Employees prefer intranet homepage with no ‘fold’

Focus groups show workers expect an uncluttered homepage that requires no scrolling.

Focus groups show workers expect an uncluttered homepage that requires no scrolling

Your employees demand a clean, white homepage, with absolutely no scrolling. This is a fact, supported by dozens of employee focus groups, at dozens of leading and medium size organizations in North America.

I’ve heard the argument too many times, by too many pundits and design and usability experts, that there is nothing wrong with a scrolling homepage. Among the many intranet design fallacies:

  • “Information scent is too important.”
  • “It is always better to provide more information than less information.”
  • “If employees want more information, then a little scrolling is a good option to have.”
  • “Most websites have scrolling homepages, and are very successful.”
  • “A newspaper has a fold, the intranet homepage can have one too.”

Let me state unequivocally that my assertion is absolutely correct, in North America. If your organization has a majority of employees that want a scrolling homepage, you’re not only in the minority, you may be unique. However, although my research in Europe and other geographies is more limited, I would be shocked to learn that employees in France, Germany or New Zealand vastly differ in their basic information and knowledge retrieval needs (separate of content and culture itself) than those in the United States (although my company, Prescient Digital Media, has a number of clients in France, and they don’t want a scrolling homepage).

To this end, I admit my assertion may not be absolutely correct in other jurisdictions, but again, I’d wager a year’s salary that it often is true: the vast majority of knowledge workers have a different expectation of the intranet than the corporate website, and desire no scrolling on the homepage.

I conducted employee research—employee focus groups, surveys, and card sorting—with three leading organizations in the U.S. last week, all with a combined total of nearly 100,000 employees with employee intranet access. The one common and over-arching conclusion is that employees expect a very simple, uncluttered homepage that has about half as many links as most intranet homepages feature today. Additionally, and very specifically, employees do not want a “fold” on the homepage: absolutely no scrolling.

Note that I am solely discussing the intranet homepage. After the homepage, employees don’t mind scrolling as much, particularly if it’s the content they are looking for. This argument, however, only applies to the homepage, and some of the major channel/section pages.

Is the “no scrolling” phenomena universal? Are there exceptions to the rule? Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Some employees, particularly in IT and communications—power intranet users—don’t mind scrolling at all. In fact, I don’t at all mind scrolling on a homepage. But I’m an exception to the rule, as are most power users (who typically represent less than 4 percent of the user population). In fact, I conducted an intranet user focus group last week comprised entirely of IT staff, eight employees in all, and their response to intranet homepage scrolling was unanimous and definitive: ensure there is absolutely no scrolling on the intranet homepage. Exceptions to the rule are far and few between.

Most employees want to find information to do their jobs as quickly as possible, and don’t have time to rifle through a busy homepage. Many are content to glance at the homepage, and then move onto the task at hand (query the phone directory, retrieve a policy, check their benefits statement, or read the lunch menu). It’s a glance, and the glance is incredibly important to understand: if you have information below the fold, it will be missed 95 percent of the time, or more often. Power users will scroll down below the fold, the vast majority will not scroll. In fact, what’s more important, employees become frustrated with the homepage if they know there is information below the fold, but believe they don’t have time to scroll down.

I’ve tested employee reactions to intranet design in dozens of focus groups: intranet users become frustrated and anxious about information that they cannot discern at a glance. Remember, a browser is not a newspaper (although there’s a reason why tabloid style newspapers are taking over that industry) nor is the intranet a public website. Employees want to find work-related information as quickly as possible, it’s a completely different mindset and motivation than a newspaper or news website (and many other formats as well).

Here are eight invaluable lessons on intranet design that are worth its weight in platinum for intranet designers, managers and consultants:

  • Intranet design must be driven by business need, not creative whim.
  • An intranet is not a website! Let me repeat: an intranet is not a website!
  • Speed kills on roads; lack of speed kills on the intranet.
  • Follow a design process that includes thorough input by management and employees, but design by committee leads to certain death.
  • Soft colors are appreciated; darker, bolder colors such as dark red and black should be used with extreme prejudice.
  • Employees love employee photos, not clip art: individual photos, team photos, event photos, etc.
  • White space is good.
  • Less links, not more.

Toby Ward is the founder and CEO of Prescient Digital Media, an intranet consulting firm that has worked on more than 100 intranets (including many Fortune 500s). Download his Social Intranet white paper or read hundreds of his intranet columns at www.IntranetBlog.com.

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