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Department intranet sites – you’ll need two of those

Department intranet sites – you’ll need two of those

Pottery shopWhen people think about visiting ‘the HR section’ of their intranet, they probably want to find some specific answer to an employment query, find a specific topic within a policy, or actually request holiday via the ‘self-serve’ system.

If these are the common ‘use-cases’ for the HR section of the intranet, then the site needs to be set-up and presented to help employees get to what they need. It’s about configuring and designing the HR intranet site to be a showroom for everything offered, and making it a slick enough experience so that people can easily complete the tasks they came do.

Potter's wheelBut what about encouraging and supporting collaboration within the HR department? Having defined the audience for and the purpose of the HR intranet section, it’s not appropriate to use the same section for departmental collaboration and HR-only communications. A second intranet section is needed, just for HR people – a workshop section for the HR department.

For any department that has work to get done and needs to communicate and support colleagues outside of their department, two intranet sections / sites are needed:

  1. Showroom – the easy-to-access site, with a nice landing page and all the information, tools, documents, and organisation-wide news, for every employee.
  2. Workshop – the private or open collaborative site that’s about getting things done, processing, talking with department colleagues, and managing the department, for department people (and authorised collaborators) only.


It’s all about the audience

The employees within your department and those without have different expectations and needs. Trying to satisfy both audiences will create a mess of an intranet site and confusion. It’s just not efficient to attempt to serve such diverse audiences from one place – it’s too easy for contributors to publish sensitive material to the whole organisation. It’s too much admin to maintain proper information management without clear separation.

Combining department-only material with business-critical communications and policies will only increase the noise to signal ratio for visitors. Covering the two diverse audiences means satisfying neither.

Having two sections / sites for each department should cause little extra work and no confusion for department members. A department member should be able to find their collaborative workshop site simply by visiting the showroom site and clicking on the ‘Team Site’ (or whatever) link – and gaining immediate access. This link doesn’t even need to appear for non-members (and if it does, it can bar entry).

Some organisations have a very open culture, and so collaborative sites could be configured to be accessible to non-members – it’s your choice.


It’s all about the purpose

People outside your department need to know what your teams can do for them. But those ‘Welcome to our site, here’s our mission statement’ vanity pages aren’t helping anybody. Your showroom department site should be task-focused – helping visitors get things done. You can still share news, views, good practices and guidance, but remember people are looking for specific guidance that addresses specific scenarios that affect them, not you.

All of this is true for your members-only collaborative workshop too, but inside you also get to talk about department specific news, changes, and good practices. Because you know the audience, because it’s bounded by your department (and authorised, invited collaborators) you can talk more frankly about matters that are only of interest to your direct colleagues. You can collaborate on (secret squirrel) changes, new processes, and department management issues. Members can comment upon documents, pages, and blogs and know that only direct colleagues will see their chats.

The showroom is about supporting the work of others – across the organisation. The showroom can offer content, services, and systems from other departments too; for example, the expenses system should be accessible from the HR, Finance, and IT showroom sites, even if it’s ‘owned’ by Finance.

The collaborative workshop is about the day-to-day stuff – talking with direct colleagues, processing requests and changes, arranging team meetings, and tracking internal projects.


Five key things

In summary:

  1. You need two departmental intranet sections / sites because you have two distinct audience groups: internal customers and departmental colleagues
  2. Your showroom material might be combined with other departments’ showroom material – like when there’s a central policy library.
  3. Your showroom section needs to have a clear and simple landing page with easy navigation.
  4. Ask your internal customers what they really need from your department and use this feedback to design your showroom section.
  5. Establish the top five reasons someone would visit your departmental site, and order your content and navigation accordingly.

Image credits: Eric Huybrechts and JamesDeMers

Wedge Black

I support ClearBox in everything we do online, and I assist clients that are considering redeveloping or replacing their intranet platform. I worked in global and regional organisations as the intranet manager as part of the comms team, before becoming an intranet consultant. I'm the founder of the Intranet Now annual conference. I’ve tweeted about intranets and comms for fifteen years now.

  • Posted at 4:47 am, 16 February, 2015

    Yes! Untangling this is one of the key starting points for delivering a useful and sutainable site.

    PS. I called these “shop windows” and “back offices” in my “Designing intranets” book 🙂

    Cheers, James

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