When first walking into business as a Junior SharePoint Analyst many years ago and branching out into Project Management I was made aware of the KISS Principle. This has a few meanings, but the main one that stuck was to “keep it simple, stupid”. 4 words that are extremely important when it comes to working on projects, developments and specifically SharePoint.
I wanted to make productive use of my time whilst sat in a busy airport waiting to jet off to one of my larger clients at the other end of the country, so decided to think (and share) how simplicity can be used during the core phases of creating a modern experience SharePoint Intranet.
Applying your Brand
Microsoft have been very helpful in providing lots of articles that assist in creating new themes within modern experience SharePoint, so that an injection of your company colours and logos can be achieved. However, they have also provided a useful solution to create your theme from within their Fabric User Interface (UI) website which comes with its own Theme Designer.
This service provides the option to generate a theme that is relevant to your organisations primary colour (or the defined primary colour for your intranets brand if moving away from corporate guidelines), you can also throw in a secondary colour if you want to create a two tone effect – with simplicity in mind I would push this no further than the 2 colours and would let Microsoft handle the elements that are coloured, rather than trying to be too specific with cascading style sheets (CSS).
Additional colours can be added to elements of the page, so it is worth considering the use of these colours to help guide your users. For example, we have worked with clients who utilise colours to define which corporate area of the business a department lives in. So, if you see blue tiles you know you are in a Technology Area versus Green Tiles being in a Personnel Area. We have even had clients expand this out of their intranet and into their office decoration and furnishing!
As well as showcasing all the different User Interface (UI) elements of the page in the colours selected, the designer also provides a neat little accessibility checker to make sure you are not creating something that is difficult to read.
When applying your brand, remember that you are styling a platform to improve efficiency and communications within your organisation. Yes, it does have to look nice, but you are not trying to sell your organisation to your employees. They are already bought in to your journey and your vision, as they work for you! Ask yourself, is it really that important to use the exact font on your website versus the readable font that Microsoft have provided? If it is then you must remember that you are adding complexity that leads to a higher cost, longer timeframe and potentially more site breaking issues that may not be apparent at first glance.
The modern experience SharePoint typography can be seen here.
Configuring your SharePoint Site(s)
My advice for site creation is to utilise as many out of the box features as possible, and then utilise further developments at the stage when there is a problem that cannot be solved with the available web parts. This is the approach that AMT Evolve have taken, as their modules are developed to fill a gap in the market, but are developed to be configured in the same style as out-of-the-box (OOB) web parts through use of the SharePoint Framework.
I also believe that the “less is more” rule applies to site builds, as the site needs to be considered for both desktop and mobile devices (considering Modern Experience is Mobile First in its design), so you do not want users to have to scroll for a long time to get all information.
I am a fan of the Hero Web Part that I understand can take up a lot of room in the tiles layout, but for a landing page it is extremely engaging – my only advice would be to avoid the use of an all photo approach, breaking it up with colours (either coming from your site theme or just an upload of a coloured square) and to ensure that it is not over used across the Intranet, in all honesty a single Hero Web Part, in this layout, on your home page is probably all that is needed.
Furthermore, it is important to not forget the layer version of the Hero Web Part which I believe generates a nice looking page in a matter of minutes when providing an overview and links to a set of content. For example, here is a locations overview page that I have shared in previous blog posts.
Another core piece of advice is to ensure that a similar look and feel is in place across sites, to assist in usability. For example, all department sites should make use of the same layout so that users know where to find content, there is no reason to have a set of quick links at the top of one page but on the bottom of another as this will just cause confusion.
Finally, consideration of Communications versus Team Sites will be required as you a building your Intranet structure. Communication Sites tend to be the standout offering, but what I really like about Team Sites is the ability to continue to use the “Current Navigation” on the left hand side of the page, to easily allows users to jump between pages, lists and libraries. When creating our Public Team Sites, we provide a simplistic overview which can lead users on a journey for further information, an example of this is provided below (please note this is utilising some custom AMT Evolve Modules);
When it comes to navigation, everyone wants to be on the top banner and part of the Global Navigation, therefore it is critical to define the rules for this so that you can easily define why a link does belong there and why one does not (I have seen some of these wrap across 3 lines in past versions of SharePoint which is not good!) The “Current Navigation” mentioned along with Team Sites is a useful tool to allow users to drill into more details, without having all these links filling the Global Navigation bar.
