Effective Internal Communications Are Essential to the High Performance Workplace
I didn't know that. First I've heard of it. Nobody told me.
These are the words that no executive, manager or supervisor wants to hear from an employee or from a team. Yet, if your company has an inferior internal communications (IC) strategy, you will hear these words often. As Elyse Rosenblum and Julie Coffman outlined in a recent piece in Forbes, there are reasons for this.
"Then there are the standard snags we've always had, simply because communicating is complicated. We don't listen well. We multitask. We let our emotions interfere. We offer unwanted advice. We choose words that can be misconstrued, and we're unaware that we're confusing our listeners."
Poor communication habits result in more than annoyance and frustration among workers. It costs businesses quite a bit of money. A recent report on workplace communication by Grammarly and The Harris Poll found that American businesses lose on average $1.2 trillion yearly because of poor communications. That works out to $12,506 per employee per year. The survey showed that 72% of business leaders report that their team struggled with effective communication over the past year.
Better internal communications have numerous benefits for business, including improved employee performance and engagement, better crisis management, trust building and decreased security risks, to name a few.
The Definition of Internal Communications
Internal communication provides a clear and transparent flow of information between all departments and employees in an organization. You can only achieve effective IC when this flow of information applies to both management and employees. Effective internal communication also nurtures the company's culture and encourages and builds employee engagement.
A business should be able to identify five primary sources of IC:
Top executives dispense important information such as company reports, business strategies, essential internal and external data and survey results. They highlight how the business performs and other critical information needed to help the company run smoothly.
The information shared between team members helps them solve problems, overcome obstacles, complete projects and achieve team goals.
In-person communication happens when you need to brief individuals on specific tasks, talk to them about their performance within the team, discuss promotions or other work situations and ask them for more detailed feedback on the workplace.
These are the informal exchanges of information shared between fellow employees in everyday situations. However, the information transmitted can damage the business and morale if based on insufficient information or lack of transparency.
We have various means of communicating with each other in the 21st century: social media, email, intranets and employee applications such as Slack, telephone, video calls, etc. These various sources of information use different ways to achieve their communication goals, including verbal, electronic or paper.
The Benefits of Effective IC
While we briefly touched on the benefits of improved and effective IC above, let's examine them more closely.
Increased Employee Engagement and Productivity
When you're working with an effective internal communication strategy, it will boost productivity and engagement among employees. You should encourage workers to provide feedback and submit ideas. Numerous studies have shown that employees who feel valued and heard will remain with their organizations much longer than those who don't. When employees are engaged, they will work harder and do better work.
Better Employee Experience
Companies that care about communicating with their employees clearly and transparently stand a much better chance of retaining those employees. You can improve the employee experience by letting people know about company events, employee discounts on things such as fitness club memberships, car rentals or cab service if an employee works late or internal office changes to promote a more positive workplace.
Improved Work Awareness
People are busy. Considering work, family and other obligations, many of your employees could use help. It pays to let your team know about deadlines to help them set schedules to achieve goals. You can help them understand how working on a small task might fit into a project and why paying attention to deadlines is essential. People often forget about deadlines because they're busy. Good internal communication helps them remember.
Brings People Together During Crises
IC becomes essential when your company is dealing with a crisis, whether it be a minor problem such as an internet outage or a much larger issue such as how to deal with work during a pandemic. Communicating critical information to the right people at the right time can help reduce stress and complete goals. Effective internal communication during crises can also help reduce rumors and misinformation. Office gossip can be the bane of any organization's ability to deal with a crisis successfully. Let your employees know what's going on and give them constant updates. This will squash any harmful gossip.
Dealing With Change
Business is increasingly reliant on technology, and technology changes frequently. How often have you heard of companies that make software changes or updates and notify employees too late? Anytime you make a technology change, you must let your employees know as soon as possible and ask for feedback on any changes. Don't ignore the input. Act on helpful information.
Effective internal communications are essential whether your employees spend more time working in remote locations, dealing with events such as the pandemic or coping with your organization's global footprint. Think about dealing with the circumstances that employees face. When you have a workforce scattered across several time zones, you must consider specific situations when you have a video meeting or a team telephone call. What about when people speak different languages or work in other countries with different cultural attitudes towards work? Creating an effective communication strategy helps alleviate any potential problems in these situations.
