Technology is continuing to introduce new and innovative ways for us to communicate and collaborate – both in and outside the office – and collaboration tools are becoming increasingly important in facilitating this.
Whether you’re WhatsApp-ing or on Yammer, IMing on Skype or sharing your pictures on Instagram, there are now a multitude of ways to ensure your voice is heard. However, when it comes to communication and collaboration within the workplace, there is still a significant gap between the most effective, efficient forms of communication available – and what employers and employees alike choose to adopt in their day-to-day roles.
Despite exposure and introductions to new collaboration tools and technology, there remains a trend towards the old and familiar. By nature, we shy away from change: preferring to revert to the tools with which we are most familiar and have previously seen proven results from, rather than venture into the new and learn something from scratch.
This resistance, however, could have a significant impact on engagement of employees and your organization’s ability to innovate and evolve. Some old-faithful forms of communication can prove intensive in terms of time and resource, impacting upon productivity without reaping the desired rewards. Business cultures have changed and new generations of employees have different preferences for how they engage and work: now, more than ever, it is vital to review and evaluate the collaboration tools we use.
So what are the most effective and efficient tools available for internal communication?
Collaboration tools for two-way conversations
Traditionally, internal communication was uniformly top-down, driven from board level with content strictly controlled by the elite few. User-generated content or responses to internal communication announcements was an act of rebellion, likely to cause fringes of panic in managerial circles. Employees, simply, were to be seen and not heard.
Times have changed – drastically.
Today’s communication philosophy is governed by the concept of two-way conversations. Employee engagement with internal communications is now the end-goal: whether that be through responsive actions to management communications (liking, sharing, commenting) or employee user-generated content of their own.
It seems logical, therefore, that the more traditional methods of communication which catered to a top-down process may no longer be relevant or effective in the modern-day climate. Notice board announcements, text messaging and mass emails are prime examples – these limit potential for response or engagement, which in turn impacts their effectiveness. By contrast, social collaboration tools – which not only allow the communication of news and ideas, but facilitate engagement with them – are proven to deliver greater engagement. Blogs, polls and forums are great examples.
Employee content has tremendous value and should be recognized and driven as such. According to an Interact customer survey, if an employee’s blog is liked once or more, they are 45 percent more likely to blog again, and if their blog receives comments, they are 80 percent more likely to post again – it therefore makes sense to enable these forms of engagement. Storytelling is likewise one of the most powerful tools for engaging readers: read between 3 to 5 times more than flat announcements. By instilling this in your intranet culture through managers ‘leading by example’, you can promote the production of more engaging, user-generated content.
Consider where, when and how your employees engage with communications
We live in a digital age. This is nothing new to internal communications experts; however, the impact it has upon internal communication channels is often overlooked.
Firstly, internal communications should be readily available for employees to view as and when they need; this is the expectation set by a continually connected digital world, and in making content accessible we automatically increase its chances of engaging employees. This means facilitating channels that are available outside the workplace – the “where” of the equation. As such, digital channels that have accessibility away from work servers and outside of working hours are ideal.
With thanks to the growing popularity of the cloud, this is now a realistic objective for internal communications teams. Cloud-hosted intranet platforms with interactive and social collaboration tools offer an effective solution that is instantly accessible and can promote greater engagement. According to an Interact customer survey, almost 1 in 4 hits to an employee intranet occur outside of core working hours; these would be ‘lost’ hits when utilizing an on-premise solution or the likes of internal noticeboards and newsletters.
Secondly, consider how employees access information. Thanks to the rise in smartphone technology, we have now crossed the point at which digital media time on mobile devices now exceeds that on a desktop (51% for mobile; 42% for desktop; 7% on other connected devices). Internal communications should recognize and respond to this trend by electing collaboration tools that are tailored to a mobile audience: websites or intranets that are not mobile-friendly will have a damaging impact on engagement, and paper-based forms of communication will often be overlooked or ignored.
Is the return of your internal communication worth the effort?
Different forms of communication demand varying degrees of input and resource to compile. When putting effort into the production of any form of communication, it is important to consider the ‘return’ (or, in internal communications speak – the level of engagement and interaction from employees).
A company magazine or newsletter, for example, can be highly intensive in terms of time and resource. Often requiring input from multiple departments and individuals alongside associated printing and distribution costs, these can take anything from weeks to months to compile. Whilst the end result may be highly visual and informative – but given its form as a one-way, flat channel of communication, does it deliver the value to justify the investment?
Many digital communications channels have evolved in recent years to become intuitive, user-friendly collaboration tools that can be compiled without input or support from IT or design professionals. The ease of use of social media, forums and blogs can translate into the business environment, making every employee a would-be contributor. In fact, only 5% of Interact customers have a dedicated full-time resource for managing their intranet: this is reflective of the argument that internal communications tools must be selected to be as ‘effortless’ as possible, encouraging input from multiple individuals across different functions and skill levels.
Some effective channels require more intensive resource or preparation for others; this doesn’t undermine their value, but should be a consideration for their frequency of use. Given the digital climate and the power of social media, it is increasingly vital that internal communications be timely and responsive – delivering information to the right people at the right time. Videos, eBooks, podcasts and infographics, for example, all promote engagement and particularly amongst a technologically-minded audience: but should be used for periodic, planned communications (for example, a quarterly company review) rather than for reactive, timely information.
Being quick doesn’t necessarily make collaboration tools effective however: and the biggest offender continuing to feature high in the internal communications sector for this is the mass email. Digital marketplaces are now flooded with “noise”, with employees spending a staggering 28% of their working week reading and answering emails. If employees can’t see immediate value or relevance to a mass email, it is likely to receive a hit of the ‘delete’ button without so much as a cursory glance.
What are the most effective and effortless internal collaboration tools?
While effectiveness will be dependent on the outcome you’re looking for and the message you’re looking to communicate – for example, if this something that demands a response, such as a survey or a poll, or are you simply looking to impart a piece of news or an update? – there are clear trends amongst the most effective channels in any internal communications toolkit:
- They are accessible, both within and outside the workplace
- They are digitally-based, rather than paper-based
- They empower employees with the ability to respond: using social collaboration tools such as sharing, liking and commenting
- They are easy-to-use and can therefore be created by anyone, regardless of their technical ability or skillset
- They are quick to deploy, allowing for reactive, quick communication
When considering your own internal communications strategy, it’s worth stepping back to consider the relevance and outcomes of your existing channels. Is it time for a refresh?