The way people communicate within organisations continues to change. The role of Internal Communications is becoming less about broadcasting the company message and more about encouraging those conversations and collaborations that will most effectively deliver the business’ goals.
The Intranet Design Annual 2011 from the Nielsen Norman Group offers some interesting insights into the way organisations are expanding, changing and re-imagining their internal communications activities, delivering greater value, to more of their members, more regularly. Having seen many of these developments first hand in our client discussions*, we’ve picked out a few of the trends we expect to see more of in 2011.
More Companies Can Now Have Better Intranets
More and more companies are now able to develop high quality intranets. This is partly due to the wider recognition of the value of investing in intranets and partly due to the availability of better tools for building intranets. The easier it is to make the implementation work, the more resources that are left for design and usability. This is especially important in smaller organizations, which found it costly and time consuming to make things work with clunkier technology.
However, quality intranets remain a long-term commitment. Many organisations supplement their intranet teams with outside resources — such as design firms and consultants — for their redesign projects, only to cut back resources after launch. Long-term usability requires ongoing commitment, both for continuous design improvement, and for things such as search quality initiatives, consistency and style guide enforcement, and training new users and content contributors.
Mobile access to intranet sites continues to grow in importance. Significantly those sites with fewer features have much better usability than full-featured websites; focus on specific features that are important to employees on the go instead of trying to squeeze the entire intranet onto a tiny screen.
One major difference between mobile intranets and mobile websites is that an intranet team can optimize for the relatively small set of company-issued mobile devices.
As well as providing searchable access to the organisation’s knowledge archive, many intranets are now actively encouraging members to share their expertise more widely and are using social media tools to provide the means for users to identify and connect with people, knowledge and resources across the organisation.
- Knowledge sharing. Providing searchable archives for case studies, reports, creative samples, and other existing information can help people with similar problems avoid having to start building their solutions from scratch. Sometimes, knowledge sharing can be as simple as a Q&A tool to connect employees with questions to colleagues with answers.
- Innovation management. Managing and encouraging innovation by offering users tools for taking ideas and improvements from conception to completion.
- Comments. The simplest way to inspire user-contributed intranet content is to let employees comment on existing information, ranging from news stories to knowledge bank resources. Systems that force people to create content from scratch every time inhibit user participation, commenting features reduce the fear of the blank screen.
- Ratings. Giving a grade requires even less work than writing a comment, and thus rating systems can further broaden user participation. Sites that use ratings can list top-rated resources first in menus or give them added weight in search listings.
- Participation rewards. User participation increases when contributors are visibly rewarded, such as by adding points or badges to their profiles. Because there’s real business value to features like knowledge sharing and innovation management within an enterprise, some intranets went beyond the symbolic value of visible recognition and offered real prizes to employees who gathered sufficient participation points.
These are fairly established practices that are likely to be implemented more and more widely in the coming months-
- A wide spectrum of technology solutions: there’s no single way to build a great intranet.
- Structures based on organisational tasks and activities rather than legacy silos.
- News as a main homepage feature, but with increasing emphasis on the usefulness of news stories.
- Better employee profile pages. In addition to offering information beyond plain contact listings, profiles are coupled with a more structured way of finding employees with specific expertise.
- Blogs by both executives and regular employees.
- Emphasis on search and on initiatives to improve search quality (which continues to suffer on many intranets).
- The use of pre-designed page layouts and a CMS to establish and maintain content consistency.
- Training for site managers and people in charge of individual areas, in recognition of that fact that user experiences derive from people and not just technology.
- Increased use of video on intranets, including features that let employees create and share video content.
*This article originally appeared on www.gnius.co.uk