Internal Communication

Company Communication Channels: Pros, Cons & How to Improve

Have you heard about Paul Watzlawick? He was a family therapist who studied communication processes within systems. Your family is a system. Society is a system. And your organization is a system, too. 

Based on the work of the multi-talent Gregory Bateson, Watzlawick and his colleagues defined the five basic axioms underlying all human communication. Out of those five, we find the most interesting point an idea about analog and digital types of communication. It really makes it much more simple to decide which channels are fit to be used as company communication channels and which are best to be left behind.

What are the Analog and Digital Modalities of Communication?

Watzlawick’s a guy who worked in the 60s, so digital has a different definition here than it usually does for us. While the digital modality refers to the verbal content – WHAT is said -, the analog modality refers to HOW the message is delivered, aka the nonverbal communication.

It’s only when the relationship is really really good that you can start focusing solely on the content or, as Watzlawick put it, the digital level of the communication.

For example, when you have really worked on establishing good communication with your partner, you don’t always have to ask “Is something wrong?” when their voice sounds dull. Instead, you can trust them and concentrate on what it is they’re saying.

But employee relationships are often hard. Watzlawick taught us that in most relationships, people tend to trust their gut and focus on the evolutionarily older modality: the analog one

So when there’s someone who says they are doing OK, but you hear their voice shaking, you’ll trust the latter and disregard the content of their message. Or when the holder of the meeting says that your thoughts and opinions matter – but leaves no time for feedback or questions -, you’ll notice the discrepancy and start taking their words with a pinch of salt.

How Can I Choose Better Communication Channels?

What Watzlawick defined means that when your tone, body language, visuals, behaviour or communication channel don’t match the message… the content of what you’re saying doesn’t really matter. And likewise, the right channel can send out a message on its own.

So how to choose from the endless types of communication channels – notice boards, apps, TVs, emails, meetings, intranets etc – when communicating with your employees in the warehouse, production, behind the wheel or deli counter?

With the help of the findings from Paul Watzlawick and his colleagues, we’ll help you crack the possible implicit messages the channel you are currently using is sending out and which ones to choose in order to help build better companywide relationships.

How Did We Compare the Communication Channels?

In this article, we aimed to take both the employees’ as well as the employer’s perspectives on communication channels. There’s only so much you as the sender can do with the message itself – if you are using a channel that isn’t fit for the job, it just won’t be received, and thus, the employee’s viewpoint is pretty relevant.

But as HR workers often need to present the pros and cons of a prospective internal communication channel to the management to receive support and funding, we included metrics important for that goal, too.

Price and other costs. We compared the initial acquisition price (for TVs, apps etc) as well as the cost of maintenance if there is one (for text messaging, meetings etc).

Ease of use. You really need to step into your employees’ shoes with this one. Familiarity for the office employees might not always equal familiarity for the warehouse worker, truck driver or cashier.

Measurability and reach. To deduct any conclusions in order to develop your internal communication channels, we also compared whether and how well the reach and usage of the channel can be measured and based on research and our experience, how well the channel tends to reach its recipients in the first place.

Information flow. Next, we took a look at which direction the communication channels allow the discussion to flow: top-down (employees are simply the recipients), bottom-up (employees are invited and able to spark discussions), horizontal (people in the same department, unit, location etc are enabled to communicate. We have discussed the shortcomings of one-way organizational communication further in our blog post here: 11 Major Communication Problems in the Workplace.

Attention. Here, we wanted to understand how well can the participants tend to stay focused when communicating a particular channel.

Repeatability. This metric is all about the simplicity of sharing the same piece of information on a number of occasions: some messages just need to be repeated, whether it’s a reminder of the upcoming company event, health check or ISO standardization deadline.

Freedom of choice. This encompasses one simple, but crucial question: can the employee choose when and where to consume the channel – can they do it at a time most convenient to them or is it limited to the 10 minutes during the coffee break at the canteen on 1st floor?

Great match. Here, we gather all the internal communication ideas that this channel suits very well for – simple as that.

Potential problems. Any obstacles and concerns that may arise either during the implementation or usage of this channel are encompassed in this section.

Possible implicit messages. That’s the Watzlawick’s idea: a channel itself can send out a message to the recipient stating either its contradiction to the content (a 30-minute meeting for a huge strategical change is one example of it) or communicating an implicit message about what is really expected and thought of the recipient (and sometimes, the sender, too).

