Why we redesigned our own intranet and why you should too

Why we redesigned our own intranet and why you should too

A redesign of our internal intranet was long overdue, but our expertise told us that simply changing a logo and removing some documents wasn’t the answer.

It’s probably no surprise that we use our own ThoughtFarmer intranet. 

A key benefit of eating our own dogfood is that it allows us to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and see the features they have grown to depend on. It also allows us to spot any frustrations that might prompt us to evolve ThoughtFarmer. 

But…like our customers, we are prone to some bad habits too—like allowing our homepage to become outdated, not monitoring site metrics, and allowing content sprawl to occur. In addition to the content issues, the design, which was inspired by an in-joke from an early time in the company’s history, did not tie into our brand and was confusing to new staff.

We were evolving as an organization, but our intranet wasn’t reflecting that. Some days it felt as though our intranet belonged to a different company.  An intranet redesign was long overdue, but our expertise told us that simply changing a logo and removing some documents wasn’t the answer. 

Our outdated intranet

An intranet’s usefulness is ultimately determined by its users. There may be corporate requirements to satisfy, but if an intranet becomes nothing more than a generic news centre, it’s not going to be useful, and employees won’t visit it. 

So here is the journey we took to redesigning our intranet into a vibrant community that employees would once again use to collaborate, engage, and improve productivity.

Step 1. Understand the employee experience

The experience of each intranet user should be personalized to include things that will help them get work done, and things that interest them. So before jumping into an intranet redesign, we needed to discern how employees felt about the culture and working at ThoughtFarmer.  

We collected this information through an employee survey. This survey was about understanding the employee experience—not the intranet. 

We designed the survey so that the answers and feedback would help us understand the character of the company, but it also helped us build awareness and consensus for the intranet redesign. If people are aware of an upcoming redesign and are asked their opinion on it, they will be more likely to accept the results.

In the survey we asked employees to select five adjectives from a large list that best characterize the positive aspects of their experience of their workplace (whether they were onsite or remote). We also asked the same question, but with an aspirational view so we could understand how employees wanted their workplace to look like. 

We additionally provided a list of animals and asked employees to select the one that best represented the ThoughtFarmer experience. Some of these questions may appear silly, but they provided us with a lot of good information. People can be very articulate when it comes to describing an abstract concept like their employee experience in terms of concrete things like animals, buildings, or other brands. 

Fortunately our employees were very aligned on their responses. This gave us confidence that we were successful in providing a unified employee experience. 

Step 2. Identify some themes 

Our research gave us a lot of insight into how employees felt about working at ThoughtFarmer. From the information we collected we easily identified three themes, each of which presented a potential design challenge. 

Collaborative

Our flat hierarchy, roll-up-your-sleeves attitude, sense of trust, and the general family vibe reinforces a strong collaborative spirit. Spaces—both physical and virtual—are social and inclusive, allowing people to share ideas, consider diverse points-of-view, and learn from one another.

Design challenge: How do we demonstrate collaboration on our intranet without resorting to an uninspiring or lengthy video/animation? 

Fun

Our employees are generally low-key, don’t take themselves too seriously, and aren’t afraid to have fun. We’re playful and upbeat, willing to put in that little bit of extra weirdness and quirk to help make someone’s day better. We’re also artists, cooks, cyclists, musicians, cosplayers, and more. And we put it all proudly on display, celebrating our differences and milestones.

Design challenge: What intranet design elements might bring our sense of relaxed fun to life while maintaining a professional atmosphere?

Friendly

Our workplace is friendly. It’s not pretentious or cold. We do our best to create a comfortable, approachable, casual—some might even say cozy—environment that reflects our naturally welcoming and good-natured employees. We’re happy to be here and are mindful of maintaining a safe, calm, and supportive workplace for everyone. 

Design challenge: How can we reflect the softer, friendlier face of our workplace in the design of our intranet and in the brand of ThoughtFarmer?

Step 3. Find out how employees currently use our intranet  

Now that we understood ourselves, it was time to consult our employees for a second time. This time we wanted to understand how they were using the current intranet. So, we ran another survey. Intranet surveys are a fantastic way to gather insight into how your employees truly feel about their intranet (we recommended reading our blog post: How to create an intranet evaluation survey). 

