Ten Top Tips for Boosting Employee Engagement on your SharePoint Intranet

intranet-engagement

Lots of time, effort, resource and budget goes into creating a great SharePoint Intranet and continues to be spent to maintain it over the course of its life expectancy. Therefore, it is critical to the success of a project of this scale to get the best levels of user adoption and employee engagement.

Having built numerous intranets for my clients, there is nothing worse than returning to see a system that is unloved, ignored and delivering no value to an organisation. To combat this, I always ensure that the discussion about employee engagement, and actions to assist this, start early in the project lifecycle.

Here are ten top tips to help you boost levels of employee engagement on your existing intranet or upcoming intranet project;


The One Stop Shop

The most common requirement that I hear when scoping out intranets is to ensure that it is the first thing that loads for a user when they log in, and continues to be the default home page for the various different browsers in use across all devices. Ok, so this is a good way of enforcing user adoption, as every user lands on the site, but is it truly helping with engagement levels?

I have heard many terms similar to “One Stop Shop”, such as, “Portal”, “Hub”, “Gateway” etc… All of these terms define a space that will enable a user to reach everything else that they need, and not be a barrier to entry. This means that a few things need to be taken into consideration.

Firstly, can your users access all of the systems that they need to do their job via the Intranet? Are these systems easily linked to with single sign on (SSO) enabled, or do they need to navigate a multitude of differing login portals, or even worse access a bunch of differing remote machines to run specific services. It is understandable that maybe 100% of all systems being easily accessible from the Intranet would be hard going, but having this as an aim is a worthwhile experience.

Secondly, can the Intranet become the ONLY route into specific systems, services and processes? An example I use frequently is that of Holiday Booking. If the Intranet either hosts this service, or is the only way to navigate to the service then you can be sure that adoption levels will increase.

Next, have you considered where users would rather go when online versus your Intranet? What are users now missing, by being restricted to the Intranet being their default browser home page? Lets be honest, we are normally talking about Google or BBC News/Sport, but it would be good to ask your user base the question . . . so now that you have answers from the organisation an investigation into integrating these services can take place. In recent intranets we have built stock feeds, RSS news feeds and embedded Google Search all to ensure that the content users would want to navigate to which would take them away from your intranet is all still available, wrapped within the content that your organisation needs to share.

The key to this tip is that you are working with PEOPLE, and this means that each person will have a set of different wants and needs. It is likely impossible to please everyone, but if you hit a majority and keep that number increasing then you are doing a great job. Remember, people will all come to the Intranet for different reasons and normally not for the reason why you want them there, but that person who comes to book their holiday and gets distracted by some organisational news and announcements is someone engaging who may not have done so before.


Work Life Balance

Further to the “One Stop Shop” it is important to ensure that the Intranet is not all just work, work and more work. Yes it is a workplace system, but it is there to also assist your employees in a range of ways.

My tip here is to ensure that specific sites and pages regarding learning, development, wellbeing, social groups and events are given as much attention as corporate news and business systems. As with the “One Stop Shop” this approach provides additional avenues and user journeys for reaching your Intranet.

Some people may come because they want to book a holiday, some may come because they want to get on with their work but some may come because they need additional support from the organisation or they want to share their common interests and activities with other likeminded individuals, providing them the job satisfaction they need to relieve stress/burn out.

A recent intranet that I built had their Employee Assistance Programme, Holiday Booking System and Learning Management Systems front and centre of the home page, with videos to detail how they were used and links to access them. This showed their employees that they were the most important asset to the company and helped them engage to find out more.


Shout about the Intranet

Maybe not shout, but send a few emails, put up some posters (if you have braved the office once again), display messages on screens and get champions talking to their teams.

Yes we are talking about COMMUNICATION here. However, this is one of the key areas of the business that the Intranet will improve, but its not built yet, so you need to use everything else at your disposal to get your users engaged early, get them excited and get them asking questions (and please don’t leave those questions unanswered!).

Sending out surveys to ask for users opinions on what needs to be covered by the new Intranet will make your employees feel valued and part of the project, leading them to come along on your Intranet journey and assist in making it a success.

Running competitions for branding, logos and/or names will get people talking and also start to provide your first set of news stories – specifically if you can create news about the prize that they won and stories about why the Intranets name was selected.

Providing regular updates and using the relevant branding, theming and logos will start to build familiarity within the organisation. If these can be delivered via your CEO in the form of written word, or through addressing the team at a company conference then even better, as this will show management buy in.

