An easy way for Internal Communications to master asynchronous communication

Internal Communications

An easy way for Internal Communications to master asynchronous communication

Elena Nikolova


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12 mins read

Wed, Aug 12, '20  

Today on Internal Comms talks, we bring you our very own Jonathan Davies – Happeo’s Internal Comms Journalist – in a long-form presentation at RemoteCon to discuss asynchronous communications.

Join us for a deep dive into the subject, followed by a series of questions with Kit Gillet to talk about the future of Internal Comms, the need to connect your international talent adequately, and a handful of other relevant subjects to a digitally connected workforce. You can find the full transcript right below. We hope you’ll enjoy this conversation as much as we did.


The technological revolution 

Jonathan: I wanted to talk to you about the next decade of Internal Comms and one of the things that we've seen is a growing need for mastery in asynchronous communication. What I'm about to show you is not a figment of my imagination. This is the product of a lot of conversations with a lot of internal communicators globally. Through my work, I've been lucky enough to have and expose a lot of really innovative internal communicators out there, and I've been able to learn from them. 

That's what I want to share with you today. Before I can dive into this framework, I just want to set the stage a little.

There have been a lot of changes, and those changes aren't going to stop anytime soon. The way we work is completely different from how it used to be. Remember, the industrial revolution came along, and everybody worked in factories. The knowledge revolution came along, and everybody worked in offices. Now, we're in the technological revolution and everybody can work from anywhere.


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The thing is that the way we work has changed, but the way we communicate hasn't. We're still kind of stuck in that type of knowledge revolution level of communicating, which was mainly done top-down mainly for messaging in the office.


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Again, you're a captive audience in an office. Also, very much through fringe conversation, right? I can interrupt my colleague at his desk or her desk, or I can go to the water cooler and get updated on what's happening in the business. That's generally my source of information, but that doesn't work anymore because work has become location and time zone independent.


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Now, that leads to the abysmal figures that you see here. 31% of employees feel engaged at work. It's not a lot. Only 14% understand the company's strategy. Well, we spend almost one workday a week to find the information that we need to do our jobs. All of this lack of engagement leads people to leave.

We believe, at Happeo, that talent is the most important possession of any company. So if somebody leaves, it costs you between $15, 000 to $25,000 to replace that person. Which is a huge cost thing. Now, these figures didn't come just from me. As you can see at the bottom, this is pulled from Gallup, McKinsey, Forbes, or Harvard Business Review. In order to change this and to make those figures look better, when you monologue, the way of interacting in this one way, sending information - it no longer works. It no longer works also for business leaders. You have to look at it this way. As I said before, if change's the only constant, Ray Kurzweil who was a Google at the time, wrote a brilliant essay on this called the law of accelerating returns.


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When he says that change happens more and more, and faster and faster,  if I can adapt to change faster than my competitor, then I have an advantage, and I will survive as a business. So for business leaders, this is one of the key things on their agenda. How quickly can I adapt? Or how agile am I as a company.

Now, Internal Communication as a discipline should be there to enable that. Why? Because speed comes from clear communication. The thing is they've not yet been put in that position because they haven't been able to prove their value very much yet.  HR and Marketing were in this position between 5 to 10 years ago as well, and technology changed the way that that worked for them. We can change the way that this works for internal communications as well. In order to do that, with all of the channels that we have available these days, we need to master asynchronous communication. Now, it sounds like a very floaty kind of term.


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What is asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous simply means not at the same time. Like what we're doing now and communicating to you, and hopefully, you asking me questions is synchronous communication. But, if I send you an email two hours later, you read it 30 minutes after - that's asynchronous communication, and that's scales.

Screenshot 2020-08-27 at 16.30.48


There is no dependence upon when I am actually working because maybe I'm in a different time zone or a different location. Now, this is the reaction that I usually get when I say we need to master asynchronous communications.  "How are we going to do that?" Because as a company, we just went through the Corona pandemic and we invested a lot in tools to allow for communication to happen. Now we have all these tools, but it's all over the place. 

I don't blame you. It is hard to keep track, but I think there is a simple way to categorize them, and to beat that and to actually help businesses. To me, mastering asynchronous communications means simply getting a grip on all of the digital channels that we have these days.


Types of communication 

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As I said before, speed is key. My position is that we sort our channels based on speed. Static communication, dynamic communication, rapid communication - those are the three categories that I'm talking about. And that looks a little bit like this. 

  • Static communication

    That would be your long-form messaging. This is one way, and this is meant as a one to many communication. These aren't messages that require updating every two to three weeks. A simple example would be a corporate video for an internal campaign that you're running, or an intranet page, or automating your onboarding journey.

  • Dynamic communication

    It's fast but not as fast as rapid communications. It's one, two minutes or one to a larger group, and quite simply put it's visible. A simple example of this: posting on your own internal social network or enterprise social net. Let's say I'm a salesperson and I'm having a great conversation with a more senior salesperson, this senior salesperson teaches me something that will help me close more deals. There's power in that dialogue, there's power in that conversation. The business can benefit from it, but if I leave it in my email, it'd become siloed in our little inboxes. That's why I would always prefer using internal social networks words. 

  • Rapid communication 
    That's probably one of the fastest rising means of communicating now - it's very short form. These messages have a very short lifespan. It's one to small groups, or it's mainly one-to-one. One of the easiest examples I can give you is Slack, or other instant messaging services.


Speed is agility, agility is profit

We've categorized all of our digital channels. The ways that we can engage our employees remotely. Where do we put our focus? What is going to be our main focus point? What fits our business? The truth is it will differ for a business and only you can tell, but I just want to illustrate what happens if you focus too much on one thing.

