Collaborative Intranet Design Strategy

| October 5, 2010 | Comments

Intranet designs should support workplace productivity. This can be achieved by attracting employees to a reliable information resource and engaging them to participate, exchange ideas and innovate to the benefit of the organisation.

Websites have evolved from static HTML pages of the Web 1.0 era to engaging Web 2.0 online communities like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  As companies begin to understand the business value delivered by Intranets, the platform steadily matures from a basic communication and information sharing resource into more collaborative, workplace community.

Razorfish have documented this evolution of Intranets into The Intranet Maturity Framework. Razorfish’s intranet design framework can be used as a planning tool to evolve an Intranet from a static information resource into a consolidated workplace interface.  Design strategies for Stages 1 & 2 are relatively straight-forward as the primary focus is on:

  • consolidating user experiences,
  • establishing a content strategy
  • basic governance models.

Evolving an Intranet into a more collaborative environment characteristic of Stage 3 can be challenging.

Stages of Intranet Maturity

Designing Collaboration-Driven Intranets.

When the web began to evolve from the Web 1.0 era to Web 2.0, there was a focus on building sustainable online communities by attracting and retaining website members.

Amy Jo Kim published three primary Design Principles and nine Design Strategies for online communities in her book Community Building for the Web.   Kim’s Design Principles and Strategies where evident in the early designs of Ebay, Yahoo! and many online gaming websites.

Whilst many Enterprise 2.0 tools are available to support collaboration within the workplace exist, the clever combination of these tools ensures the successful design of a collaborative online platform for employees.  For this reason, Kim’s Design Principles and Strategies for online web communities can also be applied to design an Intranet from a Stage 2 Self Service Intranet to Stage 3 Collaboration-Driven Intranet.

Three Fundamental Design Principles for Collaborative Intranets

The three underlying design principles of successful online communities that underpin design strategies can also be applied to Intranet designs.

  1. Design for Growth & ChangeDo not attempt to over design your Intranet collaboration areas.   This can lead to over investment in technology platforms that can be difficult and costly to change in the future.   Focus on simplicity to allow organic growth with the changing needs of employees and conditions of the workplace.
  2. Create & Maintain Feedback Loops: Efficient feedback loops between employees and Intranet site owners provide insights needed to continue the evolution of the design with appropriate features in the future.
  3. Empower Employees: As the collaborative areas of the Intranet grow, a progressive strategy for leveraging the ideas and efforts of participating employees should be implemented.  Initially, site owners define the purpose of the site, set the tone and feature set selection.  However, for the site to be a valued collaborative resource, employees must be empowered to progressively build and maintain the culture of the site.

Nine Design Strategies for Collaborative Intranets.

Intranet design strategies address the architectural, systems orientated approach that Kim refers to as ‘Social Scaffolding’.  Social scaffolding can be practically applied when developing collaborative Intranets to achieve a thriving employee community.

  • Define & communicate the purpose:  Successful Intranet collaborative areas must fulfill an ongoing need for employees within the workplace.   Defining a purpose for the collaborative area ensures that the needs of the employees are reflected appropriately in the design, technology and policies governing the collaboration area.
  • Build flexible & scalable gathering places:  Effective collaboration across divisions and departments occur when employees gather for a shared purpose and begin communicating with each other.    Gathering places for collaboration should initially be small scale with the flexibility to evolve as the employees needs evolve and change.
  • Create meaningful & evolving member profiles: Meaningful, scalable, employee profiles assist to build trust, encourage strong working relationships and deliver personalized services as the Intranet continues to grow.
  • Design for a range of tenure: As Intranet collaboration grows, it is important to balance the needs of new employees with the leadership, ownership and networking opportunities of long term employees using the platform.
  • Develop a strong leadership program: Encouraging effective, productive collaboration can be akin to ‘herding cats’.  It is important to recognize and empower collaboration leaders to lead the development of thriving employee communities.  Collaboration leaders manage collaboration sites by
    • stimulating productive topical discussions,
    • inspiring employee collaboration newbies
    • reinforcing codes of conduct if required.

Effective collaboration is like herding cats.

  • Encourage appropriate etiquette: Hierarchical management structures discourage cross-divisional content and social discovery. It is well documented that divisional heads can act as barriers to the fluid exchange ideas.  To mitigate this issue,  develop ground rules for the participation in collaboration and ensure that the technology supports the capacity to enforce and evolve collaboration standards as the collaborative Intranet evolves.
  • Promote Cyclic Events: Regular online events such as web casts or interviews attract a loyal following of employees and stimulates discussion or problem solving activities.  As cyclic events become more popular, empower employees to arrange and facilitate their own cyclic events.
  • Integrate offline workplace rituals: Most workplaces have an established rewards and recognition program or events to acknowledge employees and celebrate important achievements.  These activities can easily be translated into an online environment and can also assist to enhance employee profiles.
  • Facilitate employee controlled sub-groups: If the goal is to grow an enterprise wide collaboration group, allow employees to create and run their own sub-groups.   This is a lasting feature that drives lasting employee loyalty.

:: Related Links ::

Social Collaboration – Joining forces on the digital frontier

The Intranet Maturity Framework (Razorfish)

Challenges and Drivers of Enterprise 2.0

Yamming on with Yammer @ Suncorp (Micro blogging collaboration)

Improve employee engagement with blogs

Improve employee collaboration with wikis

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Category: Intranets

About the Author ()

Teale Shapcott is a multidisciplinary User Experience expert passionate about making websites, software and intranets easy to use and engaging for people. Teale’s career has spanned 16 years of design experience moving from graphic / web design to user interface design to designing processes and customer experience for corporate intranets. Teale enjoys weaving together different disciplines and perspectives together to solve complex design problems. When she isn’t busy designing great experiences, Teale can be found, camera in hand, looking for beauty, inspiration and fresh perspectives.


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