Our organizations are now a mix of those working from home, those returning to the office, and a growing number of employees who have been recruited across the globe. When it comes to internal communications, how can we ensure that a dispersed workforce can thrive?
Whether we’re dealing with a hybrid workforce, or have recruited globally, or plan to keep our offices closed even after normal times resume… the chances of some of our workforces remaining dispersed for the foreseeable future remains high.
Which means the way we communicate needs to change.
We’ve already had to adapt our comms to our remote employees – but how do we make effective changes that mean effective comms for everyone, regardless of location?
Where will our employees be this time next year?
The future of work hangs in the balance. Are we looking at the death of downtown, with workers staying in their home offices permanently? Big Tech companies were the first to announce their bold, post-pandemic plans, with Facebook, Twitter, and Google all telling workers they could work from home indefinitely.
But despite this, huge developments are still underway all over San Francisco, with a new Google campus built in San Jose and Facebook having similar construction plans in the Bay Area. Despite their visionary announcements, these tech giants are struggling to loosen their grip on real estate plans and the return to office is inevitable for many.
The likeliest outcome is the hybrid workplace, a model where employees will be able to choose where they work. This satisfies the requirement of offices while providing this pressing demand for more flexibility. And it’s a milestone for employees who now have more power to work where they want to – opening up huge possibilities across the globe.
Internal comms tips for the new era
The pressing issue is how we formulate communications within our organizations to support workers in the office, at home, on the road, and even halfway across the world. Is it possible to engage every worker regardless of location?
The past twelve months has seen an overhaul of internal comms strategy, as comms practitioners reassess new ways of working and the challenges that currently present themselves.
Everyone is engaged in different ways
Just because all your employees are working from home, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will all be engaged by the same set of comms. Most internal communicators channel their messaging to different departments, groups, and offices. But is this enough?
Reviewing current communications is vital to engaging a dispersed workforce, particularly those who you do not see face-to-face every day. Think about the various personas in your business and think of how they would expect to be engaged. When it comes to engaging staff, one size does not fit all. In order to create comms that resonate with your audience, you have to think about their various needs and wants.
It pays to be creative. Incorporate new ideas into your strategy that allows you to reach different corners of your organization. Online gatherings, downloadable assets for employee wellbeing, virtual coffee breaks, and team-building sessions are great ways to use digital tools to engage your people.
#1. Target the many different personas within your dispersed workforce
Similarly, firing messages across the organization will result in decreasing engagement. Your New York base won’t be interested in new HR forms that your London employees need to fill out. Similarly, everyone who works on a PC doesn’t need to know about complications with the new iOS update. When comms has no way of targeting their comms, they face an audience who slowly but surely tap out.
This is why you need your comms platform to provide you with the ability to define dynamic employee groups. A dispersed workforce may be divided into locations, departments, and teams, but this doesn’t actually reflect how we work. Just because an employee is a member of one department – it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t fall into other more dynamic categories. Look for software that groups your employees according to multiple criteria so you can define your desired personas and then personalise your comms accordingly.
#2. Managers need to promote one-to-ones
Mindful of the removal of face-to-face communication, managers must promote a culture of confidentiality, trust, and wellbeing in their dispersed teams. The easiest way of providing this is through regular one-to-ones with members of their team. Comms leaders generally recommend this is done weekly but can be rearranged as and when the employee feels the need.
While generally, discussions will be catch-ups on work and tasks, these one-to-ones should also touch on employee wellbeing, any personal issues that could affect work, or any other problems causing an undue amount of stress. This is the manager’s opportunity to build these all-important relationships that may suffer in remote working circumstances.
#3. Smart communication
The average employee will be bombarded by emails, task management alerts, instant chat updates, and notifications on team communication platforms. And then there are the countless video calls scheduled throughout the day. Zoom fatigue has entered our lexicon and captured that sense of exhaustion of being on screen for hours a day. Employees are saturated – with unnecessary comms, with too much content, with meetings, alerts, quick catch-ups, progress reports… the working from home model needed to adjust, and quick.
This realization that working hours were being overtaken by ineffective comms has forced organizations to review how we manage our dispersed communications and work out ways of using our digital tools to minimize the number of meetings and on-screen interactions that take place every day. When it comes to comms, work out what needs to be communicated and to whom. Reduce email overload by using a comms platform or an intranet to direct employees to when they have the capacity to catch up on news that is relevant to them.
#4. Promote achievements
Working from home can often create a distant relationship from the hub of the organization. Remote workers may feel cut off from activities and the general culture of the office. As a result, it’s important to remind your workforce that it’s still business as usual despite people working in dispersed locations.
