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Creating a Sense of Culture and Belonging with Inclusive SharePoint Intranet Design

Creating a Sense of Culture and Belonging with Inclusive SharePoint Intranet Design

With culture and belonging topping the list of internal communication priorities, we look at how you can successfully use your SharePoint intranet design to ensure that all employees – regardless of need or circumstance – are welcomed into your business, feel understood and aligned, and are able to access messages of purpose, vision, and change.

Want more? Download our guide to creating an inclusive SharePoint intranet.

In Gallagher’s 2023 State of the Sector report, culture and belonging were named as the primary purpose of internal communication, underpinning the value of reinforcing this through our SharePoint intranets. For organisations of fewer than 5,000 employees this was particularly true with more than 75% selecting this before strategic alignment, or organisational agility.

Although culture can feel like an ethereal concept, it is something that can be established, strengthened, and persisted through alignment, shared values, and sustained engagement – as long as this is consistently conveyed across all levels of the organisation.

It’s certainly not something that can be ‘left’ solely to the communication team. Behaviours – particularly from leadership – play a massive part in the culture of an organisation, as well as how external factors influence the business.

So, with a part to play in both communication and behaviour, the structure and design of a company’s intranet can play a large part in influencing its culture and people’s sense of belonging. For this reason, a focus on inclusive, accessible SharePoint site design from the outset is essential.

Cultural inclusion is vital for those employees whose specific needs fall outside generalised personas. In fact, your SharePoint intranet – and the approach you take to ensuring its accessibility – can make a considerable difference to their feeling of belonging.

More than 2 million people in the UK have a visual impairment, as well as around 11 million who have a form of hearing loss.

To be truly inclusive your intranet needs to be accessible to all, including people with physical, mental, and emotional needs, whether they are permanent, temporary, or situational.

6 Ways Your SharePoint Intranet Design can Improve Employee Culture and Belonging – For All

1. Create Accessibility Personas

At Silicon Reef we start all our intranet design projects by developing personas around which we design an optimal user experience. We find our accessibility personas to be essential to help everyone involved in a project – from UX and creative, to developers and content creators – visualise and plan for the needs of all employees.

Accessibility personas can outline specific challenges resulting from hearing loss, visual impairments, motor skills or neurodiversity. These personas can also outline the barriers to belonging experienced by those working in an environment dominated by a second language, or one in which they are not fluent.

Personas help project teams and – after launch – operational developers and content publishers to make choices that support these people and usually by default, everyone!

It is worth considering that any one of your employees can experience challenges with accessibility at any time – from needing to work in a noisy environment, or bright sunshine, or with an injury, or even when communicating with colleagues who are working outside their first language.

Tackling SharePoint intranet design with accessibility personas in hand helps everyone.

2. Use All the Media Available

The worry might be that making your SharePoint accessible means you have to accept a design that is dry and boring – undermining your culture and disengaging your employees.

This is far from the truth.

SharePoint makes it easy to design your accessible site from the outset, with built-in features that allow you to create a branded site that is appealing and stimulating while ensuring that your content is available to everyone.

Tools such as ‘more accessible mode’, Landmarks, and ALT text are standard, but SharePoint also offers pre-defined themes with optimised colour and contract combinations which can help fast track your design while keeping it accessible.

Integrating tools such as Microsoft Stream into your intranet design can also boost your inclusivity. Because Stream provides transcription across 28 different languages, as well as editable, searchable transcripts, your live video content can be made accessible for deaf and hard of hearing workers – as well as those who are working in a less familiar language, or in noisy environments.

3. Make It Easy to Get to Information

Not much is less engaging than not being able to access information that everyone else has – or seems to have. Making navigation to all content intuitive, straightforward, and fully accessible is essential to engender belonging and ensure a culture of inclusivity.

Use those accessibility personas when developing taxonomies of information, putting as much care into the structure of your content as you put into the structure of your core site function. Use card sorting and tree testing techniques with properly representative user groups – ensuring that you have representation across your persona set – to build a navigation structure that not only works at launch but has the capacity and governance to expand as you build up more content.

With SharePoint Online accessibility is built in to features such as document libraries, lists, and pages. Navigation is always accessible via the keyboard – which supports screen readers, and non-accessible features such as animations can be toggled off.

4. Encourage and Educate Employees to Make it Their Own

Although you may want your cultural values to be universal, the way each employee wants to express themselves and absorb information will be individual to them. SharePoint helps you to democratise information, to make it available to everyone who needs it, in the way they want to see or use it.

This starts at job role or department where you can design your SharePoint intranet to show staff in different departments a customised view depending on relevancy to their job role (sales targets, customer statistics, or project updates, for example) as well as content demonstrating their contribution to wider values (such as charity, CSR and sustainability).

But the real inclusivity impact comes at an individual level, where employees can use – for example – Microsoft Viva to pin learning tabs to Teams channels, configure their personal insights and experiences and create an interactive experience that works for them.

5. Don’t Just Talk, Listen

There are many ways that your SharePoint intranet design can help you embed a two-way dialogue with your employees, strengthening your culture and sense of belonging amongst your team.

The very nature of your intranet, and all the tools available to you through Microsoft 365, allows for multidirectional communication where leadership can gain invaluable insights from both the feedback received from employees, and insights into the way they interact with the site and your content.

SharePoint supports this across several tools – such as virtual suggestion boxes to feedback polls – and Microsoft Viva Insights was specifically designed to enhance a culture of personal support and wellbeing, giving individuals access to insights on their work habits, and actionable recommendations.

Baking these into your SharePoint design – and bringing them to the fore so that employees are aware of the channels of support open to them – can provide a massive boost to your culture and sense of belonging.

6. Think Outside the Business

As well as using your SharePoint intranet to share HR, work-related or social information internally, you can consider in your design the ability to share outside the organisation through sharing functionality.

Through SharePoint’s external sharing functionality, external, temporary, or contract staff – as well as new staff being on-boarded into an organisation – can be given access to relevant information and documents. This way you can use your SharePoint intranet to communicate the culture of the organisation to staff in a controlled, secure, and measurable way to partners and future employees, even if they are working across external offices or locations.

We can help you build an accessible, inclusive SharePoint intranets. Speak to us to find out how.

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