It's easy to whine about email's inefficiencies, but the channel was never meant to be anything but a way to send messages--not organize content or help employees do their jobs.

But there is a platform that engages employees and supports them to get work done. This application isn't new or sexy or shiny, but it is underappreciated and, in many organizations, sadly underutilized.

What is this intriguing technology? An intranet. 

"In today's complex organizations, an intranet is the best way to connect people, get them on the same page and give them the information they need to work productively," says Jake Weaver, founder and CEO of codesigned, the maker of IntranetPro, a modern intranet solution built on SharePoint.

And productivity is a challenge in most workplaces; in fact, according to IDC research, knowledge workers spend about 2.5 hours every day, or roughly 30 percent of their time, searching for information. 

If an intranet has so much potential, why don't organizations get it right? Three reasons, according to Weaver:

  • Intranet sites are regarded as digital file cabinets--an overstuffed repository of everything everyone wants to store.
  • An organization builds an intranet and expects it to last forever, so it becomes as messy and smelly as the company refrigerator, with content that's so outdated that it's practically growing mold.
  • Many intranets are trapped in the past; as compared to the visual, intuitive interface that people experience outside the company, these sites seem dusty and unappealing.

How can you create an intranet that employees will want to use--and that will be useful to them? Weaver offers 7 suggestions:

1. Modernize the experience. Build an intranet that's as attractive and user-friendly as your customer internet to create an experience that's easy and intuitive.

2. Make sure you build the core applications your employees want. In most organizations, that wish list includes a calendar, a social network and the ability to participate by commenting, liking and posting.

3. Concentrate on content. It's easy to get dazzled by bells and whistles, but an intranet's key success factor is having the content employees need. So Weaver advises working closely with key stakeholders in functions like HR and operations to make sure critical content is organized and packaged in a way that employees prefer.

4. Activate metrics, so that you have analytics you can use to determine how sections and content are working for employees. Weaver advises that "employee engagement analytics have become the standard for measuring how involved employees are in the intranet." 

5. Don't attempt to boil the ocean. Weaver explains: "When an organization decides it's time to revamp its intranet, the effort often stalls because everyone wants everything to be perfect and complete. But the reality is that a platform like SharePoint allows you to build a core, then keeping adding and improving as you go."

He adds, "Think of your intranet as a food truck, not a 200-seat restaurant. You can serve lunch to employees--so you satisfy their hunger for content--while you're still figuring out your dinner menu."

6.  Find the magic. Yes, your intranet is a serious platform. But that doesn't mean you can't include features that sweeten the experience. Weaver tells the story of a company that had season tickets to different sporting events and would give the tickets away to employees on its old intranet. "We made sure to find a place for those ticket giveaways when we built a new site to encourage employees to visit," Weaver explains.

7. Keep improving. An intranet is never finished; it's always a work in progress. That's why you need to make sure you set up a system and a team to keep your site fresh.