How to Organize COVID-19 Information on Your Intranet

How to Organize COVID-19 Information on Your Intranet

To serve employees and the business in the current environment, intranet designers’ priority is ease of use. It must be straightforward for employees to discover, find, and consume COVID-19 and other information.

I talked with several intranet designers and looked at examples of intranets today, in COVID-19 times. Here are some strategies that intranet teams use for integrating new information about coronavirus into their existing intranet designs:

  • All in one place: putting all or most coronavirus-related information on one page or in a dedicated section on the intranet
  • Integrated COVID-19 content: fitting information about COVID-19 in the information architecture (IA) and the global navigation of the intranet
Chart: Large "all in one place" circle left (time in x axis) by March 2020; "dispersing" and lage and smaller circles center; "dispersed" an smaller circles on right -- as time passes
As time passes, COVID-19-related content on intranets will likely be placed in several sections, not consolidated in one. 

No matter which approach you take to adding COVID-19 content, prevent issues by:

  • Crosslinking pages with related content
  • Improving page metadata (keyword tags, topics, and page titles), so information will be findable in search

All (or Most) in One Place

A design approach that has emerged is to offer COVID-19-related information in one place:

  • a banner on the homepage the advertises and links to a COVID-19-related section
  • one hub page that houses short descriptions and links to all content related to COVID-19
  • a set of COVID-19–specific pages
Cards with images and large text: orange and black palette
The COVID-19 response on the SORINT.lab, a digital technology consultancy in Italy, intranet is rich in content, but the UI features are modest: a Covid-19 banner at the top of the intranet’s homepage leads to a page that includes links to important information.
rainbow image in top left, 4 cards with text, right rail of links of "featured posts" and "popular posts"
This page on Sorint.lab’s intranet includes topics, descriptions, and links to blog pages full of information.

MassMutual, which provides insurance and other financial products, offers on its intranet “a homepage special message and a standalone information page: a one-stop shop for all information related to working from home, the company response to the crisis, tools, and resources,” reported Betsy Codding, head of Digital Communications. “As the crisis took shape, we had a large number of communications and information resources to share with employees and we wanted to provide an easy way to access the information in a single location.”

leftside nav with "office of enterprise resilience" section expanded displaying "COVID-19 Updates and guidance" links; one-column content section with coronavirus-related links
MassMutual’s COVID-19 page offers health and benefits information and links.

At Cerner Corporation, the intranet team created a single page that includes all updates, such as office closings and changes to the organization’s travel policy. “We are a global health-technology company that serves hospitals and other health-care providers, so the pandemic generated considerable internal messages to our associates,” explained Tara Saylor, communications partner and intranet strategist at Cerner Corp. This intranet has been successful, with record traffic and feedback that messages have been clear and consistent. Additionally, according to Saylor, there have been “fewer questions than expected submitted to supporting teams like HR Service Center, and increased engagement; […] ‘softer’ messages related to associate well-being and mental health were very well received.”

left nave, top 5: colored cards with small text, 2 columns below with a set of coronavirus-related links; on right "latest site updates and articles"
Cerner Corp. created a unified COVID-19 page.

Likewise, Goodwill Industries International (GII), which comprises a network of 157 community-based, autonomous organizations in the United States and Canada, launched a Coronavirus Information and Resources page on its intranet. Sarah DiPasquale, Learning and Engagement manager, explained how, in response to COVID-19, the organization wanted to capture all of the COVID-19-related content “in a central location” for its members. (Each local Goodwill organization designs its own programs and services to help people find work near where they live.) She explained: “Usually, information is organized and housed on various communities on our intranet, but given the urgency of the situation, we felt it was important to identify one section of the site for all COVID-19 news and documents so that we could point users to one main page. We identified the Loss Prevention and Safety community as a place to house this information because of its connection to business-continuity planning and emergency management. 

The strategy seems to have been effective for making COVID-19 information discoverable, since, during the month of March, the team saw a significant number of visits to the Coronavirus Information and Resources page and subsequent special issue pages, with traffic much higher than that of other sites on the intranet during that time.

First Solar, Inc., an energy company, took a similar approach. “We needed a site that was a one-stop-shop for coronavirus news and information,” reported Amy Heisler, Global Internal Communications senior manager. The team created a Coronavirus News and Resources collection site built on the SharePoint Modern interface. “It resides within our intranet and is accessible to both associates and contractors,” said Heisler. “The information was (and is) coming in fast and this solution gives us the ability to consolidate everything people wanted to know in one place.” The frequent updates have been appreciated, and First Solar’s COVID-19 intranet work has been well-received by employees, according to Heisler. 

left nav links, blue alert banner at top, "keeping our people safe" page title, 3 images of office lobbies, right raid
First Solar’s news and resources related to COVID-19 at consolidated in one area.

A recommended long-term approach for designing an intranet’s IA and global navigation is to reorder and rename sections to fit all content logically and understandably. But this type of redesign can be quite difficult and time-consuming. Thus, for an urgent, short-term approach in a finite period, placing all coronavirus-related content together and prominently linking to this information from the homepage is a safe strategy because it makes it easy for both (1) users to find this content and (2) content managers to maintain and update it.

If you have a small or stretched intranet and content team, this could be the safest tactic for you.

