4 SharePoint Features that will Help You Reorganize Your Intranet

Do you still have an old, empty or near empty Team site as the homepage that people visit when they go to SharePoint? Has your organization attempted to use SharePoint Features as something other than a dumping ground for files but can’t seem to quite get there? There’s probably some months/years old company news on the homepage, a few links that most people have bookmarked, maybe a calendar with no recent events. In most cases, organizations don’t put in the proper time to plan for how they want to use SharePoint and there isn’t clear ownership. Eventually, SharePoint provides little value to your business because you haven’t properly tended to it. The overall fix is a topic for another conversation (or rant) but in this post, I’m going to offer up some suggestions for cleaning up your environment. Ultimately, governance, training, and adoption planning will need to be addressed but here are some features that will help you get your house in order.

And here are the 4 SharePoint Features

1. SharePoint Home Sites: Your Landing Page

The first of our SharePoint Features is SharePoint Homesites. The landing page is the first impression. If it’s largely blank, has stale content, a handful of links, an empty calendar, a navigation menu with links that aren’t relevant/useful to most employees, how can you expect people to visit it? You probably don’t know where to even begin and for that, I suggest the SharePoint look book for inspiration or just use one of their templates.

SharePoint Feature #1

For this example, I chose to provision a new site using “The Landing” template (2nd column, 2nd row in the image above) and my url is https://<tenant>/sites/TheLanding. It looks something like the image below. Instantly better than a typical, neglected homepage, right?

SharePoint Feature #2

The great thing about these templates is that it takes a lot of the planning and second guessing out of your hands. It’s not completely a set and forget solution though. If you don’t use Yammer, then you don’t really want an empty Yammer feed on the page, right? The templates are a great starting point but you need to have someone own or maintain it. It’s great to have content automatically surface for the visitor like the My Recommendations section, frequent sites, and my recent documents, but someone needs to provide news or material that makes it worth the visit. One suggestion would be to stop sending HR communications or messages from the CxO via email and create a news article that people can read or look up. I know I would be grateful for less email clutter!

Setting a New Home Site

Once the above is ready to go live, you can you can designate it as your new home site by using the following PowerShell command:

Set-SPOHomeSite -HomeSiteUrl <your new site url> 

NOTE: This does NOT replace your root site

So if it doesn’t replace the root site, what does setting this site as a home site do for us? I’m glad you asked.

For starters, the site’s search scope changes from searching only itself to searching all sites.

Before becoming a home site
After becoming a home site

The site is also set as an Organization News Site which is a site that is flagged an an authoritative site. The result is that your news articles get highlighted. In this example, you can see an article published on The Landing and another on the Support site but only The Landing’s article is set as the authoritative site.

SharePoint Feature #3

If you want to set other sites as Organization News Sites, you can use the following powershell command.

Set-SPOOrgNewsSite -OrgNewsSiteUrl <site url> 

Another thing that happens when you set a Home Site can be seen on the mobile app. The home button on the mobile site will take you to the new Home Site (even though you don’t see the same in the browser).

Swapping Root Sites

I mentioned that changing the Home Site doesn’t change your root site. If you visit https://<tenant&gt;.sharepoint.com, whatever was there before will still be there now but it’s simple to change that these days. Simply go to your Admin Center, select your current root site from the list of Active Sites, click the Replace site button, and provide the URL for the new site collection.

It’s actually a good thing that it doesn’t change right away. It allows you to test it out before fully releasing although, it does immediately change the experience from the mobile app. Let’s face it, if your site is stale and you’re looking for a quick way to bring value to it, then your users are probably not using the app either.

2. Navigation

Navigation is the second of our SharePoint Features. Another area that people find challenging is navigation. I typically see the problem being that people find it difficult to figure out what to provide links for or they want to provide links for everything. When I talk to customers, I tend to talk about the intranet and the collaboration areas as separate things where the intranet is more of a traditional communication vehicle with few people updating content and collaboration areas being more adhoc or less uniform than the other sites. There’s usually no good reason to have a traditional intranet with a link to a project site. You end up cluttering your navigation. Microsoft Teams is making that conversation easier to have because it seems to make that distinction clearer.

If you treat your intranet as a somewhat locked down communication tool, then you reduce the number of potential sites/pages that you want to navigate to. The natural thing that most do is create a link for each department but who says that’s what you need to do? Creating department links on an intranet implies that you will have similar communication sites for each department and from my experience, those sites are left to the departments to manage and most if not all won’t maintain them. If you insist on having links for departments, keep it simple. In fact, maybe don’t even create a site. Instead, just create a site page that your communications team maintains. Departments can submit articles to be posted but communications can approve them.

My opinion, I feel like if you have a link in the top nav, it should take you to a site that looks and feels similar. However, if you have a link in the body of the page, they feel more like links to “other” resources. With that said, I would use the Sites web part to show links to sites that the current user frequents.

