By Gloria Lombardi

When it comes to rolling out a new corporate intranet, the strategy and planning behind its implementation is even more important than the launch itself.

Amanda Speirs 1Amanda Speirs, Corporate Communications Manager at the construction company VolkerWessels UK, knows this from experience. She has been working on phase one of the launch of the new staff portal; called InSite, and powered by EasySharePoint, the goal of the intranet is to enable better communications among 2,500 employees across multiple locations and five business units.

“From the communicator’s point of view, it’s critical to sit down with the rest of the company ahead of initiating the project. It’s vital to have the planning, strategy, and purposes of the intranet clear, long before you go out to look for a platform.”

Getting senior buy-in

Executive support is vital for the success of almost any corporate project. That certainly was the case for launching InSite. Luckily, it was not hard to convince the CEO, Alan Robertson, about the need for a new staff portal. He became one of the sponsors of the implementation project and was involved from the beginning.

InSiteOnce the go ahead was given from the CEO, the corporate comms team worked on the business case, highlighting the benefits and reasoning for the new portal. InSite would link to existing tools including Workspace, the document management system. Above all, it would become an information sharing tool for the organisation, providing quick access to news feeds and announcements, and enabling best practice among staff. The vision was to open up dialogue and multiway communication, and bridge geographical boundaries to inculcate a single culture. In practical terms, InSite would help reduce email overload and printed material use, all the while connecting individuals to the people, projects, and reference material that matters to them.

A relationship building exercise

From the beginning of the project, the corporate comms team worked closely with the ICT department. “We developed a strong relationship with ICT. They were behind the scenes all the time, for all the business processes, and ensured that the whole programme mapping was done correctly.”

SharePoint was identified as a useful and powerful platform, but there were reservations around its ease of use.

After considering the desired specifications and requirements for an intranet, the ICT team found three possible suppliers that not only offered a great intranet product, but could also assist in building a successful intranet atop SharePoint.

All three intranet vendors were invited to present their product, and after the project team pulled together a list of ‘must have’ / ‘like to have’ criteria, EasySharePoint came out on top. The team and stakeholders felt that EasySharePoint lived up to its name as it stood out as being user-friendly. “It’s clean, and easy to navigate around.”

The team also appreciated the search functionality. “It’s excellent in terms of searching through the whole body of information. Whether documents or articles or any other type of content, it searches for keywords, not just the titles, quickly.”

Launch comms

Once a launch date was set, the corporate comms team had three main streams of work. The initial part of the campaign was about ‘naming’ the intranet site. The communications team shared what the intranet was all about with employees and why the company needed it, and invited employees to enter their ideas for the name of the new intranet – winning not only the prestige but also a gift voucher as a prize. The winning entry was InSite, which encapsulates how VolkerWessels UK people need insight while on site.

The project team wanted to ensure that the intranet was immediately engaging and useful, and so worked to develop content in the weeks before launch, including leadership blogs, company news, and reference material.

The imminent launch of InSite was communicated via email and poster campaigns. Regular emails made sure everyone was aware of the launch date, using a visual countdown. When the actual launch email was received, most everyone knew how to log-in. Posters helped construction site workers stay in the loop even if not heavy email users.

Leadership blogging

Blog articles from senior leaders are prominently presented on the intranet homepage. “As with any company, messages that come from the top often have the greatest impact and engagement levels.”

For example, Speirs recalls one message regarding the company culture and the internal recognition awards, from one of the MDs, Steve Cocliff. “He was rather sceptical about the intranet and its use and wanted his post to have ‘meaning’ and ‘resonance’.” Cocliff wrote a small piece highlighting how it was great to win an award but that, overall, the focus should remain on doing one’s best for the company.

Another post that Cocliff wrote brought attention to getting the basics right. Staff found his honest and practical approach to communicating priorities to be just right for the construction company, and such regular updates from leaders undoubtedly strengthen the culture. “It was great to get him on board and for the people to see him involved”, said Speirs.

Blog - InSite

Health and Safety alerts

Being a construction firm, it’s imperative that health and safety alerts are seen and acted upon by staff. H&S alerts now have a prominent place on the home page, even though such alerts were not originally planned for within the design.

The need for prominent health and safety alerts came up in one of the monthly stakeholder meetings. Such steering meetings help keep the intranet relevant and useful, to make sure it continues to meet business needs in the months and years ahead. Once the need for safety alerts was agreed, the comms team worked with the Health and Safety department to design the features of the alerts. By relying on the intranet, and making such alerts prominent, VolkerWessels UK can reduce the number of broadcast emails and keep staff informed at all times.


News and internal stories – a balancing act between structure and flexibility

As you would expect with any staff portal, there is a diverse spread of content that can appear in the news feed, including corporate news, industry news, press releases, and internal stories. To help people find relevant news, the corporate comms team uses thirty categories to organise the news flow. Further, employees can filter by location and business unit.

While the comms team make use of an editorial calendar, they have to respond to the unpredictable business world and make room for urgent and important news. Typically, the team publishes content with a fun element at the end of the week and more serious topics at the beginning of the week. “Although we plan some content, there is always last minute news, or something that comes up that we have to get the message out about. We are a proactive yet reactive comms team.”

The style of some content, such as press releases or policy updates, is in most cases structured, professional, and rather rigid. However, this is complemented by blog posts and other types of news, such as charity events, or project updates, which are much lighter. The intranet is large enough for many voices; blogs and project updates are easy to read and good with a coffee.

“It’s about finding a balance, respecting where we are as a company right now. InSite is fresh and constantly updated, offering a variety of content to suit different needs.”

Visual impact

Tallington 1(1)Articles are often complemented by photographs. The team ensures new, relevant images are available for news stories. “We do not use stock photos or images stolen from the web. We either create illustrations ourselves or involve our photographers, getting them out on site, to take authentic photos of our people, works, and events.”

Good use of images generally increases engagement, helping your news articles reach more people. Great images can help illustrate exactly what’s going on. While the written word will always be important, a cursory look across the web and social networks shows that people expect to see imagery alongside messaging of all kinds.

Lessons learnt

It is fair to say that the intranet journey of VolkerWessels UK has just started, after all, implementation may have been a project, but the intranet itself is a long-term business tool. As the organisation enters phase two, Speirs recalls her most valuable lessons.

First, focus on relationships. “From the beginning, the communications team went out and built relationships across the entire business.” And these relationships need maintaining and developing. It’s a good idea to formally and informally check-in with department representatives to discuss not only what’s happening on the home page, but also how the department itself can use the intranet for collaboration and communication.

Secondly, think about the user. “Since having InSite, one big plus for us has been the reduction of emails. We’ve reduced inbox overload! Yet, we still need to make sure that information is available in the ways people need and want. Everyone’s an adult, and everyone’s responsible for their own engagement and involvement, but at the same time, we have to ensure people are notified about important information.”

Finally, don’t rush. New features need testing. New ways of working need to iteratively improve. Different people respond differently to how the intranet works, and so patience is needed. Mix-ups happen, and not everything can be your primary priority. It’s crucial that you stick to your strategy, share the vision with people, and work on the the things that will have the most impact.

Future plans

To develop InSite to better meet business needs and people’s expectations (now that everyone’s had time to get to know the intranet), the project team plans to assess the intranet, review the analytics and social experience, and gather employee feedback. Specifically, it may be that mobile workers and on-site workers want a personal communication app for team and peer comms, to complement the broader communication options of the intranet.

“In the end, it will be about providing better, inclusive communication.”


Pictures courtesy of VolkerWessels UK