Ideas for improvement. How to make the most out of this internal communications channel and if you are already doing a lot – what could you add to go even further.

So – let’s get down to business communication.

Different Communication Channels: The Comparison

We selected 7 different communication channels for our comparison: meetings (both in-person and online), text messaging and notice boards (that include internal TVs) as well as several digital communication channels such as emails, social media, chat-type solutions and employee apps (that includes intranets).

1. Meetings (in-person and online)

Meetings are a crucial communication channel because as humans, we do need that face to face communication. Maybe you know that office joke about all the meetings that could have been emails. However, it’s a different story in companies when it comes to deskless employees’ workplace communication. Meetings can be good for the relationships and signify importance, as the CEO or a manager has taken the time to come and speak directly to their people.

Price and other costs. Although seemingly free, meetings are very costly: everybody – sometimes 100+ people – is spending their precious time, often during their most productive hours. And those costs are a constant.

Ease of use. In-person: if you can understand the language or there is a translation available, it’s easy to participate (not so easy to step in yourself). On-line: really varies depending on the IT skills and schedules.

Measurability and reach. Reach is good – if all invited are present, and it’s easy to measure who was there (but more difficult to understand who was actually listening).

Information flow. All good: top-down, bottom-up & horizontal.

Attention. Good – if the meeting is kept short (up to 30 min).

Repeatability. Information heard at meetings is difficult to repeat, as people don’t like to waste their time hearing the same thing over again.

Freedom of choice. Employees can’t choose when to consume it, however, predictability and routine can be very helpful, especially during a crisis.

Great match. Meetings work really well for any strategic initiative kick-off, discussion of issues of high importance, and in a form of short recurring sessions to communicate change since the last meeting.

Potential problems. Potential problems encompass the competence as well as the motivation of the speaker. For example, the results of delivering news of a global strategy change can vary depending on if it’s the CEO, PR rep or warehouse manager speaking.

Due to the recent years under COVID-19 threat, many of us have gotten used to video conferencing solutions, too. Although we have been tricked into believing that video conferencing software enables us to have that desired face to face communication, there’s never really any eye contact happening, and facial expressions are as pronounced as the camera quality allows them to be. So keep in mind that video meetings do not replace real-life meetings and you still need to find a way to enable real communication, too.

What’s the Possible Implicit Message Behind This one?

The time left for questions and feedback; how concisely the meeting is organized and the preparation of the speaker can say a lot. Your employees can feel unimportant if they don’t get to respond or might feel that you don’t respect their time if the meetings go over time or do not feel important.

How Can You Improve the Experience of Such Communication Channels?

If you are using meetings on a regular basis, how can you improve? Send out pre-meeting and post-meeting materials, give assignments to ensure the participants really got the information and follow up in a different channel. For some topics, you can do quizzes at the end of the meeting to test if people understood what was discussed.

2. Emails

Emails are not going anywhere soon and probably will be around for years to come. If you’re a fan of written communication, you’re probably pro-emails, too. However, they are used less and less in corporate communications.

Price and other costs. Emails are free for private use and from 5 EUR per month per user for corporate use. The maintenance is free, but may sometimes happen that the IT department has to jump in.

Ease of use. It’s rather easy.

Measurability and reach. Not easy to measure, unless you send emails from a mass-emailing software (which, then, adds to the cost). Reach is good – you’ll get everyone who has emails, and 80% of the time, that’s a lot, but it might take time for everyone to get to their inbox.

Information flow. All good: top-down, bottom-up & horizontal.

Attention. Poor: emails, if not needed for urgent tasks, are usually disregarded by non-office workers.

Repeatability. It’s easy to repeat, but you’ll get even less attention the second and third time around.

Freedom of choice. They can choose when to read the email, assuming they have a device that can do it at home, too.

Great match. Emails are best suited for medium urgency operational information that doesn’t need quick discussion.

Potential problems. The problems with email are twofold. First, there is just such a huge amount of them that the important bits will be lost between other stuff. Second, people who don’t use email daily (which is most deskless employees) might struggle with some things office employees find basic: replying to everyone or to the sender only, sending out emails to the right list (most likely they won’t even try), and so on.

Onboarding a new employee is also difficult when the email has been the most important communication channel so far: it is messy to include them in any already ongoing company conversations and time-consuming to forward them all the past but still relevant information.

