Manchester Metropolitan University set out to enhance the connections between staff, news, and information with the roll-out of its Interact intranet, creating a dedicated space for its internal audience.

Operating in the education sector, universities are constantly challenged to deliver an exceptional experience and service for students, while meeting a vast range of budgetary, compliance, and institutional demands. Ensuring staff are equipped with the information they need is essential for success.

Manchester Metropolitan University (Manchester Met), like any other educational institution, has the challenge of balancing two distinct audiences for its communications: the students it serves, and the staff who deliver its services.

Prior to deploying an intranet, the organization had an external website that hosted its policies, documentation, and information. However, the shared online space served both audiences and presented challenges for staff looking for information.

“Prior to the intranet, a lot of our staff content was on our website,” explains Austen Mason, Intranet Manager.

“However, content was largely static and staff areas were organically growing based around departmental structures, rather than user (staff) needs. As a result, information would end up mixed in with student material, which wasn’t helpful to either audience.”

“The University conducted a staff survey about improving communications and engagement, and as part of that, there were three distinct requirements that came to light.”

“Firstly, the need to improve sharing and access to news and updates from the University. The next requirement was around findability of main policies, procedures and important documents; and finally, to provide an enhanced staff directory that could include photos and additional information, beyond just telephone number and job title.”

With between 5,300 to 5,700 members of staff, including sessional staff who may work within the University for a short period of time, answering these needs would prove critical to improving the employee experience.

“We also identified a fourth and more long-term objective, which centered on introducing social elements and collaboration features for staff. However, those three main drivers were the immediate focus and need,” explains Austen.

Building the foundations of the Manchester Met intranet  

On selecting Interact as the partner to meet Manchester Met’s requirements, the University created a position for the role of Intranet Manager; bringing Austen onboard to oversee all content and day-to-day management of the intranet.

“We began the process by placing the Treejack article and survey on our existing WordPress site,” says Austen.

“We used this to do some initial testing and get some feedback from staff on the main navigation. During the process we asked staff, ‘if you were looking for this or that, where would you expect to find it?’, testing different types of content.

“The results helped us determine the top navigation, where content should live, how to label it, and the journeys people take to get to what they’re looking for.”

In addition to this, the team went to staff and asked what they would expect to find on the intranet homepage, using this to influence the layout, content, and quick links featured.

Working with the web team and content owners Austen undertook the task of separating out the different types of content already hosted on the Manchester Met website to determine what was staff-focused versus student-focused, and what crossed over to serve both audiences. Content was tagged and marked up to ensure maximum findability through search when added to the intranet. Assigning ‘Best Bets’ and continuing to revisit content analytics to identify gaps and needs ensures the intranet remains useful and used.

“For example, our HR information is now solely on the intranet, and has been removed from the external website,” explains Austen.

“It’s not that we want to hide information from the outside; but it makes it far easier to manage and creates a specific space for staff to find information relating to working at Manchester Met. It’s tailored for an internal audience.”

Design

To ensure some consistency and to help with the transition to the new platform, the look and feel of the intranet was influenced by Manchester Met’s external brand and website.

“We involved our web team in the design phase and played around with the color schemes featured on our external website to test how the intranet could look,” explains Austen.

“By viewing the page source and changing the CSS code for certain elements on pages, you can actually see how it might look. For example, we can test how that page might look in blue, or in green – getting an idea of the design before going to Interact and asking them to apply that as a theme to the whole intranet.”

Manchester Met Intranet homepage

The team also involved stakeholders from Marketing to offer feedback and guidance on the branding to be applied to the intranet, helping to shape the look and feel.

Organization-wide focus: avoiding siloes of information

As part of the information architecture and structuring of the site, the Manchester Met team decided not to take a departmental or team-based approach to the intranet. The top-level navigation is dedicated to the sharing of information across the entire staff, avoiding siloes in individual team areas.

“We have ‘Our University’, which covers the Manchester Met strategy and University-wide projects, along with practical elements like campus building maps and so forth,” says Austen.

Manchester Met Our University page

“The News area gives staff top-down news that comes into our central team from various locations around the University, providing insights across the different areas or departments.

