In this day and age, it’s mind-blowing to think up to 60% of organizations still neglect their internal communications.
For those looking to step up their game, a common approach to boost internal communication and collaboration is to build an intranet site using WordPress.
But setting up a WordPress Intranet can be daunting, especially if you’re not technically inclined.
That’s why in this article, we’ll walk you through exactly how to set up an intranet site using WordPress as well as talking about the pros and cons of doing so.
We’ll look at:
- What Is a WordPress Intranet Anyway?
- Why You Should Consider Building A WordPress Intranet?
- How to Build Your Intranet With WordPress
- How to Choose The Right WordPress Plugins For Your Intranet Site
- How To Choose A WordPress Intranet Theme
- The Drawbacks Of Using A WordPress Intranet?
- Are There Any WordPress Intranet Alternatives?
By the end, you’ll have all the WordPress intranet-wisdom you need to make the best move for your organization.
What Is a WordPress Intranet Anyway?
An intranet is like a smaller, private version of the internet that can be used by organizations and their employees to share info and improve internal comms.
Typically, intranets offer users a bunch of functionalities such as:
- A knowledge base with training documents
- Employee networking & messaging tools
- Discussion forums
- A staff directory
- A company calendar
A WordPress intranet is simply an intranet that’s built and hosted on the WordPress platform. It can be part of your existing site (if you have one) or constructed as a standalone website.
Intranets aren’t new tech - they’ve been around since the 90s. And impressively, they’re still being implemented in many businesses around the world (if only the grunge scene could have lasted so long!)
In our books, a technology that’s still kicking decades after it’s inception must have something going for it. So, let’s look at why you might consider building an Intranet in 2020.
Why Should I Consider Building A WordPress Intranet?
Despite the fact that new comms tech has emerged over the last few years, Intranets built on WordPress still offer some key benefits. Here are 6 reasons to use them:
1. Enhanced Employee Collaboration
With a plugin, a WordPress intranet allows users to create profiles (not dissimilar to Facebook or LinkedIn). This makes it easy for teams to collaborate more effectively with each other through your internal network.
2. Incredible Customization
WordPress’s open-source nature means a nifty development team can tailor your intranet to match the exact needs of your organization, saving you from forking out for features you don’t want or need.
3. Widespread Familiarity
For a lot of organizations, WordPress is already a familiar tool. That means there’s no need to spend time training staff on how to use new systems or processes and you can hit the ground running from day one.
4. Easy File Storage
Between Google Drive, USB sticks, email threads, and various hard drives, it’s easy for your files to become scattered and disorganized. An Intranet lets you deposit your files in one central location, making it easy to keep track of them.
5. Low Investment (kind of)
You can get your intranet up and running on WordPress without breaking the bank by using a solid theme and a couple of plugins. Having said that, if you’re looking for a highly customized solution, you will need a fairly substantial budget to cover the development costs.
6. Fast Implementation (for ‘out-of-the-box’ intranets)
Unlike building your own site from scratch, WordPress lets you choose your design, upload your content, and launch your intranet within a couple of hours. Assuming you don’t need any customization, you’ll spend pretty much no time working out bugs or messing with code.
How to Build Your Intranet With WordPress
With the why out of the way, let’s roll up our sleeves and knuckle down into the how of building a WordPress intranet.
As you probably know, WordPress’s functionality can be expanded to do almost anything with the use of plugins.
Here we’ll cover how to use plugins to turn your basic WordPress site into a fully functioning intranet.
Step 1. Setup A Local WordPress Website
To create a true intranet you’ll need to set up a local WordPress site as opposed to a public-facing one.
There’s a number of tools you can use to set up a local WordPress site for Windows, Linux, and OS - but one of the most popular is to use XAMPP. If you’re unsure how to do this you can find a great tutorial from the guys over at ManageWP.
Using XAMPP to set up a local server offers two benefits:
- Only users on your local network will be able to access your intranet
- User roles aren’t overly important so long as your intranet is secure
However, it also means that:
- Users can’t access your intranet if they’re not on your local network
- You’ll need a computer running to host your intranet
If you’d rather have the ability to allow users to access your intranet remotely, you can use a regular WordPress Install (this is technically called an extranet). However, you’ll have to be super careful about your security and access permissions as your intranet will be hosted on a public server - we’ll talk more about that in step 3.
Step 2. Use BuddyPress to Create Your Hub
Now that the underlying architecture for your intranet site is in place, let’s start adding your core features.
The best way to do this is with the BuddyPress plugin.
BuddyPress is ideal to create the spine of your intranet as it has numerous community features such as private messaging, boards, profile creation, and activity logging.
Simply log into your new local site and go to plugins, then click add new and use the search function to locate BuddyPress. Hit Install and then activate the plugin.