The amount of information you feel you can transfer with emails seems good, however, longer emails are not read to the end and most drop-outs happen after the first 5 to 10 rows.

What’s the Possible Implicit Message Behind This one?

By using emails, a company could send out a message that they don’t really care about the variety of their employees: management knows that most of them aren’t in an office, ready to lead lengthy threads, but they will use email primarily anyway.

As an add-on to an app or intranet, however, emails might be a tool for smaller groups, especially if the employees are older and not accustomed to chat tools.

How Can You Improve the Experience of Such Communication Channels?

To improve your email routines and opening rates, make sure to educate your employees to use CC and BCC to avoid unintentional replies to the whole recipient list, create and regularly update lists and send out information to as many people as necessary, but as few as possible. Use precise title lines and translate your letters into all company languages. If you are using other mediums, direct your people there to discuss further and read more. All in all, this gives you much better reach.

3. A Dedicated Internal Communications Channel (an app or an intranet)

Employee apps are the holy grail of digital communication channels for modern companies. Internal communication innovators and strategists find employee apps the most effective communication channels. Those usually encompass a chat function, too and might include various HR add-ons, such as training, documentation, and project management tools. Thus, a good employee app can really enhance your team communication and help the company to become an even more successful business.

Some employee apps have a dedicated space that takes the role of a formal communication channel. This means sharing the organization’s mission, vision, values, goals, procedures and policies – for both the current employees, but, more and more, to the clients, partners and former employees, too. In the near future, we see internal communication merging with external communication more and more.

Price and other costs. Dedicated solutions start from 1.5-2 EUR to 10+ EUR per employee, with add-ons possible to buy additionally. Usually, there’s an extra fee for implementation, too (if you’ll tell us you read this post, you’ll get it for free!). If it’s an intranet built specifically for the company (not an app pushing updates regularly), there’s a development and constant maintenance cost, too.

Ease of use. If it’s modern, it’s easy to use and people find it similar to their daily social media channels. If it’s an intranet built especially for the company, it can get outdated quickly – unless you guess right where the digital development is headed towards.

Measurability and reach. Both are very good: in GuavaHR, our average reach is 86% monthly.

Information flow. All good: top-down, bottom-up & horizontal.

Attention. Pretty good, as apps mostly cater for non-operational information which is slower and people will get a glimpse from the notifications of what it’s all about.

Repeatability. Easy and can be done in several ways by pinning, marking important, pushing reminders etc.

Freedom of choice. Absolutely – you can choose both the device (smartphone, computer, tablet, TV) as well as the time. If you don’t like the notifications outside work hours, those can usually be muted for specific times, too.

Great match. Employee apps are great for pretty much all company-wide communications: urgent (if you use the chat or a specific channel), strategic, corporate as well as social communication. Usually, apps have dedicated formal and informal communication channels to show that both are of importance and have their own place.

Potential problems. Keep the technology adaptation curve in mind: most people take time to adopt. Although our stats show that older employees are as active users as the others when already onboarded, their adoption process just takes some more time.

What’s the Possible Implicit Message Behind This One?

Having a dedicated app for company internal communication shows that communication really matters for your organization and is one of its core pillars everything else can be built on.

How Can You Improve the Experience of Such Communication Channels?

If your organisation already has an employee app, we have a thorough post on how to improve its adoption, user activeness as well as contribution. Please see that article here: How to Improve Your Internal Communication.

4. Notice Boards and Internal TV

Usually found in factories and warehouses, both notice boards, as well as internal screens, are definitely better than no information at all, but there are several big problems with them, the main one concerning the fact of disabling any two-way communication whatsoever.

Price and other costs. Costs for TVs are high and so are the constant system updates to have your information flowing. Costs of having to travel around the city or country to update the notice boards in various locations are even higher: you probably do it when you have to go to the location anyway, and it might happen irregularly, rarely or unevenly between locations, leaving some people out of the loop or lagging behind.

Ease of use. Good for the employee – little or no action is needed from the recipient. A hassle for the admin, however.

Measurability and reach. Both are relatively impossible – there’s no good way of knowing who’s gotten your message.

Information flow. Top-down only. You can react (write on a paper to sign up for something or scan a QR code), but there’s no way for dialogue or discussion without a follow-up using meetings, email, apps etc.

