• Share this:
The ultimate guide to using your employee intranet

24 min read

The ultimate guide to using your employee intranet

A comprehensive guide to finding, launching, and sustaining a vibrant intranet. For everyone who wants to make their employees unite and their culture shine. 

Introduction

Welcome! This is your survival guide to all things intranet.

We’re going to start at the very beginning with a simple question: What is a modern intranet? It’s good to understand how they differ from traditional intranets as you begin to consider your own needs.

That’s the next challenge we’ll help you overcome—how to decide if an intranet is the tool you need. There are many different types of intranet and approaches to take. We’ll explore the things you need to think about and highlight some common pitfalls. 

After that, we’ll take you on a journey that’ll help you decide what features your intranet needs, how to successfully launch your intranet, and how to keep it ticking over nicely.

Let’s get started!


Contents

What is an intranet?
Why do I need a modern intranet?
How to decide which intranet to get
What do I need my intranet to do?
How customizable do I need my intranet to be?
Other key considerations
What features do modern intranets have?
I’ve got the green light. Now what?
Launch strategies
Sustainment strategies
Wrap-up


What is an intranet?

Good question. At a fundamental level, an intranet is an online centralized hub that all your employees can access. It’s a place for valuable company information such as onboarding documents and organization charts. It should help everyone stay informed and give them the information they need to get their jobs done. It’s purely internal and only for the people within your company.

That’s an intranet at its bare bones—a simple definition of either a traditional or modern intranet. However, a modern intranet does so much more. It’s engaging, improves company-wide communication, connects employees, and nurtures company culture. In a nutshell, it helps everyone unite and grow together.

“Prior to our modern intranet, we had a traditional SharePoint-based intranet. It was full of things that were not relevant. It was very difficult to find what you wanted in there. it wasn’t attractive. It wasn't dynamic. Therefore, it wasn’t a vibrant community. One of the things we decided was that we had to find something that’s simpler for people to use and simpler for us to manage.”

Ian Teague, Head of IT at Woodland Trust

 

Are all intranets the same?

The short answer is—no. In fact, they’re extremely varied. Most people are more familiar with traditional intranets, and the association is usually not good. 

These platforms are relatively static and uninteresting. They generally have a moderated news section that’s guarded by the communications department, but primarily they’re used as repositories for company documents.

And not very relevant ones at that. Documents are often out of date and finding them is extremely challenging. There are links upon links upon links, but none of them make navigation easy. 

An intranet, to most people, is: “That thing we have for filing stuff at work. It’s a nightmare.”

Modern intranets are different. So different that it’s hard to put them both in the same category. Same family, very different relatives. 

A modern intranet is a dynamic, interesting platform that you use to stay connected to your company. It’s the communication tool at the heart of your workplace. It keeps everyone on the same page and, because it’s easy to contribute to, it reflects the people who use it.

It’s the best place to contact colleagues around the world or across the office. If you need to find a document, you can do that with an effective search tool that saves frustrating digging and endless clicking. And that document will be up-to-date. 

At a higher level, it enables and encourages all those positive attributes of a successful workforce—communication, teamwork, collaboration, efficiency, knowledge sharing, and engagement. 

And that’s really important. A company is not a company without its people. Modern intranets are about those people. Bringing them together, bringing out the best in them, and making your company shine in the process.

 


Why do I need a modern intranet?

In a tangible way, a modern intranet creates connections at every level of the company. It’s a powerful, central communication tool that’s simple enough for everyone to use. It streamlines the way in which you interact and work.

While it’s often managed by a couple of people within your company, everyone can participate. In this way, a modern intranet reflects the people who make up the company.

The benefits are substantial. It’ll improve the way in which people across the organization work and how they reach each other. A few of the practical benefits we’ve heard from our customers:

  • Email is reduced.
  • Processes are streamlined.
  • Time is saved.
  • Communication between offices, roles, and levels of seniority is improved.
  • Knowledge and expertise are shared.
  • The number of meetings is reduced.
  • Finding information is easy.
  • Getting information into the right hands is easy.

A modern intranet cuts back on extraneous tasks, which can stand in the way of good work. They remove roadblocks so people can get to the bottom of their to-do lists.

“Jostle has become the one-stop shop for all guides, documents, and information our employees need to get their job done.”