“Then we have ‘Working here’ and ‘How do I?’ which are both more practical elements; policies and guidance or day-to-day support for staff during their life cycle at the University. We include quick pointers to frequently used content or elements, and later we also added an A to Z for frequently accessed content as well.”

Agile development: responding to staff needs

Manchester Metropolitan University’s user-focused approach to developing their intranet calls for the ability to adapt and change based on user feedback.

An initial soft launch to just 300-400 staff included an intranet lead from each different department. Staff could provide insights and feedback, identifying missing content and testing technical elements before launching on a bigger scale. Face-to-face training and online training were undertaken for a dozen intranet leads also.

“Interestingly enough, the requirement for a link to our email web access didn’t come up much during our research and user testing, but when the intranet was switched on for the first time and it wasn’t there, it sparked a reaction,” says Austen.

“Despite the fact that staff can access their email in a number of different ways – through the Outlook app or via web access at home, for example, there were a lot of people who still wanted that quick link from the intranet homepage.

“We had to quickly add it when people started feeding back that they had assumed it would be on there: literally within the first few hours!”

On launch, a message from the Vice-Chancellor on the intranet homepage welcome staff to their new platform and information on how to use Interact was featured.

Slow roll-out of social

The introduction of social and collaborative elements to the Manchester Met intranet was an additional but lower priority objective for the team. With the intranet live and content added, this is beginning to see an introduction to certain areas and will be a focus area for development going forward.

“We switched on comments and likes within the news section, which we’ve never had before. People are getting more comfortable with the functionality and we have just introduced the Timeline newsfeed, where staff can post simple updates.

“We’re also seeing our first communities begin to flourish. For example, the Brexit Community is a team site predominately for staff who are non-UK citizens and may be affected by changes coming to the UK. It includes a bit more detailed information but also allows staff to post in forums about things they’ve seen that others may find interesting, or to share their experiences.

“We also now have a wellbeing community which has really taken hold, and our Technical Services community. As our technicians are scattered across different campuses and locations, this is a community that brings them together and offers useful news, information and events that are unique to them.

“Ultimately we wanted to ensure we got the main elements right before going onto the next phase, so we’re embracing a gradual release of the different elements and building up the intranet slowly and steadily.”

Engagement with the Manchester Met intranet

Since launch, the Manchester Met intranet has enjoyed high volumes of usage across its staff, supported by the intranet serving as the default page on the majority of staff browsers. Active users rank at 97%, which is particularly significant given the composition of the workforce, especially as some staff may not be on-campus for extended periods.

The most popular and engaging elements center on activities undertaken on the intranet.

Strategic updates, delivered by the Vice Chancellor at the beginning of each calendar year, provide staff with an overview of plans for the University and the future direction of the organization. In 2019 for the first time, sign-up for these events – seven in total – was undertaken using the intranet calendar, with other 1,500 staff fully booking up the events.

In addition, the University is utilizing the intranet to coordinate its ‘Engage Week’, which features over 180 events ranging from archery or Dungeons and Dragons, to a talk from Google Drive about safety online. In addition, the Timeline feature was launched on the intranet homepage to coincide with this to give staff a quick way to share updates and pictures of the activities they took part in.

A countdown on the intranet page to the launch of the events created pre-emptive excitement and anticipation, with a phenomenal response of 400 sign-ups within the first 15 minutes of it going ‘live’. Around 2,000 spots have been booked on the various calendar items in total.

“The calendar has been one of the most useful features for us,” says Austen.

“It’s a central place where any member of staff can see and sign up for events; it’s really simple to use and anytime we have a session, activity or talk running, we can add them quickly and easily.”

The team also made use of the Interact Badges feature to celebrate those who participated as part of their ‘Team Orange’ in the Manchester 10K, and hope to roll this use of the feature out further in the coming year.

Most notably, Manchester Met conducts student surveys to ask about their time at the University, continually learning and seeking to improve based on feedback. To support staff in the process, academic toolkits were created and hosted to the intranet: offering practical information to better support students and answer any questions.

Manchester Met saw its highest-ever uptake in the participation of the surveys this year, attributed in part to access to the information. With the results feeding into league tables, this was a significant benefit for Manchester Met.