Designing great HR intranets

November 21, 2011 by

Even in the most “social” of intranets, there is still a need for areas of more structured static content. Human Resources areas fall into this category and are one of the most challenging parts of a corporate intranet to implement and manage. They are both heavily content-based and highly functional – a place to view core guidelines and policies, but also often the starting point for a number of people-related processes. A good structure is essential so that content is easily findable. Usability is also crucial, as almost all staff – including those who don’t generally use the intranet – visit these pages at some stage of their employment. All of these different requirements are why a lot of companies decide to outsource to HR Consultants so they know that any issues, complaints, and processes are all dealt with correctly. Rather than having to set up all the different requirements for their digital business, they can leave it to professionals.

In a new research briefing available exclusively to DWG members, we’ve identified some of the key good practices in trying to construct a great “HR intranet” area. Here’s a summary of some of our findings:

What is an HR intranet?

In some ways trying to define an HR intranet is a little bit of a red herring, because it can come in various different forms. For example it may be a separate branded portal, a microsite, a collection of pages or even threaded throughout the intranet as a collection of tasks.

Whatever its shape and form, we found a good HR intranet has at least three main aims:

– To provide easy access to relevant and up-to-date, enterprise wide, people themed content

– To act as a personalised gateway to people related systems and applications

– To achieve process improvement on HR related tasks through transactions, support and dashboards

These three related functions mean that the HR intranet effectively can act as a unifying ‘layer’ on top of all the disparate HR systems within an organisation.

HR department involvement

Even though an “HR intranet” must cover more than the remit of the HR function, their involvement at both a strategic and operational level is absolutely key to its success.

The ideal pattern of ownership seems to be where the HR function effectively own the HR intranet, particularly the content and the structure, but works in close partnership with the central intranet function to leverage its skills and to ensure there is proper integration with the main intranet presence.

Unfortunately in many organisations this “partnership” ideal is not fully realised and HR departments are either indifferent to the intranet or have implemented HR portals which are completely separate from the main intranet presence.

Global vs Local

Satisfying centralised and localised needs is a challenge for all intranet managers in international organisations, but is particularly acute for those teams responsible for global HR intranet pages. Human resources policy, documentation and systems will tend to be different from territory to territory (often necessarily so due to risk and legal reasons) so content relevant for one country may not be applicable to another. This means that HR specific content can tend to be scattered through a plethora of separate country-level intranets or microsites.

Creating a centralised HR intranet presence which presents global, regional, country-level and sometimes divisional HR content together seamlessly can really improve usability and enhance the firm’s employment proposition and messages. Increasingly where teams are spread over more than one country, it’s also an important reference point for managers.

Any approach that satisfies global and local needs will necessarily be a balancing act. However, our research suggests this is best achieved by defining a global primary navigation with more flexible navigation at secondary or tertiary levels to cater for local differences. Often these lower levels navigation items may also be task-orientated, with items such as “Record Absence.”

Some customization or personalization depending on a user’s location is also important to display the relevant menu items. This tailoring can also be role-based – for example managers’ being able to view links to resources which help them manage teams.

Defining the IA

There are many different ways to define the navigation on an HR intranet such as the employee life cycle. However for their primary navigation most corporate HR intranets tend to identify six or seven obvious key themes which are easily identifiable and obvious areas of interest for the user population, such as pay, benefits, performance management, learning, careers and matters outside work.

Linking to systems, applications and related data

Acting as a primary point of entry to different systems is a core function of the HR intranet. Successful HR intranets give context to these systems by bringing in relevant and jargon-free content so users are sufficiently informed to know what they need to know when they click on any link.

With the wide scope of HR themes there are also a wide variety of systems to link to, some of which may actually differ from territory to territory. These systems could potentially include:

– Core HR or people management system

– Resource booking

– Learning management system

– Time recording system

– Career opportunities database

– Payroll data including payslips

– Flexible benefits system

– Online employee handbook

– Performance management / appraisal system

– Recruitment process

Another way in which HR intranets can add value is to build dashboards which surface data held in core HR systems, or provide widgets which effectively allow simple but high-value transactions to be carried out within the intranet rather than the system itself.

DWG members can download this briefing paper, and access our full research archive, on the IBF extranet.

About the author

This is a guest post by Steve Bynghall. Steve was the content producer for IBF 24 and helped research Paul Miller’s forthcoming book on “The Digital Workplace.” Steve is the founder of Two Hives Ltd, a consultancy specialising in KM, collaboration and web-based projects. Steve previously worked at accountancy firm BDO in a variety of knowledge roles, including managing their global extranet programme. Steve has written two research briefings for IBF and wrote the report for Step Two Design’s 2011 Intranet Innovation Awards. He is currently co-writing a book on crowdsourcing with Ross Dawson, due for publication in December.

Categorised in: HR intranets, Research reports, Usability & design

Steve Bynghall

Steve Bynghall is a freelance consultant, researcher and writer specializing in the digital workplace, intranets, knowledge management, collaboration and other digital themes. He is DWG’s Research and Knowledge Lead, a benchmark evaluator and research analyst for DWG.

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