It’s with great pleasure that we announce the organizations with the 10 best-designed intranets for 2021. They are:
- Baker Hughes (US), a leading energy-technology company
- Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. (Hong Kong), one of the world’s largest international airlines with scheduled passenger and cargo services to more than 190 destinations in more than 60 countries, including codeshares and joint ventures
- Commonwealth Care Alliance, Inc. (US), a not-for-profit, community-based healthcare organization
- ConocoPhillips (US), one of the world’s largest independent energy- exploration and -production (E&P) companies
- Deutsche Vermögensberatung AG (DVAG), Germany’s largest financial consultancy
- Johnson & Johnson (US), the world’s largest healthcare company
- Keysight Technologies, Inc. (US), the world's leading electronic-measurement company
- Snam S.p.A. (Italy), one of the world’s leading energy-infrastructure operators
- VMware, Inc. (US), a publicly traded software company that provides cloud computing, app modernization, networking, security, and digital-workspace and virtualization software and services
- The World Bank (US), a unique global partnership with 189 countries, fighting poverty worldwide through sustainable solutions
The COVID-19 pandemic has tested us all including intranet designers. Teams like IT, HR, and corporate communications — the very ones who often own the intranet — have had a great deal of pressure on them as they have been tasked with supporting an unexpected, stressed, remote workforce. The winning design teams helped make palatable challenges like:
- the switch to remote work
- communicating changes in work processes
- access to tools
- pandemic-related message delivery
Often, the corporate intranet acted as means of sustenance for employees.
Winning teams shared a few common traits that made them successful during the pandemic, but that can be valuable in any situation. These are:
- preparedness and capacity to swiftly pivot
- understanding of employees’ needs
Let’s discuss the ways in which the winners encompassed these traits.
Preparedness and Capacity to Swiftly Pivot
Organizations around the world were in similar situations over the last 12 months, and none was in a position to thwart change. But the difference between an intranet team that survives and one that thrives is not just the ability to change, but the willingness and capability to pivot quickly and effectively. While this topic has been prevalent in past Design Annuals, the COVID-19 Pandemic has brought it to the forefront. Teams like our winners were able to respond to change in profound ways to make a positive impact on their organizations and employees.
One example of such change comes from winner DVAG. Visiting customers in their office or home had always been a big part of its financial advisors’ work. When that was no longer possible, the organization moved its meetings online, finding innovative ways to connect with customers, foster relationships with them, and respond to their various needs virtually. It also recorded many of the meetings and stored them on the intranet. With this came the added benefit of enabling more people to “attend” on demand and learn from them.
Likewise, the World Bank Group created scalable, modular components and standardized page templates. Good practice for any design, these elements acted as the foundations for success when the team abruptly needed to support employees working in the new, pandemic conditions. Within a few hours of initial consultations with internal-communications management, the team had already provisioned a first version of the site and populated it with widgets and content based on those initial conversations. This site was then passed on to the internal-communications team to edit and launch within a few days. The team was able to build a comprehensive Covid-19 hub site within just two days.
Similarly, Johnson & Johnson’s new platform allowed the team to rapidly respond to changing business needs amid the pandemic. The team was able to adjust the layout of the main page to highlight key COVID-19 links and information. A task that would have taken four to five days using the previous intranet platform took less than five minutes. After, the team gathered content, designed, built, tested, and launched the new coronavirus-information hub site in less than five weeks. On the old platform, this task would have taken months.
Keysight Technologies created an infrastructure that enabled live updates. Its employees needed information fast and on the go. The day after the new intranet launched, the team added real-time news and posted live updates from the annual executive development meeting.
VMware content owners and communications team quickly posted new content, constructed well-designed pages, and responded to employee comments, further building on the already banked trust from employees. The prior version of the intranet would not have been able to meet the unexpected communication needs of the company.
We'll never know how much urgency, adrenaline, and need pushed teams to succeed in 2020, but succeed they did. Winning organizations accomplished inconceivable things this year that intranets helped make possible.
Understanding of Employees
To frame the unique challenges that organizations and individual employees faced in 2020 and 2021, let’s adapt Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs so that it reflects employee needs rather than general human needs.
Basic Work Needs
Employees require that their most basic needs — like comfort at work with the opportunity to concentrate, tools to do their work, some routine, feelings of job security, and having a supervisor they can count on — met before they can move up the pyramid to fulfill psychological and self-fulfillment career needs.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic hindered many employees’ most basic work needs. If, before the pandemic, they were trying to address high-level needs like getting a promotion and growing their careers, once the pandemic started, many found themselves struggling with basic needs instead — worrying about holding on to their job, dealing with an understaffed team during a hiring freeze, or working from home while juggling family and kids.
