A lot of people see the word Intranet and think to themselves “Ha! That guy misspelled Internet!” Actually, an Intranet is a type of “customized Internet” specifically designed to house company or group information. Imagine it as your own private office on the streets of the Internet…just as your employees are the only ones that can enter your workplace, your employees are the only ones that can see your Intranet.
So, how is an Intranet used? It can actually be one of the best communication systems in your company if designed properly. Your Intranet is a central location to pull company documents, schedules, and email. It can organize files, list policies, and can even facilitate training and consistent behavior among employees. It’s a tool that centralizes management and makes information flow smoothly. In short, an Intranet summarizes everything in your company and puts everyone on the same page.
The next thing you may be thinking is “Great! I wouldn’t mind using an Intranet, but I barely know how to turn on a computer, much less create a website.”
Google Sites is a website building tool that is included with Google Apps, and is a great place to start your Intranet. It works much like a word processor: type something, click the save button, and *poof* you have a website. It really is that easy! Google Sites includes a number of pre-made templates, backgrounds, and themes to get things started. It’s just a matter of filling in the information.
Deciding what your Intranet should include can be tricky — even a bit intimidating at first. Publishing your information is a lot easier if you break it down into these 5 areas:
1. A Central Billboard – A lot of communication occurs at the office every day. Meetings, email, phone calls, shouting across the room…you get the picture. The problem is not everyone is always in the communication loop and may miss something important. An Intranet site should include a “billboard” page, allowing the latest news, events, and changes to be communicated as soon as a web browser is opened. This keeps everyone informed and allows information to spread efficiently.
2. A Document Library – Think of how many documents you use every day. Forms, letters, charts and procedures are constantly flying around. Finding those documents can be a hassle. Sometimes you have to go out on the network and remember what folder it’s in, sometimes you have to search your email for an attachment, and sometimes you have no idea where to look. An Intranet page can be made that has links to all of your documents for easy retrieval. It reduces the need for email attachments and paper copies, and puts everything in a central location that is searchable. Employees can upload and open documents as needed, and permissions can even be added to limit people that have access. The organizational and efficiency benefits of a library page will become evident immediately.
3. Scheduling – Everyone has their own schedules, and it’s difficult to keep up with what everyone else is doing. A schedule page is a great way to get employees synchronized to avoid missed appointments and double bookings. Easy to use scheduling modules can be added to your Intranet, and many of them even synchronize with smartphones and Outlook!
4. Procedures – A procedures page can ensure employees are not missing any steps. For instance, if a job involves answering the phone and taking down detailed account information, an Intranet page could display a checklist of the process. Being able to instantly pull up procedure manuals is a great way to keep consistent and avoid mistakes.
5. Contacts – A central company directory is essential. All employees can be listed on a contact page, with phone numbers, extensions, locations, email addresses, and positions. This master list can be used for quick reference, printing, who to call in case of a problem, or use it to update your personal contacts list in your email account. Contact information can be updated in one place instead of having to communicate changes to large groups.
As mentioned, what makes an Intranet different from a normal website is it’s not publicly available. With Google Sites, you can set page permissions to limit who has access to your new website. This allows your internal information to remain private, while employees can view your content normally. Being able to log into your Intranet from any Internet connection is invaluable. Sales associates, travelling employees, and even those on vacation will appreciate the added convenience.
TOAST.net has been using Google Sites as an Intranet platform for some time now, and I can’t see living without it. It gives me the ability to work from home, make updates from my smartphone, and keeps my coworkers updated on my scheduling…all from a simple tool that’s already included with your Google Apps account! If you are interested in getting an Intranet set up for your own business or organization, drop me a line and I’ll get you pointed in the right direction. I’m betting you’ll be amazed that you got along without one.