Ashley Stinson, Training and Development Specialist at Consumers Credit Union

Perhaps more interesting and impactful is the knock-on the effect of this connectivity. A modern intranet can resolve internal business problems such as poor employee engagement, limited internal communication, disenchanted staff, and weak company culture.

Below are a few of the common pain points that intranets overcome, with real-life examples from our customers:

1. Engagement

According to a Dale Carnegie study, companies with engaged employees outperformed those without by 202%, yet only 29% of employees are fully engaged. The importance of employee engagement has become widely accepted. There seems to be more evidence than ever before to support the long-suspected belief that an employee who’s engaged in their work is more productive than one who isn’t.

However, achieving employee engagement is easier said than done. Building an environment and culture that inspires a team of individuals to give their very best requires attention and diligence.

One of our customers—Emperor—realized their existing intranet was no longer meeting their needs.

They wanted a central hub for formal and informal communications to help them showcase brand values, share knowledge, and reflect their very intentional workplace culture across multiple locations.

One of the key ways they’re achieving this is through their intranet. Emperor now uses their intranet to connect all five of their offices. Their team members are using it to stay engaged with the company purpose and each other.

“Jostle is the hub where Emperor’s employees connect, engage and communicate. It’s a space where our unique culture and the personality of our people can shine through.”

Sarah Eklund, Marketing Manager at Emperor

2. Internal communication

Poor communication has a domino effect on an organization’s efficiency, productivity, and overall wellbeing. It can lead to a lack of coherence and alignment, broken processes, duplication of work, missed opportunities, frustration, demotivation, apathy, and disengagement.

The overall result? An unhappy workforce and a negative effect on a company’s bottom line. In fact, according to an SMB study, communication barriers can cost $26,000 per knowledge worker, per year.

One of our customers—City of Waterloo—was suffering with poor internal communication and recognized the need for change.

This 630-person organization experienced 100% employee participation in 5 months of launching its intranet. The Jostle intranet provides a single place for their company to come together. Now, the term “going on Jostle” is commonly heard, and their teams have become more aligned because communication is simpler and more frequent.

“Jostle has been a game-changer for our internal communications. Easy to use, great support and fantastic product. Most staff can't imagine what life used to be like without it!”

Brandon Currie, Digital Team Lead at City of Waterloo

3. Company culture

Company culture is indisputably important to employees. According to Deloitte’s Core Beliefs and Culture internal survey, 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success.

Building a company culture isn’t easy. It requires commitment, cultivation, and the right tools.

One of our customers—the City of Vernon in British Columbia, Canada—were struggling to build their culture due to a decentralized work environment.

Vernon has over 370 members of staff in 11 offices. They wanted to pull together this diverse and scattered workforce into a single, energized workplace. Their attempts to do this with company newsletters, file sharing, and SharePoint, weren’t working.

When they started using a modern intranet, the positive impact of this change was almost immediate. Over 85% of Vernon’s employees participate in the new platform and there’s increased sociability, a more connected workforce, easier access to materials, and greater knowledge sharing.

“The sociability between colleagues is leading to increased knowledge sharing that will not only help employees individually, but will also benefit our entire organization. Research clearly shows a direct correlation between employee engagement and culture and overall organizational success.”

Patti Bridal, Director, Corporate Services at City of Vernon

 


How to decide which intranet to get

Under the category “modern intranet,” there are many different products on offer. While features may be similar, most modern intranets use very different approaches to overcome your problems.

That’s why it’s crucial to focus on your pain points first. Rather than deciding that you need a certain feature or widget or intranet, ask yourself what problems you’re trying to overcome. What company needs are you trying to satisfy?

For example, maybe some of your needs are:

  • We need to reduce email
  • We need a better way to find our documents
  • Leadership needs to get messages to everyone quickly, simply, and reliably

Once you’ve clarified your needs, you can start looking for a solution to meet them. You should have a few sales calls with different vendors. Get a live demonstration. You present your challenge; they present their answer.

A note on needs

How do you find out what your needs are? Well, you can either have a few people or a large group of people contribute to that discovery process. Having a cross-section of people from the company is probably a good thing. Getting leadership involved is crucial.

