By: Julia Figliotti Riley
With each passing year, digital employee communication has become increasingly crucial to maintaining workplace connectivity and employee productivity. In early 2020, employees in the US were receiving a combined 576 billion emails every year. It’s no surprise, therefore, that important communications about company changes, required actions, or upcoming events were often ignored or misunderstood due to the “noise” of inbox overload. Even before COVID-19 swept the world, IDC confirmed that the benefits of strategic communications were monumental, and the risks of unsuccessful communications included employee disconnect, lower performance, and reduced alignment and buy-in across teams.
And then the pandemic hit. Companies with the means to shift their workforces remote scrambled to do so, prioritizing public health while trying to maintain an internal culture of connectivity. As a result, leadership teams worked closely with HR to build out a communication plan for reaching their distributed employees throughout the indefinite WFH period to come. Now, 14 months in, HR.com conducted a study around the communication tools and practices available in this past year of COVID operations, and how companies have pivoted to rapidly incorporate these remote-friendly options.
Let’s dive into how internal communications have changed, and where they’ve stayed the same, under the pressure of a pandemic-accelerated digital transformation.
Lesson 1: Email still reigns
In the same IDC survey, we learned that Strategic Corporate Communications – which are considered essential to successfully stimulating action and accomplishing business objectives – can reach employees through a variety of channels, from word of mouth to company intranet pages to employee communication software. Yet across all stages of digital transformations, one channel was far and away the most popular: email.
Revisiting the 2020 statistic, individual employees last year received an average of around 50 work-related emails per day. Of those 50 emails, 40% were unimportant to business operations and only 18% fell under the umbrella of Strategic Corporate Communication. Now, a year later and a pandemic wiser, email is still the primary form of communication. HR.com’s 2021 research study confirmed that from a list of nearly 20 communication channels, email is considered the most effective means of reaching employees.
These separate studies reinforce two things about digital employee communication both pre- and post-pandemic:
- Email is consistently the go-to channel for internal communications, and
- Companies are challenged with cutting through the noise of non-essential messages when communicating critical changes or business updates to their employees.
To capitalize on the popularity of email communication while ensuring your important messages reach your audience, take advantage of the connectivity tools available to you. A communications calendar can help you plan, manage, measure, and scale your communications in one place, allowing you visibility across departments to coordinate your messaging, reduce communication fatigue, and improve your employees’ experience and buy-in.
Lesson 2: Successful communications are even more crucial
Pandemic notwithstanding, reaching employees through any channel has long been considered integral to company achievement. Before COVID-19 began to spread in the U.S., IDC data broke down three of the major contributors to success when it comes to internal communications. The first is localization – ensuring your messaging is relevant to where your employees operate. Next is the creation of a campaign or series of messages around a topic, to both introduce and reinforce the information being shared. And finally, strategic message frequency is critical to cutting through the noise without adding to it.
Unsurprisingly, however, the success of digital employee communications looks different depending on the focus of the messaging, the audience receiving them, and the outcome that the sender expects. IDC found that communications around security are considered successful when 56% of audience members take action, yet initiatives to reinforce company culture with 50-60% action rates are still only seen as successful about 25% of the time. This shows you must be prepared to measure multiple dimensions of interaction within a messaging campaign – beyond emails opened and actions taken. This may include new behaviors modeled, increased benefits understanding, and more.
Now, with our workforces distributed across home offices, it’s clear that digital employee communications are the best – if not only – way to drive internal initiatives and alignment to company objectives and culture without the in-person opportunities of a physical office space. Over 85% of the respondents to the 2021 HR.com study agreed that internal communications are either very or extremely important, with 74-80% agreeing that these communications have a positive impact on employee experience, engagement, and performance – as well as the company brand as a whole.
Lesson 3: Companies are still struggling to get it right
Now it’s time to face some less-bolstering truths: while the importance of successful internal communications is clear, most organizations still have a lot of room for improvement. This could be due to anything from a lagging digital transformation to sender-audience disconnect – such as employees believing a message requires action when its purpose is simply to inform – to focusing on the wrong metrics to measure the success of a campaign. And though digital employee communications have come a long way in the past year alone, HR representatives know something still isn’t quite right: in their 2021 study, HR.com found that only 30% of respondents believed employee communication to be highly or very highly effective in their organization.
So, what makes the difference between communication-leader and communication-laggard organizations? It starts with prioritization: communication leaders are noticeably more likely to view employee communication as integral to company success. This emphasis on internal communication trickles down and impacts manager communication to direct reports; employee awareness and buy-in of organizational mission, vision, values, and objectives; productive collaboration across departments; financial and employee performance; customer satisfaction; and overall employee engagement.
Lesson 3.1: Success is within reach
Here’s what you can do to ensure your organization champions digital employee communications now and into the future. First, revisit your digital workplace strategy and ensure that it’s strong enough to keep your dispersed workforce securely connected while centering your employees. Once you confirm that you can reach and engage your employees across multiple channels, it’s time to build your communication framework.
Anyone who has had to orchestrate internal communications over the past 14 months can confirm that without having a plan in place, digital employee communications can be a major headache. Investing in a holistic strategy facilitates a more streamlined and manageable experience – from the HR leaders in charge of reach messaging to the employees on the receiving end. Work with a Communication Strategist to build a strategic communication plan that incorporates trackable metrics for analytics and future adjustments, and intersperse your messaging across multiple platforms to most effectively educate, reinforce, and drive action.
Whether COVID-19 kickstarted your digital transformation or simply accelerated the plans you already had in place, orchestrating a holistic digital employee communication strategy – and being able to see what’s working through metrics – is crucial in the context of a remote employee base. And with companies trending toward more dispersed workforces even as we return to some level of normalcy, an investment in strategic digital communications can help your company shift from being a communication laggard to a communication leader.