Building an Engaging Internal Communications Strategy for Your Remote Employees

It’s well known that high employee engagement results in higher productivity, profitability, and retention. But these last two years have wreaked havoc on employees; mentally, physically, and emotionally resulting in higher stress, higher turnover, and lower engagement at work.

And who can blame them? We have all been through a lot. 

The transition to a remote, hybrid and a distributed workforce only compounded the feelings of isolation and disengagement. Since this environment seems to be the new normal, the question is: how do we keep remote employees engaged and motivated at work? Internal communication is a big part of the solution for any company, small or large.

It’s time to embrace the remote culture and meet employees where are they are: online. 

Developing a Sound Internal Communications Strategy

When employees are working remotely, one of the biggest challenges they face is being “out of the loop” with their company, their organization, and their team. Because they’re not in the office, they don’t have the benefit of engaging in an impromptu hallway or elevator conversations to keep up with news.

Aside from business meetings, they may not talk to anyone during the day. The daily interactions that keep the workplace lively, social and engaging are now lost in this virtual world. And while nothing replaces face-to-face human interaction, having a sound internal communications strategy goes a long way to helping employees feel more connected.

Connection happens at two levels: the organizational and the personal. Let’s explore both.

On the Organizational Scale

Why do people work for your company? What keeps people at your company? 

The easy answer might be the great pay, benefits, or the new ping-pong table, but let’s dig deeper. Compensation, benefits and perks are extrinsic motivators, meaning they are the rewards employees receive for engaging in work activities. And while they’re often the go-to for increasing engagement, that strategy is as cost prohibitive as it is ineffective. Not to mention, in a remote environment, those coffee bars and catered lunches are rendered obsolete. 

What sustains employees for the long-term are intrinsic motivators, defined by Ann Holland, PhD in her recent Forbes post as, “an inner desire to do something because you experience personal satisfaction and enjoy engaging in the activity.” In other words, do your employees believe in your company? Its mission, vision, values and products? And do they see how their values and the work they do fits in with the bigger picture? 

A Message from Your Leader

One way to reinforce these connections is with a top-down approach, starting with messages from leadership. Communications from the Chief Executive Officer and other executives need not be limited to organizational changes, business initiatives or earnings numbers. Their messages can also help spark excitement about a new venture or demonstrate how the company lives its values. 

But just because they come from executives doesn’t mean these messages should be long, dry and filled with corporate jargon. After all, we know that only 5% of employees will make it through an 800-word email. So, keep the subjects brief and to the point, and write about news that is timely, interesting, and relevant. Communicators should partner with executives to identify topics they care about, then capture their authentic voice and allow their personality and passion to shine through in the message. 

Have a Voice

In addition to executive messages, it is important to showcase how the company is making an impact outside of work. Many companies are investing quality time, money and resources on environmental, social and governance (ESG) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) issues. Not only is the newest generation demanding their company takes a stand on important topics, it’s practically a requirement for consumers as well. 

While it’s crucial for communicators to publicize news, events, and products via their paid, earned, and owned channels, it is equally important to ensure their strategy reaches and influences their internal audience as well. 

In fact, employees should be the first to know when their company is donating money to a cause, participating in community events, or developing new technologies. Giving employees something to be proud of (as well as a sneak peek before the information is public), deepens their sense of connection and belonging within the organization as they see their personal values aligned with the company’s. 

The Tools of the Trade

Within internal communications, there are several tools communicators have at their disposal to share information and stories. Examples include but are not limited to an employee-only magazine, intranet, employee resource groups (ERG), graphics, videos, vignettes, social media resources, and print media. 

Chief among these for a digital workforce is a robust intranet. Your intranet must serve your employees, whether they work on-site, small satellite offices, shared working spaces, or from their home office. That means information must be accessible and easy to find. While the nuts and bolts of setting up an intranet falls outside the scope of this article, communicators can use its many features to enhance their communications strategy.

Take a good look at your content and evaluate each section objectively. If your eye doesn’t know where to focus first, it’s time to slim down the content to things that are most important for your employees to see. If your news section was refreshed 172 days ago, it’s time to make a change. If it takes 2 months to load the page, it’s time to make updates. 

A great way to see your intranet through new eyes is to pulse a group of new hires. Create an intranet scavenger hunt with items employees need to be able to find, like accessing payroll information, reading the CEO’s latest message, or finding a link to an ERG. Then, ask them to find those items and ask for their feedback. 

