The internal communications function is now required to deliver much more than a monthly newsletter or a video address from the CEO. A new breed of tools allows IC professionals to become ingrained in the daily routine of every employee.
Internal communications (IC) was once largely confined to big companies. The challenge was to disseminate information down several layers of a management pyramid; and thus, the employee newsletter was born.
Today’s businesses, however, are leaner. The structures are fluid and agile; but they are also siloed. Teams can feel isolated and lose sight of strategic objectives; and many employees can feel as distant from the person at the next desk as from staff on a different continent. These issues are faced not just by companies with 1000 employees, but also of those with 50.
Whilst “Communicating strategic goals” is still the key objective, there is therefore now a much longer list of ideal outcomes for an effective IC team to consider:
Shared best practice, to drive productivity
Employee engagement, to retain talent
Propagating access to experts, to encourage peer-to-peer learning
Making information available, to reduce duplicated effort or misaligned strategies
Group agility, in which departments can split off to fulfil projects
Explaining routine tasks, so that functions like expenses, travel or invoicing are effort-free
In today’s straitened economic circumstances, IC teams are under pressure to deliver this brief on ever tighter budgets. Technology is not only an enabler for IC; it is indispensable.
Email (usually delivered using Exchange, and now available in the cloud with Office 365) certainly has a role to play. It’s unfairly maligned for being inflexible, transitory and often ignored. Yet email is also universal and familiar. It’s easy to archive for compliance. We should ignore email at our peril. It’s only shortcoming is that it functions most effectively for the old-style ‘bulletin’ communication, and, as we’ve seen, modern IC demands much more.
SharePoint, meanwhile, is the jack-of-all-trades of IC, mainly because it is the ideal tool for the management of intranets. Furthermore, the enduring criticism of SharePoint – that it required significant funds and an 18-month lead time to deploy – is now fully refuted. Thanks to Office 365, full SharePoint functionality can be switched on affordably in minutes. Thanks to a wealth of templates, it also needs minimal customisation and can be deployed in weeks rather than months.
A new range of services; also all cloud-deliverable, is making IC more frictionless. Lync is Microsoft’s unified communications toolkit (also available in the Office 365 package). It includes Messenger, voice and video calling, videoconferencing and virtual meeting functionality, so users can communicate in whatever way works best for the situation and also escalate one type of contact into another. Lync makes team catchups, online presentations and show-and-tells easy. It also means employees can easily connect with experts beyond their traditional boundaries.
There’s no shortage of functionality in these tools; but the most recent focus of IC technologists has been in engagement: making effective communication sufficiently enjoyable that employees gravitate positively towards the tools they are given. The most successful of these efforts has been Yammer; who realised that our most engaged online communication occurs on social networks like Facebook. If a company could be treated like a social network, but augmented with enterprise-grade tools (file management, audit and archive, collaborative workspaces, full search, etc.) then it would similarly become the virtual workspace of choice. Thousands of businesses now use Yammer. It integrates with services you might already have deployed like SharePoint and Office 365, it is available on any device (including all the major smartphone OSs), and is fully cloud-driven (indeed, yours for as little as $3 per user per month).
With the right technologies, all now available on tap, and by integrating successfully into each user’s workday, the internal communications function of any business can deliver more demonstrable value, and more rapidly, than ever before.