Related Article: Advancing the Digital Maturity of Internal Communications
Internal Communications During the Pandemic and the Great Resignation
COVID-19 greatly affected life in America, including social distancing, mask wearing and vaccinations. It also changed business on almost every level. It reduced sales and markets worldwide and profoundly changed how America works.
Organizations must work with new rules. Remote work, which many employees hesitated to adopt before the pandemic, has become the new normal. This forever changed how businesses communicate with their employees. Now that employees are also returning to their offices, effective communication rules and guidelines pose new challenges with a hybrid workforce.
In this new world, your IC plans must deal with the reality of reaching out to off-site workers regardless of their location. Waiting for everyone to open an email with important news is no longer an effective strategy. This new business world calls for a new level of immediacy.
There are some tips on how you can achieve these changes:
Be Clear and Transparent
During business disruptions experienced because of the pandemic, employees need communications that are as clear and transparent as possible. Ambiguity will only create chaos and lead to gossip and misinformation. Your employees are worried and confused and may have a lot of questions.
Even before the worst of the pandemic, a Gallup survey showed that 74% of employees felt they had missed important information at work. In 2022, your employees must have access to all the information they need and have all their important questions answered.
When a company deals with a crisis, timing is everything. It needs to share guidance and answers immediately. "I'll get back to you," is the worst thing to say. Think about the best ways to provide that communication. Your company intranet may not be the answer. One recent report shows that only 13% of employees use their company's intranet regularly. It may be ideal for sharing company reports or policy statements, but you must provide your employees with immediate answers to important questions.
Several good IC apps are now available. They can send out instant notifications to mobile phones. Sending out the same message to everyone simultaneously dampens the possibility of spreading gossip and misinformation.
Leaders Need to Be Visible
An effective IC plan relies on strong leadership, especially in the post-COVID business era. Strong and visible leadership provides stability for your employees as they negotiate new realities. Leadership also provides the responsibility behind any IC campaign. Leaders should also ensure that employees can choose which device they wish to accept internal communications. Suppose an employee prefers to receive messages via social media on their smartphone rather than on their work computer. Send messages to their smartphone. There's a much better chance they will see the message.
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Getting the Message to the Right People
Segment the information that you're sending internally. You don't need to send every message to everyone, especially when you're dealing with a workforce dispersed across your region or even the country. Often, personalized messages provide the best way to communicate with the employees in question. Sometimes all you need to do is send a company-wide message, but there will be times when you want to ensure that only the right people get the information at a particular moment.
Here's one situation where you must be careful about sending messages — furloughed employees. Many businesses have had to furlough employees during the pandemic. However, legally, you cannot ask a furloughed team member involved in a project to complete a report or finish their part of the project. If you need to send an email update with a deadline notice to help team members complete their work, you need to ensure that the correct team members receive it.
Returning employees will have many questions. An effective IC plan means their questions will be answered immediately and accurately. If not, you're opening the door again to gossip, misinformation and rumors, which can be highly detrimental to any business. Again, use the messaging channels your employees prefer to answer their questions.
Sometimes, you can be proactive about answering these questions. You can create channels that deal with each issue, such as safety protocols for return to work or a channel that discusses flexible working rules. Remember, if you ask your employees for feedback, don't ignore it. Nothing will turn your employees against your company faster than if they make solid recommendations and you ignore them.
Effective communication is very important during this period of workplace disruption. So it's important to know who's reading your messages and who's not. You want to know why people may not be reading your messages and fix the problem. You need to know if your IC policy is working and if the messages you're sending are being received, opened and understood.
Tips for Improving Communication
Whether you're communicating via email, social media or face to face, there are ways that you can improve communication.
Sometimes it seems we can't wait to interject. Suppose you're someone who constantly needs to interrupt another employee, or even a supervisor, who's trying to convey important information to you. You need to learn to stop and listen to what they're saying. Listening is still one of the essential skills any team member or executive should learn to improve the workplace.
