There are 7 items in the “Usability honeycomb”, and most intranet redesign attempts tend to notice that these other issues impact “usability” and “usefulness”. What few tend to notice is “findability”, which is the crux of an intranet.
There tends to be an overwhelming focus on “value”, “credibility” and “desirability” and we see intranet pages with giant “company news” sections, and images of smiling co-workers. A few go a step further and think about accessibility, specifically making sure that it works across platforms and devices for all workers.
Typically the primary purpose of an intranet (and admittedly this is not always the case) is to help make employees jobs simpler. Now some companies are all about driving productivity with no regard for the employees, while other have thought about a culture of increasing employee engagement. Regardless the benefit is the same – individual bits of work are simpler to execute.
This is where findability comes in to play. Any decent sized company has many departments with various roles and at any point in time they have different needs. The larger the company the more difficult it is to accurately assess all of the different user journeys an employee might take when using the intranet. This is already a difficult environment to streamline findability. Add to that users of different technical experience and we already have a problem.
A key aspect of digital architecture is “Information Architecture” (IA) which focuses on presenting users with a searchable and browseable schema for information. It is largely focused around “cognitive load” and how much simultaneous information a user can process without chunking. In the IA process there tends to be one thing that everyone struggles with: culling useless information. If it does not help a user reach their goal, then you should: remove it, hide it or minimize it.
I’m a big fan of saying “the end user is not the only user”. If the interface has great findability but is a pain to update, no one will update it and it’s usefulness deteriorates anyway. So we need to find a balance between admin and end user experience. But we also have to remember that the end user is almost never considered a stakeholder in the project.
While intranets must fit into all parts of the usability honeycomb, we need to find the balance. And because executive stakeholders rarely have to use the intranet we need to help them form and informed opinion about the intranet redesign. We can in fact show that increasing findability will have more of a tangible ROI to employee productivity and engagement. Suddenly showing the “Note from the CEO” as a giant feature on the front page of the intranet isn’t going to look as important as improving productivity. And an employee who finds it easier to do their job is going to get a much better boost to engagement than an employee who find it harder but gets to stay informed.
Remember that the honeycomb centers around the tool being “valuable”. Value comes from balancing all aspects of usability against the core needs purpose of the project.