Questions included: 

  • Rate how frequently you use the various components and features on the intranet homepage. 
  • What is at least one thing you wish you could change about the intranet homepage and why
  • Is there any feedback you’d like to share about the intranet homepage that we didn’t already cover?

This allowed us to understand which features were used often and which ones weren’t, which features were relied upon and which were considered novel. We learned some employees rarely used the homepage features (which we assumed were used a lot), and a lot of employees liked fun features, like the birthday card that informs us on upcoming employee birthdays. But again, this is why these surveys were so valuable. They allow us to design an intranet that reflects what our employees want, rather than what a designer might deem useful. 

From this feedback, we were able to quickly identify many commonalities and themes. This helped us identify realistic and attainable actions to tackle right away —like customizing quick links, providing more frequent updates, adding more fun and culture related items, and improving the layout and design (and removing our old mascot!). 

The feedback also revealed that some users weren’t aware of some of the available features. This helped us understand where training might be beneficial. 

Step 4. Get strategic

A well designed intranet is so much more than just a wish list of everyone’s favourite features. It solves real organizational problems related to content, culture, communication, collaboration, and knowledge. 

We therefore needed to consider the employee experience (as mentioned above) as we strategized which changes to implement. Before proceeding any further with any specific action items we asked ourselves: 

  • Would it help the majority of staff get their tasks done more efficiently?
  • Would it show the fun and friendly experience of our culture?
  • Can it be displayed with the minimum amount of detail needed to be functional without adding visual or cognitive noise?

We also took a step back and looked at our product from a high level. We asked ourselves, “What features stand out the most in our customer demos?”, and “How can we ensure that we used these features to our advantage in our own intranet redesign? For us, this tends to be features like FormFlow, ease of use, and the organizational chart. 

Mapping usage trends

Step 5. Verify the security

As part of our SOC II certification, we need to ensure that any customer data stored on our intranet is only accessible to the project teams that require access. When making large changes to the IA (intranet architecture) of an intranet, it’s a good idea to review the security settings and make sure that the only the right people have access to potentially sensitive information.  

We used the new audit report feature from our most recent release of ThoughtFarmer to examine how the security settings were configured and made changes as required.

Step 6. Design an amazing intranet

We were now ready to get to work on our intranet redesign. We started by having our talented team of designers develop colours, type choices, photo guidelines, and illustrations that were in line with the experience we were trying to reflect. The analysis of our survey told us that the intranet had to feel collaborative, fun, and friendly. Some of this can be accomplished with changes to our brand’s look and feel, and some can be done in how the intranet is set up, but that direction gives us important targets to strive for, and, more importantly, test for. 

At a UI (user interface) level, we carefully analyzed the feedback and created heatmaps on how employees use the current intranet, how important people feel some elements are, and how they think the intranet should be used. We used these heatmaps to tell us which features to prioritize, which to drop, which to add, and also how to layout the homepage to encourage browsing. 

Our designers worked closely with our developers throughout the intranet redesign process on some of the more advanced components we wanted to build into the theme, like the animated header.

Our newly redesigned intranet

Did it work? 

Because ThoughtFarmer has built-in analytics, it was easy to determine if any of the changes we made to our intranet actually had an impact on the usage and visitation metrics. We pulled a report looking at two different time periods, each six months apart. As you can see there was a marked increase in comments created, news items created, likes, bookmarks, and follows. 

Sep 2019 – Feb 2020 Mar 2020 – Aug 2020 Trend
Comments created 482 941 +48.78%
News items created 237 400 +40.75%
Likes 447 579 +22.80%
Bookmarks 197 200 +1.50%
Follows 131 195 +32.82%

 

Not that we doubted the strength of our intranet redesign, but it was definitely great to verify with the right metrics. 

So there you have it. Our detailed journey to a better, more beautiful, and more productive intranet. Did this project require a lot of effort? Yes, it did. But as you can see the end result was so worth the effort. 

If you want to know more about redesigning an intranet, feel free to reach out to us. We know the process better than anyone, so who better to help you out? 

 

Have questions? Get in touch! We're always happy to hear from you.

October 20, 2020

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