Building an intranet employees will love Featured

9:55am EDT July 22, 2002

The accounting department needs access to the receivables database. The sales department is trying to find out what stock is sitting on the shelves in the warehouse. The line workers just want a better way to enter their time sheets.

You can solve all their problems with an intranet.

“Most companies like it to be very well organized,” says Tracy Berger, Internet Systems Developer for NetForce Development. “That’s the reason you have an intranet, because you’re making everybody’s lives easier. It’s good to be organized. You’ve got to be organized.”

Versatility makes intranets enticing., she says. A database that once sat on a mainframe and maintaining calendars and schedules are only a few of the uses. Berger also suggests a bulletin board system. Employees can post questions and get answers from anyone in the company, no matter where the branch office is located.

Other common uses include address books, client lists, maps, company directories, policies, 401(k) plan information, training and company news.

“Anything you’d have to reproduce and distribute,” says King Hill, director of marketing services for DigiKnow. “It’s a central location for information. Think about every time you give someone a map to get to your office. If instead, you had them access the map through your Web site, consider how much time and money you would save.”

Intranets are easier to design and make functional than a Web site, Berger says.

“It’s better when you have a smaller audience, because you’re able to focus in on them and you know what their needs are rather than when you’re designing for the whole Internet. Then you’re designing for everyone in the whole world.

“It’s easier to design for an intranet because you know what computers they’re going to be working on. You can work toward special browsers and different resolutions,” she says.

Knowing the company culture is the key to designing a good Web site.

“What spurred them on? Why did this all come about? Maybe people are feeling very left out, unorganized,” Berger says. “There’s no common thread throughout the company. That’s probably the main reason you start an intranet — because you want to pull everybody together.”

The look of the site is important.

“You have to keep it toned down — clean pages, elegant pages,” Berger says. “Design is part feel. You visit a company. You understand their needs. Parker (Hannifin) is very conservative, and we have to design to their conservative taste.

“We’ll have another company like Maxus (Investment Group), for example. They’re very sophisticated and they want to draw people in. They like us to go all the way with their graphics.”

There are a few things to avoid when designing an intranet.

“We try to stay away from animation. It tends to make a person nervous,” Berger says. “It draws too much attention to itself. If you’re looking at a Web page that has animation going down the side and all the text in the middle, you’re going to steer away from actually reading the text, and you’re going to be pulled toward the animated graphic, which is negative.

“It tends to be more annoying than entertaining.”

Besides providing employees with a place to structure their work lives, to make an intranet a true success, it must draw workers back.

It’s important to have an intranet that allows someone within the company, usually an administrator or secretary, to make changes and additions to text on the site.

“You need to plan this ahead of time,” Chris Ramsey, creative director of The Diner Inc. “Before you actually have the site developed, you need to decide that, say, 20 percent of it you can update yourself.”

You also need to look ahead.

“You want to know what (companies) are going to do with it in the future,” Berger says. “We can design something for today, but you don’t design just for today. You design for the future. You design to build off of it. It’s constantly changing, especially with an intranet.

“It builds and it works with your company. It grows with your company.”