User adoption reminds me of the proverbial sound of a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. If you create something with great features but no one uses it, was something of value ever created?

I've been able to focus closely on user adoption for three different intranet projects in the last few months and the following are some of my observations about the themes that I'm seeing regularly.

Intranets are not new to people

  • The concept of a company intranet doesn't need to be sold to employees. Something I hear commonly now is: "When I used to work at Company X, our intranet did Y and it would be great if our intranet did that too." A few years ago, employees had more trouble making suggestions or envisioning the potential of intranets.
  • In general, intranets do basic publishing quite well. Most intranets do a good job delivering company news, HR and other company information (departmental information, forms, policies and general company info) and employees use the intranet to get this information.

People want collaboration and SharePoint team sites but need support

  • SharePoint team sites have a lot of functionality that people want. There is a desire to get off of a file share, have one source of truth for shared documents, and to work online in a security trimmed site.
  • Most people need support to set up and learn to use SharePoint team sites. Almost all team site success stories involve investment in training, business process analysis and governance. Whereas, most failures to adopt are linked with lack of support to set up team sites to mimic business processes or a lack of training in how to use them.

Investing in user experience can facilitate user adoption, but it's not usually enough

  • Some things are too complex and not intuitive enough for training to be unnecessary for most employees (e.g. creating a SharePoint site to reflect a business process.)
  • People sometimes need a level of proficiency that requires training. For example, people working in call-centres or under other time constraints may need training to use systems optimally, and content authors need more proficiency than other employees.
  • Good information architecture and design won't solve content issues. (See the next point.)

Content issues affect the reliability and value of the intranet to employees

  • Content accuracy and currency is almost always an issue on intranets (I've never actually seen it not be an issue) and the areas where content is accurate and regularly updated are the areas most used.
  • Content authors often express a desire for more feedback on how the content they work on is used, either through web analytics, feedback forms or other research so they can make content more targeted and useful.

People like people

  • Using attributes (department, name, location) to find people is highly valued. The people directory is usually one of the features of the intranet used the most, and the biggest source of negative feedback when it doesn't work well.
  • People want to know what others are doing, especially in large organizations. Profiles written about people and news and announcements about people's activities are often noted as a favorite thing and show up well trafficked in web statistics.

High quality search makes people happy

  • This seems so obvious I almost wanted to leave it off the list, but it is one of the most common things employees mention. Improvements to search are noticed and appreciated by employees and lead to them using the intranet more.

Tools like a buy-and-sell can increase adoption

  • This seems sort of trivial compared to the other purposes intranets serve, but when a buy-and-sell area for employees is provided it is usually one of the most trafficked areas of the intranet. It works like Craigslist, minus the security risk and with some reassurance that your co-workers won't rip you off. It's the type of service that can be easily provided to employees and will help drive traffic and connect people across the organization. It can be an amazingly successful intranet social tool.

Social tools in the workplace are still approached cautiously

  • People in their 20s and 30s have just as many reservations about social tools at work as people who are older. Some use Facebook and some don't, but either way they aren't sure about how social tools can provide business value.
  • Linkedin is a better reference in discussing the potential of social tools than Facebook.
  • People are the most receptive to executive blogs and reading other people's open comments on news stories.  
  • There is concern over the ability to respond to comments and questions made using social tools.
  • Pilot studies around a process, group of people, or around a topic area for the use of social tools is a good way to introduce them to the organization.

Today's information landscape requires a lot of brain power to navigate

  • An intranet is more and more a platform that helps employees makes sense of complex information landscapes. There is a lot of value in using an intranet to simplify those landscapes for them.

Those are the themes I'm seeing regularly that affect what people are adopting, or what they are ready to adopt. If there are other themes you're seeing, I'd love to hear about them.