HR sites: Be all that you can be online

Getting ready to pitch the value of an online HR department? Well-created and well-run HR sites can become a central information source on all areas of programs. An integrated site allows self-service, choice and flexibility for employees. Unlike HR communication tools of the past, there is opportunity for quick updates, interactivity, constant availability and the capability to search through a lot of information quickly.

Too often the decision not to implement an HR site is made because of reasons other than the evidence — perceptions that it will cost too much, take too long, or confuse employees. Get the facts; research features, timing, budget and the cost benefit to the organization; then, make an informed decision.

No. Early on, IT groups were saddled with the responsibility for the HR site as part of the overall intranet strategy, usually by default. However, a good HR site must be specialized and designed to work as a tool for employees. While it most often resides on the corporate intranet, it must be more than just another “information page.” Human resources, IT and internal communications/ marketing should work together on all aspects of the site, including technical, content and design. While HR should maintain ownership of the project, the combined competencies of all these groups will deliver the best site.

Strategy and objectives should drive the decision, not the barriers that may be encountered. Many companies deliver information electronically to those that have online access, and print to those who do not. Other companies use both, duplicating effort, but in doing so, sensitizing employees to technology. Most employees like the idea of choice, so accommodate them if possible.

A site should be viewed as an investment with a potential return as opposed to a pure expense. Since an HR intranet site can be simple or complicated, inexpensive or costly, the key is to answer some basic questions to determine the budget:

•What should the site accomplish?

•Can it be built in stages?

•What have other departments paid for their sites? What did they get? Are there any key lessons that they can share?

•How many employees will have access?

•What internal resources can be tapped for development?

•What “plug and play” products are available?

There are two ways to determine the return on investment for an HR intranet site:

Quantitatively: Gather the costs associated with current communication processes (for example: printing, distribution, updates and changes). Try to factor labour into the equation by making some assumptions on people’s time, plus administrative costs.

Qualitatively: What is it worth to employees and managers to have access to material 24/7? What is it worth to the company from an attraction and retention perspective? And, how could it support the corporate culture?

The intranet is an asset and should be viewed as an investment whose costs are amortized over time. Keep in mind, like e-mail, it is quickly becoming a fixed cost.

•Make it part of the HR business plan: Given the investment required to create, implement, communicate and maintain the site, this needs to be considered a strategic imperative. It needs to be part of the annual HR business plan and budget.

•Conduct research: Start from a position of knowledge, even if it is basic. Be educated before organizing a project team. Speak to friends and colleagues, read articles and attend some seminars.

•Form a team: The team’s goal is to help design the HR intranet strategy and, if possible, ultimately carry it out. Invite HR, IT, internal communications/marketing and representatives from other company groups to the table.

•Create a plan: Write out in general terms the vision, objectives, resources, timeline, audiences, issues and considerations. This document will become an integral part of the action plan. It will help to clarify the idea and to communicate the vision to others.

Sandy French is the president of Toronto-based Northern Lights, an internal communication agency. He can be reached at
(416) 593-6104 ext. 222 or [email protected] or visit

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