SharePoint Feature #4

Don’t Clutter you Nav with Collaboration Sites

Expanding on the previous thoughts on intranet vs collaboration and what they should look like… Places where people go to author content for projects or small teams are spaces that I like to keep separate from the intranet. Project sites where only a select few need access are areas that, for me, don’t need to have a dedicated link from the intranet. It can show up in the Sites web part like the screenshot above but if someone is maintaining a list of links in the top nav, or a mega menu, or anywhere for that matter, I wouldn’t. You don’t want to have to manually clean up a bunch of stale links when projects end.

I also feel that these types of sites shouldn’t have to follow the corporate standards for branding. Departments or project teams should be able to manage their own content however they feel works best. If one department likes to use search and metadata while another department prefers to use a hierarchy of folders, they should be allowed to do so. That’s the common comparison but there are others. Some businesses like to impose a specific folder structure in a library and it may not work well with a team so they just create another library and set it up their way anyway.

What if you have dozens of sites that have loose relationships with each other like project sites for a specific customer or even project sites related to a specific department? In those cases, I would consider leveraging Hub Sites.

3. Hub Sites

The Third of the SharePoint Features is Hub Sites. Hub Sites is a feature was released a little over 2 years ago. Hub Sites are a way to bolt sites together and allow those sites to share a navigation and theme. It also scopes your search to return results from sites associated with the hub and you can bubble up content from the associated sites up to that hub. In the days of subsites, if you decide to move a subsite, it was a bit of a pain because you had to make sure permissions and content came over. Now, you pick a hub that you want to join and you’re done. If you go through department reorgs or acquire another business, hub sites can simplify the grouping of those sites.

Register a Hub Site

In order to group these sites, you just need to select the site in the Admin Center and register it as a Hub Site.

Associate with a Hub Site

Once a site is registered, you can associate related sites to that Hub via the Site Information for the site being associated.

4. Audience Targeting

Another of the useful SharePoint features for organizing your site is audience targeting which allows you to show content to a select group. This is not a security feature but I used to see businesses use it that way. It is simply a way to ensure that relevant content is being displayed.

Audience targeting can be enabled on navigation links (image below), site pages, and certain web parts like the News and Highlighted Content web parts. You do have to be careful when using this feature. If you tag the wrong group or use it too much, it will cause confusion as site visitors may be content that they’re expecting to see or the opposite.

SharePoint Feature #5

Honorable Mentions

While the above SharePoint Features are not a comprehensive list, I think they’re a good starting point. There are other features that are super helpful if you have the organization and team to get you there but can sometimes seem daunting for businesses that are looking for quick wins.

Content Types

A really important feature is Content Types and that is a way to classify documents that you are working with. By default, the Content Type used in a library is “Document.” You can create additional content types with their own columns for a particular type of document. An example could be an Invoice with columns for Service Offered, Invoice Number, and Invoice Date which can be used to search or filter for specific files. You can then use those columns to create different views or generate better search results.

You ask anyone who’s worked with SharePoint and that is one thing that they’ll always tell you to use. It’s also something that businesses seem to struggle with or ignore. You get into what content do you commonly use, then what metadata is important, then what metadata can be shared, should we use the term store, who maintains the terms, how do we know when to use them, etc. If that’s you, know that in the long run, it will help you provide value but if you need a quick win, there’s a chance it won’t be front and center for you.

Search

Another important feature is Search. I didn’t place this in the 4 for a couple of reasons. For starters, this can sometimes become a project too. Ensuring that results are relevant and content types are created to help surface the right content. You get search out of the box to begin with so it’s not that you won’t have search. Your results just might not be too great if you don’t take the time to plan and organize your site.

I definitely think you should look at ways to improve your search but what this article has been driving at is putting the most important things front and center on that home page and providing content (news) in a central place to jump start your intranet. So when I want to read about what’s new in the organization, who the new hires are, who got promoted, or resources/files that are frequently needed, I should be able to go to our intranet to find that information. If I go to a project site for Client ABC and their related projects are joined to a hub, I should be able to work my way to those sites and find the relevant content. In those cases, search will already be narrowed to those sites.

Conclusion

I want to make clear that the above items are tools that I think can get you to show something respectable. These are my thoughts on a bare bones solution for places that have struggled to get started. While there are other features that can also help, the ones listed here are a good start to get your site back in order. It doesn’t change the fact that you need to plan, learn, and get people on board to make sure it continues to succeed but sometimes you need a jump start to get you in that direction. In other words, you can build an MVP intranet but you need to plan for incremental improvements.

About the Author:

Working almost exclusively as a SharePoint Developer/Consultant since 2005. I’ve been involved in a variety of projects for many clients in various industries. I’ve had the opportunity to work with all versions of SharePoint throughout my career. My work has taken me to projects in Virginia, DC, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and my home, Philadelphia. I am the organizer of the Tri-State Office 365 User Group and SharePoint Saturday Philly.

Reference:

Rivera, J. (2020). 4 SharePoint Features that will Help You Reorganize Your Intranet. Available at: https://sharepointlessons.wordpress.com/2020/11/19/4-sharepoint-features-that-will-help-you-reorganize-your-intranet/ [Accessed: 7th January 2021].

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