Will hybrid working spell the end for employer broadcast channels?

The funny thing is, when we sent everyone home in March 2020, we knew that our environmental channels were dead to us. But we all assumed digital would be an easy answer to all our employer-comms prayers. Box checked.

But it turns out, when your day is already jam-packed with Teams and Zoom calls, spending precious time on Yammer, Facebook Workplace or other employer channel feels as much fun as yet another zoom quiz. Seems obvious in hindsight.

What actually happened was the process and IT gymnastics that enabled entirely remote workforces, at an unthinkable speed, handed the comms keys to… well… everyone. A proliferation of user-owned digital channels that’s created a comms challenge of epic proportions.

And worst of all, for home workers life feels noisier than ever. The continual bings and beeps of endless tags and notifications have become an increasingly depressing soundtrack to our @work lives.

It turns out that the broadcast environmental channels of the office were polite whispers in comparison. And they were democratising too; everyone saw the same stuff at the same time.

Communications planners are feeling the pain

With large swathes of the workforce still WFH (many never to return to the office full-time), planning a return-to-the office campaign for a UK business with over 60,000 employees has been quite the challenge. At least it has been for us. Obviously, it’s partly because everyone is working out the messaging as things change. But mainly it’s because the channel landscape is… gone.

I don’t think it’s an isolated case either. It’s a symptom of a fundamental shift that all big organisations are facing right now.

Maybe it’s time to just let go?

In an agile, virtual, collaborative, self-managed world, can’t we just let organic communications take care of it? And wouldn’t that be a saving (we’ll get our coats)?

But surely, however progressive your organisation is, strategy is still set from the top. Values still need to be shared. Visions, expectations and opportunities still need to be set out. Success still needs to be celebrated. And colleagues still need to feel listened to.

Clarity, efficiency and scale suffer horribly when everything just becomes advanced (if well-intentioned) business gossip. Of course, the alternative isn’t nothing at all.

Guess what? It’s email.

Argh. We’ve landed back in 2004. 

Don’t give up, all Is not lost.

So, we certainly need a radical re-think of channels and comms strategies. But perhaps we also need to pay even more attention to long-standing principals for great communications. After all, while we’re all wading through the notifications morass, making sure everything is relevant, timely and entertaining is the difference between getting through and getting muted.

But, what about those totemic communications? The big bang campaigns (how we love a big bang campaign) that you chuck everything at; film, digital, print, experiential, leader content… the lot. Doing that well remotely is a real quandary.

How do you find a way to make sure all your people feel connected at one inspiring, business-wide moment, when they’re all at home in their slippers?

Until employers can rent ad-space in our living room (still the province of those big spenders in consumer goods and services), we need to rely on leaders and influencers to do much of the heavy lifting.

What’s next?

Leaders are your primary channel

Of course, they always have been. But now, those big campaigns can live or die on those leaders and line-managers delivering the goods.

Influencer groups are your best friend

At every level of the business, influencers are more and more vital in spreading your word to their peers. So, building and fostering the right relationships is a big part of the job.

It’s time for disruptive thinking

One of our very creative colleagues came up with the brilliant idea of deploying cookies on company devices, which then serve employee-targeted content on external site ad-space. Sure, it’s a GDPR nightmare. But it’s also a potentially brilliant solution that opens up a whole new channel.

The value-exchange matters more than ever

Now there aren’t any posters, plasmas or decals to walk past, maintaining trust with your colleagues is mission critical. People will only keep giving you their time if they always get something worthwhile in return.

So, for now, that old adage ‘do less but better’ (everybody says it, but few actually do it) should be carved into the desk of every communicator and planner in every home-office. After all, in a remote-working world, the competition isn’t just your five o’clock, it’s Netflix too.

 

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