Notes from 51st International STC Conference
Baltimore, Maryland, May 9-12, 2004
Usable Intranets – Providing Information Employees Want and Need
Elaine Brofford, Elaine Brofford and Associates, Inc.
Linda Latenser, Linda Latenser, LLC
Brofford spent 13 years with major telecommunications company; for the past several years she was assigned to
the corporate intranet ... did so well she quit and started her own company! Latenser was not present.
A well-designed intranet increases productivity, is relatively easy to maintain, and costs less than the paper it
replaces. However, most intranets are not well designed and actually decrease productivity. This workshop presented
examples of well-designed intranets and exercises for creating them.
- A well-designed intranet:
- Increases productivity
- Is relatively easy to maintain
- Costs less than the paper it replaces
- Research shows that it took employees more than 7 times longer to perform tasks on a poorly designed intranet
than on a well-designed one.
- In the "real world," it may take much more time and result in more errors as employees search for
information for varying periods of time, reach incorrect conclusions and start over or give up, and consult one or
more fellow employees – resulting in down time for all involved.
- The most important characteristic of a successful intranet is that employees can quickly:
- Find the information they need
- Understand the information they find
- Act correctly on what they find
- Six keys to successful intranets. Management must:
- Be involved (to be effective, executives' messages to employees on the intranet must be timely and updated frequently)
- Define purposes of intranet
- Want the intranet to improve productivity and communication
- Support the intranet
- USE the intranet
- Push reducing paper (it HAS to go)
- Employees are engaged.
- Employees want managers to be involved ... they like direct contact with them via the intranet.
- Employees are involved in the creation or re-creation of the intranet as the designers and writers work with
them to understand their tasks and goals.
- Employees use the intranet for information they need, such as policies and procedures, forms, guidelines,
benefits; and information they want, such as employee directories, announcements, classified ads, cafeteria menus,
information on how the company supports the local community, contests, etc.
- Content reigns supreme. Information is:
- Always up to date
- Available for all stages of employees' careers (from new hires to about to retire)
- Rewritten specifically for the web – not merely moved from paper
- Written in meaningful terms
- Structured for multiple audiences when appropriate
- Information can be found.
- A robust search utility allows employees to locate information quickly and accurately. (subsite searches may be
a good idea if you have a large-scale intranet).
- A home page organization that helps employees find information.
- Information is organized in the way employees think.
- Information is moved on the site only with strong reasons.
- The intranet looks like it belongs to one company.
- There is a consistent "look and feel" to the website
- It is easy for employees to recognize "where" they are and what they need to do. It doesn't have to be "corporate."
This may be an opportunity to get employees involved.
- Exercises/Follow-Up Points
- Using HR's words (under Content Reigns Supreme) vs using employees' words ("maternity leave policy" vs.
"what if I have a baby?", "computer-based education" vs "take classes" or "get training")
- With FAQ's, don't go past 10 unrelated questions ... at that point, start categorizing into sublists.
- Reformatting from paper to online is very important.
- In selling the intranet to management, it's important to show the substantial savings vs paper as well as improved
productivity (quantified) and morale (intangible), but it is also important to ensure realistic funding for
maintenance ... because if the intranet is not maintained regularly, it will rapidly lose its value and the
investment will be lost.
- If you're going to make changes in the intranet, make big ones – and advertise them. Don't just keep moving
stuff around and messing with it ... that will defeat user access and frustrate them.
- Organize information not based on how the writer/SME thinks; organize it in ways that employees think.
- Many companies are moving away from PDFs to web-based databases. PDFs play hell with dial-up access. PDFs are
better suited to e-mail exchanges.