Secrets to developing an award-winning intranet

How Chesapeake’s design team took a website full of challenges and transformed it into a must-read destination for all employees.

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There was too much text. It was too small. All the content looked the same, so it blended together. It was stale. There was no sense of identity.

Those were just a few of the challenges facing Leslie Arnold, Jared Ranum, and their teammates at Chesapeake Energy, as they tackled a redesign of the company’s intranet.

“We wanted to make sure we had a distinct visual style,” says Arnold, senior director of marketing and communications at Chesapeake. “We wanted to be sure it emulated our culture and who we are. We wanted to make sure it appealed to those looking at it,” she says in this Ragan Training session, Behind the firewall: The secrets of an award-winning intranet.

The efforts paid off.

Strong intranet readership among employees

“More than 80 percent of our employees report that they go to our intranet every single day, whether they are on campus or whether they are out in the field,” Arnold says. “I think that is pretty remarkable to be able to use that tool.”

The redesigned site also was chosen as Ragan Communications’ Best Designed Intranet for 2013.

Ranum, who manages digital communications for internal and external audiences, says the old text-heavy design hindered “information discovery.” Seeking a more visually appealing layout, his team worked to balance text with graphics to make things “a little bit more digestible, a little bit easier to take in at first glance.”

“We were trying to take content that was buried or that was just very difficult to discover in the page and try to give more organization that was intuitive and easier to consume at a glance,” he says.

This is excerpted from a Ragan Training video titled Behind the firewall: The secrets of an award-winning intranet.

Seeking a more powerful identity

Designers also wanted to replace the generic identity with a “unique personable feel,” he says. The name of the intranet, MyCHK, which incorporates the company’s ticker symbol, became a dominant feature on the new site.

A welcome-back message greets employees when they log on, another way to “warm up the experience for users,” he says. On holidays or an employee’s birthday, the MyCHK logo will be festooned with a birthday wish or holiday graphics. And employees can personalize their home page display to meet their viewing preferences.

The new design provides prominent navigation links to heavily trafficked destinations-information on departments, the marketplace, or affiliates. There is a hub of links to other content—a “mall directory” for quick access, Ranum says.

More timely content featured

A quote of the day is displayed at the top center of the home page and is a “pretty important thing around Chesapeake,” he says. “It is a way to provide some motivation, some inspiration, and even some humor.” It is also emailed to employees every morning and is featured on touchscreens around the campus.

A stock ticker on the right side of the page “helps remind employees every day that what they’re doing is affecting that stock price,” he says. “We try to make it very visible—a reminder that all decisions they are making every day affect that bottom line.”

Timely news stories and press releases earn prominent play on the home page. Below the news, a section of “badges” highlight campaigns and initiatives that extend over time. A link to the company’s strategies and core values is a home page fixture, Ranum says.

The home page also features a weather report, one of the site’s most popular items. Widgets on the right side provide permanent links to an “idea box” for employees to share thoughts and a “safe suggestion box” where safety concerns are addressed. An announcement ticker pushes out timely tidbits.

Designers placed a permanent footer on each page that provides information for any employee faced with a question about security, ethics, operations, or emergency measures.

Ranum says special pages on the site are also popular. There is a resource library page that enables employees to access fact sheets, templates, photos, animations, and illustrations for presentations they might be making. Another page displays the company’s strategies and core values. Upcoming events on and off campus are listed on another page.

“We thought a lot about the user experience,” Arnold says. “We thought about how we make sure they are enveloped by the culture.” In creating “a very employee-centric website,” Chesapeake provides a portal to all kinds of valuable information.

She pointed to several keys to their redesign success:

  • A Web-based approach
  • Multiple avenues for discovery
  • Consistent experience across devices
  • Visual appeal
  • Education about tools

“What our goal was when we built the site was, ‘How do we capture this culture and reflect it back to them in a way that keeps the energy up and keeps them informed?'” she says.

“We are also making sure that the stories that we post are highlighting and showcasing the employees that are living by the core values or delivering on the strategies. That’s one more way to reinforce them.”

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