What Employees Want Most from Internal Communications Channels

[Note: This guest post is courtesy of Alison Davis, founder and CEO of Davis & Company, an award-winning employee communication firm that for 30 years has helped leading companies – such as Johnson & Johnson, Motorola Solutions, Nestle, Roche and Rogers Communications – increase employee engagement. Alison sets the strategic direction for the firm, consults with the client on their toughest communication challenges and leads the development of new products and services.]

If you’ve got an important issue to share with employees, what’s the first tool you think of? For most organizations, the answer is email. And while there’s nothing wrong with email when communicating short, time-sensitive matters, the problem is that many companies use email for everything.

The result, of course, is that employees are inundated with these electronic messages. To manage the onslaught, employees delete emails without reading them. They save other messages with a plan to refer to them later (but later never comes). And they miss even important content because they’re desperately skimming the chaos in their inboxes.

What employees want most is not another email—it’s choice. Most people today are sophisticated consumers of communication and use a variety of channels to access information. So when people go to work, they want the same variety and the ability to choose media based on the preferences.

That means that when it comes to internal communications channels, organizations need to use the right tool for the job. So you first need to understand the ideal role for each channel, and then choose the mix of tools that will work best. Here’s a quick overview to help you plan:

  • Email is great for quick, actionable content. But it doesn’t work for providing detailed information or when the subject matter is either complicated or emotionally charged.
  • An intranet serves an important role as an information hub, providing comprehensive information available anytime, including reference material employees need to do their jobs. But because employees don’t constantly visit, they may miss timely issues if they’re only posted on the intranet.
  • Workplace channels like posters and electronic screens are a valuable way to reach employees as they move about the facility. These vehicles play a key role in providing quick reminders or at-a-glance overviews of topics. But they aren’t effective to communicate details or context.
  • Print brochures or guides are still a valuable way to convey content, especially when the topic is personal and employees need to take action. That’s why many companies still produce a print piece for benefits enrollment—and why they mail those guides to employees’ homes, where key decisions are made. Of course, print is not appropriate for breaking news and other timely issues.
  • Video continues to grow as an internal tool, since it’s such a great way to dramatize and illustrate an issue. The most effective videos today are really short—under two minutes—since employees don’t have time to watch a long, complicated piece. That means videos need to cover the highlights of a topic, not all the details.
  • Internal social media is also increasingly important, since it’s participative and collaborative. So use social media to introduce information and then allow employees to ask questions. What doesn’t work on social media? Static, one-way information.
  • Employees increasingly seek communication on their mobile devices. The small screen works well for bite-sized blurbs of information. But don’t expect employees to absorb long, complicated topics on mobile.

How do you know which communication channels to use for each situation? It’s simple, really. First, consider employee’s needs and preferences. And next, make sure you’re clear about your desired outcomes—what you need employees to know, believe and do.

By following these two steps, you’ll make sure your choice of channels will meet employees’ needs and accomplish your objectives.

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