  While the employee-company relationship is the key legal relationship, the employee-team relationship (including employee-manager and employee-peer) is the key operational relationship.  Very few intranets grant any control to individual teams.  Rather, most intranets are centrally administered and largely static.


Finally, most intranets are hard to access when employees really need them--when they are outside the office, whether working from home or on the road.  Traditional intranets require fiddling around with VPNs and other networking tools which are difficult on desktops and nearly impossible on mobile devices.


3 keys to building a successful intranet

To build a successful intranet that people will use, you need to address the three reasons why intranets fail.  First, you should select an intranet platform that can support both formal and informal communications.  Intranet administrators should have the power to control certain official parts of the intranet, but they should also have the ability to set up less formal areas where individual employees have free reign.  The official areas can meet legal and compliance requirements, and the informal areas can meet the ad hoc needs that represent the majority of requirements.


Second, intranet administrators need the ability to grant individual teams their own shared space for sharing key documents and files.  The easier you make it for individual teams to store things like meeting notes and working documents, the less chance they end up hidden away on someone's desktop, or worse, in some consumer-grade cloud service that lacks appropriate security and access controls.  Some of the most popular cloud file sharing services have zero security, relying instead on obscure URLs!


Finally, you should make sure that your intranet platform supports remote and mobile access without special hardware or software.  Your employees should be able to access key information from anywhere, from their home office to a hotel room in Dubai, and on any device, ranging from their corporate-standard laptop to their child's iPad that has been pressed into emergency service at a rest stop in Yellowstone National Park.


Building intranets with PBworks

PBworks offers an intranet platform that address the three keys to building a successful intranet.


1) You can subdivide your intranet as much as is needed to clearly separate formal and informal communications.  For example, you can create an Official Forms workspace that is read-only for regular employees, but is editable by HR.  Meanwhile, informal information exchange can take place on a different workspace that is open to all employees.


2) You can let individual teams create their own sub-intranets on a self-service basis.  Each group can create their own workspace, but everything they load into the system is easy to find, share, and update.


3) PBworks works on any device, any where, at any time.  This includes computers, smartphones, and tablets.  The product even includes a file preview feature to allow users to view Microsoft Office documents, even on devices that lack that software.


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