What is an intranet? Examples, benefits, and best practices

By Gabe Scorgie

16 min read

What is an intranet? Examples, benefits, and best practices

In your quest for the ultimate employee success platform—one that consolidates all the tools, information, and apps workers need into a single workspace—you may have come across a solution widely known as an intranet. 

There are many intranets on the market and most share standard features. Because of their similarities, it may be challenging to tell one from another based on features alone. If you are considering implementing an intranet, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide that should answer your questions about what intranets are, what they do, features, benefits, pros and cons, and things you should consider before buying. 

Let’s dive in.

Before we begin…

Before starting the guide on intranets, we feel it’s important to disclose our point of view. Jostle is an employee success platform. Full disclosure—we don’t believe intranets are the best solution for organizations looking to build happy, high-performing workplaces. If you want to know why, you can jump to this section or get our ebook on why organizations are ditching their intranets.

However, if you want to be educated on intranets, this guide contains plenty of that and more. 

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

What’s an intranet? A simple definition


An intranet is an internal company network. Its primary uses are to bring people together, share key information, and foster a collaborative culture.

Intranets are repositories of company content, where employees and departments can access collateral they need for project management, training, to inform tasks, or to share with customers. Security is controlled at the admin level, ensuring only authorized employees can access, view, edit, or download information. 

Modern intranets use automation to simplify and streamline repetitive workflows, create reports, and keep employees connected through social media-like features such as chats and news feeds. 

What are the benefits of an intranet?

Intranets exist to serve four main purposes:

1. Centralize information storage and access

An intranet provides a central hub for company content, information, and collateral. Some examples include training and compliance documents, employee HR forms, job boards, newsletters, project-specific info, and product documentation. 

Content can be pushed out globally to the server for everyone or be targeted to a specific role, team, or employee. Content will continue to live on the intranet until it is removed. 

The database is searchable by keywords, making it easy to locate files and documents. Configurable access ensures only appropriate people can view, edit, or download files. 

2. Improve collaboration and communication

Employees logged into the intranet can message their teammates via text, voice, or video. Team meetings are also held within the system so employees don’t have to leave the platform to meet, share information, and collaborate. 

A modern intranet also attempts to remove silos between departments, aligning teams to shared goals, such as might be the case with sales and marketing. 

Leadership can leverage the intranet to keep employees apprised of what’s happening in the broader scope of the business operations. Sharing successes and providing updates on ongoing initiatives energizes the workforce, giving them something to be proud of and helping them understand the impact of their contributions. 

For example, our development team at Jostle posts updates to the news feed regarding new releases. That way everyone in the company knows when a feature is going out. It helps marketing write new copy, sales mention it in their chats with potential customers, and customer success tells current customers about new features they can use. 

3. Streamline business processes

Businesses today use hundreds of third-party applications to get work done. Utilizing each one as a separate entity and switching apps according to the task would add significant complexity to the workday, not to mention the potential for errors that would eventually need to be corrected. 

Modern intranets integrate apps into a single platform, helping employees focus on higher-value tasks. Users only log in once to access everything they need to do their jobs. Many tasks can also be automated, removing the potential for error, reducing payroll hours, and reducing the monotony of mundane repetition. 

4. Enhance employee engagement and productivity

Intranets simplify many business processes. Leveraged to its best advantage, it can engage employees in their daily work and ensure nothing slips through the cracks. Employee onboarding, performance reviews, weekly scrums, check-ins, and project management are just a few ways the intranet can enhance employee engagement and productivity. 

Engaged employees are happy and will tend to stay put. The more connected they feel to their work, company culture, and overarching mission, the happier and more productive they will be. When the intranet is structured, well-maintained, and used as intended, it can catalyze employee engagement, leading to better productivity and a boost to the bottom line.

When should I get an intranet?

Since intranets are fairly expensive and time consuming to launch, companies are hesitant to pull the trigger prematurely. Before getting an intranet, your company should have enough employees that you need a tool to connect everyone and consolidate information. If your company has fewer than 50 employees, it’s unlikely you’ll see much benefit. 

