In addition to communication specialists, internal communication is increasingly taken care of by HR employees – internal communication is a shared responsibility with set common goals. These were the opening words of Oli Howard, CIPD’s strategy manager, who talked at the internal communication conference in London last week.
The main topics of this autumn’s conference were the involvement of deskless workforce or frontline workers in the company’s information field, employees’ expectations of corporate communication solutions in the digital era, managers’ contribution to internal communication and its importance in creating a corporate culture, and what information employees actually expect and need. What exactly should HR personnel know about these topics?
Managers need tools, frontline employees need information
A major challenge that comes up in communication and personnel conferences is how to involve the company’s remote and frontline workers, non-native speakers and older, less tech-savvy employees in an already quite well-functioning internal communication or culture.
A large part of the workforce of Virgin Active health clubs and spas, who shared their experience at the conference, is made up of frontline employees or casual workers whose working day is spent outside the office premises: in a warehouse, gym, behind a reception desk. According to Daniel Palmer, Business Development Manager at Virgin Active, employees with this profile want to be communicated with quickly and with relevant information, and to have the tools and training they need to succeed. However, the most important thing for a frontline employee is to be informed, involved, and feel part of a larger team, regardless of the nature of their work. An information stand, static intranet or an indoor television sharing one-sided information will fail to fulfill this last goal, Palmer stated.
The experience of the financial institution, Nationwide Building Society, also shows that the communication channel must be the same for all employees, but there must be a clear distinction between social (nice-to know), company-wide (need-to-know) work related (need-to-do) information. However, all three are needed: it’s the feedback from co-workers or an honest post from the company manager that will help build understanding and faith in the company, says Chad Rogerson, head of HR campaigns at Nationwide.
However, in addition to the overlooked frontline workers, there is another group that, surprisingly, also fails to get their message across to the staff: leaders. According to a survey conducted only three years ago *, two-thirds of middle managers feel uncomfortable communicating with their employees. A lot of important information is therefore not provided or is provided incompletely.
According to Jennifel Sproul, a specialist at the Institute of Internal Communications IOIC, managers are aware of only a very small part of the real problems: the so-called iceberg of ignorance in a company means that while frontline employees are aware of 100% of all so-called frontline problems, then moving up in the hierarchy the knowledge decreases and less than a tenth of everything that happens in the company reaches the managers. The inability of managers to obtain and pass on the necessary information is also reflected in statistics showing that mental health problems and stress are the main causes of long-term sick leave – and yet only 61% of top managers are concerned about the well – being of their employees, according to a CIPD survey. If there is no information, no solutions can be offered.
Information is starting to disappear at team and middle manager level: they do not have the communication channels to communicate with all their employees and to share information with other units, locations, departments or non-computer using staff. Leaders seem to have responsibility and power, but they have no voice. It is through the support of managers that internal communication and HR specialists have the opportunity to improve employee satisfaction, Sproul believes.
Digital age employee expects quality
If you have contact with all employees, what to do next? With more video content being created in 30 days than televised in the last 30 years combined, the choice offered to consumers, including company employees, is wide and of high quality.
According to York Woodford-Smith, a video specialist at IBM’s internal communications department, an employee’s consumption behaviour and expectations of work related internal communications are similar to habits and choices in their personal life. As employees consume high-quality photo and video content in their daily use of social media, the quality should remain the same for company content, believes Woodford-Smith, who spoke at the conference. This means that when choosing a company’s internal communication channels, it is most effective to take into account the demographic characteristics of your employees (if they are diverse, adapt one content to different channels) and invest primarily in the same channels that employees prefer in their personal life (ie keep up with trends).
However, this does not have to mean a large budget and the creation of different content for each channel: success comes from creating one content and adapting it to each channel, Christina Choudhury, Head of Communications at Barclays, learned from their success story.
There’s another reason why it’s worth striving for high-quality and inclusive communication. The company’s workforce expect their employee experience (EX) to be similar to the customer experience (CX). They notice how much effort is put into good customer experience and therefore expect an effort towards employees as well. In addition, they are also customers outside working hours and are used to excellent customer experience.