Whether you are speaking to someone face to face or trying to read an important message in your IC app, it needs your full attention. If you're in a crucial Zoom meeting, don't answer your email simultaneously. This is especially important for executives. Employees can tell when you're not paying attention, and they will remember that you don't seem to be invested in what's happening.
"I know exactly how you feel."
Few things are more frustrating than when you're trying to relate an important story, information or concern, and the other party responds with "I know exactly how you feel." Then they begin a long, often dull, story about when they were in the same situation. Many times, of course, it's not the same situation at all. While showing empathy is good, listening and lending support are better.
When someone is trying to make an important point, it's not effective communication if they ramble on and on without coming to that point. Skilled communicators know that when you decide to speak, it's always best to be concise and clear. Executives can sometimes be guilty of rambling because they think that everyone wants to hear what they have to say as an executive. Remember that rambling is also not a good communication strategy regardless of your place within a team.
Avoiding Direct Contact
A good internal communication strategy knows when to send an email and when to speak to someone face to face. Remember, an effective internal communication strategy aims to get your point across as concisely and clearly as you can. If you send someone a critical communication in a lengthy email that you could've done face to face in one or two sentences, it's not an effective use of your or your listener's time.
Timing Is Everything
A drawback of the remote workplace is the assumption by many executives that employees are always ready to work, regardless of the time or location. If you send an important internal communication at 1 a.m., few people will read it or even see it. One critical element of any internal communication strategy is planning the best times to send essential communications and who should receive those messages. Firing off emails or social media updates any time of the day or night will seldom produce the desired response. "When the mood strikes you" is not an effective method of communication.
Building an Effective Internal Communication Strategy
The days when a company might practice one-way communication are no longer effective. Here are a few suggestions for improving your internal communication strategy to make it as effective as possible.
Use a Good Employee Communication Application
When you speak about an employee communications application, most people think about something such as Slack or Teams, but other good options are available. While you can devote many channels to specific work projects, you can create channels where employees can hang out and chat. This is especially important to build team morale when so many of your employees may work in other locations.
Build an Internal Communications Committee
Don't load the responsibility for your internal communications on one person, even if that person is a manager or supervisor. Start an internal communications committee, and it's more likely that feedback won't be ignored. Members of the committee can help provide updates on significant initiatives and relatively minor events such as employee birthdays or birth announcements. Once again, when people work remotely rather than in one location, these communications are essential in building a team spirit.
Provide Managers With a Heads-up
If your company plans to make a company-wide announcement of some key initiative or new program, let your company managers know ahead of time. They are often the people your employees will turn to fill in information that may not be provided in the announcement. Giving them a heads-up provides them with time to prepare for any additional questions other employees may ask.
Promoting Company Culture
The days when employees felt that free snacks and sodas created a great workplace are ending. Employees care much more about work-life balance, accountability and being valued for what they do. Using strong internal communications establishes a culture of accountability. When you use your internal communications consistently and clearly about critical processes such as performance reviews or promotions, you create the transparency that every employee values.
Create a Company Newsletter
It may seem old-fashioned, but the truth is that company newsletters are often widely read and shared among employees. If you have a lot of information to share, it's one of the best ways to do it. You can make it one of the duties of the internal communications committee. It can be their job to gather employee feedback and provide important news information. The IC committee can keep the newsletter clear, transparent and jargon-free and make sure that it's published on a regular schedule.
Every aspect of a successful business depends upon effective communication. Firms that practice consistent communications promote employee engagement and increase productivity. Without effective communication between employees, management and all others involved in the company, productivity and trust diminish. An effective internal communication strategy helps you create productive meetings, deliver clear and transparent instructions and pass along information promptly so that your employees don't need to wait for instructions.
By improving your internal communications, you're helping to build greater employee engagement, productivity and a more successful company. Your employees will feel valued and less likely to resign or leave your company and look for a new job. Effective internal communications can help turn a crisis or bad situation into a positive one.
About the Author
Tom Regan has worked for several media outlets in Canada in the United States including the CBC, NPR, the Boston Globe and the Christian Science Monitor. He also served several years as the Executive Director of the Online News Association.