Integrated COVID-19 Content

As time passes, some intranet teams are beginning to integrate the COVID-19 content into other sections of the site. This approach takes more work, but intranet teams won’t likely need to revisit the content’s placement in the future.

While GII started with all COVID-19 content in one place, it is already creating new pages housed in permanent sections of the intranet’s IA. “As the situation evolved six additional pages were created to address special issue areas: Finance and Operations, Mission and Partners, HR and Employees, Government Response, Communications, and Data,” said DiPasquale. “Each of these pages are linked to our original Coronavirus Information and Resources landing page.” Crosslinking is important for making the information findable.

megamenu, 3 sections: associate announcements, supporting our clients, and stay connected; links below each section title
Cerner Corp. added a new top-level global navigation item, COVID-19 Updates, on its myCerner intranet. This item expands into a mega menu with 3 sections and various links under each. In this way, employees can see the main COVID-19 topics at a glance from anywhere on the intranet, without going to the main COVID-19 page.

Content and IA Strategy Going Forward

Plan for integrating lasting processes and procedures for the new normal. A common, severe, content-strategy on intranets relates to leaving permanent information in temporary places. For example, a policy may start as a news item and then live in the News section of the intranet forever, never updated, moved, or linked to from related pages of the site. Or, a team may create a helpful tool and house it forever within its SharePoint site rather than moving it to a place on the intranet where all employees can find it. In other words, there is no plan for converting what is thought to be temporary information into a permanent, logical, findable, and searchable format and location. Two ramifications of this mistake are:

  • Employees miss out on relevant, important information or tools that could increase productivity, safety, sales, or customer loyalty.
  • Employees refer to old, inaccurate, outdated information and waste time or make serious mistakes like giving customers wrong service or information or exposing individuals and the organization to safety and legal issues.

Don’t let this happen with COVID-19 information and tools. Instead, designers should determine when temporary information becomes long-lasting. When will you move those awesome online-meeting tips from the coronavirus page to a section about effective tool use? Will you have teams share their safety videos about topics beyond COVID-19, and, if so, where will those videos be most findable on the intranet? Will you keep doing group-meditation sessions, and if so, where will the schedule go when the coronavirus page is not important anymore?

Your plan and actions to convert short-term to long-term information will be a longstanding effort, given the scientific predictions that we won’t be going back to the old ways of in-person interaction for some time. Thus, intranet teams should plan for different phases.

Semipermanent information is information that we know is going to change. We want to make employees also aware of this fact. Consider requirements and processes for employees as social-distancing rules and procedures change, and when you do:

Report each new phase and changes in procedures that employees should follow through that phase. For example, imagine all were working from home, but the next phase calls for some office staff to return to the office full time. The site would communicate points about the change, possibly like in the following example.

Acme Corporation: Returning to Working in the Office:

On May 30, 2020

20% of in-office workers will be asked to go back to the office on a regular basis starting. Your manager has either already contacted you or will contact you by May 15, 2020 to discuss.

As of March 15, 2020

80% of employees will continue working from home until further notice.

Steps taken by Acme to ensure the cleanliness of the offices and your safety

In-office workers will be required to:

  • Wear a mask whenever they are within 6-feet of another person.
  • Wash hands frequently, and always before and after touching any shared tool, like a printer or scanner.

Communicate which phase is current and which phases and procedures are no longer current. If users happen to find an outdated procedure, they should realize right away that it’s been deprecated — because the page explicitly says so. (Ideally, that page should be removed completely.) For example, imagine that a restaurant that had been closed starts offering curb-side pickup for takeout Next, they begin allowing dining-room eating at 25% restaurant capacity. The intranet would communicate how employees should interact in person, how to set up tables, how to share this information with the public, and what everybody should expect. The intranet should also communicate that employees should continue to support and expedite the current processes related to curb-side pickup for takeout orders.

COVID-19 Response Phases for Yummy Restaurant:

Phase 1

Closed from March 2, 2020 to March 15, 2020

Completed

Phase 2

Curbside pickup for takeout orders, began March 16, 2020 to current

CURRENT

Phase 3

25% capacity seating in dining room starting on May 30, 2020, continue curbside pickup for takeout orders

Planned for future

Top message: Last updates April 9 with information about associates' use of personal face cloth coverings when comin on site.
On MassMutual’s intranet, FAQ’s were updated daily during the early days of the crisis and regularly on an ongoing basis. The Last Updated [date] feature helps employees understand how current the information is. The Recent Communications section provide details about the most recent updates. The expandable menu provides quick access to key topics. The topics and the order in which they are listed have changed over time — for example, travel topic was demoted and the work-from-home one promoted over time.

Conclusion

Getting COVID-19 information up on intranets and ensuring that it’s accurate and findable is the main focus today. But plan for tomorrow, when things begin to normalize. Derive a long-term strategy for a how to offer and organize coronavirus-related content so it is easy to find and maintain and consider how you’ll transition that parts of that content to a permanent place on the intranet.

I would like to heartfully thank the intranet designers and organizations who shared their examples and allowed us to share them, in the hopes of helping other intranet teams during the pandemic and beyond. In addition to the people attributed in the article, thank you to Andrea Forlani, UI expert & UX specialist at SORINT.lab.