Some organizations were able to assist with employees’ most basic work needs within days, weeks, or just a few months from the pandemic onset. And much of this help was delivered via the outstretched arm of the corporate intranet. COVID-19-specific intranet sections offered support in many ways: frequent, candid messages from company leaders, tips on how to set up a productive, at-home work environment and routine, advice for managers about how to coach people remotely, ways to improve mental health.
For example, recognizing that employees wanted information about how COVID-19 was affecting the company, the Baker Hughes intranet team created a COVID-19 resource page with important updates and key health and wellbeing information. And, since leaders needed to remain focused in order to prioritize work and encourage their teams, the intranet provided a leader-dedicated page to inform them about the top monthly priorities and provided resources, such as presentations from recent all-hands meetings. This page helped ensure that leaders had the information they needed to inspire their teams and that senior leadership was aligned on the company vision and strategic plan.
The pandemic’s significant impact on the airline industry, and especially on frontline workers, required another winner, Cathay Pacific, to keep employees up to date on the company’s response to the unfolding virus-related developments. As a result, a resource area named COVID Corner was created to aggregate all health advice and work-related information. The intranet team pushed content and updates daily to keep employees informed. This area included FAQs and rumor busters, health and safety tips, travel and quarantine information, changes to the company’s office environment, and updates on employee COVID-19 cases.
Another winner, Snam, used its intranet to share virus-protocol updates, operational news, and video updates from the CEO. Engaging banners located on the homepage or in an overlay helped direct attention to a wide range of online events, from virologist speakers to Pilates classes, meant to help employees with their psychological and physical wellbeing. These special offerings eased the impact of the cultural and procedural changes imposed by COVID-19 on the company’s office-centric work culture.
Employees at Commonwealth Care Alliance could voluntarily return to the office in July 2020, but, for safety reasons, employees needed to obtain approval from their manager, complete a training, and submit a daily health-attestation form. The intranet homepage housed an eye-catching link to the attestation form, which was easily accessible on both desktop and mobile. Other company resources available on the homepage, such as Remote Working Resources and Stepping Forward Together — with links to updates on a gradual return to the office post COVID-19 — evolved as organizational priorities did.
ConocoPhillips established the COVID-19 Employee Resource Site and promoted it across the intranet. This site served as a repository for all pandemic-related communications and tools and was especially helpful for frontline workers. Any news tagged with COVID-19 or Coronavirus was aggregated and displayed here. The team was also able to maintain its series of podcasts and leadership videos during COVID-19, by using Microsoft Teams for virtual recording.
Prior to the pandemic, few DVAG employees had used online-meeting software regularly, but, with pandemic lockdowns in place, they needed to use it to communicate with customers and other consultants. The new CORONA intranet section offered materials to support remote consulting, including videos and social media templates that the company’s financial advisors could post or send to their customers information on how to adapt to working remotely, legal materials, a podcast, as well as information about how to use Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Keysight Technologies’ intranet became a critical communication tool as the company adapted to remote work. Executives began proactively posting video updates to the intranet to keep employees informed. Also, an alert banner connected employees to the latest action-oriented announcements. Its responsive site provided remote employees all the information and tools they needed, on both desktop and mobile.
Baker Hughes built several pages on its intranet to provide employees with information and resources about COVID-19. It used personalized, role-specific links to direct employees to specific COVID-19 resources. They also launched a mobile app to ensure that employees had access to COVID-19 resources while they were in the field. The team needed to create two different apps: one for company devices and one for personal devices, since employees could use either. The team also took advantage of notifications to push real-time information to employees — on mobile devices, via email, and on the intranet.
Johnson & Johnson established a clear, single source of truth with a new coronavirus site that housed information such as FAQs, resources, policies, and key updates. Having all this content in a single location made it easier for the company’s communications professionals to manage the messaging.
The VMware intranet hosted all the information and resources that employees needed: country guidelines, HR resources, work-from-home tools and technology, company policies and related documents, and all the latest announcements.
The World Bank’s Coronavirus Hub Site had a live FAQ kept up to date by various teams. Status updates were automatically fed to a homepage banner that provided a link to the coronavirus site's URL, telephone-hotline number, and bullets summarizing the information available. The Remote Work site offered a helpful Remote Work action button that allowed staff to assess readiness for remote work via a dashboard. The site also provided tips about how to connect and work from any device while away from the office. Additionally, searchable FAQs and a Yammer embed allowed staff to engage directly with others via the site.
Psychological Work Needs
What people needed from intranets transformed in 2020. These platforms were employees’ main connection to the organization, and, in many cases, also their only link to colleagues. The intranet became a support tool, a place where to go to feel like things would be okay, and also, a tool to work out how to persevere.
