The Definition of Internal Communication
Let’s start by getting the terminology straight. Should it be internal communication (singular) or internal communications (plural)? Is there a difference between the two, and if so, what is that difference?
In this case, there is a clear-cut and straightforward answer.
Internal communication refers to the comprehensive way a business communicates with its employees to keep them in the loop.
Internal communications involve the tools, tactics, and channels that enable internal communication
Thus being said, Internal Communication (also known as IC) refers to a group of processes or tools responsible for providing an adequate information flow and collaboration between an organization’s departments and colleagues. These processes apply both up and down the management/ employee chain. It also works among employees who are interacting with each other in the company.
When defining Internal Communication, we should not confuse it with employee engagement. While there are many similarities between the two – employee communication, talking to managers, encouraging honest feedback – they are two distinct processes.
Internal communication is the action that uses information and interaction to fill in and motivate employees.
Employee engagement is the reaction you get from investing time, money, and strategy into communicating with employees. Salary, training, leave policy, and flexible work arrangements will have a crucial part to play in the overall levels of employee engagement across the company.
Solid internal communication nurtures company culture and builds employee engagement.
The Purposes of Internal Communication
Internal communication is much more than simply communicating data and information. For the process to be highly effective, it must incorporate each of the following everyday purposes:
Transmitting information (making sure your message is understood)
Every internal communications plan should have a strong focus on not just delivering information but also clarifying and explaining so it is readily understood by all. Selecting suitable methods of internal communication is crucial to delivering on this point. You need to be able to connect with every employee. But all too often, a large number of employees can slip through the net; remote workers, those not up to speed with technology. Without a regular flow of information and interaction, these workers can quickly become disengaged, increasing your employee turnover rate.
Implementing purpose and vision (bringing everyone on board)
When employees are informed and see the meaning of their work, they can understand their part in the bigger picture. Everyone is on board, working towards a common goal. With employees dispersed worldwide, managers are no longer able to supervise or share the CEO’s plan with the teams in person. When your workforce is spread across various locations, online and offline, you need internal communication processes. The pandemic has made us see how crucial internal communication is in a business.
Connecting people (reaching every employee)
The internal communication channels must build connections between leadership and employees, between departments, and individuals. With a widely scattered workforce, some working from home and others in the office, you need to break down barriers. Consider implementing internal communications software to help you reach out to every employee. It will give everyone equal access to the same information.
Boosting employee morale (recognizing hard work)
The purpose of robust internal communication is not only to inform and connect employees. It will also inspire them. By building a culture of recognition and purpose, individuals go above and beyond the limits to serve the higher purpose of their company vision. Knowing their contribution and working towards the same goal will also boost their overall health and wellbeing.
Building trust (making leaders visible)
Authentic and honest communication is one of the key pillars of a successful leader. When managing a crisis like the pandemic, communication channels from the leadership team need to be 100% trustworthy and open. You must use all your skills and techniques to establish and keep steady confidence in your leadership. Your internal communication definition needs to put leaders forward. If you put a face behind the message, your employees will be willing to step up to any challenge.
Getting feedback (giving employees a voice)
One of the common internal communication mistakes is the failure to listen to what your employees have to say. Implement two-way channels and give your employees a voice and a platform to use them. As a result, you fulfill one of the critical purposes of internal communication. The internal communications apps proved their value, especially during the pandemic. They provide the means for getting feedback from every employee, wherever they may be based.
Monitoring mood (gathering regular insights)
It’s critical to know the overall mood of your employees, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. Only by keeping a pulse on the organization can you proactively address emerging issues and queries, correct misunderstandings, and adapt your strategy. An employee self-service software will help you conduct regular pulse surveys and collect data on your workforce’s health (both physical and mental), mood, and morale.
Measuring the impact (see the result of your strategy)
Internal communication is a complex process with countless benefits. But this process never ends with the closing formula of a message. Keeping a close eye on internal communication metrics is the secret to a successful strategy. If you want to optimize the impact of your messaging, you must continually track the effectiveness of your communications. The pandemic has had a positive effect in this area, with businesses becoming more aware of the need to monitor the impact of their efforts.
Types of Internal Communication
Internal Communication is a broad term that covers many areas of business. While one of the classic examples of internal communication is an email from the boss, the truth is that this is just one small part of the bigger picture. Internal communication comprises many kinds of exchanges between leadership, departments, teams, and colleagues, covering a wide range of topics and issues.
As such, there are many internal communication types of communication in a business. Next, we take an in-depth look at seven key types:
Leadership-generated, also known as downward communication, is the flow of information from the top-down, from leaders to employees. Leadership-generated communications focus on informing staff (primarily via email) of the overall business direction and strategy. In addition, their function is to make leaders visible, especially in larger organizations where some employees may never meet senior management in person.
Employee-generated, known as upward communication, encompasses all messages that travel from employees to managers. Of all the different types of internal communication, this one is the most overlooked, despite being very important.
Employee-generated communications should give everyone in your organization a voice, regardless of role, seniority, or location. The aim is not to inform your employees but to communicate with them.