The critical factor here is that on that Monday morning (after a stressful weekend of switching all systems over to go live) users will sit at their desk, open their browser and be presented with an Intranet that they were expecting to see and be empowered to dive right in to it.


Launch with a BANG!

As an extension to shouting about the intranet during its development, you also need to ensure that the go live date is a memorable affair. If budget allows, then dedicate that day for your Intranet launch and provide employees with time to explore the Intranet and learn more about it.

I have been involved in numerous launches, and a few examples are given below;

  • Buying users customised mugs or stationary with intranet branding.
  • Setting up Intranet show and tells within a communal areas like an atrium.
  • Getting users a Kit-Kat and asking them to “Take a Break” while browsing the Intranet.
  • Buying T-Shirts for the core project team reading “Ask me about the Intranet”
  • Setting up drop in rooms/sessions to learn more, with a steady supply of coffee and donuts

Once again management buy in is an important factor here, so if the CEO (and management team) can get involved in the activities, and also be a voice of praise for the Intranet then other employees will stop, listen and pay attention.

Finally, take lots of photos and get lots of opinions, as this will go a long way towards creating some early and engaging news stories for your front page.


Plan your content

Planning your content is an obvious must have for successful Intranets (I hope you would agree), so I don’t want to talk about the high level scheduling of activities, but rather a few elements that I deem of importance to be considered within this plan.

The type of content that is produced needs to be understood by those in the organisation who are providing materials, be it via self-service of news posts or via approval processes. For example, a message that appears within an alert bar and a news article are different things (I know it seems obvious, but I have seen these issues before), therefore, users need to ensure that they are providing headlines, sub-headings, images and a few paragraphs of text if they wish for a news article to be created – a few lines on a white page is certainly not good enough, and if that goers live then users will lose faith in the news and communication element of the system.

Another error I have seen, throughout my consulting career, is news and announcements being about limited subjects as opposed to giving a broad overview of the organisation and current happenings within it. An example of this is an Intranet within a past organisation I worked within, whose news articles were only ever about what the CEO had been up to, what awards he had won and what countries he had visited. Now I am not saying this was not interesting stuff, as the articles were written well with lots of nice imagery and some were entertaining reads. However, it quickly became apparent that the news feed was focussed on only this subject, meaning project wins, new starters, celebrations etc… were not catered for and in turn the engagement levels dropped.


Two way communication

A number of these tips also blend well together, like that of content planning with this tip of enabling two way communication via the Intranet.

The two directions of communications that I am talking about are TOP-DOWN in which messages are delivered by the organisation to its employees, and BOTTOM-UP in which the messaging comes from the employees and is delivered into the organisation.

Creating a blend of these communication styles will once again cater for multiple audiences, but also make your employees feel valued. This could be achieved through providing your staff the ability to post good news stories like becoming parents, winning a project, gaining great feedback or completing a training course/exam.

Another option is to include your users in stories created by the Internal Communications and/or Marketing Team. An example is creating an Employee Spotlight article posted every couple of weeks, in which a staff member (anyone from the receptionist right through the CEO) answers questions about what they do, why they enjoy their job and more about themselves outside of the workplace. It is my personal opinion that this style of content would achieve more views than common stories only about the organisation.

Two way communication can also be achieved through the use of SharePoint page comments, allowing users to discuss their opinion on articles – pending that this is moderated. Wouldn’t it be great if an innovative idea was suggested against a news article, with a manager responding that they want to discuss it further. This sort of communication would highlight an openness within the business and make everyone feel like their voice can be heard.

Yammer can be embedded within SharePoint, and is another natural application to utilise for communication. This application enables conversation to happen naturally in a social manner (like that of LinkedIn or FaceBook) but can also be utilised effectively for events. For example, how about setting up an “Ask the Management Team” session, in which a different manager is reviewing Yammer posts and fielding any questions or discussions that take place. Events like these push users towards using platforms that may be underutilised, enables them to learn what to do and then use it more frequently in their day to day work due to seeing the benefits.

A final thought is to ensure that FEEDBACK is obvious to end users who enter your Intranet. Having this front and centre enables users to provide their opinion, and shows that you are willing to listen to their thoughts. Once again this echoes the message of it being “the peoples intranet”. Furthermore, acting upon feedback and highlighting when this has been done is even more effective as not your employees completely understand that they are being listened to and their systems are being adapted to improve their working practices.