If you choose to get the whole company involved with some kind of survey, understand that it’s important to collate this information and reduce it down to a handful of crucial needs. Then prioritize them, and split the list into “must-have” and “nice to have”. The final step is to evaluate products relative to their ability to fulfill those needs.

Remember, you’re creating a community

Think about what needs to happen to engage your employees. What mechanisms will facilitate discovery and sustain connection. Don’t fall into the trap of creating a massive wish list of features—you’re about to create a community, not a toolbox. Focus on outcomes, not widgets.

Remember—you may need other specialized tools for things like shift scheduling, timekeeping, and project management for big projects. Your intranet doesn’t need to be a one-stop shop for all enterprise tools!

 


What do I need my intranet to do?

So, what will you be using your intranet for? It’s good to think about that before selecting a product. What do you actually need it to do? 

Here are a number of ways most people use their intranet and things they want to achieve with them: 

This is where we... Bad intranets Good intranets
Store and find documents
  • In a complicated folder structure
  • They’re hard to find
  • Often out-of-date

= Frustrating

  • In a simple folder structure
  • They’re easy to find
  • Straightforward to maintain and organize.

= Hassle-free!

Communicate across the company
  • No chat features
  • Only a few people contributing 
  • News articles are the sole form of communication

= Quiet and one dimensional

  • Group and one-to-one chat
  • Lots of people contribute
  • There’s a myriad of ways to communicate and get involved

= Knowledge sharing and community building

Feel represented
  • It’s a one-way communication tool for leadership
  • Only a few can contribute
  • News reflects the company agenda

= Unengaging 

  • Two-way dialogue between leadership and teams
  • Possible for everyone to contribute
  • It reflects the workforce. 

= Engaging

Can find information that's relevant to us
  • Poor search tool 
  • No way to filter content
  • Everything published to everyone

= Irrelevant and noisy

  • Rich, comprehensive search
  • Easy to choose what you see
  • Easy to target information at specific groups of employees 

= Relevant and ‘the perfect fit’

Stay updated
  • Content is often stale 
  • News topics often seem irrelevant
  • Platform is unattractive

=Do you hear that? Crickets. No one is here.

  • Content is updated regularly 
  • Information is varied and easy to digest
  • Platform is fun and oh-so-pretty

= It’s a hive of activity! Everyone’s updated and aligned with company values.

 


How customizable do I need my intranet to be?

If you’ve figured out what your company needs are, that’s great. Now it’s time to consider what’s out there in the market. 

There are a lot of different types of modern intranets, and they all offer different approaches and features. This can seem quite overwhelming, but the key is to remember that you want the simplest solution that will still satisfy your needs.

The simplest intranet you can get is turnkey

  • This is built by an intranet provider and you pay an annual subscription for your intranet. It’s easy and quick to get up and running—simply add your employee information and go!
  • AND, a good turnkey intranet will allow you to put in lots of information. This means the intranet will reflect your organization, look more personal, but still be simple to navigate.
  • AND, you never have to worry about maintenance! A turnkey intranet has a rich set of features but the intranet providers (the experts) are responsible for all of the pesky technical upkeep. You keep doing whatever it is your organization does best. 

In the middle, you have template/widget intranets:

  • To get this right, you’re going to need the help of an information architecture expert, often from the intranet provider. There are lots of widgets and templates to choose from!
  • BUT, this is very expensive and time consuming. You have to become (or engage) a software developer to get the configuration the way you want it.
  • AND, because it’s widget-based, people are often tempted to simply bolt on another widget, which soon leads to broken usability.

The most complex intranet you can get is fully customized:

  • You have to build this intranet from the ground up with a team of IT experts. This means you can add in anything you want!
  • BUT, this is very complex, expensive, and time-consuming. It can easily take over a year to build.
  • AND, youre responsible for maintaining everything on this intranet (security, usability, integration with new software, etc.). This takes time and money, and is extremely hard to do successfully unless you’re an expert in intranets, usability, technology, and security.  

Essentially: as intranets become more customizable, they become more complex, expensive, and time-consuming to install and maintain. Unless your organization already has extremely complex and custom-built software that your intranet will need to interact with, try to go with a turnkey intranet. It’s the simplest and often most effective solution.

