The advent of the digital workplace has shone a bright light on the role of technology as an Internal Communications method, but the truth is technology has been an essential Internal Communications channel for many years. The humble intranet has been around since the 1990s, but even before then we were using telephones — heck, even projectors to display visual aids.
Yes, we’re being a bit facetious here. We apologize.
Seriously though, as technology has gotten more sophisticated, it has, of course, had a massive impact on Internal Communications methods. Technology has opened up so many new Internal Communications channels - including Internal Communications apps for mobile-led intranets and chat systems - as well as enabling a much more flexible workforce to be productive from literally anywhere there is a WiFi connection.
But technology has not always been rolled out well or adopted by the digital workplace. There is a tech graveyard full of formerly shiny objects that were meant to be the savior of Internal Communications. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for tech platforms among Internal Communications channels; it just means we need to be careful about what we choose, work closely with other departments to drive adoption, and be strategic in how we go about things.
“The problem is it’s never about the tool,” says Mike Klein, IC guru and author of Happeo’s Present and Future of Internal Communications series. “The only thing that’s important is the extent to which the people driving adoption can make a case for need and ease of use.”
Essential digital Internal Communications channels
What exactly are the technology-driven Internal Communications methods you can use today? So many we’ve lost track, to be honest, but here’s a starter for ten.
The obvious place to start, and the accepted central portal for all things company-related. The intranet is both a newsroom and a productivity center, often housing essential work-related tools like expenses submissions and leave request forms, but also acting as a way to access documentation for the job. We, of course, are big believers in the G Suite intranet and its ability to bring together Google’s productivity suite with the collaboration inherent in tools like Channels, mobile apps and chat systems.
Even older than the good ol’ intranet, email can be a dangerous Internal Communications method in the wrong hands. It’s so tempting to send an all-staff blast, but one of the biggest Internal Communications barriers today is the sheer volume of information staff are asked to read (according to the Gatehouse State of the Sector report). If using email as an Internal Communications channel, make sure you do so sparingly — try sending email when you want to ask staff to do something, and posting anything that’s FYI to the intranet.
Even though they developed more as a place for colleagues to speak to each other when they can’t be next to each other, chat systems such as Slack - which integrates with the G Suite intranet - can be a goldmine for Internal Communications specialists. Rolling through Slack groups can reveal how employees think about developments in the company, for example. Plus, it’s an Internal Communications best practice to set up a place for employees to ask questions during change programs, so why not harness chat systems for that essential function?
Not really aligned with Internal Communications best practices given they are very much a push or broadcast channel, digital screens are nevertheless popular as an Internal Communications method. Sitting on the wall in the staff room or the reception, these screens display important information, remind staff of responsibilities or requirements, and helps to push core values. Some Internal Communications strategies take these uses and push them direct to computers as a screensaver or desktop image, which could be going a bit overboard with the corporate messaging if you ask us.
Of course, digital life means we never really switch off anymore, and mobile apps can make employees’ lives easier, allowing them to interact and engage with Internal Communications channels when it suits them — just try to remind employees about work/life balance while they’re using the app.
How technology platforms enhance Internal Communications strategy
“Technology is part of a larger issue around, for lack of a better term, strategic precision in Internal Communications,” continues Mike. “That means coming up with the right strategies, tools and messages to deal with things in a precise and efficient way.
“The thing the C-Suite wants most from Internal Communications is to reduce the noise, and reducing the noise isn’t just arbitrarily reducing the volume of comms. It’s strategically figuring out who you communicate with, when and in what context, and who does the communicating.”
Mike says harnessing technology can help with this strategic precision, and you’ll need three things to get there:
An easy to use platform that allows all forms of communications - top-down, many-to-many, lateral and many-to-one - plus feedback and listening. It doesn’t have to be a single tool; it can be an integrated set of Internal Communications tools.
A willingness to identify, connect and mobilize internal influencers, which means understanding how communications actually flow in the business. Technology and social listening can drive this exercise.
Tools to reduce the amount of executional burden placed on Internal Communications teams — that is, finding technology to help automate, plan and execute comms.
Internal Communications best practices for technology platforms
With all this technology at our fingertips, it can be easy for the practitioners to go overboard on adopting the latest in fancy tech-based Internal Communications channels. Before you cover your Internal Communications strategy in shiny toys, take note of these Internal Communications best practices.
Own the adoption
Don’t just switch it on and hope for the best — or, worse still, have IT switch on a new Internal Communications channel without your knowledge. The IC team needs to own the adoption of any new channel, says Mike: “IT can’t own the adoption because IT knows nothing about engagement. There’s context, there’s rules, there’s opportunities, there’s examples of how to use these tools so that it benefits the user, and IC is in a far better position to tell that story than IT is.”
Don’t spray and pray
Aligned with adoption, the worst thing you can do for your Internal Communications strategy is to spray and pray — that is, get a whole load of Internal Communications channels and treat them the same way, putting the same messages out, and hoping that employees will eventually take note. Carefully consider your Internal Communications methods, and use a strong mix of channels that can engage your different target audiences on their terms, when they are ready to receive the message.
We don’t need to tell you this one because you’ve already got an Internal Communications strategy built on SMART objectives, and have put a load of thought and research into how you can measure progress towards your goals, right? Just in case: know how you will measure the adoption and usage of your shiny tech-driven Internal Communications methods. You won’t know if it’s working, or if you’re getting any ROI, if you don’t measure meaningfully.
Test and learn
Finally, the best thing about the digital workplace is that it makes testing super easy. If you’re not sure if a message will work, try an A/B test on your target audience to see what hits home better. If you’re not sure if a new Internal Communications method will be accepted by the workforce, run a poll to ask them what they think. Learn from the success or otherwise of all of your Internal Communications methods, and adapt your Internal Communications strategy accordingly.
When it comes to Internal Communications methods, fight for what matters
With all of this in mind, and a brain firmly in the digital workplace, let’s take a closing statement from President-Elect of the CIPR, Jenni Field, who we spoke to for our Internal Communications 101 report: “I think what we can do is fight for the right things, and that’s where we’ve got a bit misguided,” says Jenni. “We’re fighting for things that won’t help us solve the problems. Channels don’t matter. In the data you can see it doesn’t matter what channel you use as long as you do it really well. Digital channels alone won’t solve problems; we need to invest in the skills of individuals and do things together. It’s got to be a team effort.”
Take it from the top: digital Internal Communications methods are good and useful, but they cannot be the be-all and end-all. Make sure your Internal Communications strategy looks at a mix of methods, and ensure you’ve done your research to know what is going to make the most difference to your intended audience. How your audience reacts, not the Internal Communications method, is the key to success.