Why (and how) a new paradigm for internal comms is needed to keep staff engaged
By Rob Edmonds, NRG Digital
With so many staff now working from home it’s easy for them to feel cut off and isolated. Team members only see you, and each other, on a screen, and the impact of these feelings of isolation are evidenced by the increasing levels of mental health issues, presenteeism and absenteeism. All of which can lead to a drop in productivity across your business. Your internal comms activity is a vital part of ensuring your teams stay engaged and stay productive.
Presenteeism and Absenteeism
Absenteeism is people not showing up for work, but what about presenteeism? The latter has become a much bigger issue[i] since the start of the pandemic. Presenteeism is the loss of productivity that takes place when people turn up for work, but don’t get very much done.
It costs businesses far more than absenteeism and is largely un-trackable.
How can your internal comms help?
Internal comms is all about communicating your company values, vision, objectives and goals to your internal teams.
The engagement between your business and your staff impacts the resultant productivity of your staff. Which is why it is so important to get it right.
If you haven’t yet reviewed your internal comms strategy and processes, now is the time to start. The longer you leave it, the bigger the problem it can create, and the more difficult it will be to solve. You may find that the loss in productivity, as well as the loss of staff (i.e. people leaving), can be devastating to the business. So, you need to be on top of your internal comms and ensure that any potential issues are nipped in the bud.
Starting to create a new paradigm
When starting to make changes to your internal comms, what do you need to do? These are our recommended steps:
Without measuring[ii] the current situation, there is no way to develop a new paradigm. You cannot set new goals without knowing how you are currently performing. Measures need to look at both the end results and at the tools being used.
With a largely remote workforce, your internal communications goals may need to change. A, hopefully, short-term strategy may need to take precedence over the longer-term strategy, which can then be revisited once “normality” returns with the majority of people vaccinated against Covid.
I’m not suggesting they go in opposite directions; merely that a slight detour may be needed. One that focuses on the immediate needs of your staff, if they are to help the business achieve both its short and long term goals.
SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed) goals to be considered include:
And many more that will be specific to your organisation.
What do you want staff to do, to think and to believe? Some messages may stay the same as those you are currently using (unless the company has pivoted dramatically), but many will change.
If, for example, there are issues with presenteeism and mental wellness, more, or more powerful, messages about the importance of talking may be needed, with information about the resources and options available for those needing additional help.
Any marketing campaign, whether internal or external, is about getting people to believe and to act; that’s why the messages are so important.
Testing specific messages on small groups is recommended. Get the opinions of people outside the internal comms team to validate the messages. This way you will help to ensure you get them right, and that people will understand them and engage with them. Sometimes it’s easy to assume too much or to miss the obvious if you are very close to the issue, so make sure people outside the comms team understand the messages too.
Developing the new internal comms plan needs to involve more than just the internal comms team, particularly in the current times. The implementation of a new plan aimed at ensuring your teams, wherever they are, are always engaged, will involve people from every part of the business.
For a new internal communications paradigm to work, you have to prove you know your colleagues. Getting them involved is a crucial part of ensuring that the new plan will deliver for both the company and for the teams. After all, without the teams, there is no company!
Right now, it isn’t possible to gather people in the same room, but, hopefully, that shouldn’t be too far away. Tools such as Zoom, Teams or even vWall[iii] allow you to gather people and ideas together.
The internal comms team is then responsible for the implementation of that plan.
Having people from across the company involved in the development of the plan should mean they buy into it. They’ve had the opportunity to contribute, to discuss, to challenge and to come to an agreement with a plan they all believe will work. Now “all you need” is management buy-in.
Management is always eager to achieve the goals that help them to achieve the business plan. So, ensure that, when presenting the plan, it is all about how this will help with the business’ goals. Be specific; outline the problem and its impact and then show how the new plan will address that problem and reduce or eliminate its impact.
Multi-channel communications programmes are always more effective than single-channel programmes.
These are just some examples. The key here is time. Time to develop and produce the collateral needs to be built into the schedule to ensure that the messages are delivered when they are needed.
The sooner the plan is started, the sooner you will start to see results.
As with any internal communications marketing plan, you have to measure frequently to ascertain whether it is achieving its goals.
Whilst you need to allow time for change to take place, you cannot leave it too long. If aspects of the plan aren’t working, you need to know soon, so adaptations can be made.
With the country in some form of lockdown, until at least early Spring, you have time to develop and implement a plan to ensure staff, whether remote or on-site are always engaged. But the sooner you start, the sooner you will see results.
Some changes will be easy to spot. Email open rates, video views – both are immediately visible. Improvements in customer satisfaction or productivity will take longer to identify, so don’t expect miracles.
Finally, remember that this pandemic isn’t going to last forever. Whilst there may be lasting changes (levels of remote working, for example, may be higher going forward than before), changes in internal communications that improve engagement now will continue to work when more people are back at their desks. The communication channels may have to adapt over time and the messages will adapt, but the business improvements will stay.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob Edmonds is Founder and Creative Director at NRG Digital, a visual communications agency with a passion for all things creative. Their clients treat them as a strategic partner, creating authentic content that inspires audiences and elevates brands. Formed in 2002, the team has grown significantly, winning an Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) award for Best Change/Transformation Communication in 2020. NRG Digital works across the UK, Europe and the US, supporting clients with their internal and external communications campaigns.