Of about 280 respondents in a recent LinkedIn poll
, the largest group—more than one-third—said the improvement they'd most like to see to their intranets is greater interactivity and collaboration. The second-largest group—a little more than one-fourth—said they want information on their intranets to be easier to find.
"The world has become so much more interactive and participatory, so it makes sense that employees demand the same from their intranets," says William Amurgis, director of internal communications at American Electric Power. "We manage our intranet with the understanding that consumer technology drives employee expectations at work."
Smaller groups said they want to see cleaned-up and improved content, mobile access, and more automated processes.
The unscientific poll's results certainly highlight what intranet users want, but the numbers warrant a bit of scrutiny, Amurgis and other intranet experts say.
Numbers bolster anecdotal evidence…
Stephen Rahal, marketing communications director at Igloo Software, maintains the poll's responses certainly reflect what he's seen.
"It's also often difficult to find information," he admits. "Content is buried beneath multiple levels of hierarchy, and search capabilities are poor."
Likewise, he says, content is often stale, because only certain people have access to content-management tools.
"There is an inherent limitation on how well content can be maintained and the frequency in which it can be updated within a traditional corporate intranet," he says.
Comments added context to the numbers. For instance, a comment about how intranets are too divided into departments and divisions yielded 11 LinkedIn "likes." Amurgis believes it's the role of internal communicators to make sure information is spread companywide.
"We're uniters, not dividers," he says. "So, you'll see no mention of regions or functions within the main navigation of the [AEP] intranet, or anywhere on the front page, except when offering examples of best practices that others can adopt." AEP's employees appreciate the intranet's global scope and the feeling of connectedness, he says.
… But they don't tell the whole truth
Amurgis says he's puzzled by the relatively low figures for content and mobile access.
"It may be justified, though, if employees believe they need their organizations to first get interactivity right before going mobile."
He points out that there is often a wide gulf between what people say they want and what they really want. "Hence, I tend to downplay polls and surveys," Amurgis says.
Toby Ward, president of Prescient Digital Media, says the results merely prove that employees at different levels want different things. "The No. 1 priority of employees is an overwhelmingly universal top priority: Make it easier to find information," he asserts. "This is achieved by both improving the intranet's information architecture and search engine."
The other items on the list are trivial to employees, he contends, though strong content is always valuable.
"Mobile access, more automation, and increased functionality are priorities of executives and key management in IT and communications," Ward says. "They are most definitely not amongst the top priorities of the vast majority of front-line workers."
Based on the choices given, the poll's results are spot-on, says Tim Zonca, director of Product Marketing for Jive software, but they're a bit narrow.
"To me, these are all kind of a by-product of an incremental way of expanding or socializing an intranet," he says.
For example, he points out that companies shouldn't just figure out new ways to share information. They should rethink what information they're exchanging. Employees shouldn't just send one another documents, he says, they should also be free to provide know-how.
Rahal agrees. "We advocate a much more open contribution model, so everyone can publish content regardless of their role in the organization," he says.