To meet employees’ physiological work needs during COVID-19, organizations often went over and above the support they would have presented before the pandemic and showed compassion for employees.
- Enhanced intranet content provided managers guidance on how to conduct annual reviews and set goals given the significant challenges they faced.
- Employees were given access to additional collaboration tools to facilitate remote teamwork.
- Companies provided social options like remote lunch meetings to support or spark personal work ties.
Baker Hughes recognized the need to have employees share with their colleagues how they were managing, engage with each other, ask questions, and share best practices. Thus, the intranet team created the Conversations social-dialog pages. The pages included the option to share articles, posts, photos, videos, comments, and a full suite of custom-branded reactions.
Its contest Stop the Spread, which appeared on the Conversations social channel, received nearly 800 submissions of photos from employees around the globe, masking up and showing other employees how they were helping to stop the spread. The contest winner was awarded with a virtual fitness membership and a contribution to a charity of their choice.
Commonwealth Care Alliance’s three social channels became popular, especially as the workforce was trying to connect remotely. Social features offered glimpses into each other’s lives as everyone worked from home or in the field. CCA Eats was its recipe-sharing channel. Cabin Fever was devoted to what employees were doing to keep sane while social distancing and staying at home. And CCA Together added a little joy to the cyber workplace through lively and engaging social campaigns such as Pet Parade and Spirit Week.’ These channels allowed employees to share personal photos and links, write comments, and post reactions such as like, love, praise, and thanks.
Moving Toward Meeting Self-Fulfillment Work Needs
The pandemic created new ways of working and accelerated others that were on the horizon. In the future, organizations will likely do even more to support employees’ psychological and self-fulfillment areas.
Intranet Changes Fueled BY COVID-19 May Become Permanent Offerings
The ten intranets showcased this year are not “pandemic” designs. There were many excellent features and workflows beyond the COVID-19-related elements, and they have great lessons to teach beyond the pandemic-focused designs. Even as vaccines are being distributed, do not write off the design changes forced by the pandemic, as they may be lasting. Intranets without these elements may need to adopt them. Why? Among the suffering and adversity of the past year arose unexpected wins enjoyed by many organizations and employees, such as:
- saved money on travel
- saved money on renting or purchasing office space
- a wide variety of remote meetings, such as annual reviews and compensation discussions, sales meetings and conferences
- reaching wider audience of employees and customers who lived in geographically remote or dispersed locations
- flexibility in the hours and ways employee work (a privileged view, as many people worked in makeshift offices and didn’t have the space, tools, or the privacy needed to be completely effective when working from home)
- new information and templates that consultants could use online and share via social media or email
- recorded meetings, stored and shared on the intranet.
- increased physical- and mental-health support for employees (beyond the effects of coronavirus) re
- increase reliance on employee-shared information, including tips and tricks on how to use tools that were new to them and others
Once the pandemic restrictions are more uniformly lifted, some leaders will reconsider whether to send employees back to the office as much or at all, and will instead make it possible, or mandatory that employees continue to work remotely. Some companies may need support for hybrid models combining some office and some remote work. Thus, the changes that intranet teams made to support sudden pandemic work are likely to serve as training wheels for the future digital-workplace designs. Information about remote collaboration, remote work processes and setup, and even mental and physical health may become embedded in the global navigation and page templates, rather than in a special COVID-19-specific section or in temporary promotional homepage banners.
The pandemic shined a bright light on each organizations’ digital tools. In particular, it raised intranets’ level of importance and influence. As more work, collaboration, sales, meetings, and coaching needed to happen online, the best intranets rose to meet the challenge.
What will be the next challenge? Nobody knows, but at least 3 lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to apply in the future:
- Be prepared: if the intranet was a mess before the challenge, adapting will likely be harder than when working with a well-designed and well-structured system
- Pivot: recognize that the previous way of doing certain things (or even most things) may not be the best, and be willing to sacrifice some sacred cows and quickly adopt new ideas
- Centralize resources: usability may increase if information and tools that relate to the challenge are pulled together and made accessible from a single location
Check out our intranet Design Annual 2021 report to see screenshots of the 10 winning designs and read about their design process, lessons learned, team structures and relationships with consulting agencies, and details about their technology and implementation choices.
Note about the contest: Our Intranet Design Annual has been published in early January for the past 20 years. This year, however, we moved the deadline for contest submissions out by a few months to accommodate teams in getting their entries together. This delayed submission deadline pushed our report writing out also — thus the April publication date. We are working on the schedule for the 2022 contest. Please check this call for entries page for updates for the entry deadline.
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