You’ll now be redirected to the BuddyPress dashboard. Hit the Get Started button to configure BuddyPress to suit your needs.
Now you’ll be able to choose the features that you want your intranet to have. The default settings already have profiles, notifications, and activity streams enabled.
But depending on your requirements, it’s probably a good idea to enable user groups, private messaging, and friend connections too as these typically help your employees stay connected and support collaboration.
Once you’ve chosen the features, click save settings. You can now start inviting your team members, creating teams when they sign up, and discuss upcoming projects and plans all within your intranet - woohoo!
But, don’t pop the champagne just yet. There’s one last step to ensure your new intranet remains totally secure and completely private.
Step 3. Add The All-In-One Plugin For Maximum Security
Most intranets contain sensitive company information and therefore need an extra layer of protection. If you’ve set up your intranet on a local WordPress website, only people on your local network can gain access to it.
But to ensure that your intranet remains completely private, meaning only members who are logged-in can access it, you’ll want to use another plugin called All-In-One Intranet.
This is essential if you’re using a regular WordPress install (aka an extranet).
To set up the plugin, on your homepage navigate to plugins (just like the last step), search for it, and click Install and then Activate.
Then navigate to your settings tab and click All-In-One Intranet.
On the set-up page, enable ‘force site to be entirely private’. Then in the box below, type the URL you want users to land on when they login (your homepage or activity stream is usually a good shout).
Lastly, add an auto-logout time as an added layer of security. That way if employees forget to log-out, your intranet is less likely to be compromised by unauthorized users.
And that’s that! Your basic WordPress intranet is good to go. Take a virtual high-five!
But what if basic isn’t your style? What if you need more functionality? We hear you. Let’s take a look at some other plugins and themes that can take your intranet up a notch.
How to Choose The Right WordPress Plugins For Your Intranet Site
Many organizations require more features than the basic WordPress intranet configuration provides. This can be achieved with the addition of a few key plugins.
Of course, it’s important to think carefully here.
Because the temptation is to create an all-singing-all-dancing intranet with more functionality than the International Space Station.
But you must resist the lure of owning the world's most feature-rich intranet for 3 reasons:
- More plugins = a greater chance of hackers compromising your intranet
- More plugins = slower page loading times and a worse user experience
- More plugins = too many features that may actually detract from productivity, communication, and collaboration
That means it’s important to consider about what features you genuinely need, and cut any that are not actively contributing to better collaboration and communication within your organization.
With over 40,000+ different plugin options to choose from, it’s fair to say this isn’t a task for the indecisive folks at the office.
So, to help cut down your research time, here are six of the most useful plugins that you should consider:
- Booking Calendar: This plugin will let you easily manage bookings for meeting rooms, hotdesks, and any other common areas so that staff can see where’s free and where’s occupied.
- WPForms: Creating & managing internal forms and questionnaires is a breeze with this plugin’s intuitive drag and drop builder.
- BBPress: BBPress allows you to create discussion forums - it’s super simple, works with pretty much any design and can be integrated with loads of other add-ons in the WP library.
- Kanban Boards: This plugin allows you to add Kanban board functionality to your intranet - a great choice for boosting organization and enabling project management within your site.
- Google Drive Embedder: Easily embed your Google Docs any post or page within your intranet.
- WordPress Multisite: Not technically a plugin, but using WordPress Multisite allows you to create a network of websites from a single WordPress install. This is great for setting up distinct ‘areas’ within your intranet. Ideal for giving different departments their own space.
How To Choose A WordPress Intranet Theme
While on paper, you can build your intranet using any theme, there are specific themes that have been tailored for optimal intranet performance. These themes will offer you features right out of the box and are usually super easy to set-up and manage.
Here are 3 solid options to upgrade your intranet’s performance:
Cera is a flexible intranet theme that works well with the BuddyPress plugin. The theme allows you to add many BuddyPress add-ons to your intranet site in just a few clicks. It comes with a bunch of templates for intranet-specific pages like group directories, user, private messages and also integrates with bbPress to allow you to create discussion forums with ease.
Woffice is a popular intranet theme that comes with a bucketload of handy features already built into it. With the theme alone, you’re able to manage projects, create user spaces, add events to your calendaring system, and publish content on your internal wiki without any additional plugins. It’s super easy to install and receives regular updates to ensure continued smooth sailing.
Thrive is a fantastic looking theme that’ll give your intranet a modern and professional look. Like Cera, Thrive has been built to work well with BuddyPress functionally and aesthetically allowing you to leverage the full power of BuddyPress’ features while keeping things looking great. Its handy import wizard makes it easy to use, even if you’re not that experienced with WordPress.
But What About The Drawbacks Of Using A WordPress Intranet?
Okay, so far we’ve talked about the benefits of using a WordPress Intranet. But to keep things balanced, let’s now examine 6 drawbacks that you should keep in mind before you go all-in.
