It is no secret that companies expend more effort and resources on external communications compared to internal communications. Aside from the occasional message from HR or company leaders, many companies neglect internal communications completely. As a result, employees often feel like they are on the outside looking in as senior managers and executives get into their decision-making bubbles. While information will eventually trickle down the corporate ladder, staff vital to the implementation and execution of these decisions are left in the dark. The end-result is a team that is uninformed, disengaged and constantly playing catch-up.
In March, as the COVID-19 pandemic made its presence felt throughout the region, even companies with typically great internal communications found themselves challenged in adapting to the uncertainty and severity of the pandemic, bringing with it large decreases in revenues, curfews, lockdowns, and unforeseen expenses. Many employees found themselves in limbo, not knowing if temporary layoffs would become permanent or if their employer would survive the turmoil.
While everyone faced these challenges, for organizations that never prioritized internal communications, the collapse in employer-employee relations was most catastrophic. During crises, poor internal communications exacerbate all communications challenges. Back in October, we talked a bit about the need to strengthen your organization’s approach to overall communications as economies began re-opening. Since then, many countries are experiencing a resurgence of the virus and there seems to be no end in sight. The first step in the right direction is ensuring that your team is informed, engaged, and aligned with your company’s values, objectives, and strategy to survive these uncertain times.
“Customers Will Never Love A Company Until the Employees Love It First”
The Simon Sinek quote above points to a universal truth: your employees are your strongest brand ambassadors.
Depending on how you have been communicating with them and treating them, this is either great news or a chilling realization. Your communications team can help you to generate more employee enthusiasm by incorporating internal communications strategies as significant components in all marketing, branding, and communications efforts.
How are you introducing changes within your organization? How are you spreading awareness of major strategic initiatives?
Your employees are a captive audience. Be sure that you are taking advantage of the opportunity to maximize their engagement and enthusiasm as representatives of your organization.
Building employee morale will yield dividends on productivity and other measures of performance.
Building Employee Engagement through Internal Comms.
The good news is: if you have built a communications or marketing campaign in the past, you already have all the tools you need for effective communications with your employees. Here are some steps you can take to strengthen your internal communications.
When was the last time you’ve hosted an employee focus group or had one-on-one conversations with your employees? Do you conduct surveys to examine your employees’ experiences?
The first step in engaging your employees is simply listening to what they have to say, recording feedback, and making changes where possible. An effective listening exercise will help you to identify weaker aspects of your company culture and blind spots in your internal communications. If you are not sure about the best approach to this process, you can always hire a consulting firm to help you to create effective listening mechanisms.
It’s time to think deeply about your employees’ needs.
We are experiencing some very challenging times. People are concerned about their mental, physical, and financial health. Some team members may be enthusiastic about returning to in-office hours as an escape from the distractions and isolation of working from home while others may have legitimate health concerns about returning to in-person interactions. Regardless of your capacity to support remote work or not, it is important that your messaging legitimizes all concerns and addresses them in a real way. Be sure that every employee is constantly updated on your remote work plan, return to work plans, and in-office safety plans. Be willing to make changes where possible, and where changes are not possible, be sure to give a suitable explanation so that everyone is on the same page. Continue to solicit feedback as you and your team figure it all out together.
Organizational cultures tend to take on the tone of their leadership. Employee communications cannot be left to HR personnel or communications teams. Every member of your executive leadership and senior management should be playing their part in your communications strategy.
Step up! This is no time to delegate.
Your leaders should be participating in compassionate conversations about the impact of COVID-19 from the personal to the organizational level and offering support when needed. You do not want to risk appearing tone deaf or disconnected from the realities that your team members face at work and at home. The primary focus of communications during this period should be the well-being and health of your team members. Be sure to provide training for company leadership if needed.
Are there instances in your past where your company weathered difficult times? Are there current innovations that your company is using to minimize the impact of the current economic downturn and keep as much staff on as possible? Now is the time to incorporate storytelling in your team communications.
Tell the stories of the employees who are keeping the company going during tough times. Recognize the efforts of your public-facing employees who are providing top-notch service while risking their personal health. Tell the story about how your organization will use the challenges posed by the pandemic as a pivot point to a better future.
It is time to grow beyond the internal memo. Approach internal communications initiatives with the same excitement that you approach external campaigns. Get resources behind your internal comms strategies and assign your most creative minds to the task. Remember that internal communications and change management are about way more than formal HR emails, dry newsletters, and cheesy Christmas cards from the CEO.
One of the most effective internal communications tools is the use of educational campaigns and company-wide training to upskill your employees and ensure that they are aligned with your external messaging. Remember, you should also make your internal communications a two-way conversation where your organization is doing just as much listening as talking.
Don’t forget to get your plan on paper. An effective plan should contain objectives, measurable goals, activities with assigned responsibilities, a schedule, and a budget.
Bonus tip: Beware of Communication Overload
Insight’s Report on the Employee Experience indicated that the average employee misses important company information at least four times per week and over one-third of employees miss important information at least once per day.
There are two major culprits behind this. The first culprit involves companies that send too many emails. Employees may simply feel overwhelmed by the constant deluge of emails or even actively ignore emails when they are busy. Sending too many emails can even result in “email apnea”—a stress-induced interruption of normal breathing patterns as employees become overwhelmed while scanning their inbox.
The second contributing factor to information overload is simply providing too many communications channels for employees to manage. Remote work has exacerbated this problem. Employees are now required to manage different video communications platforms, project management and collaboration apps, Slack channels, Whatsapp groups, social media groups, emails, and phone calls. Each new app or process introduced into the communications cycles simply makes it more likely that communications become less efficient and effective over time.
Here are some tips to avoid communications overload:
Internal Communications is essential to maximizing productivity and improving employee experiences. Organizations that are focused on effective team communication and change management strategies are setting themselves up for sustained success as they navigate the challenges of the pandemic. If you have not been prioritizing internal communications as a part of your wider communications goals, there is no better time to start than now.
At Open Current, we empower our clients to meet their internal and external communications objectives while overcoming challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and other large scale crises. We have a track record of delivering strategic communications guidance that unleashes our clients’ potential for growth in influence, reputation, and revenue. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.