5 Indispensable Elements of a Modern Internal Communications Plan
January 13, 2023
Strong communication is essential whether your team is entirely in-office, remote, or hybrid. In fact, a 2021 McKinsey report revealed teams that feel connected to one another are up to five times as likely to report high rates of productivity than teams that feel disconnected.
Despite all the data that show how impactful it can be, internal communication often takes a backseat along with other “soft skills” when it’s time to allocate resources. This lack of prioritization leaves communication as a perennial challenge for employees and employers alike—especially within the modern business landscape.
But since 2020, attitudes have shifted. Suddenly, everyone needed to find new ways to collaborate and reach common ground.
While the remote work revolution brought numerous challenges, it also pushed communication tooling and infrastructure forward at a pace that would otherwise have been unimaginable. Not every organization (or communications team) uses this new toolkit to its full potential, but yours will, right?
We’re going to explore five key trends, and how they factor into a modern internal communications plan that can help empower employees to connect more effectively in 2023 and beyond.
Ensuring access is the first step toward developing an effective communication strategy. Relying exclusively on desktop apps won’t work for teams with numerous workers who spend large amounts of time away from their desks.
For communication to be accessible, it needs to reach far and wide, connecting team members whether or not they’re in the office.
Unlike in-office employees, remote workers don’t have the benefit of being able to pop into a colleague’s office for a quick chat. There have been many attempts at solving this issue over the years, but reliable video meetings were the major paradigm shift that made connecting remote colleagues feasible.
Regular video meetings with remote workers keep them in the loop, allow them to talk to their manager, and help foster a sense of connection by regularly putting faces to the names in messages and emails.
But even though video meetings have been an extraordinary step forward for communication and access, they aren’t a perfect solution for remote teams.
A time zone difference of even three hours can be a challenge, and some remote teams have a time zone difference of 10 hours or more. In addition to synchronous communication like video and in-person meetings, effective asynchronous communication is a hallmark of a modern internal communications plan.
The benefits of good asynchronous communication aren’t limited to remote or hybrid teams. In-office and deskless employees can also benefit immensely from good asynchronous communication.
As more and more accommodations are made for remote workers, the needs of deskless workers are often ignored, with major consequences: a Boston Consulting Group study of over 7,000 deskless employees across seven nations foundthird of deskless employees are considering quitting in the next six months.
Lack of workplace flexibility is one of the main reasons deskless employees consider leaving their jobs, while feeling underappreciated is another major factor. Improving lines of communication with deskless employees can help address both of these challenges.
For example, repeatedly asking deskless employees to stay late for meetings while remote workers can meet on their schedule can make deskless workers feel underappreciated. Rotating who has to stay late to make meetings or allowing deskless employees to attend those same meetings remotely offers a little more flexibility for these workers.
It’s also important to ensure communication channels work just as well on mobile devices as they do on desktops, so deskless employees can check in and communicate from their phones or tablets. Because deskless employees may not always be able to receive or respond to messages in the moment, asynchronous communication tools become even more essential. And when effective asynchronous communication is your goal, multichannel delivery is a major boon.
2. Multichannel Delivery
Some employees prefer to communicate via email, while others find it faster and more convenient to send a direct message—and some may only have a mobile device on hand. To complicate matters further, employees in different departments often have their own dedicated communication tools.
Multichannel delivery allows employees to receive important messages, regardless of the tools they use. This isn’t a new concept, but it’s essential in a modern communications plan.
If sending messages across multiple platforms sounds like a logistical nightmare, you’re right—it can be. That’s why automation tools are more important than ever, and it’s only half the reason they’re helpful for comms.
Automating multi-channel delivery instead of sending all these messages manually saves time and effort, but it can also improve messaging consistency. Many (but not all) intranets have automation features geared toward multi-channel delivery. A single post to the relevant intranet group can automatically deliver the right message to the right people at the right place at the right time—all in one action.
Communication drives outcomes, and it’s hard to participate in a dialogue you don’t know is taking place. In the days when most teams worked together in the same physical space, it was possible to participate, simply by being present.
