The building where I work has, like many other office buildings, posted printed maintenance notices in the lobby for years. That was until building management decided to distribute these notifications through a website with a login, much like an extranet. Nobody noticed the change for about a week (although I’m sure an email notification is sitting unread in many inboxes), until the parking garage was unexpectedly closed for hours one day due to maintenance, catching many by surprise. A few weeks later, a fire drill happened "without notice," and so on. People weren’t having it. And the paper memos resumed.

I design intranets for a living, and this felt like a first-hand experience of what our clients feel when we launch a new intranet.

What’s happening? Why aren’t people reading important information and signing up for alerts?

Companies spend significant amount of time and money building new digital tools to boost employee engagement, collaboration and keep everyone up-to-date. Although the interface is beautiful, companies still struggle with adoption.

An intranet's best day is often its first day, launch day. It launches, people check out the main page a few times, and gradually interest fizzles out. People are busy and our intranet launch is just another blip on their work-life radar.

What Can Intranet Designers Do?

Carried away with new features, designers rarely account for how users are currently interacting with information: What other tools are they using? Are they mostly working in email, paper posts in the break room, other applications?

Knowing user’s application ecosystems, we can better predict their behavior and optimize our launch.

Integrate New Applications or Channels into the Existing Communication Channel

Let’s say you’re introducing a new intranet to reduce reliance on email, paper notices and IMs for several types of the content in your company. 

Knowing what people's workflows were before that change is an important piece of information for a designer to know. Try and integrate your new content channel, the intranet for example, using the familiar and existing channels, like email.

Here are some examples.

Weekly Digest

Tools like Office 365 have an automatic weekly digest administrators can enable. These digests can include your company news, employee generated posts, breakroom posts and an option to sign up for a weekly digest teaser with links to the actual content. People are more likely to click on fresh content when they receive an alert than by logging in and checking for updates manually.

Related Article: Adding Value to SharePoint Intranets

Employee Recognition

Many companies I work with do employee recognition and shout-outs to boost engagement. People get paper cards from their boss acknowledging them for a job well done. We usually propose to move those over to the intranet, but does anyone know they’ve been given a shout-out? Enabling email alerts when someone gets cited can fix that, so employees click the link to read about it.

Manuals, Policies and Procedures

Recently, while visiting one of my customer's beautifully renovated office break room, I saw bound copies of the employee manual, policies and procedures, and a few other notices pinned to the bulletin board.

Learning Opportunities

This type of content is usually the first thing that's moved to the intranet. Unfortunately, they often get buried somewhere on the HR page. What a contrast — from the prime real estate in the office break room to some unknown page.

A better approach is to utilize the bulletin board to promote the intranet. Let people know where the content moved to and how they can find it. One of my customers replaced the canvas of their bulletin board with a full-sized printed intranet page with arrows pointing to what content was where. This allowed for much smoother transition and was a creative way to get people’s attention.

Related Article: Why It's Time to Update Your Legacy SharePoint Intranet

Forms and Workflows

How often do you get PDF forms sent for you to fill in and email back? Many of them are simple forms that don’t even need to be signed. These forms then have to be collected and uploaded somewhere. This process is so prone to error and forms getting lost. Automate common form collection with electronic forms or at least use document workflow tools, like DocuSign to help users fill those in and maintain data integrity, enable approvals and other workflows.

I typically recommend putting a link to the most frequently used forms directly in the main menu of the intranet or in the quick links section of the site. But an even better approach is automating sending those commonly requested forms.

Automating Answers to Employee Questions

One of the most brilliant solutions I've recently seen involved automating common helpdesk questions. When someone emails the helpdesk with a question, Microsoft Flow uses Microsoft Cognitive Services to find the best matching answer to that question and send back a pre-written response. This may sound like science fiction, but a fully working prototype can be found in this Microsoft Flow video.

You can use these automated responses for expense form requests, vacation forms and other manually requested forms. If your automated response includes a link to that form on an intranet, your employees can get into the habit of going there first, while still being able to request it via email.

Related Article: Internal Communicators, Please Don't Abandon the Intranet

Upgrade Your Change Management Strategy

What I’ve learned from my experience is before implementing any change management strategy, I need to adopt it to fit the organization. Understand their communication channels, and tailor the transition using existing channels to help you promote a new digital solution.

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