Communicating in a new world of work

For communicators inside organisations, the pandemic represented a many-faceted challenge. There was a huge increase in operational communications. A shift to digital channels. And an uptick in leadership communications. All put huge pressure on communicators.

Many are still working to crisis-mode expectations for turnaround and stakeholder input. And working to ensure that internal communications are fit for the future of work.

Internal communications theory is straightforward. And we have a simple model we use (see below) to guide our thinking and approach. But as with anything involving people, the reality is much messier. 

Large organisations have diversity of roles, environments, communication needs, stakeholders and messaging. That ‘simple’ job becomes complicated.

We’ve spoken to 150 employees, leaders and communicators. We wanted to find out what employees want from internal communications and how to make it happen. Here are the top five take outs.

Allegiances matter, but so does focus

People have many allegiances and belong to many communities at work. These can include their team, function, location, network, go-to-market brand or discipline. And each of these communities will have communications. Communicators need to be explicit about what matters to us all, versus what matters to you. And about what matters for you to do your job, versus what’s a nice to know.

One way to achieve this is to manage your business-wide, broadcast channels. Simplify your intranet so there is one place to go for all-employee relevant content. Be clear on criteria for access to those channels and share this with stakeholders. Decide what role social channels play in your mix. Is Workplace or Yammer where you host important communications? Or do you decide that isn’t part of the ‘official’ mix?

Email is one of the most effective channels in the mix

With the shift to Teams and other collaboration tools, project-related emails have declined. Which is leaving breathing space in inboxes. Employees like and understand email. It’s uncomplicated. Is seen as ‘official’ and they don’t have to search hard to find it. Win win. 

You can’t please everyone

In an organisation with many thousands of employees, it’s a mug’s game to try and please everyone. It's like Newton's Law for communicators. For every positive reaction you’ll get an equal and opposite negative reaction. And this applies not only to content and tone, but also format (love film? hate film? have no sound?), frequency and volume. The way to deal with this is to have a point of view. Be clear what you want to achieve in tone, approach, format, frequency and volume. Write clear criteria and standards. And live by them. It is far easier to explain what you’re doing if you’re doing it. People may not agree, but they will be able to see the reasoning.

Get personal

Personalise where possible, but I think this utopia of communications remains a pipe dream. But, as a guiding principle, ‘get personal’ will take you far.

Reflect your people in your communications. Give all sorts of people a platform to tell their stories. Give people support to be themselves and to communicate in their voice. Tell the stories that matter to the business through a personal lens. “It’s not a concept, it’s someone’s experience” was how someone explained a shift in Pride communications.

Measure your success to support your approach

Listen to your employees with surveys and focus groups. Find out what they like and don’t like about how internal communications are (or aren’t) working for them. Track views, not likes and comments. Our research showed that people are unwilling to share their opinions in public. Use the insight and data you gather to make the case to your stakeholders for your approach. Communicators told us it's this data that helps senior and leadership buy in to doing less, but better. And shows that a more informal, authentic style works.

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