Bee-coming the Beehive

beehive: (n)
1. a habitation or dwelling-place constructed for bees, usually dome-shaped or box-shaped.
2. a natural habitation of bees, as a hollowed-out tree.
3. a crowded, busy place.
4. something resembling an artificial beehive in appearance, as a hut or hairdo.
Jackson Spalding officially launched The Beehive last week, the firm’s new intranet, only months shy of our 20th anniversary. After reviewing the definition of “beehive,” it seems fitting; we dwell here daily, there’s always a flurry of activity and boy, are we busy. Yet, it’s actually the latter definition that brought The Beehive to life. Yes, I’m talking really, really big hair.
It started six months ago during an intranet brainstorm session with some of our most creative of the bunch. Our thoughts naturally shifted to a well-known term around the office: our shared network drive known as “PERM,” a pain point for some but a vital file repository. Why not take the hairstyle reference a step further, and name our intranet something meaningful and even a bit fun, something that would resonate with staffers — even if no one else? And so the tagline was born: “The Beehive: It’s not another PERM.”
The name game, while entertaining, hits upon a much larger message: A successful intranet gives you the tools you need to work more efficiently and serves as a centralized communication hub, but a truly successful intranet reflects the people, the culture and the work of an organization.
The Beehive symbolizes growth for Jackson Spalding, and is a logical next step in furthering an environment of open communication and community morale among JSers, now 116 strong. The site comes at a time when staying connected amid a growing staff and client list is perhaps more important than ever.
For us, there was a realization that we could be doing things more efficiently internally, whether searching for an external business contact, announcing a client’s visit or searching for a JSer who has availability and a specific skill set. We are constantly looking at ways we can strengthen our clients’ approach to internal communication, so didn’t we owe ourselves the same? The intranet quickly became a focal point in the firm’s strategic plan, and we haven’t looked back since.
As former editor of National Geographic’s intranet, I worked closely on a major intranet overhaul. The challenge: an outdated intranet that no longer reflected the story we were telling externally (no easy feat as any yellow border follower knows). Fast forward 18 months and a major intranet redesign project later — we produced an intranet rich in dynamic content, technology that could support it and a top 10 2014 intranet ranking from Nielsen Norman.
Although the two projects varied in scope and goals, a number of common denominators surfaced along the way. To any organization undertaking an intranet launch or redesign, I offer the following best practices:
1.  Do the research. There are many content management system options out there, and the first step is understanding what your organization is looking for in an intranet and developing a set of project requirements. How important are social features and dialogue? How much will you need to customize the site? Is there a need for groups to collaborate privately? Demo a number of different platforms and loop in the experts, whether it’s your internal Digital or IT teams or an external consultant.
2.  Get the right team in place. It is essential to hire or appoint a project lead who will keep the project on track and will help maintain the intranet once it’s launched. It is a big job, and is often a full-time job. It’s important to loop in the key stakeholders early on from various parts of the organization, including IT, Human Resources, Communications and Digital teams.
3.  Be realistic with your launch timeline. There will be unforeseen technology glitches during development and likely some issues related to internal data. Intranet projects almost inevitably reveal gaps in internal processes or technology, so make sure to account for that when building out your timeline.
4.  Demo the progress. Make the development phase a transparent process. Offer up bi-weekly demos to stakeholders to share progress, which is a best practice for developers following the SCRUM/Agile methodology. It’s also a great way to stay accountable for key deliverables.
5.  Pilot the site with a core group of users. It’s easy for team members to get rooted in the details of functionality. Bringing in a core group of pilot users from across the organization will offer valuable perspective on many different levels, particularly in site navigation.
6.  Roll out the site in phases. Don’t feel like you have to deliver all at once. Start with the essentials (homepage, user directory) and go from there. Launching the site in phases will help keep the momentum strong, while implementing user feedback along the way.
7.  Educate staffers. An intranet is only as strong as your internal communications plan. Getting staffers acquainted with the site will require a behavior change in their daily routine. Plan for this and seize every opportunity to educate them. It’s also where you can get creative and build excitement.
8.  Focus on maintenance and sustainability. Plan for site enhancements and fixes, and prioritize what will deliver the most value to the site. While the launch is hard, the months that follow will be harder with feedback coming in from users daily.
9.  Evolve, forever. Treat the site as a living and breathing organism. Don’t allow the site to become static. If something is not working, think about changing it, and constantly elicit feedback from users through surveys or an open email dialogue. Keep this in mind when developing the site – make sure it can easily scale and adapt along with the organization.
10.  Share your success. Help shine the spotlight on a job well done. Stay in tune with various award opportunities and conferences where you can share key learnings, and in turn, help other organizations on their intranet journey.