5 Reasons to Redesign Your Intranet Using Responsive Design, and 4 Reasons Not To

by Kara Pernice on March 23, 2014

Summary: Web designers have comprehensively discussed the positive and negative foundations of responsive design for public-facing websites. In addition to all of these, intranet designers have some distinct and different considerations to research and tackle.

Most intranet teams want their intranet redesign to be a vast improvement over the previous design, and they want the design to be lasting and meaningful for years to come. The average timeline for redesigning a great intranet is 3.5 years, but the time between major redesigns can be substantially longer in many companies.

For years people have demanded mobile access to website. But unlike users of public-facing sites, intranet users have been patiently waiting mobile optimization. Our research has found that it is not yet common for intranets to be optimized for mobile devices, mobile access will be sorely missed and probably outright demanded by employees very soon. Today the best of the best intranets already emphasize mobile optimization, evidenced by the 10 winners of our Intranet Design Annual 2014. And in fact, 3 of these winners—Abt Associates, AMP, and triptic—took a responsive design approach. These teams employed responsive design for many reasons. For example:

  • Field workers: large percentages of the workforce includes field agents
  • Access the intranet using any preferred devices: Designers strive for great user experience no matter which device employees use to access the intranet

Five Reasons to Design a Responsive Intranet

Is it time for your intranet to be designed to work on any device? Here are 5 reasons to design a responsive intranet:

  1. Using mobile devices is convenient and enduring.
  2. Employees can access work anywhere, anytime.
  3. Intranet projects have lower budgets than public-facing sites.
  4. Equal representation of intranet sections lessens politics.
  5. Employees can bring their own device (BYOD) to work.

1. Using Mobile Devices Is Convenient and Enduring

Most intranets today are not mobile accessible, and this was acceptable in the past. But, employees are already questioning why they can’t do work-related tasks with the 4” display in their hand now. As employees continue to do everyday tasks (like research, shop, and entertain themselves) with their phones and tablets, employees’ expectations for their own organization’s intranet will intensify. Lack of mobile optimization will soon make the organization look antiquated, boring, and indifferent.

2. Employees Can Access Work Anywhere, Anytime

Office hours are a thing of the past: employees want to work everywhere, and not always from 9 to 5. On their mobile devices they should not be limited to doing just a few specified, generic actions such as determining when the next shuttle bus is arriving, or seeing the weather at the office. Apps and mobile sites can be helpful, but they are often focused on one or a few tasks that employees can do “on the go.” Soon these few mobile features are just not going to cut it.

It’s true that many work-related tasks seem better suited for a larger display. For example, you don’t often imagine working on a large spreadsheet, answering and logging customer-support calls, or editing video on a mobile device. But designs like this can be done for mobile. For sure, the most often-used and influential features—such as accessing and entering project information, social sharing, reading news, entering and approving timesheets—can pretty readily be well designed for mobile devices.

3. Lower Budgets for Intranet Projects (than for Public-Facing Sites)

Dedicating resources to design, develop, and test multiple offerings—one for desktop, and one or more for applications or an M.dot site—can be costly. And since intranets projects traditionally have lower budgets and smaller teams than public-facing website projects, creating multiple intranet offerings is not realistic.

To make a responsive intranet usable, designers need to research employees’ activities across devices and make the same information work well for employees using various devices. So the initial research and design work does take longer, but this work is minor compared to that required to develop and test several UI’s and codebases for multiple applications.

4. Lessen Politics

Which teams and information deserves to have a mobile app, or are important enough to be showcased on an M.dot site? The answers, no matter what they are, could ignite major infighting between otherwise friendly colleagues.

Politics, favoritism, and the squeakiest-wheel syndrome can lead to poor intranet-application offerings. And this can hurt employee productivity, and be demotivating to teams and individual employees. Whereas if everyone has a place on the mobile intranet (albeit sometimes not right up front) all teams will feel represented on the intranet, no matter which medium employees access it from.

5. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to Work

People want to choose the mobile devices that they feel most comfortable using and carrying. Allowing BYOD behooves organizations because people are more productive and happier with using interfaces that they understand and like. The time of the company-issued Blackberry being the only allowed mobile device is long gone.

If the organization designs device-specific applications, it will either have to create several apps to accommodate all devices, or focus on one platform for the intranet app and risk suffering negative repercussions for this choice. Some of these effects include: alienating some employees and decreasing their motivation, giving some employees an unfair advantage over others, and adversely affecting some employees’ productivity and feeling of worth at the organization.

Four Issues to Consider with Responsive-Design Intranets

Before you decide on a responsive-design approach for your intranet, consider the serious caveats that are particular to enterprise applications and that most public-facing websites don’t need to worry much about. The main cautions include the following:

  1. Security of content
  2. Costs of data plans
  3. Longer schedule time to see the desktop version
  4. Work everywhere all the time

1. Security of Content

Making every bit of your corporate information available via mobile devices can be very scary. Inherent in the definition of “responsive design” is that all content—not just some—is available on all devices.

It is possible to suppress display of some parts of a web page in particular versions of the design manifested by a responsively-designed page. However, for security reasons this might not help. If for example the mobile version of a page doesn't display social security numbers or other sensitive information, the numbers might still be in the page code and thus available to eavesdroppers.

For many decision makers at organizations, it’s a chilling prospect to enable access to all content on the corporate intranet unless it is securely tucked behind an iron-clad firewall. Public wireless or a cellular network access may elicit a definitive “no” from security folks.

2. Costs of Data Plans

Making everything on the intranet accessible on a phone means potentially astronomical data-plan costs to employers or employees paying the bills.

3. Longer Schedule Time to See the Desktop Version

As discussed previously, design time for a responsive intranet can be longer than that needed for designing for desktop alone. However, when the design is completed it works on many devices instead of just one. Still, if your office employees need a desktop intranet now, it may be problematic or tiresome to wait for a responsive-design intranet.

4. Work Everywhere All the Time

Back around 1995 my ex-husband was issued a laptop at work. It was a pretty cool one at the time, although today we’d shudder at the white shell (which was instantly dirty) and the mouse buttons on the back of the monitor (which quickly became painful to use.) Still, he was so consumed with it that one evening he brought that laptop to bed. You can imagine how this went over with me. (If you can’t imagine I’ll tell you: Not good.)

Along with the positive elements that come with having work available at all times come the negative ones, the main one being that some people feel they are supposed to work all the time.

The technology should not dictate the social and managerial wins that can occur by making the entire intranet available. Managers should work with employees to determine what is expected of them, and how many—albeit possibly nonconsecutive—hours they should be working per week. Walking around with your work in your pocket all day and night can be incredibly empowering, but can also be an occupational hazard if not well managed. (It can even be life-threatening if people start reading email or browsing the intranet while driving.)


The potential benefits of a responsive-design intranet are very tangible. But the dangers are also real, and different from those related to creating a responsive public-facing website. Discuss and plan with your management, IT group, design team, and employees to determine the best solution for your organizations’ mobile needs; and for your intranet design for today and for the future.


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