As workplaces evolve, internal communication (IC) is more important than ever – serving to strengthen bonds between employees and employers and foster an inclusive, supportive community. Often undervalued, the role of the internal communicator is that of mediator, successfully marrying fixed business objectives to the changing needs of the workforce. The Institute of Internal Communication drives standards through training, thought leadership, awards and qualifications. Chief Executive Jennifer Sproul (pictured below) considers how businesses can enhance their internal communications strategy.
Q. What is the value of internal comms, and how have strategies changed since the pandemic?
A. Internal communications refers to the practice of communicating with employees, and helps drive organisational success by fostering engagement, collaboration and alignment. Its ultimate purpose is to improve the overall employee experience, contributing to high productivity and reducing turnover by keeping the workforce informed, engaged and motivated.
Since the pandemic, employers have been adopting new IC strategies, such as increasing the use of digital channels, focusing on employee wellbeing, and enhancing transparency, authenticity and empathy.
IC also played a big role in keeping employees engaged during the Covid lockdowns through online community-building activities. It continues to provide an opportunity and platform to keep everyone in the business updated, allowing stories to be shared and achievements celebrated.
Q. To what extent is it only larger organisations that need employees who are dedicated to IC?
A. Determining when to employ an IC professional largely depends on the company size, structure, and communication needs. Smaller businesses may not need a dedicated person for the role and opt instead for someone who can handle general comms tasks alongside other responsibilities. However, as the organisation grows, a team may be needed to manage the volume and complexity of communication channels. The goals for the business will shape the comms strategy.
Q. What should small companies without the budget for people dedicated to IC do to improve their internal comms?
A. Some options to consider when budget is tight might be to establish regular communication channels such as weekly meetings or a company-wide newsletter to keep employees informed about news and updates.
Many people relish the chance to learn something new at work. Training and development programmes in communication can be a great way to improve employees’ soft skills. After all, good communication helps in all areas of life and work: leadership, presentations, influencing and mediation, for example. Confidence with communication can inspire staff to take on new tasks and more responsibility – increasing career prospects.
It’s also good to encourage open and transparent communication among team members and provide opportunities for feedback and suggestions. It goes without saying that keeping up to date with the latest tech is crucial. Leverage affordable technology solutions such as instant messaging and video conferencing tools to facilitate remote collaboration.
Regardless of the budget or size of organisation, understanding your workforce and prioritising a culture that emphasises communication, collaboration and engagement, can lead to better employee satisfaction.
Q. Do you feel company intranets are an overlooked resource? What can be done to make them more attractive and valuable to employees?
A. Company intranets are often viewed as a tool for top-down communication rather than a resource for employee collaboration and information-sharing. Several steps might be taken to enhance them, such as designing an intuitive and user-friendly interface that is easy to navigate and find information, and ensuring the intranet contains relevant and up-to-date information, including company news, policies, procedures, and resources.
Social media has resulted in people being far more enthusiastic about using comms professionally and personally – encouraging employees in forums or discussion boards to share ideas, feedback, and best practice can foster a positive culture.
You could also consider the intranet as a learning platform featuring online courses, webinars, or podcasts. Fill it with easily-accessible tools and applications that make work more efficient, such as project management software or collaboration tools – and send reminders of any key changes that employees might find most useful and interesting.
Q. IC can sometimes be undervalued – what are the signs of success?
A. It’s all-too-often the task of the IC professional to have to explain or prove the value of their role to stakeholders who don’t fully understand its purpose.
The success of IC can be measured by increased employee engagement, improved productivity, better morale, lower turnover, and increased innovation. When employees feel informed, supported and valued, they are likely to be more invested in their work and committed to the organisation’s goals. Good IC creates a sense of community and belonging.
Q. What are some of the common challenges when responsible for IC?
A. Every day presents new challenges, and probably greatest of all is striking the balance between the type, tone and timing of messaging sent. It’s not always easy to get right – employees have busy days when they barely have time to check their emails, so an understanding of when to try and capture their interest is key to engagement – and avoiding information overload. And it’s important to always be mindful of topical issues outside the workplace before releasing information that might be perceived as tone deaf because it was poorly timed.
The job also involves ensuring consistency in messaging, a readiness to adapt to change, and overcoming language and cultural barriers. Empathy and confidentiality are important factors too.
Q. Is it more usual for an IC role to sit within a marketing team than HR – does it matter?
A. Where the role of IC sits depends on the business and its goals. Marketing teams often focus on external communication and promoting the company’s brand, whereas HR teams typically focus on internal comms and employee engagement. IC roles can fit into either team but should be where they can best support and enable effective company-wide communication.
Ultimately, it’s essential for the IC professional to have a clear understanding of the company’s communication goals and work with both external comms and HR teams to achieve them.
Q. What are the greatest industry changes the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) has noticed in recent years, and how might IC change in future as workplaces continue to evolve?
A. The IoIC has observed several significant industry changes. One major trend is the increasing use of digital channels for IC, such as the adoption of enterprise social networks, instant messaging, and video conferencing tools, which have enabled remote and flexible working arrangements.
Another change is the growing emphasis on employee engagement and culture. Organisations are realising effective IC plays a key role in fostering a positive workplace culture that pays dividends in the longer term.
As workplaces continue to evolve, the role of IC is likely to become even more critical. We could see IC professionals adapting to new communication technologies and channels, such as artificial intelligence (chatbots) and virtual and augmented reality balanced with human-centred communication. Those working in IC will also need to develop strategies to communicate with a diverse workforce, including remote and contingent workers, to ensure success.
Looking for an internal communications professional for your team? Get in touch with one of our specialist recruitment consultants today.