Attention. Not good, especially if the TVs are in areas designated for relaxation or in the transition areas, such as locker rooms, when the work hasn’t started yet and they can find it intrusive. Attention gets worse in time, too (see the next discussion point).

Repeatability. Messages are easy to repeat, and that’s also a big problem (we know – it’s not easy to get it right!). Your people will see the same messages thousands of times over the span of several weeks, which eventually will make them disregard the channel as a whole as the content rarely changes.

Freedom of choice. There really is none – you must consume the information where the board or TV is, and even then, you have to follow the pace chosen for you.

Great match. There isn’t really anything that notice boards and TVs do that couldn’t be replaced with a function on an employee app, however, notice boards can work for social stuff like games, draws, signing up for things and voluntary information flows. If you have employees unwilling to take up any digital solutions, you sometimes just need to double the most important bits for them in an accessible way.

Potential problems. Basically, there isn’t really anything but the problems, the biggest one being the information coming at the wrong time when employees want to rest (in the locker rooms or cafeterias) or when their focus is elsewhere (next to production lines or warehouse facilities).

What’s the Possible Implicit Message Behind This one?

First and foremost, it can convey a message that the employees’ response isn’t important, as dashboards are meant for one-way communication only (unless you get really creative). Also, should the notice board look messy and outdated, or should your TV be out of order for some time, your employees might feel that communication simply does not matter.

How Can You Improve the Experience of Such Communication Channels?

Some employee apps and intranets offer solutions for syncing internal TVs using the RSS feeds: this way, the information is at least constantly updated (but still not personal or two-way), and the screen will act like a news portal encouraging users to consume more information elsewhere.

5. Text Messages

Although much of modern internal communication has moved to apps, good old text messaging is still used as a part of business communications.

Price and other costs. It costs around 5-10 cents per text, but message lengths vary depending on the language and character count. The sender must also be established via the service provider for your employees to know where the message is coming from.

Ease of use. Very easy.

Measurability and reach. You can reach everyone with a phone number, but there isn’t a simple way to measure the reach.

Information flow. Top-down only, unless employees know who they will be replying to.

Attention. People pay a lot of attention to text messages in the EU, but much less in the US.

Repeatability. Easy – but eventually costly.

Freedom of choice. So-so: unlike notifications, you sometimes cannot (and don’t want to) turn text message notifications off and might receive information outside working hours.

Great match. Quick announcements for urgent issues such as accidents, and changes in planned activities happening in near future.

Potential problems. It’s only so much you can say in a short text message, and you will be likely to communicate less if you know that each word will literally cost you. Multi-language communication and reaching temporary employees or workers with foreign numbers could be difficult, too.

What’s the Possible Implicit Message Behind This one?

Text messages are great because they feel personal and tell the receiver that you really want to get your message through to them. However, they could be seen as intrusive and are usually immediately seen both during and outside work hours.

How Can You Improve the Experience of Such Communication Channels?

Some employee apps allow texts to be sent out in addition to publishing posts to cater to those employees who are less tech-savvy – and that’s a great combination! Also, explaining text messaging principles during new employee onboarding makes the channel more efficient.

6. Social Media

By social media, we mean channels that encompass both the news feed component as well as messaging apps. The most known one of them is Facebook, but other choices include Vero, LinkedIn, TikTok, Instagram and several others, and it varies between different countries. Some of them can be used as the primary internal communication channel, others to enhance recruitment or team building. In addition to that, there are also the messaging-oriented social media channels: Viber, Telegram, WhatsApp, and the like.

Price and other costs. It’s free for most platforms.

Ease of use. It’s easy and familiar for the employee, however, it can get tricky for the HR manager: even the business versions of some of those channels offer no or very limited support and there are no integrations with any other channels.

Measurability and reach. The usage of Facebook is decreasing in both the EU and the US, however, if your people do have accounts and accept your requests, you will be able to reach all of them. The reach might trick you into believing that everyone reads your post, however, they might have just scrolled over it or opened the notification.

Information flow. All good: top-down, bottom-up & horizontal. However, should you have a workforce in multiple languages, it’s likely that the linguistic minorities are using a completely different social media platform than the majority.

Attention. Not good, as your posts and messages will be lost among other news feed updates – and the ones that your employees interact with most will be pushed first. Also, the algorithms are always changing.

Repeatability. It’s easy to repeat a message on social media.