Take it a step further and survey other groups to find out what aspects of the intranet are most valuable to them, and which ones could be improved. Remember, the intranet is the primary way in which employees interface with the company, and their experience with the site is paramount. Remote employees especially must trust that the information they can find on the intranet is reliable and accurate. 

Another way to inform your content strategy is by using data analytics from your intranet. Unique and total views, click throughs, and engagements with content along with other key performance indicators can help you cater your content to your audience, their interests, and the company culture. 

It’s not enough to simply collect metrics and throw them together into a PowerPoint deck. Analyze the data to find out what it tells you about employee behavior and use those insights to make improvements to the page. Make this a regular practice within your communicators team and use it in combination with email performance metrics to enhance your communications strategy. Adapt your tactics and channels to best suit your audience.

Questions for You and Your Team

When evaluating your internal communications strategy at the organizational level, consider these questions: 

  • Are employees aware of the company’s values? 
  • Do your communications include concrete examples of the company’s values in action? 
  • Are executive messages and companywide announcements used to inform and inspire? 
  • Are you making employees slog through 1,500-word emails to find what’s new? 
  • Do employees see their values reflected in the company’s ESG and DE&I activities? 
  • Can employees find the information and news they need to stay updated?
  • What do intranet and email metrics say about my content?

On the Personal Scale

You’ve looked at the big picture and made changes to your internal communications strategy at the organizational level. Now it’s time to make it personal. 

Setting Boundaries

Remote employees have few barriers between home and work. With their laptop just a few steps away, it’s easy for employees to just pop in and check their email or complete a task. Similarly, managers may feel their employees should always be accessible because of their proximity to their computers. But this “always on” approach is not sustainable over the long-term. It can lead to exhaustion, burnout and high attrition. 

Communicators can help by refraining from sending mass emails after closing time and reminding leaders to be cognizant of the timestamp on their messages. Are they sending notes out first thing in the morning, or waiting until late afternoon to send important meeting invites or news?

Communicators should coach their leaders and executives to be aware of the unintended message the latter can have on employees. Not only do evening messages typically perform worse from a measurement standpoint, but they also put forward the expectation of an after-hours response. 

Rewards and Recognition

Everyone likes to be appreciated for their work and the value they bring to an organization. In a remote environment, it can be more difficult to find opportunities to make the recognition personal and meaningful. 

One way to incorporate recognition into your internal communications strategy is by highlighting work anniversaries, particularly during the first three years of service, when turnover tends to be the highest. Develop short, celebratory messages for each annual milestone, which could be 1-3 years, 5 years, and every 5 years after that, or however you see fit. Then, partner with your Human Resources team for the hire dates. Next, create branded email templates for each anniversary message. If possible, involve the CEO or the employees’ leadership team and include their signatures. 

To take it a step further, encourage the employees’ teammates, peers, and immediate manager to send their congratulations and/or celebrate the milestone during team calls. Make work anniversaries a recurring segment of your monthly or quarterly all-hands meetings, along with welcoming new hires, and spotlighting employees for jobs well done. Depending on your organization’s budget, certain anniversaries could also include a choice of company swag, sent directly to your remote employees’ home address. 

Pulse Surveys

Another way to keep remote employees engaged is to issue quarterly pulse surveys to 20-30% of your population at a time. Using smaller, quarterly surveys over the course of the year is a more effective way to measure employee sentiment than large annual surveys. These surveys should include a few questions which remain consistent over the course of the year, but there can also be a few that are tied to specific campaigns, initiatives, or events. 

Use the core set of questions to measure progress against the company’s non-financial metrics, or other top priorities for the year. Develop specific quarterly questions to gauge employee engagement and satisfaction with your communications channels. These insights, along with the data from your intranet and email will help you and your team home in on those tactics that are working and those that do not. 

Questions for You and Your Team:

  • Are the boundaries between work and home clear for your employees?
  • How can we recognize our employees?
  • How can we understand their wants and needs better?
  • Which communications tactics resonate most with our employees?

Closing Thoughts

By this point in our pandemic-era world, it’s clear that we are in this remote, hybrid, and distributed work environment for the long haul. This is good news for communicators, as we’ve seen our function take center stage in business priorities.

By developing a sound internal communications strategy that focuses on both the organizational and personal connection points, you and your team can create a stay-culture where all employees are motivated and engaged. 

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