1. WordPress Wasn’t Designed To Build Intranets
WordPress does a stellar job of creating public-facing blogs and websites. But it’s core functionality isn’t so well adapted for creating Intranets. Instead, Intranet functionality has been added over time by enterprising IT folks looking for an alternative solution.
This means that to develop a proper high-end professional intranet, you’ll need IT staff who can handle the complex creation process.
If you haven’t got that you’ll need to source external developers who can help you get the result you’re looking for. As you can imagine, isn’t the cheapest option.
2. Cumbersome Support
If you’re using plugins from different developers, it’s likely that each will have their own distinct support policy and schedule of updates. This can become seriously problematic if you have say 20+ plugins powering your intranet.
What’s more, the bulk of WordPress support is offered via forums or email. That means when something goes awry, you’ll probably be waiting a while for a resolution. Cue nerve-racking frustration and anxiety.
3. Permissions & Security Issues
The nature of intranets means that permissions and security are likely a top priority of yours.
But WordPress’ permissions and site rules are somewhat limited - for instance without setting up complex page-level permissions, your media folder can be accessed by anyone who knows the exact URL of a file (yes, even with the All-In-One Intranet plugin).
To make matters worse, thanks to its popularity, WordPress is also a frequent target for hackers and spammers. And since a whopping 54% of identified vulnerabilities come from plugins, it’s fair to say that a plugin-heavy Intranet may be a serious security risk.
4. Responsiveness & Performance
An effective Intranet needs to be engaging for your employees. If it’s not fast and responsive, employees will probably revert to their former channels of communication - which basically defeats the purpose of creating an intranet in the first place.
One of the biggest issues with WordPress intranets is that site speed and page loading are often sluggish when compared to alternative solutions. That's largely thanks to the number of plugins you need to use to achieve your desired functionality.
That leaves you with two options: speed up your intranet by hiring expensive developers to optimize your plugins. Or invest in meditation lessons for your staff to increase their patience. In reality, neither of these options are guaranteed to deliver the results you’re looking for.
5. The Build or Buy Dilemma
If you’ve already got a company server and in-house development team, constructing your own intranet can seem like a good move - but be aware that:
- As mentioned earlier, Intranets aren’t basic WordPress websites and require extensive know-how to configure (negating the low deployment costs).
- You’ll need to set up your own server & hosting solution. Meaning you’ll be responsible for the security, maintenance, and management of both your server & Intranet.
If you don’t fancy building your own intranet site, buying a WordPress theme is of course a better choice. However, while they’re easy to set-up and manage, their functionality can be quite limited.
You’ll also be stuck with the appearance that the developer has deemed suitable which probably won’t be wholly consistent with your brand.
6. Employees Might Not Like Intranets Anymore
Lastly, a survey by Prescient Digital revealed that just 13% of employees reported using their intranet on a daily basis. What’s more, a whopping 31% said that they never use their company intranet.
Obviously, every organization is different, but much of the current data points to the fact that intranets are fast falling out of favor with their users.
Why? Well, many intranet solutions don’t actually make their users' lives any easier. Things like sub-par search functions, outdated user interfaces and non-existent analytics mean that some intranets actually become less of a help and more of a hindrance.
Okay, Are There Any WordPress Intranet Alternatives?
If you’re not convinced that a WordPress Intranet is the solution for you, there’s a couple of alternatives to consider. One great option is a modern cloud-based service.
Cloud-based services offer a number of advantages over WordPress intranets. For example, our product Helpjuice offers:
- Outrageously easy set-up that you don't need any technical knowledge to do
- Fully managed hosting, security, and maintenance
- Regular updates from dedicated developers to keep things running smoothly
- Detailed analytics to allow you to measure user behavior
- Google-like search functionality so users can instantly find what they’re looking for
- Live support to resolve issues as soon as they arise
- More sophisticated publishing tools and better file organization
- A tailored solution to match your needs
- Great integration with your existing software
We could go on. But when you think about it, software that has been designed to facilitate internal communications is always going to be superior to deploying a hybrid system that was originally intended for a totally different purpose. Not only that, but our Helpjuice can benefit your business in a whole bunch of other cool and interesting ways - from creating FAQ pages to onboarding your new hires, the possibilities are genuinely staggering.
There’s no denying the importance of having an internal communications strategy in place. Central to that is developing a platform through which employees want to engage with.
Building an intranet with WordPress is a workable solution that can help you achieve your internal comms goals - But it’s also not without its flaws.
If your organization wants to deploy an effective internal communications tool that can be built in an afternoon, without technical know-how while also looking and functioning perfectly, then a solution like Helpjuice might be a better choice for you.
If you’re keen to know more about Helpjuice, check out our knowledge bases 101 post for a full explanation about how it can help your business operate more effectively.