As navigation is so easy to modify and adapt then it is simplistic to have links appear in more than one place across the site, ensuring that it is visible to more personnel. For example, you may decide that “Book My Holiday” is a really important link to be promoted on the home page (links like these build user adoption) but it is also worth having that accessible from the HR Page to, as some employees may always think of going to HR for booking holidays.
A final consideration is to decide on what functionality you will use to manage navigation on pages. In the past we have worked with clients who have only used a tile approach to achieve this, and although they are more engaging remember that you need to ensure the tiles are configured on each and every page to allow for all navigation routes to be covered, which can be a large up front job and also becomes an issue when making updates.
Generating your SharePoint Content
The biggest hint that I can provide around content generation is that you are already doing it, but just don’t realise. So, what do I mean by this? . . .
The main content that will reside on your intranet will be related to activities that are already occurring or due to be taking place. For example, all businesses will have the following;
- Rules, regulations, policies & procedures
- Ongoing projects at various levels; awarded, in progress, completed
- Company events – both business and social
- Stories about new and existing employees
- Blogs and Vlogs on related subject matter put together by hobbyist employees
- News stories published on your external website
The bullet points above cover a lot of different content that could be generated. Now all that is needed is a simplified process to ensure that this is captured and distributed accordingly. Modern experience SharePoint has made this a lot simpler with the introduction of Hub Sites, allowing content to be rolled up to a central location across multiple sites. This means that sites can be generated for Departments, Functions and Projects with news and content being generated at that level and then pulled to the main intranet if required.
SharePoint has also introduced a “News Link” function which allows for news to be added from a URL, with the thumbnail, headline and description already input for you, which can be tweaked if necessary – this then links users directly to the original article. This makes it really simple to re-use news that is already on your external website, without having to recreate it for SharePoint.
I always consider the use of a plan to be a way of achieving simplicity, as your communications and marketing teams are not having to rush to gather news when it is required. For example, interviews could be scheduled with employees to understand their background and why they love working for your company, these could be done ahead of time and then released on a weekly or monthly basis -depending on the number of staff you have a set of news and content could already be prepared for a year or more!
I understand that public facing news is critical to be created following a specific style and tone of voice, but is this critical internally? It is my opinion that it is more important to share internal news when it occurs, as opposed to putting numerous barriers in front of it for approvals and rework. This does not mean that social media policies do not apply, and the ability to allow individuals in the business to create their own content must not be abused – but some lessened restrictions can help content pour in.
I have been in many organisations that have had a great process around generating news, but the user adoption was still failing. The core reason for this was due to the news coming from a single source, with more of a focus on CEOs and the business rather than what it means for the people. Winning a large tender is a big achievement for an organisation, but users will be more engaged with celebrating the achievement of the team who put the tender together and what they overcame to make this happen! It is therefore really important to ensure that the whole organisation is aware that their stories matter and they know how to get them visible.
Ask the Experts
It is simple that “you do not know, what you do not know”. When it comes to using Office 365 and SharePoint for the first time this will become very apparent. So now comes the decision on how you acquire that knowledge.
Once again with simplicity in mind, the best approach is to engage with people who are experts in the industry and can share their knowledge with you. This can be achieved through the use of forums, training services, consulting services and/or off the shelf Intranet products (like the AMT Hub). This is because these individuals and services use tried and tested methods. Meaning that you are utilising years of experience as opposed to starting from a blank sheet internally.
My final piece of advice here is to do your research, and ensure that you work with services that will engage with you and not rush you through a process, there is a lot to learn and taking a logical and phased approach will ensure that investment into Office 365 and SharePoint is not wasted.
Want to discuss this blog further? Thinking of delivering an Intranet or new services into your SharePoint and Office 365 environment? Thinking of taking your first steps to move to Office 365 and SharePoint? – please get in contact and we can help you on a successful journey.