Do traditional comms still have a role in the digital workplace?

Why the fast-moving advances of the digital workplace shouldn’t necessarily spell the end of traditional print comms.

When you think about your comms strategy, what formats do you employ? Emails, blogs, video, text messages… But when was the last time you printed anything out?

The death knell for print media seems to have been sounding for years. By 2020, we were all supposed to be reading from ebooks, using our tablets to find out about current affairs, going to work in paperless offices.

But that’s not quite what’s happened. Of course, the consumption of print media has seen a drop. Bookshops have closed, newspaper circulations have shrunk, and the amount of paperwork churned out by the average workplace has drastically decreased.

But paper is still being used. Magazines, leaflets, newsletters… Why has this format not disappeared as predicted?

Back at the turn of the 21st century, the future was slinky, state-of-the-art, definitive. According to business experts, the future was paperless.

But that’s not happened.

Could paper still perform a role in your comms?

Well, the answer is: it depends.

In what situations are traditional comms still necessary?

Despite the naysayers, traditional paper comms still plays a massive part in many industries.

You see, it’s one thing when your organization is, say, a financial institution, with every member of the workforce spending their days on computers. In this situation, digital comms is the only way to communicate, as people are constantly online using their laptops or cellphones for most work functions.

It’s another story when you’re working at a hospital where, at best, workers have limited access to a shared computer, and around-the-clock shift patterns mean that there is little room for meetings, catch-ups, and face-to-face comms.

Or perhaps in retail, where there is a percentage of office-based workers, but the majority are in warehouses, on the road fulfilling deliveries or on the shop floor dealing with real-life customers.

When you see little of your workforce because of a constant stream of demands, shift patterns, and multiple locations, could paper comms be your best option?

The benefits of traditional paper-based comms

Firstly, we’ll look at paper-based comms: is there still room for them in the digital age? The answer is yes, as long as you know where they’re appropriate – and where they are obsolete.

Traditional communication tools have a bad rep. They are synonymous with stacks of paper, bills, junk mail, clutter. When you sign up for a new bank account, the majority of us will opt for online-only comms. Similarly, why have a paper receipt when you can have something that is safely kept in your inbox or app account?

Paper takes up space, costs money, isn’t trackable and uneditable. Plus, it’s easily misplaced. It’s seen as an old-fashioned solution to something that could be done better by digital comms. But can digital win over paper and traditional comms all the time?

“There are good reasons why paper has survived the digital age.”

Your business’s digital transformation doesn’t mean that paper should be eliminated completely – after all, there is a reason why paper has survived the digital age.

There are a variety of uses where only paper and print will do. For example, internal comms for non-desk-based staff: how do you keep your shop floor/warehouse/customer-facing staff informed? There are a number of ways, but the easiest, most common one is through the use of paper: newsletters, memos, signs, handouts, leaflets.

Distributed by line managers, put in staff rooms, sent to home addresses… these are messages, information, alerts that get read. They’re tangible, foldable, you can carry them and read them on the bus home. They work.

The arguments for printed comms

While not suitable for every industry, there are countless organizations that need to maintain more traditional ways of keeping their employees informed, and not feel obsolete for doing so. Traditional comms play a major role in internal comms strategy in so many ways which include:

They’re more engaging

Reading novels on a tablet still happens, but it’s not revolutionized reading. Most people still like the feeling of holding a book and turning real pages. Reading print just feels a lot easier than reading a screen.

They’re more polished

When you print something, you know there’s no going back. That’s why editors will pore over pre-print copy to make sure everything it’s perfect before it leaves the screen and goes to press.

They’re more noticeable

In the digital workplace, paper comms stands out. We’re now used to online correspondence, digital magazines, text alerts. Throw a letter, a printed publication, a paper memo into the mix and you know they will make more of an impact.

They’re kept longer

Printed comms tends to stick around, on desks, in files, handbags, folders. They will be seen repeatedly. The majority of emails, on the other hand, are looked at for a few moments before being forgotten about.

They carry higher response rates

For paper direct mail, the response rate is 4.4%. This is in comparison to email which stands at 0.12%, according to research carried out by Direct Marketing Association. This means that printed mail has a response rate which is 10 to 30 times higher than digital.

And printing is on the rise

According to the figures, the global printing market was valued at US$783 billion in 2017. And it’s estimated to reach $814 billion by 2022, representing an annual gain of 0.8%.

What does digital comms do better?

But paper isn’t perfect. There is a reason why digital has been embraced by many comms professionals. Email, for example, is a more agile format than paper. Email marketing services can allow the user to hone, edit, split test and track the progress. You can find out opening rates, read-through rates, work out your demographics and use this info to target your comms more efficiently.

You can’t do this with paper comms. With traditional direct mail, you don’t know if Joe Schmoe has even bothered opening up the envelope when it lands. You don’t know if you hit the mark with the language used. You don’t know how many ended up in the bin.

Digital comms are a lot cheaper too – in theory. When you’re sending out a mailshot to a few thousand addresses, there’s no cost of printing and mailing.

“But paper isn’t perfect. There is a reason why digital has been embraced by many comms professionals.”

And let’s not forget the convenience of easy updating – a godsend in a situation that is unfolding. If you need to keep your employees informed on news that is constantly changing, digital is the only way to go.

It’s quicker too, of course. Once you’ve written your email, you’re a button away from sending it. A far cry from print where you’re required to write, print, fold, envelope, stamp and send each one. The speed of this type of communication makes email the go-to for quick, cheap, easy comms.

Why there’s room – and need – for both digital and paper-based comms

So, which one should you utilize in your business? The best response to this is to ask your workforce. What type of comms do your employees respond to, act on, prefer?

Because, when it comes down to it, we all have three choices: traditional paper-based comms, a digital approach designed to modern ways of working, or the two combined. And for most organizations, there’s room for both, if they both work.

Just like hard copy children’s books and cookery books are co-existing happily alongside e-books, so can print and digital comms. It’s up to you, as internal comms professionals, to create your comms to fit your audience, making sure the right message goes to the right people, in the right format at the right time.