Holmes, our  beautiful intranet at Glasgow Housing Association, was handed the accolade ‘Best Value to Employees’ at the last year’s Ragan Awards in Chicago, beating the Disney Corporation, Emirates and Domino’s Pizza (among others).

Really! That actually happened. It’s true! I swear. Look, here’s a link to a page that says it’s true.

So, how did we win a Ragan Employee Communication Award? Um… I don’t actually know. I think it might have a lot to do with how much we include our staff in the shape and function of Holmes. Also, I think the work of our brilliant designer in making Holmes beautiful added a lot to the submission. It could also be the support we’ve had from Interact Intranet throughout the project. Either way – I’ve reproduced our submission in full below, that might give you an idea of how we kicked Mickey Mouse’s butt. Sorry Mickey.

Our goals

Our strategy was simple: Involve all staff from Chief Exec to close cleaners in creating an intranet that would make their roles easier. We couldn’t build a staff intranet without the staff. The Communications Plan was complex but allowed us to use multiple channels to get the message out there that the new intranet was coming.

The intranet was designed to be:

  • Useful – providing tools and information that staff genuinely need to do their jobs
  • Usable – intuitive, easy to navigate, using language and labels that everyone could understand
  • Used – we would keep a close eye on stats and give staff more of what they liked and better promote the bits they needed but weren’t using.

Strategy and tactics: Engagement

We started ‘requirements gathering’ with staff in late 2010, holding more than 100 meetings with frontline and support staff. We asked:

  • What do you use on the current intranet
  • What do you really need that doesn’t exist on the intranet
  • What do you create that ought to be shared on the intranet?

In partnership with these colleagues we wrote the tender document setting out what we needed from a new intranet.

At the same time we asked all the staff to help us come up with a name for the coming intranet. We had more than 70 entries which we gave to the Focus Group – they took a vote. Holmes, a homonym for homes – our core business – and with its connotations of searching and investigating efficiently, was the perfect choice.

We formed a cross-organisational focus group to help build the structure of the intranet and to name the various elements and pages. We wanted Holmes to make sense to staff.

Designing Holmes – creating an identity

The Design Team came up with a great design for Holmes. They created a logo which incorporated the colours of all logos in the GHA family at that time. With it came a suite of brand elements that we could use to trail the intranet. The rainbow branding has been one of the most commented on, and successful elements of Holmes.

GHA -Holmes-cog

Executive: Delivering Holmes – listen carefully

We were constantly asked to share videos on our old intranet but we did not have the capability or the capacity to do so. Interact Intranet makes adding video incredibly easy, with not technical knowledge required.

Videos are useful to staff because they allow us to explain complex procedures or share news in an engaging way – we can also use them to train staff on new applications. Videos feature prominently on Holmes homepage and have been very popular among staff. Our first video explained how to use the basic elements of Holmes:

However with offices holding as many as 60 people in one space, we couldn’t have everyone watching videos at the same time without inconveniencing their colleagues – so we came up with the idea of Holmes branded headphones. This would be the ‘gimmick’ of our marketing campaign – everyone would get their own set so that they could use Holmes properly.

Countdown to launch

Together with the Marketing Team, we designed a suite of launch emails – both to build momentum and to outline the ‘rules’ around using the new intranet – we were introducing a new, social tool to an organisation that had never had anything like that before and needed to set out our expectations clearly.

Emails4

Email communications count down to launch day

Evaluation: Meeting our objectives

Useful: Holmes is useful because we built it with the people who needed it most. We deliberately didn’t organise Holmes around teams, we organised it around functions. So our top menu is:

People and Places – Our staff, our offices, our links
News – our news and publications
Staff Matters – everything staff need to make the most of their jobs
Housing Matters – everything our housing staff need to successfully manage their patch
Customer Matters – our customer campaigns and complaints handling
Support Services – supporting our frontline staff
The Library – a central repository of all our key documents, forms, letters, policies – the Library ensures that there is only ever one, up-to-date version of any document.

Each content area is designed around either the customer journey (Moving in, Living in and Moving out on the Housing Matters page) or around the subjects that staff are interested in (leave, well being, recruitment on the HR pages)

Managing you patch - GHA

Housing matters – everything our housing staff need to successfully manage their patch

HR & payroll -GHA

Our user orientated and easy to navigate HR Page

We also introduced blogs as a new way to communicate with staff. They have been the runaway success of Holmes, prompting open and honest conversations in the comments and involving staff in creating new, improved processes. Everybody wants to blog but we limit it to people introducing new processes, campaigns or seeking to consult staff on how to better deliver services to our customers. We encourage bloggers to be human, funny, open and to ask questions in their blogs.

Holmes is Brilliant! Simple to use and you can find anything you want fast.

Usable: Once we knew what needed to be included on Holmes we worked for months on splitting data up into usable chunks, creating small, searchable articles, rewriting content in plain English and organising our data around recognisable headings.

This is great – a much better way to show this information!

Full marks from me. Easy to navigate around ,clear indicators to what you want bound to save me lots of time -GREAT STUFF

Used: Intranet user stats show that 88% of GHA/YourPlace staff visit Holmes every day, more than eight times a day. This shows that all desk based staff and a large proportion of our mobile and warden staff are using Holmes regularly.

It’s really easy to use, you can find out loads in the library section. And the search is really handy – you just have to type in what you need in the search and it takes you straight to it.

Blogs are incredibly popular, most gaining more than 1000 hits within days of being published and gathering scores of comments which prompt open, transparent conversations about the key issues our organisation faces. A blog by our North East Area Director prompted a debate which culminated in our rent collection process being improved. A blog about working at the customer service centre helped staff moving to a new job there feel more confident about the work they would be doing. A blog asking staff to choose a charity of the year gained more than 80 responses.

Awards matter – and the Ragan award has mattered most. The team behind Holmes (I include myself in that) felt that the hard work we put in has been recognised. We’ve felt motivated to maintain the high standards we started out with on Holmes and to make sure it remains one of the best.

Holmes also has more visibility at Board and Executive level – so more and more high profiles projects are launched on Holmes. Our recent interactive staff portal was the idea of and had full support from our Chief Executive.

As for the PR we’ve received from Holmes winning the Ragan award – it’s priceless. Wheatley Group can honestly boast one of the best intranets in the world, and we intend to keep it that way.

Get the recognition you deserve for your intranet in 2014, Nielsen Norman Group are calling for entries into the Intranet Design Annual 2015: Year’s 10 Best Intranets, or if you would like the accolade of Best Internal Communications Campaign you can enter the CIPR Excellence Awards.