After that, it’s really up to you to decide. In our experience, companies start looking for an intranet when they’ve grown to over 50 employees and want to improve their workplace in one (or more) of the following areas: 

  1. Internal communication. Intranets consolidate communication platforms into a single place. Employees won’t have to switch back and forth between applications, making it easier to stay focused and less likely for an important notification to pass by unnoticed.
  2. Collaboration. Intranets offer project management tools and shared workspaces, connecting teams even when some members are working from different locations. Everyone has access to the same tools, files, apps, and content as the rest of their team, removing barriers to effective collaboration. 
  3. Employee engagement. When work is a breeze, employees are less frustrated, more engaged, and motivated to stay productive. When configured and managed well, intranets remove workflow friction and make it easier to complete tasks than it would be otherwise. 
  4. Helping employees find information. Employees are connected to the people, content, and tools they need to complete their work. Projects can be monitored, and timelines are accelerated when everyone has the right tools and information to get the job done.
  5. Recognizing and rewarding employees. It’s vital that employees know that their work matters. Intranets make this easier. Especially if they allow real-time shout-outs or integrate with recognition tools like Bonusly
  6. Employee onboarding. A good intranet makes onboarding easy. New employees can browse the intranet to find important documents, read the bios of their co-workers, and get a feel for the company culture.
  7. Knowledge management. All company content can be stored within the intranet, where it is keyword-searchable and accessible by the people who need it. Sensitive documents can be configured with role-based access to prevent unauthorized access. 

Build or buy an intranet?

If you want to use an intranet, or any employee platform really, there is a big decision you’ll have to make: to build or to buy

Each use case has its pros and cons, but ultimately, it comes down to what you’re willing to invest, your in-house IT team’s capabilities, and how you’ll use it. You should also consider the solutions you already use and the capacity of your employees to take on a new tool. Learning new software can be challenging, and buy-in is critical to your ROI. 

So, let’s drill down on the pros and cons of each approach. We’ll consider everything from budget to ongoing maintenance and ease of use so you can make an informed decision. 

The pros and cons of building an intranet from scratch

Every sound business decision requires careful consideration. While a custom intranet has a lot of benefits, they come at a price. You’ll need to weigh the value of the investment against your specific needs. 

So, why would you want to build an intranet from scratch? 

In short, it’s about customization and control. Some companies have specific feature requirements that can’t be satisfied by a pre-built system, and a custom approach gives you all the flexibility you need to create something that’s uniquely your own. 

Pros of a custom intranet

  1. Security and data control. A custom intranet gives you total oversight over your data security, ensuring you have ultimate control over how your data is stored, processed, and accessed. You won’t have to worry about data breaches from third-party vendors, which may reduce organizational risk. 
  2. Integration with your workflows. Custom intranets allow you to connect company systems and design workflows how you prefer. 
  3. Change to support business growth. A custom build allows you to adjust workflows, add features, and connect systems as needed. During times of scale, your intranet can be adapted to new requirements. 

Cons of a custom intranet

  1. Cost. A custom intranet build is financially out of reach for many companies. The up-front investment is substantial, so the benefits need to justify the expense. Depending on the size of your company and the complexities involved in running your business, the cost could easily run into the six-figure realm.
  2. Maintenance. Maintenance and upgrades are needed to keep your intranet functional and require a dedicated team. Maintenance is an aspect you cannot overlook. Failure to do so could lead to lost productivity, costly downtime, and serious cybersecurity issues. 
  3. Complexity. To support a custom intranet, you must maintain software and hardware, including physical servers and private clouds.
  4. Security. Unless you have an in-house cybersecurity or infosec team, you won’t be able to keep up with the security requirements of a custom intranet. Falling short in this area could expose company data or lead to a catastrophic breach. 

In summary, a custom intranet might be worth considering if you are a well-resourced, enterprise-level company that needs advanced customizations and has the in-house talent required to maintain it.

Bring your people together

Considerations for purchasing an intranet software solution

For most companies, purchasing intranet software is an excellent way to streamline business processes and provide employees with the tools and connectivity they need to stay productive. 

