Handling internal communications has gone from being a short-straw job to top-floor role in organizations facing radical cultural changes including remote work, accelerating technology advances and the Great Resignation.
As organizations struggle to redefine their culture, retain staff and remain productive amid seminal change, communicating effectively with their entire team has assumed greater importance and demanded more attention. The head of internal communications now has a seat at the big kid table.
Once the domain of scrabbling together a house organ or managing email chains, internal communications now is recognized by smart organizations as a critical part of the new infrastructure of doing business. As one CEO put it, “I never fully realized how important it was to show employees their importance by communicating with them effectively – and often.”
That requires stepping up the quality and frequency of content and delivering that content where employees will seek it.
Despite all the change, traditional duties of internal communications remain. New human resource policies or payroll procedures must be announced and explained. The same goes for new governmental rules and policies, such as paid family leave. Staff changes and expansion or contraction of locations need to be shared. Employee recognition and staff retirements should be highlighted. Messages from the CEO or other senior officials must be delivered.
There is no credible way to outsource content. Employees, stakeholders and students want more than perfunctory memos, routine notices and grip-and-grin pictures.
Some organizations maintain intranets with password-protected sections that allow employees to monitor their pay, deductions, vacation days, sick leave and other personnel data. Email chains exist to service intra-departmental or business unit communications. Sometimes, there are features that allow employees to ask questions that CEOs answer.
The emergence of hybrid workforces and the struggle to retain and recruit workers has added new dimensions to the role of internal communications. Some internal communications specialists say communicating with employees has taken on the character of communicating with an organization’s external audiences. The power dynamic has shifted from top-down messaging to information sharing.
While daunting to execute, there is something healthy about this new internal communications reality. Through internal communications, employers should treat employees on a more equal footing, which can be rewarded by sustained or even improved productivity and engagement. The employee working remotely from a comfortable cabin with WiFi access isn’t the same employee who used to commute to the office and spend hours at a desk.
Of course, not everyone is or can work from a comfortable cabin. Many jobs remain site-bound, and sometimes these are the jobs that are hardest to fill. The trick is to invent an internal communications strategy that reaches remote and place-bound audiences, making each feel an appreciated part of the organizational family. For schools and colleges, it can be even trickier because the target audience also includes students.
Luckily, this internal communications strategy doesn’t have to depend on mirrors and magic. New intranet and email technology can help. There are plenty of vendors to retain for advice and execution of an aggressive communications strategy that delivers useful, timely information to internal audiences.
However, there is no credible way to outsource content. Employees, stakeholders and students want more than perfunctory memos, routine notices and grip-and-grin pictures. They are unlikely to pay attention if the content is reminiscent of what was dished out in the old days in house organs. This is a new world of communications, both in form and substance.
Here are some things to consider when revamping your internal communications:
- The water cooler or company cafeteria isn’t the hangout it used to be, which means a lot of informal information exchanges don’t occur. Zoom calls don’t fill this void and may even exacerbate it. This gap can be a problem or it can be an opportunity to try new approaches to information exchange. Digital bulletin boards and moderated exchanges may be worth trying. Putting information in story form in print, video and podcast is worth trying to build an audience on your updated internal communications platform.
- Don’t try to do everything at once. Identify key metrics, the must-haves of internal communication, and build a strategy to achieve those metrics. Study the analytics to see what’s working and what isn’t, then modify your communications tactics and vehicles accordingly. Not everything you try will be a zinger, so don’t be discouraged, just committed to finding better information pathways.
- Internal communications can’t escape interaction with social media, so plan for it. Take note of influential employees who comment on work-related issues and consider giving them space on your intranet to attract viewers and convey a different vibe in information-sharing.
- Audience mapping is essential to ensure your internal communications reaches every corner of your organization. Audience mapping also informs how different employee segments like to receive news about the organization, which in turn can suggest different layers and styles to introduce into internal communications.
- Strive to make internal communications content more like a conversation than an email. Create content with an eye toward satisfying what internal audiences care about and want to hear about. Explain why information being shared is important and worth knowing. Make content interesting enough to share when possible. Encourage feedback and respond to information requests. When appropriate, find a way to feature user content, whether it’s birthday pictures, news of their community involvement or a thought-provoking essay.
The growing importance of internal communications means organizations must devote adequate resources to produce, edit and repurpose quality content for internal viewers. This is no longer a one-person gig, especially for larger, complex organizations. If you want internal communications to bring an organization closer together, make sure it has the people and financial backing to do the job.