Freedom of choice. So-so. It’s similar to text messaging: yes, you can choose when and where to interact with the channel. But you cannot really avoid seeing the work-related posts or messages during non-business hours, as they are side-by-side with the personal posts and messages, waiting for you to read and respond.

Great match. Posting employer branding messages with the intention to be re-shared by employees.

Potential problems. Shadow communications are the main issue regarding this one. If the company sets an example by sharing information via Facebook or other unofficial communication channels, private conversations between employees arise that are no longer controlled by the management. That’s perfect for the misinformation and gossip to emerge.

Sadly, information that is not accessible to HR or communications staff is also extremely difficult to discredit. Shadow communications can also rise when the tools given out to employees are unfit for the job (e.g when the intranet sucks, you will turn to Facebook, anyway).

Another topic concerns security and potential data leaks, which have happened in the past and will probably continue to happen. So there’s always some portion of the information you don’t feel safe sharing in such an environment.

Last but not least, it might be a challenge to choose the right platform. Facebook could be too boring for the younger ones, TikTok too video-oriented and intense, and LinkedIn too corporate.

What’s the Possible Implicit Message Behind This one?

The use of social media channels such as Facebook or Vero can deliver a message that the company doesn’t respect its employees’ work and personal life balance, intruding constantly between one’s messages from their partner, dates, children, parents and friends.

How Can You Improve the Experience of Such Communication Channels?

Should there be a business version available on your preferred social media channel, this would be the first step – this creates some barrier between work and play.

7. Chat-type Solutions

Chat-type solutions are the instant messaging solutions such as Slack and Teams, but also messaging apps like Viber, Telegram or WhatsApp (although those border with social media channels). Business messages are often operational, and chat functionality is requested by companies looking to improve their digital communication channels.

Price and other costs. From 2 EUR (Microsoft Teams) to 6 EUR (Slack) per employee.

Ease of use. It’s rather easy, however, depending on the tool, the search might not work as well as needed (even Facebook Messenger hasn’t solved that issue in years).

Measurability and reach. You’ll be able to reach everyone with smartphones or computers. However, finding your way around all the channels and threads is only feasible with SMEs up to 100 employees or when everything is very well organized (but not all employees have the skills and experience to adhere to the structure).

Information flow. All good: top-down, bottom-up & horizontal.

Attention. Medium, at best. There will be tens or hundreds of notifications in an everyday chat and thus, in time, the same thing happens as with emails: important slow information goes missing, and operational details will get delivered.

Repeatability. Easy, but messages get lost even more than emails. However, there are ways to enhance the design of important posts so they will be noticed better during scrolling.

Freedom of choice. Yes and no: yes, if it’s a business solution such as Slack; no, if it’s something like WhatsApp also used for personal messages.

Great match. Chat-type solutions are great for smaller groups and team communication and perfect for operational communication such as “Who can take over cash register number 5 in 10 minutes”. Also, social conversations tend to flow naturally there.

Potential problems. As a pan-company channel, messengers won’t achieve the expected goal.

What’s the Possible Implicit Message Behind This one?

On one hand, chat-type solutions can show your employees that you don’t want to confuse them with yet another app and care about their convenience. However, as up-to-date tech skills are becoming more and more relevant each day, this could make the company seem lagging behind the others.

How Can You Improve the Experience of Such Communication Channels?

Having firm guidelines on what the chat-type solution is meant for (and not for) makes it easier for employees to use the channel and turn to other mediums for additional info.

Are There Any Wrong Communication Channels?

No. Another idea from the systemic thinkers and therapists is that there are no right communication channels or wrong ones: something either works or it simply doesn’t. The right communication channels for you are the ones that work.

We always say to our new clients who are hesitant about what to do with their notice boards and internal TVs after signing up with GuavaHR – keep them! There is nothing wrong with using them, as long as there is at least one employee who gets a new piece of information or a reminder of an old one from them. If you are fine with the work and extra cost – go for it.

However… the best communication channel for you is the one that not just delivers the message, but also improves the relationships and helps the business communications to develop further. And that does not happen with all the different communication channels available.

Could GuavaHR Be a Great Communication Channel for Your Company?

GuavaHR is an employee app & HR solution for companies with deskless workforce. If you’re looking for a product that will guide your employees’ onboarding to the app, support you during the journey and offer a selection of add-ons – from e-learning to whistleblowing -, we could be a good match. Fill out our form and let’s make your internal communication channels say the right thing!