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How to reflect brand and culture on your intranet

A person on a public bench with a disco / mirrored ball over their head, reading a magazine called 'Ideas'.

How to reflect brand and culture on your intranet

Your intranet should be a window into the way your business thinks and operates. The best intranets represent the organisation’s brand and cultural values in digital form. To put it another way, if you showed your intranet home page to a stranger, would they accurately guess the organisation or, at least, your industry sector?

However, if the tone is inappropriate, even the best intranet will be off-putting. As a real-world metaphor, I used to work for Waterstones, a leading bookseller in the UK, when it was owned by a larger group, HMV. HMV ran a popular five-a-side football (soccer) competition for all stores and was surprised that so few Waterstones employees signed up. Football didn’t appeal to the majority of booksellers — it wasn’t part of their culture, so they didn’t sign up, and missed out on time off to participate and the chance to win a prize.

For employees with an uninspiring intranet, their choices are to not visit the intranet at all and / or invent workarounds, such as using WhatsApp or documents stored locally. Alternative choices such as these create efficiency and potential security risks and are more likely to generate silos. Additionally, a well-branded and culture-rich intranet gives employees a point of orientation in the business, helping them feel more a part of the organisation, which is particularly helpful for new hires.

It’s therefore vitally important to appropriately reflect your company culture throughout the intranet. Here are four ideas to help you think through what this could mean for you:

1. Give topics that matter ‘star billing’

Beyond appropriate communication and branding, the intranet home page should shout “your company”. This is where taking inspiration from other intranets can be risky, as what works well or looks lovely in one organisation doesn’t mean it’ll work in yours. Additionally, what might matter to your colleagues may, objectively, seem dull — but if it is a topic they really care about, then it doesn’t matter if it seems unappealing on paper.

Ask yourself what your organisation is known for. Then ask, what ways of working are vital to follow or what information is crucial to communicate, so that the organisation can make money? For example, health and safety could be vital for a manufacturing business, or customer service for hospitality companies, access to the latest research for a biopharma, or project information for architects. Whatever it might be, make sure the appropriate information feeds, business systems, articles, statistics, links etc. are positioned prominently to be of the most help to your colleagues.

For example, one of our clients, a global paper mill company, put a huge emphasis on site safety. The home page of their intranet therefore featured a prominent dashboard of safety metrics, such as the number of days since a “lost time incident”.

2. Express company values effectively

Some companies have formalised values, with missions and a several-year-plan to bring everyone onboard so they can embody the concepts. Your intranet needs to live and breathe your formal values if you want your employees to do the same. This could be through a well-maintained dedicated space, which is regularly refreshed to give people a reason to visit, or through the values being woven through the branding and associated communications. Even better, each value could be its own #tag or similar, allowing you to highlight the values in action in news articles or social posts.

Informal values are also a consideration. These are signposted by aspects of the company culture. On the intranet this could be as simple as the presence of active and encouraged social activities. To take it another step, there could be social spaces that include topics such as sustainability, DE&I, LGBTQ+ etc. that are used and respected across the business — highlighting that the organisation supports the topics and employees that fall within them. Alternatively, news stories about charity events, engagement related events (e.g. cake sales), and customers the company works with, all signal the informal yet fundamental values an organisation holds.

As an example, a recent client marked LGBTQ+ month in June by having people volunteer to share their own stories. One person shared their experience of coming out at their workplace many years before, when social attitudes in the country were much different. They received a huge amount of support from colleagues and the post sparked conversations with similar stories. All of this not only built a sense of community across the organisation, but also reinforced the inclusive culture of the business.

3. Welcome new hires

Have you ever applied for a job on a lovely looking website, gone through a slick hiring process, only to be greeted by ineffectual digital tools on your first day? A first impression like this could hasten that new employee’s exit from the business (I speak from experience).

The intranet needs to look as good as your company website (more on this below), but it also needs to introduce new people to the business. A dedicated ‘new starter’ home page is one approach, which shares an appropriate welcome message and a simplified experience to ease them into the organisation. Alternatively, you could have a space that introduces them first to the business, then to their department / country / role, then specifically to the intranet and other digital tools. Orientate a new starter properly and they’ll be more likely to hit the ground running (and happy!).

4. Reflect the company brand(s)

Your intranet needs to look as good as your company website, but it doesn’t necessarily need to match it. A complementary design works just as well, but it needs to be genuine — for example, lots of bright colors and a funky font in a formal organisation would create a disconnect. It also needs to look contemporary, which might be partly down to the technology you’ve chosen, but white space goes a long way to help. Here’s a good example from Shell, where their intranet and app does a great job of showcasing their brand.

If your organisation has parent and child companies, then think carefully about which brand and culture is displayed to people. It’s possible to show one set of employees their company’s brand, while a sister company sees an entirely different experience. Finally, if your organisation works with seasonal events (such as Christmas in retailers, or Red Nose Day charity events), then refreshing the design to reflect themed branding can be an effective way to reflect your culture too.

This article was originally published by Reworked.

Suzie Robinson

I've always worked with intranets, and have practical experience with all aspects of intranet management, including research, implementation, governance, and strategy. My roots are in internal communication and I focus on employee experience and engagement.

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