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So let's say we focus all of our attention or almost a little of our attention on static communication. Effectively enable, but still neglect, rapid and dynamic communication. Your company is essentially a sloth. You become far too slow to adjust because those messages take a long time to make and they're much longer in form.

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They also take longer to disseminate. Now, remember, communication is speed. Speed is agility and agility means profit, because I could outmaneuver my competitor. This is the way we as internal communicators need to think. What is the business outcome of investing in enabling employee engagement, all those good things, that internal communication takes care of?

Now let me show you the paradox to this. What if we invest in rapid communications? Neglecting the static and dynamic communication aspects. Then, your people will need to be on their instant messaging services all the time in order to stay updated with what's going on.

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It's not just the amount of time that you need to spend on that. It's also the sheer volume of messages that get sent through those platforms. If I type LOL and I send it, that's one message. Now imagine 15 people typing that as a  reaction. Conversations derail a lot quicker, which makes it harder to maintain.


Dynamic communication bring everything together

For me, and this is why I left out dynamic communication, synergy is key. We need to figure out a way to bring those all together because all of them, and I know I was hating on email a little bit, but all of them have their place within our holistic business communication ecosystem. 

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What is dynamic communication?

Communication is a dynamic process. Dynamic communication sits in between the lifespan. Dynamic communication is essentially the bridge that brings those two parts together. It solves the biggest problems of static and rapid communication, which is that static communication isn't engaging. There's nothing you can do with it. It's meant to ascend. It's one way. Rapid communication is not asynchronous, because if we want to stay up to date, I have to be there.

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Now I'll give you a very simple example of how you can make static communication,  using your dynamic communication straddles. It's not dependent on you being in one office, or the other. That also makes your culture a little bit more seamless. 

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On the other hand, rapid communication is the same thing. Most instant messaging services will allow you to link to conversation that happened. If we take that example that I gave before about that great sales conversation that I just had with my more senior sales colleague, I can actually link that outside in my dynamic communication channel, whatever channel that may be and this way I'm making it open to everyone, it's easier to search, it's a little bit easier to maintain for sure, it allows people from different times zones to jump in. 

Essentially, as an internal communicator, your job changes a bit. You're very much the person that monitors what's going on.


Internal Comms for the people, by the people

Just like a  journalist trying to spot the scoops and highlight those in forms of communication, according to the way that we categorize it that you see are best fit. If we take very popular dynamic conversation posts, let's say around onboarding, then that's a good signal that you need to create more content around onboarding.

You can actually see that there's a need for your people to have more information about them. Essentially, your job is to monitor, to direct, and to empower your people to communicate. Despite the fact that you are an internal communicator, and there may be an Internal Communications departments, communication doesn't belong to you.

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It belongs to everyone. That means giving up control. You cannot moderate everything. Even if you can right now, if your company grows, you won't be able to in the future, which means that the systems that you put in place yesterday will be outdated tomorrow. In other words, it won't scale, right?

If we can categorize it, and we can help people to become better communicators, make internal communication skills within our company - we're in a utopia, essentially. Now, this isn't the end solution, but it's a solution. If there's one takeaway that I can share with you, it's to create a policy that empowers people to communicate appropriately.

This policy should have information on what do I communicate? This is supposed to be something that goes in our dynamic channels, or in our rapid channels? Remember, dynamic and rapid is language for us, internal communicators. People in your company will see it as do I post this in Slack or do I post this in my Yammer platform?

Help them direct that flow of information. You'll see when they have that When they are empowered and they understand where and what can be posted, you will see more posting happening. Then also help them understand what they can say, what can they not? What is appropriate and what isn't. But, don't be restrictive, right?

Don't say you can't do this, you can't do that. Tell them how you can do it. Help them, make them feel like, oh, I'm in control of this. Then, another part that's very important in the world we live in today, and certainly a very current public topic is to make sure that your communications are inclusive. When the majority of your communications runs digitally and you have a presence across multiple locations, in multiple countries, there is always going to be a difference in culture. My company in India is not the same as my company in France, and that's okay. That's absolutely fine because that local culture flavor is super important to the business. 

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We do want some sort of synergy between what's happening there.

I'll give you a very simple example. I'm half Dutch and half English. Now my dark side wants to communicate extremely directly, and my English side communicates a little bit more subtly, and to go a little bit more around the points until I make it. If I'm only communicating very directly, I'm going to be seen as harsh by my other side or parts of my company.

That's not an inclusive way to communicate. Help your people with that. Lastly, very simple. Make sure that this policy includes a simple, hey, who do I ask? What do I ask for help? You're there to coach people to become better internal communicators because internal comms belong to them. You’re still responsible for it happening in a productive way. You're there to make sure that their communications turn into business results, and the best way to do it is to help your people be super clear in the way they communicate. Now, I've seen these policies being put in place, and at first, it may seem a little bit robotic. But trust me, I've seen this done successfully in small companies and in large companies, and it's made a huge, huge difference.

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Lastly, in case your manager, or your CEO - or your aunt for that matter - challenges you in the power of investing in digital engagements, show them these numbers. You can expect productivity increases from 5 to 21%. You decrease turnover, which is huge in our talent dependent world. You reduce absenteeism. People are calling in sick when they're actually not sick. 

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Decrease the training time that the people need during onboarding, because it's easier to find the information they need. Don't need to interrupt your colleague at the desk, . If you're strengthening your culture - this comes directly from a longterm HBR study - you can expect significant increases in revenue. 

Good companies communicate their competitive advantage, their unique selling points: the reason why they exist. Great companies use communications to create better performance. Thank you very much for your attention. I'm happy to take any questions.