 


Other key considerations

As your intranet research deepens, you’re going to repeatedly come across some key topics and terms. Let’s take a look at a few of them:  

Cloud

Many modern intranets are hosted in the cloud, and there are huge benefits to this.

It means you don’t have to rely on local servers and the costs associated with setting up and maintaining them vanish. Poof. Gone. 

It means your intranet is available from anywhere, on any device. If your data is in the cloud, it’s accessible anywhere, from any device. If your intranet is behind a firewall, accessibility on mobile and from around the world can be challenging. 

But, is it safe? Intranet providers working in the cloud have teams that are dedicated to keeping your information safe. They know how to respond, understand, and fix any possible threats. It’s very rare for individual organizations to have the resources or capacity to do the same.

Single Sign-On

Single sign-on is exactly what it sounds like—you log in once on your computer (e.g. on Gmail) and can then automatically log into all associated apps and software without having to re-enter your password. This means you don’t have to remember a number of different passwords and signing on is a simpler and quicker process. Most intranet providers will support single sign on (except the very low cost ones).

Mobile

You don’t need this document to tell you how important mobile access is to technology. It’s where most of us go for information and to stay connected. If you have a diverse workforce—such as field workers or retail staff—an intranet with a mobile app is crucial.  

Privacy—where your data is

Different countries and some industries have rules and regulations about where your data can be hosted. It’s important to understand your organization’s obligations and confirm how different intranet providers will meet them. It’s also important to confirm that you won’t be giving up data ownership.

 


What features do modern intranets have?

Finally, it’s time to take a closer look at the details: the features. Modern intranets have an array of features that’ll help you stay connected to your company and improve the way in which you work. Here’s a summary of popular features and some talking points for intranet providers. 

Do you need a news feature?

  • Improve the way you share news
  • Get messaging across from leadership
  • Share success stories
  • Publish contributions from employees

Questions to ask: What does your news feature look like—is it attractive and engaging? How easy is it for someone with low tech capabilities to use? Can I target news articles to certain people?

Need an org chart and people profiles?

  • View organization charts and company structure
  • Find out more about employees
  • Use headshots to find staff profiles
  • Target information to set groups of people

Questions to ask: How dynamic and detailed is your organization chart? How easy is it to find employees in organization charts and read their bios? Do I need coding capabilities for this feature (or any others)?

Do you need instant messaging?

  • Chat one-to-one online with colleagues
  • Form group chats online
  • Chat online with any employee—wherever they are
  • Send files through chat forum
  • Search the history of chat conversations

Questions to ask: Can I chat with a group of people? Can I share documents over chat? Are the chat conversations saved and searchable?

Do you need a real-time activity feed?

  • Congratulate and reward employees
  • Incorporate your external social media into your news
  • Provide short, company-wide updates
  • Get up-to-the-minute information

Questions to ask: Do you have a live stream feed? Is there a way to @mention people to congratulate them? Is there a way to celebrate success in real-time, company-wide?

Do you need a search function?

  • Find administrative files and documents
  • Access staff profiles and information
  • Find past news articles and blog pieces
  • Trace conversations you’ve had with colleagues
  • Find documents you’ve sent/received over chat

Questions to ask: How good is your search tool, can you show me an example of how thorough it is? Does it search for everything—people, documents, news articles? Are these search results clearly divided by category?

Do you need a file storage library?

  • Store important documents (e.g. policies)
  • Limit document access to specific groups
  • File documents intuitively
  • Improve onboarding processes with clear
    files and video

Questions to ask: How simple/complicated is the file storage system? Is there an easy way to search for files? Can I delegate the updating of files to the experts, even if they don’t have strong tech skills?

 


I’ve got the green light. Now what?

Congratulations! You decided on an intranet and purchased it. Props to you.
Now, what’s next? 

Getting everything ready

From here on, we’re going to focus on turnkey intranets as they’re suitable for most organizations (and our area of expertise)! 

The benefit of a turnkey intranet is that it’s simple and speedy. Depending on the provider you choose, you can have it up and running in a week.