Engaging Designs

I am not going to spend too much time on this point, as the key to have users engage with your intranet is to actually make it engaging to look at – simple. This means that time and effort should be taken in planning the look and feel, and ensuring that usability is key to the project’s success. Once again, ask your users for input to ensure you get this right and perform usability testing if you have the time and funds to do so e.g. How many clicks does it take a user to get from the home page to successfully booking a holiday?

I also advise people to not limit themselves just to their brand guidelines. There are a few different views I have here, so your organisation needs to use the one that works best for you;

  • First is the option to only use your brand guidelines as it builds internal brand awareness, (although, most people understand what company they already work for!)
  • Second is the option to use your brand guidelines, but use some of the more limited colour palettes, so that the site is on brand but because it is internal the brand has been slightly reversed.
  • Third is to develop a custom brand specific for the Intranet (as it is internal so should not impact the brand). This option allows you to have a little bit more fun with the design, and also create something that represents the Intranets name and personality.

A final note here is to remember that photography can provide the ability to inject a lot more colour into a site, therefore if you are limited to building a site that is specifically on brand then the potential use of photos versus icons can liven a site up a little.


Be Dynamic

The task of being Dynamic encompasses the goal of ensuring that your Intranet is frequently updated, so that users are not returning and seeing old, stale content. If this does not happen then users will begin to lose faith in accessing the intranet and will start to bypass it.

I have already discussed planning the content that goes onto the site, therefore that plan should provide a flow of new news and announcements. However, it is unlikely that manually created content will happen every day, as this is likely 2 or 3 times a week. So what do you do between times?

The use of RSS feeds, Twitter feeds, Facebook feeds and Yammer all offer the ability to keep the Intranet current and engaging through minimal management. This is because these will continuously be updated without much input from your Internal Communications team (ok, so your own organisations Twitter and Facebook may not be, but I have had some UK Intranets embed feeds from partners, global offices and subject matter specialists for dynamic content).

In reality a lot of being dynamic is about utilising other peoples resources to help you boost engagement on your platform. A quick embedded RSS feed of the Financial Times for a finance industry suddenly gives a frequently updated set of interesting news that is managed by a completely different organisation and their team – bonus!

Another suggestion, that I have seen work well in past intranets, is to update the branding of the site every so often. Think about the Google Doodle, a way of making a plain white page with a search box more engaging as the logo frequently changes and adapts. A similar approach can be taken with an intranet e.g. adding snow to your extended header and decorating your logo with fairy lights when Christmas is approaching.

I believe that if you set yourself the goal of ensuring at least one thing is updating on your Intranet Home Page on a daily basis, then you are successfully keeping things dynamic.


Integrate with Microsoft Teams

In recent times Microsoft Teams has been taking the world by storm and been a system that organisations have been extremely reliant on. This system has been able to handle communication via voice, instant messaging and videos and has gone a long way to try and deliver a working experience in the home.

So if everyone in your organisation is using Teams then make sure that your Intranet is available as an embedded application.

I personally feel that Teams will continue to be the core solution being used by organisations who work with Microsoft 365 and slowly over time a Teams and SharePoint integrated intranet experience will be the norm, so why wait?

This tip simply advises to ride on the success of other solutions. Teams is successful as your users likely could not perform their job without it, so embedding the Intranet in the system that they use most frequently gives them the easiest access to engage with your Intranet without disturbing their current working practices – win, win!


Monitor and Measure

A final quick tip for those who have made it this far!

To understand employee engagement, you need to monitor employee engagement. You need to set yourself goals, key performance indicators (KPIs) and success factors to aim for. If you are not hitting these then why not?

When you make a change to the Intranet then you need to make sure to interrogate the data even further, like you would any marketed product, to ensure that the change is making a difference in a positive way, or more importantly revert back to a previous version if engagement begins to drop due to a change.

You will never be able to boost employee engagement, if you do not understand current levels of engagement within your organisations, so analytics is key.


To conclude, there are numerous ways to improve employee engagement and user adoption. I am sure there are plenty Intranets that have gained success using some of the tips I have listed above, and plenty that have achieved this in other ways. My advice is to review your current Intranet or ongoing Intranet project against the items I have listed, and other online sources to see what extra steps you can put in place to ensure your Intranet gets the level of user engagement that it deserves.

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