To create a sense of team and shared purpose, promote the achievements within the organization and outside as well. Has a co-worker passed an important qualification? Is someone organizing a fundraising event? Has your company been nominated for an award? Keep the PR going to remind employees that they are working in an organization that is moving forward despite the difficult circumstances.
#5. Ask for feedback
The tradition for many businesses is top-down communication. Setting guidelines, imposing rules, informing the employee – organizations have well-established channels of communication for this, starting from the top and letting it filter all the way down the organization hierarchy.
This approach enables businesses to keep a stream of dialogue between senior-level and the workforce, but most organizations are ill-equipped to receive feedback and opinion from their employees. Pulse surveys are a simple way of correcting this by using a comms platform or intranet to send users a short survey or even a simple question. This provides workers with some degree of input. Research shows that employees with this type of stake in their employer are more engaged than those who feel their work and opinions are expendable.
#6. Make your comms local
If you’re in charge of comms for a global company, it’s essential you recognize that your messages have to be tuned into the various locations and cultures you’re speaking to. This means creating a local approach to every office you’re managing. It is crucial to bear in mind that workers from different backgrounds react differently to different management and comms styles.
Beware of culturally appropriate communication and non-verbal business etiquette. Management in new locations must understand the local customs and accepted behaviors. What could be deemed ‘normal’ in a US office may be considered anti-social elsewhere. A thumbs-up in the Middle East, for example, is akin to swearing. It’s essential to know your audience to navigate what is culturally appropriate and what is not. It only takes an emoji or the wrong greeting to alienate an entire section of your dispersed workforce.
#7. Speak your employees’ language
It’s not only global enterprises that need to be culturally aware. During the past twelve months, there has been a massive increase in diversified talent pools, meaning even SMEs have hired talent across the world. While this has allowed businesses to bring in the skills needed regardless of location, language barriers have proven to be an obstacle when managing this new global workforce. And it goes without saying that being able to communicate effectively is essential to the long-term success of a business.
According to a survey by Rosetta Stone, 90 percent of organizations struggle with language barriers in their day-to-day work. You can overcome language barriers with intranet translation tools. As the touchstone for every employee in your business, your intranet can provide that much-needed facility to support understanding and communication.
#8. Allow for individual voices to speak up
A large component of an engaging and inclusive working environment is encouraging employees to feel empowered to use their voice, ask questions, share knowledge and provide feedback. Creating this kind of open culture helps to embed that necessary sense of community that is often found lacking in a dispersed workforce.
There are ways of enabling this. Using the digital tools available to the workforce, encourage users to make themselves heard. This could be in the form of individual blogs, social tools that can help users like and comment on discussions, and forums to ask questions. Comms platforms or intranets often have an appreciation program implemented which allows for peer-to-peer recognition – a great way of highlighting outstanding work or deeds carried out within the organization and shining a light on employees who may otherwise go unnoticed.
#9. Keep improving on information sharing
Supplying employees with the right information at the right time is a sure-fire way of improving engagement. Staff no longer have to break off to ask co-workers for help, look around fruitlessly for the right resource or create workarounds to solve their current issue. So how do you keep staff, who are geographically dispersed, informed at all times?
By creating a single point for all business information: from protocols to sales scripts, HR forms to certification – these should all be stored on a central platform accessible to all. And to support those staff who are not desk-based all day, make this platform mobile-responsive and accessible via users’ cell phones. That way, customer-facing workers and field employees can get the information just as easily as their office-based co-workers.
#10. Find out more about your people
Team catch-ups and online content can often be very linear – the progress of a project, certain issues that have cropped up in the past 24 hours, goals, and objectives. However, it’s also important to provide a sense of down-time, where weekends are discussed, holiday plans are shared, current affairs are dissected.
A comms platform or an intranet can support this by dedicating certain areas of the homepage to informal communities – those who are watching a certain box set or employees who are dog owners, for example. Introducing non-work-related chat via digital channels effectively forms bonds among employees and contributes to a fun, open culture within the remote workplace. Team catch-ups, for example, should not just focus on work solely but be a place for team members to share weekend plans, funny anecdotes, and space to learn more about each other.
For internal communicators, advancements in technology may feel like a double-edged sword. While there are myriad comms tools to use to share news, inform and update employees, it’s also enabled a remote workforce that can be more difficult to engage.
But these digital tools have made it possible for the workplace to evolve and for companies to employ a workforce based in multiple locations, including their home. Telecommuting and flexible work arrangements should only add to employee’s sense of ownership and satisfaction, with the right comms strategy, engagement should become easier as a result.