Getting excited about intranets
Recently, a strange thing has happened: I’ve found myself getting excited about intranets.
Intranets do not have a reputation for being particularly exciting. They are often the poor sibling of an institution’s website. If you’ll humour me for long enough, allow me take an analogy from another of my one-time passions: Sweet Valley Twins. Let’s imagine websites and intranets as the Wakefield twins. The website is often the Jessica: confident, sexy, outgoing and popular. The intranet is Elizabeth: studious, hard-working, practical and sensible.
The way that many organisations approach intranet (or website) development doesn’t challenge this assumption. The website should be flashy and focus on showing the institution in its best light. The intranet should be unobtrusive and should allow people to complete tasks as efficiently as possible. The perils of this approach for website development is another topic for another day. But for our intranets, it means we become narrowly focussed on what the intranet allows users to do, rather than on what the intranet itself might be able to do.
Of course, a core priority when designing, or redesigning, an intranet is to make sure that users can find information and complete tasks quickly and easily. Here at Pickle Jar Communications we’re currently working on two university intranets, and to that end we’re busy identifying top tasks, compiling user stories and mapping user journeys.
However, an intranet can be about so much more than helping people painlessly submit their expenses or book their holidays (itself no mean feat). Intranets can make a statement about what the organisation values, not only by hosting strategy documents and press releases that codify these values, but by embodying them.
It’s time to look back at the values and priorities in the university strategy and think creatively about how to support and express them on the intranet:
-Communicate that you value gender equality in the workplace by creating resources that help those returning to work after maternity or paternity leave
-Help new staff feel at home and set them up to thrive by using the intranet to support a comprehensive induction process
-Overcome a perceived divide between academic and administrative staff by adding those words to the ‘do not use’ list in your controlled vocabulary
-Unify a single institution that has multiple overseas campuses by personalising information for those who work within a different time zone.
These examples are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Think of the brave new world we might create if our intranets started to model to employees the values of our institutions, and to provide them with resources that made them feel valued and supported. If that’s not an exciting thought, I don’t know what is.
And if, like me, you find yourself at risk of becoming too over-excited, I prescribe a few calming chapters of Sweet Valley Twins.
If you need help with imagining a new vision for your university intranet, get in touch.