Build a Shared Site People Will Actually Use

A lot of us just glaze over when we hear "social networking sites" or "intranets" or "knowledge portals" (which is a double score in Buzzword Bingo). Forget the terminology for a moment. Would you like a designated place for remote team members to share information without clogging up your email? How about never again having to resend the presentation during a conference call because someone doesn't have the latest version? Want your team members to have a chance to get to know each other when you're not all together? A shared site of some kind can be the answer.

Whether you're using an enterprise-wide tool like Microsoft's SharePoint (Your IT people will love you because they've paid for it already and at last someone's going to use it) or a free tool like Ning (your non-techie folks will love it because it's, well, non-techie) here are 5 components of a good shared site that will get the job done and, more importantly, that people will actually use:

  1. Get personal. Pictures, profiles, even short YouTube type videos are a great way to get to know each member of the team. It's a little harder to rant at that engineer in Bangalore when you know he's a real person, not just a name on an IM screen. Profiles should include non-threatening personal information like what city they live in, do they have a family, their dog's name and even what they do for hobbies. A shared interest in model railroads could just bridge the gap between two people in Engineering and Sales. (Then again, that might be asking a lot.)
  2. Integrate it with their email. Anyone who's set up a Facebook page only to let it lapse after a while knows that the hardest part about using these tools is having to constantly check up on it to see what's new. At work, no one will use a tool if it's a hassle. By using filters and lists, new information and requests will come to their email, so they can do a quick screen and see if they need to respond.
  3. Make it your version-control tool. Need the latest version of that PowerPoint from HR? As soon as you get it, post it to your site rather than emailing it to everyone. It will cut down on the number of emails you get a week later because people can't remember where they saved it when you emailed it.
  4. Record conference calls and webmeetings. How do people catch up if they miss a virtual meeting? Now they can go right to the source. Most of these sites make posting audio and video as simple as saving a document. It's also a great way of holding people accountable: Missing the meeting is now no excuse for not knowing their action items, and they can't deny they said something when it's there for the world to hear.
  5. Have fun with it. Sharing interesting articles, contributing to discussion threads and having a place to learn from each other informally is a terrific way to create social bonds between your team members. Don't over-regulate it. Allow (appropriate) jokes and smart-alecky comments. Encourage people to post casual (but non-incriminating) pictures rather than formal head shots. If it feels like work, people will resist using it. Let your team have a hand in designing it -- they know what they'd like it to do.
Using a good shared portal can build team morale, keep information flowing and save your sanity. If you're not using one, check them out. Here's a Ning site for the Employee Engagement Network that shows you the possibilities. If you are using one, how's it going for you? What tips do you have for the rest of us?