An intranet connecting thousands of employees that's been twice recognized by Nielsen Norman Group?
Welcome to The Hub from Staples.
"We needed to take the site to the next level, to ensure that search functionality was spot on and worked well," says Tatum McIsaac, internal communications manager at Staples.
Nielsen Norman Group first recognized Staples' intranet in 2006 for enabling associates to share information and to access relevant tools in one place. At the time, creating a collaborative hub with some customized content was relatively new in the corporate world.
Fast-forward to 2010, and it was time to innovate once again.
"Our employees' needs were also quickly changing, and they required more opportunities to collaborate and access information across different markets and locations," McIsaac says. "We were also coming off a large acquisition in 2008; suddenly we jumped from being in 17 countries to 26 countries overnight."
Connecting retail to corporate
A big part of Staples' workforce is made up of store associates, which is why McIsaac's team worked with the Retail Communications team to develop The Hub.
"The Hub is one of our primary vehicles to talk to all store associates," says Andrea Quinn, U.S. retail communications manager. "It's what do we want to engage our front-line associates so they know about programs and can speak with confidence to customers."
Employees working at Staples stores can access The Hub via in-store devices and a secure log-in: a far cry from the previous intranet, Staples At Work.
"When an associate logs in, we want them to see something different," Quinn says, "so we're trying to shift the culture of our content, getting down to front-line associates' conversations with customers and providing useful takeaways and selling success stories."
A personal touch
McIsaac's team humanized the home page by creating a banner where people can see photos of other associates and feel a sense of connection.
"We unofficially refer to it as our 'humanity banner,'" McIsaac says. "This could be a fun fact about the company or an interesting quote from pop culture about the company to pique people's interest and engage them."
Many news stories on the The Hub focus on customer success stories and sharing best practices from individual stores. McIsaac says videos and podcasts are important storytelling tools.
"In an average week, we post about five to 10 fresh stories from around the business that represent different associate groups, touching upon all key areas where we're driving the business," she says.
Given that Staples is a large worldwide brand, it's no surprise that McIsaac and her colleagues pay close attention to the way they deliver external news about the company to employees.
Twice a month, McIsaac and her team post video features, which have replaced Staples' logistically challenging quarterly town hall meetings.
"We scrapped that concept in favor of video updates on the intranet that link to blogs where associates can ask questions and engage with our senior leaders," McIsaac says.
Both McIsaac and Quinn pay close attention to metrics; Quinn spends a fair portion of her time on search reporting to figure out what retail audiences are looking for on The Hub and making sure that what they need is easy to find.
McIsaac pays closer attention to anecdotal measurement.
"We look at what blogs are being read, the kind of comments they're getting, and which posts are recommended by associates [via a thumbs-up rating]. We also try to get a sense of where people go to look for information and the nitty-gritty details like how many times people click on the site to come up with what they need," she says.
So what are employees looking for?
From a retail perspective, Quinn says associates seek documents explaining Staples' policies and procedures.
As for other U.S. associates, McIsaac says the latest news and updates from senior executives tend to get a lot of traffic, as well as featured videos and leadership blogs.
And, of course, she says, "The corporate headquarters' cafeteria menu will forever be popular." The same holds true for conference room booking forms and office supply orders.
A section called Connections is the collaboration component of The Hub. There one can find blogs, user profiles (much like what people find on LinkedIn), and a newly created wiki.
In the next couple of months, Staples will enhance the community aspect of The Hub, enabling people to better collaborate on projects via department-specific community pages. There will also be new discussion boards and enhanced file sharing.
McIsaac and Quinn also looked toward other companies for inspiration such as IBM, known for excellence in providing collaborative workplace environments.
"We benchmarked with a lot of other companies around intranet best practices as well as other Nielsen Norman Group winners—what they were doing and what was most helpful for employees. We took their lead in coming up with the right intranet solution for our own associates."
As a result, the The Hub is among those Nielsen Norman Group winners once again.
This article first appeared on simply-communicate.com, where you can read the full version.