Pros of purchasing intranet software

  1. Fast deployment. Rapid growth is often the catalyst for considering intranet software. A pre-built intranet deploys quickly, minimizing downtime and allowing you to start seeing value immediately. 
  2. Cost-effective. SaaS intranet software has significantly less up-front cost than a purpose-built system. You’ll pay a predictable monthly fee based on your chosen service level and can cancel or upgrade anytime. 
  3. Vendor-managed. Intranet software is delivered as SaaS, meaning the vendor manages the back-end code, maintenance, and security, so you don’t have to.
  4. Integrations. Intranet software connects to the productivity apps you already use via APIs, making it easier for your employees to adopt. 
  5. Rapid scale. If you need to add more users or resources to your intranet, you can do so quickly without the time-consuming process of building new department sites within your organization.
  6. Add or remove features as needed. Connecting new apps or removing ones you don’t need is simple. 

Cons of purchasing intranet software

  1. Limited customization. Not all intranets are built equally. You may not get some of the features you want or end up with features you don’t use at all. 
  2. Data security. If you require complete control of your data, a purchased intranet might not be the best option for you. 
  3. Additional charges. Some vendors may require additional fees for bandwidth overages, traffic, premium features, or upgrades. Be sure you understand any “hidden” costs before you choose. 
  4. You still need to maintain it. Content must be updated consistently for the intranet to be useful and relevant.
  5. Future considerations. Think about where you expect to be a few years from now and consider the cost and complexities of switching providers if the need arises. 

Bottom line? All but the smallest companies will benefit from an intranet, but cost and IT resources are the greatest divide. Custom builds are ideal for the enterprise, but a pre-built SaaS intranet is often a more viable and affordable choice.

Ultimately, the decision should always keep the goals—and budget—in mind. 

What to look for in an intranet

If your organization plans on implementing an intranet, here are the top features you should be looking for:

  1. Intuitive UX. User experience (UX) is paramount. Getting employee buy-in will be a challenge if the platform is too complicated or cumbersome to use and navigate. It’s essential to your success that people use it, and excellent UX will ensure that happens.
  2. Strong search capabilities. Content should be keyword-searchable to ensure fast and easy access. 
  3. Integrate with your current tools. Your solution should not force you to give up the productivity tools and apps you already use and love. Integration pulls app data into the system so you can view and access everything from a single interface. 
  4. Accessible anytime, anywhere. Cloud-based access removes informational silos and enables employees to log in remotely so they can work from wherever they are. 
  5. Easy to adopt. The best intranets are user-friendly and easy for any employee to learn. A successful implementation hinges on adoption, so ease of use is paramount.  

How to successfully launch an intranet

Buying an intranet is the first step. Setting it up and getting employees to use it represents a new challenge.

In best practice, here’s what you need to do to ensure a successful intranet launch:

  1. Make a plan for adoption
    Before launching your intranet, you must ensure everyone’s on board. Employees need to know what’s coming down the pike, but you’ll also need buy-in from leadership. A successful adoption requires clear oversight, which starts at the highest levels of management. 
  2. Set goals
    Consider how your workflows will change once you implement the new system. A gradual switch may be better as it gets people used to new processes over time. Let employees know you will stop using emails to push out content and start posting content to the intranet on a specific date. Establish timelines for certain features to launch and a long-range plan for full adoption.
  3. Seek employee input
    Employees are more likely to get on board if their input is solicited. Choose a handful of employees to be the first to use the system and seek their feedback during implementation. Once the system is configured in a way that works for them, they can be your “champions,” training and coaching others as they adjust to the new workflows.
  4. Select a platform
    Choosing an intranet platform can be challenging! Consider the features you need, your budget, and your employees’ tech proficiency and comfort level. In best practice, the system should be easy enough to use for the least tech-savvy in the organization. 
    We have some suggestions, too—check out our article: The 10 Best Intranet Software for your Organization. You can (and should) also check websites like G2 and Capterra to compare systems and read reviews by verified industry users.

  5. Clarify permissions
    Knowing how to use the system is just the beginning. You will also have to assign people or teams to manage certain aspects of the intranet, specifically overseeing content and user access.