Participation for remote workers requires both deliberate action and an invitation. Most predominantly remote teams pay special attention to ensuring information and conversations are easily discoverable online, but in hybrid teams that’s not always the case.
Consider, for example, if a hybrid team lead provides a live demonstration. Those physically present can participate without any added effort, but that’s not true for the team’s remote members. That’s why it’s especially crucial for hybrid orgs to ensure communications are discoverable and accessible.
In the above example, recording the session and posting it somewhere visible and searchable, like the relevant group’s space on the company intranet is a great start. Even better, by automating multi-channel delivery, that same video can be delivered to remote members across all their preferred channels. Additionally, that information becomes discoverable in search.
And while that’s helpful on its own, some intranets have search tools that not only make it easy to find things you’re actively looking for, they can also help predict what sort of information might be helpful, and surface it automatically.
The most effective modern internal communication strategies couple tools like smart search with thoughtful planning and execution. When sharing information or starting a dialogue, it’s critical to consider which audience it’s for, anticipate where they might access it, and share it in a way that makes it natural to discover.
These steps can be exceptionally helpful for remote, deskless, and hybrid employees, but discoverability is equally essential for people who work in an office.
A modern communication plan ensures all team members have an equitable experience, and that’s only possible when everyone can participate on equal footing.
Flattening the Hierarchy
Just because someone is new to the team, or working in a hands-on role doesn’t mean they don’t have potentially transformational ideas and insights. Organizations that tuck those voices away do so at their own risk.
There are absolutely communications that benefit from being kept in a tighter loop, but when it’s possible, a respectful consideration of ideas across different departments and seniority levels can be a powerful advantage. The broader perspective and shared esteem
Meetings can be made more equitable by ensuring everyone can have their voices heard, whether they're in-person or remote. Soliciting questions asynchronously before and after a meeting allows presenters to respond to questions from employees who can't make the meeting in person—ensuring their voice is still heard.
While it can be helpful shorthand in some cases, jargon can also alienate interns, new hires, or freelancers there to do a slightly different job on a team. Although new hires often struggle with jargon, studies have paradoxically shown entry-level employees sometimes use jargon to bolster their perceived status on the team.
Despite many people struggling with or bristling against industry jargon, it’s still thriving across countless workplaces. So, instead of trying to eliminate it, an effective modern communication plan can embrace it by providing everyone with a simple way to decode jargon.
An easily accessible and up-to-date company glossary can help give everyone equal footing and a shared understanding.
Research indicates that 55% of all communication is nonverbal. Remote, hybrid, and deskless teams rarely have access to body language, tone of voice, and other nonverbal cues that telegraph how a message should be received. According to Nick Morgan, author of Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World, people think others understand their messages 90% of the time, but in reality, 50% of all emails are misunderstood by their recipients.
Rich communications combine different mediums to tell a story that everyone on the team can follow and engage with. From vibrant images to video, embedded content, and even GIFs, modern tools provide an entirely new canvas for communication and understanding.
Even something seemingly small, like emoji can help bolster communication among remote employees and their colleagues by communicating tone in interoffice chats. While emoji were once considered unprofessional in the workplace, today, two-thirds of employees appreciate it when their team members use emojis, feeling that emoji use bolsters their coworkers' likability and credibility.
Believe it or not, research shows that a smiley-face emoji can elicit the same internal response as an actual smile, which may help remote workers combat feelings of isolation and build connections with team members at a distance.
Instead of expecting employees to read long chunks of information, a modern communication strategy strives to engage. Breaking information up with graphics, charts, images, videos, and subheadings can provide easier access to the information and help team members understand it regardless of their preferred learning style.
Leaders can also encourage team members to provide more rich communication. For example, businesses might offer templates that employees can use when sharing information. By placing space in these templates for graphics, videos, or subheadings, leaders encourage teams to consider more rich presentation styles.
Which of these elements are you implementing?
Developing an effective internal communications plan means understanding the challenges teams face with communication, and deciding how to improve the flow of information between members. There are a plethora of new tools purpose-built to support that goal—all they need is a champion.