There are usually just a few simple administrative steps for setting up and populating your new platform. The exact details of these will depend on your provider, but this is what it looks like from a high level:

Form a core team

There are two key roles that are essential for a successful, sustainable intranet: 

  • The “Champion” role. This person is responsible for creating content and promoting the platform. They’ll encourage the growth of community through your intranet. This person understands your company and its values and has some basic project management skills.
  • The “Administrator” role. This person is responsible for integrating your intranet with your other systems and inputting company information. They’re also responsible for providing access and rights to other intranet users. This job is best done by someone who’s detail oriented and comfortable with technology.

Find your specialists

It’s a good idea to divide up the work—organizations that have just one content contributor often end up with less engaging content and less relevant news. Some specialists to consider:

  • Leadership. Get executives or leadership onboard. This sends a very strong message about the importance of your new intranet. They can write news articles or actively comment on other people’s posts.
  • Writers. These people are specifically enlisted to write content for the news section. Look for people with different views and a passion for your company; formal writing experience isn’t necessary.
  • Document Control. These people organize and manage the document storage section of your intranet. They’ll structure the folders, determine where to store information, and keep everything updated. 

Get started on the work

As your Champion and Administrator are working on different aspects of your intranet, they can work on the project at the same time.

Your Champion should create a small backlog of articles before going live with your intranet, and build a content plan. That way you can rest assured your news section will be fresh and interesting from the start. They can work with any number of writers and leaders to get this done. 

Your Administrator will work to get your current company data into your new intranet. This includes everything from staff profiles to essential documents. If your intranet is at all customizable, your Administrator will also work to organize features so they reflect the structure and needs of your company.

Get your launch ready! 

Once everything is synced up and you have some kind of content plan, it’s time to launch your intranet! The Champion is usually at the helm of this launch, but we recommend having a team involved. We delve into this exciting topic in the next section! 

If you want more details on a turnkey intranet implementation, the Jostle team is happy to show you!

 


Launch strategies

Your intranet is all set up and ready to go. It’s an exciting time—you’ve put energy into this project and it’s coming to fruition. But, how do you get everyone else as pumped as you are? 

It’s important to create anticipation for the new intranet and celebrate its arrival. A good launch will optimize early success and uptake of the platform. Your intranet provider should have a specialist Customer Success team who help you brainstorm launch ideas that are best suited to your company. 

Below are two ways to create anticipation for your launch and two ways to launch successfully. These will help replace any possible angst with curiosity!

 

2 ways to build anticipation for the launch

The ‘What’s Coming?’ approach

Nothing builds intrigue more than the anticipation of the unknown. This means your launch team needs to be stealthy. No hint of a new solution, what it includes, or when it will launch. Think of your launch as a surprise party for the employees of your organization!

This is an effective and easy way to launch—it reduces your pre-launch marketing period to just one week. 

The week before launch day, start building intrigue. Have fun with this. Let everyone know that a secretive cross-company team has been building something new (but don't reveal who or what). 

A day or so before the launch, shut down your old intranet/employee directory. This builds anticipation. You want to keep this dramatic “no intranet” period short, so you don't cause too much disruption. 

First thing on launch day you finally reveal who the launch team is. Share the party details and let everyone know that the launch team members are available all day, at locations across your company, to answer questions and help people get going. Thank everyone for being good sports! Keep the energy high and the mood light.

The ‘Sneak Peek’ approach

Start building anticipation about your new intranet gradually, with teaser emails that include screenshots as it begins to reflect your organization.

Depending on your launch schedule, we suggest sending out one communication per week. Start many weeks in advance and pick up your frequency of emails as the launch gets closer. 

Here's one sequence that works:

  • Announce that you’re about to implement a new intranet. 
  • Announce who’s on your launch team.
  • Send a series of communications around specific problems/needs and a screenshot of the solution coming into shape on your intranet. Hawaii State Federal Credit Union sets a fine example of this, using funny videos to herald their new intranet.
  • Along the way, announce the launch date. Then, later, the party plan.

Create enthusiasm in each of these communications. Share your excitement about bringing a new intranet and its benefits to the organization.

 

2 ways to celebrate the launch of your new intranet

The ‘Big Event’ approach

Go big or go home! Promoting the launch event, in conjunction with sharing insights about the platform, will help to create a positive experience and generate buzz. 

The ‘countdown’ and ‘sneak peek’ approaches work well combined with this ‘big event’ approach.