    • Who is going to maintain the knowledge base?
    • Who is responsible for reviewing new content?
    • Who oversees permissions?

  6. Setup your intranet infrastructure
    All tools must be configured to perform to your standards and deliver the expected results. Each intranet tool and its options should be explored before launch. Having your settings, spaces, and permissions sorted out is essential before implementing the system company-wide. 

  7. Create and publish content
    From policy and procedure manuals to marketing materials, HR forms, and company news, you must build your library and create file systems relevant to your needs.

  8. Employee initiatives to improve adoption
    Training starts well before implementation. Employees should know what’s coming and have a reasonable timeline to prepare for the changes. Information sessions, one-on-one meetings, and learning modules should be scheduled to ease the transition.

  9. Measure success
    Use data and establish KPIs to help you measure success. Measurement should begin at implementation and be reviewed frequently during the initial months to gauge uptake and inform improvements. KPIs to measure can include engagement with the intranet, sign-ons, time on the platform, and other interactions. 

Disadvantages of an intranet

1. Very expensive 

Intranets take months to onboard, and they generally charge by user count. This requires tremendous effort, investment, and resources from HR, IT, Communications, and other departments.  

2. Too noisy

Changes to an intranet, such as editing existing pages or adding new ones, often go unnoticed unless actively promoted. Consequently, employees must actively search for and read new content, leading to overwhelming noise on the intranet’s homepage and in their inboxes.

3. Reinforce department silos

In an attempt to cater to different departments, intranets often create separate sites within the overall intranet structure. This leads to employees primarily accessing their own department’s section, reinforcing the very silos that the intranet was meant to bridge. As a result, individuals become disconnected from what’s happening in other departments and across the organization.

4. Outdated information and broken links  

Creating a new page for every new topic and initiative compounds the problem of intranet bloat. New pages pile on old ones, so it quickly becomes difficult to find what you need to know what is relevant. This is extremely frustrating and may highly disrupt the digital employee experience. 

How to avoid common intranet issues

The bad news about intranets is that 90% of implementations fail

Intranets often resemble standard websites or content management systems. This static approach can lead to a platform that quickly becomes outdated as the business grows, creating barriers to effective communication. 

Each department having its own page exacerbates the issue, as it isolates teams and reinforces informational silos, hindering collaborative efforts across the organization.

Moreover, intranets quickly become cluttered and challenging to navigate, especially if content management is neglected. This clutter not only makes finding information frustrating but overwhelms users, leading to disengagement. 

We often hear stories from people that sound like this: They bought an intranet and it took longer to set up than expected. At first, it was great. Slowly, however, it became a mess of broken links and outdated information. Before long, the intranet was abandoned by employees.

That story doesn’t have to be your reality. Here’s how you proactively avoid some of these pitfalls:

  1. Make your intranet accessible anywhere. Provide employees with a responsive platform that makes connecting anywhere on any device easy. 
  2. Keep your content up to date. Diligently archive older content and ensure the latest versions are clearly indicated. Doing so reduces time wasted finding important information, keeps people engaged with the system, and makes it easier to get work done
  3. Quietly send messages to the right audience. Implement quiet notifications to avoid distractions and push out targeted updates (i.e., send only to relevant people) to reduce noise. 
  4. Have a central space where the whole company comes together. Beyond departmental and team hubs, provide a central space for everyone to prevent isolation, foster inclusion, and keep people interested in company news and happenings. 
  5. Encourage everyone to participate. Use the home page for leaders and employees to share stories and news and celebrate milestones. Encourage everyone to participate and ensure each individual is allotted time and space to share. 

Key Takeaways 

We hope this guide has answered all your burning questions about intranets—what they are, what they do, and why you should or should not choose to implement one. Supporting employees in streamlining their workflows and helping them stay engaged and productive is always the goal, and that’s how we define employee success. 

While intranets may not be the best solution for every company, employee success still matters. If you’re looking for a more flexible, user-friendly, and scalable solution your employees will love to use, book a Jostle demo today


Why do intranets keep failing?

Learn why organizations are moving beyond traditional intranets, opting for an easy to launch and maintain solution instead.

Show me why

Gabe Scorgie

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