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Ensuring Internal Communications Are Heard in an Increasingly Complex Landscape

November 05, 2020 Digital Workplace
James Robertson
By James Robertson

Digital landscapes within organizations of all sizes have grown in complexity over the last year. There was already a steady rollout of new collaboration suites, such as Workplace by Facebook and Microsoft 365, but this leaped forward because of COVID-19.

While internal communications teams have really shone throughout the pandemic, the digital workplace ‘new normal’ is now starting to emerge. While it’s great that new ways of working are becoming more widespread, internal communications teams face some real challenges.

How can comms teams cut through the complexity when so many different ways of interacting are now happening simultaneously? A clear internal comms strategy and plan is vital here, and it doesn’t need to be complex (at least for now).

So Many Communication and Collaboration Channels

The realities of communicating and collaborating can seem overwhelming in many organizations:

  • Email is still going strong, with important messages still being sent out first in email, and other channels following behind. The use of email newsletters also has grown, not shrunk, as a result of COVID-19.
  • Intranets are still seen as the home of corporate communications, although many are stuck in limbo, waiting to be migrated to modern platforms. In the meantime, the comms capabilities of many intranets fall behind other channels.
  • Social tools such as Yammer and Workplace have fostered an "all in it together" culture during the pandemic response, but usage is ad-hoc with patchy senior leader engagement.
  • Microsoft Teams is the golden child, being positioned as the new front door for daily work. While comms capabilities are limited in Teams, organizations are experimenting with sending out messages within larger-sized teams, rather than via the intranet.
  • Employee apps are being rolled out by business areas to provide a mobile-first comms channel to field and frontline staff.
  • Zoom, Stream, Slack and many other tools are being used for video chatting, senior leader messaging, and collaboration within business areas.
  • Shadow IT is still spreading, with a growing number of teams using tools such as WhatsApp to keep in touch with their workers.

Few organizations are as messy as this. But most are seeing a proliferation of new tools that are adding to existing channels, rather than replacing them. Many of these tools are also in a constant state of flux, adding new features almost every week (Teams being a perfect example of this).

It’s perfectly understandable that many comms teams are finding themselves in a state of analysis paralysis in the face of these challenges.

My message, however, is this: at this point, clarity is more important than strategy when it comes to internal communications. Leaders, business areas and internal communicators all need a clear direction when it comes to sending out messages, so that employees know where to look, and messages get through.

Related Article: Internal Communicators, Please Don't Abandon the Intranet

A Communications Strategy Example

future communications methods

This summary slide from a recent consulting engagement outlines the recommended approach for the coming year. The slide represents the culmination of engagement with stakeholders across the business as well as research with end users (employees).

A few things of note: Firstly, decisions about internal communications are driven by the type of message, with different approaches taken to leadership comms and social engagement, for example.

Secondly, the company made pragmatic decisions, such as spinning up a standalone SharePoint ‘Modern’ site to create a new comms channel, because there's no budget to conduct a full redesign of the legacy intranet at present.

Lastly, the intent is to provide simple and clear decisions that all stakeholders and employees can understand. There’s a lot of detail that sits underneath this, of course, but the top-line messaging is straightforward.

Related Article: Employee Apps Emerge to Engage Frontline Workers

Aim for Short-Term Clarity, Plan for Long-Term Success

A lot of things remain unclear about how to best conduct internal communications within modern work environments. The roadmap for Microsoft Teams and SharePoint isn't clear in this area. Workplace from Facebook and employee apps all offer comms capabilities, but lack integration with other channels.

Internal comms is more important than ever in these ever-shifting times. Internal comms teams should therefore take pragmatic steps to move forward:

  1. Identify the types of communication that occur within the organization, including messages that are sent locally within business units.
  2. Choose a handful of platforms to use for internal communications, based on their reach and functionality.
  3. Make practical decisions about how communication will occur, such as drawing a line between content and comms, and between need to know and nice to know.
  4. Outline a clear and simple model for internal communications over the coming year, in a format that can be used by all. Leave some of the more complex decisions for down the road.
  5. Modernize communications, from the way messages are written, to the use of video. Shift away from newsletters.
  6. Lead the changes that need to happen, ensuring that internal comms sits at the heart of decision making, even as technologies and platforms are still in flux.

The next few years will hopefully see a continued shift to modern ways of working, fully utilizing the technologies that are now enabled. While confusion and complexity are unavoidable during such changes, internal comms teams can still improve the way that messages are delivered. Make pragmatic decisions, put shape around internal comms, and lead the change!

About the Author

James Robertson is the originator of the global movement towards digital employee experience (DEX). Twenty years in this space, he’s one of the leading thinkers on intranets and digital workplaces.

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