Whether you organize this as a smaller lunchtime event or a fully catered evening event, all that matters is you make it feel like a party. Think balloons and confetti!

Here are some ideas:

  • Create atmosphere with music and decorations.
  • Appoint someone to take photos at the party—you can post these on your intranet later. 
  • Free food and treats are always a hit!
  • Ensure you point out who’s on your intranet team and encourage everyone to ask questions and find out more. 
  • Have your CEO engage with the employees of your organization about the new platform. This sends a very clear message to employees about leadership's support for the tool.

The ‘Low Key’ approach

A great way to help ensure a smooth launch is to simply enlist a group of culture champions who can add enthusiasm, share insights, and help guide people through the change. This group should be easily identifiable on the day of your launch.

Here are some ideas they can have fun with:

  • Decorate their office space/desk. 
  • Have your champions share updates on the intranet’s newsfeed to quickly communicate their role to employees “Have questions? I’m here to help!”
  • Spread the word with a launch poster. 
  • Wear it! Making t-shirts for your launch team is inexpensive and effective in creating visibility.
  • Dealing with multiple office locations, or external workers that lack access to technology? Consider a screen share demonstration, or take your champions on the road for a more hands-on introduction.

 


Sustainment strategies

Congratulations on getting your intranet up and running! The launch was successful and you understand the ins and outs of the platform. Everything is off to a great start, but how do you keep this ticking over? How do you achieve those goals you outlined at the start of this journey? 

Thankfully, many modern intranet companies have a Customer Success team that are on hand to help you with this. It’s normal to see a “honeymoon” effect—you have great engagement at the start but it can drop off for a number of reasons. Your Customer Success team will help you understand and resolve this. 

Below are a few ideas from our Customer Success team. These should give you inspiration to keep your intranet vibrant and engaging.

 

Keep leadership involved

Start by encouraging leadership to report freely, so they can quickly recognize successes and announce plans. They can leverage your intranet to solicit feedback, communicate company-wide initiatives, give personal insights, and recognize the work of others. 

  • The CEO of Woodland Trust uses the Jostle platform to publish a monthly blog that discusses what the leadership team are up to from month to month. It’s consistently the highest-read article on their very active platform.

 

Get the right team and do the job right

The team behind your intranet is key to its lasting success:

  1. Having a great champion at the helm is important. They’ll energize your team of writers and promoters. 
  2. It’s best to not rely upon one writer. Choose a mixed group of people from different departments and brainstorm ideas for diverse content.
  3. Consider rotating these writers every once in a while to sub in a fresh voice from a different corner of your company.
  4. Encourage your writers to publish “small” stories often. Get them to find and share interesting facts, customer feedback, and team accomplishments from their region or department. Provide a good mix of informal and formal articles. 
  • One of our customers—The City of Waterloo—took the news of a missing lounge chair and humorously turned it into a missing person’s ad on their intranet’s NEWS view. The post received more comments and engagement than any NEWS Article they had posted to date and banded employees together. 

 

Spur friendly intra-company competition

Some healthy competition is sure to encourage participation!

  • The Jostlers—yes, us—uses our Jostle intranet for photo contests when we started working remotely. With themes such as “your home office”, “your furry coworkers”, and “signature home cooking dishes”, this initiative helped employees get to know each other, build new friendships, and unite the full team behind a feel-good activity.

 

Share employee bios and stories

Sharing stories about employees and spending time writing good bios can lead to a stronger sense of community. This is especially true if you have a dispersed workforce.

One of our customers—Nova 401(k) Associateshired a professional writer to interview and craft biographies of Nova employees to share on their intranet. With this initiative, Nova developed a sense of community and camaraderie between their east and west coast offices.

 


Wrap-up

So—that’s that! We’ve discussed everything from types of intranets, to features, to launch strategies, to sustainment tips. We hope it’s answered your questions and given you some fresh insights and inspiration. 

And the biggest take away? It’s all about creating a community of engaged employees.

Intranets are so much more than stuffy databases for files and folders. Modern intranets are diverse tools that can help you strengthen your brand and culture, increase connection and productivity, and improve communication. A modern intranet can help your company become extraordinary!

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re passionate about intranets and happy to talk to you, no strings attached.

Good luck with your search!

Read more by
Jostle

  • Share this:

Add your comments