Peer-to-peer or lateral communication consists of conversations on the same level between employees. Encouraging collaboration between employees is one of the key types of communication in business. When employees share with their peers, the benefits of internal communication quickly become evident.
You aim to prompt conversations that support company culture, improve problem-solving, generate new ideas, improve collegiality and morale.
Information delivery defines the role of the internal communications department: every employee is fully informed on all organizational, legal, and procedural issues. Armed with knowledge and understanding, employees will offer better performances for the business.
It is also vital to keep your communications regular and consistent. However, beware of overloading your employees with information. Research by the Harvard Business Review indicated that employees spend over two hours of the working day on email, and worse, it takes 24 minutes to get back on task after opening an email. Aim to maintain the messages simple and to the point. Now, more than ever, our workforces are complaining of work stress and burnout; our aim should be to reduce this, rather than add to their burden.
Communicating change, especially in management and administration, is crucial to the success of your business. Such change will determine the difference between success and failure during the process of transformation.
When communicating change in organizations, the internal communications process should clarify exactly what is required of each individual. Trying to sugarcoat the core message of change will work against you. It’s better to bite the bullet, admit that significant adjustments are required, and set out a straightforward path to help employees make those changes.
While communicating change in the workplace, company culture needs to be foremost in your thoughts.
Culture communication affects everything from onboarding and retaining staff to brand positioning, business stability, and financial performance. It’s intangible, but it impacts employee behavior and decision-making.
Crisis management comes to the fore when a business faces major disruption and unexpected challenges. Of all the types of communication in business, this one needs its section in your internal communication strategy.
Crises, by their very nature, come without warning. Creating a successful game plan to be put into action early on can make a significant difference to the effectiveness of the company long-term. By planning, you will mitigate risk, keep staff safe and reduce the impact on your bottom line. Reach is all-important. Quite simply, you need to be able to connect with every single employee instantly, no matter where they are.
The importance of Internal Communication
Successful internal communication moves things forward daily and is one of the biggest factors that affects your bottom line for the year. If you want a great workflow and avoid unnecessary slowdowns, you and your employees need to strive for a healthy environment where everyone collaborates and communicates.
A great internal communications strategy improves business performance. And while that is a key output, it's not the only benefit of effective internal communication.
Here are eight more reasons that demonstrate the importance of internal communications in today's changing workplace.
#1. It boosts employee engagement and productivity
Start the right conversations across your organization and bring leaders, partners, and employees together to focus on internal strategies that boost engagement and productivity. Employees want to submit their ideas and opinions. Encourage them, give them value and a voice. When employees are actively engaged, they are motivated to work harder and do better quality work on the job.
Managers can set up these types of conversations easily through internal communication platforms. There’s no need for long time-wasting meetings.
#2. It provides a sense of purpose
Employees want to understand your vision and goals and how to get there. They desire to contribute and be a part of a team. The millennials and GenZ’s especially need to be heard. They are the digital natives in the age of social media, who rely heavily on comments, sharing, feedback, and interaction.
To provide this affirming employee experience, it's effective and motivating to regularly share information about a team or a company's achievements. Reaching goals together increases the feeling of teamwork and progress.
#3. It lets you control the message
Employees should never learn about important company news from an external source. The best way to control the corporate narrative is to make internal news available all the time, not just during times of crisis.
Modern technology means most of us to connect at some point during the day, particularly at work. Many employees have access to a company intranet and keep up to date with relevant communications. Use interactive and reliable channels accessible to every employee. Remain in control of your message instead of leaving information susceptible to individual interpretations.
#4. It helps retain the most talented employees
US companies had an average turnover rate of 22% in 2018, with 15% attributed to voluntary turnover. Further, the majority (81%) of employees who left voluntarily did so for a better job opportunity. Millennials are known for job-hopping; 40% say they are willing to change their position within the next two years.
Whether you are trying to attract talent or retain it, employees need to know their employers. A well-functioning internal communications system and an open work environment give your company an edge in today's highly competitive market.
#5. It crosses borders
Remote teams are the future of work. The Global Mobile Workforce Forecast Update has estimated that over 40% of the world’s working population will be mobile by 2022. And that was before the pandemic.
For a mobile workforce, you need a new approach to your internal communication. Employees may be working in different time zones and only have a limited window to hold video meetings or telephone calls. Effective internal communication assists in overcoming language and cultural barriers.
In addition, distance often makes it harder for team members to feel like a team. Better internal business communications can have a significant positive impact on how remote teams collaborate and feel.
#6. It fulfills the brand promise
According to Gartner Communications, “Employees who feel well-informed become a company’s most credible ambassadors externally, while they may become its fiercest critics if they do not.”
When employers know how to communicate with their employees effectively, they are much more successful in turning their employees into brand ambassadors. Brand ambassadorship is not hard to achieve. Happy employees love to contribute to brand ambassadorship programs.
#7. It enhances transparency
Informal communication has its advantages and disadvantages. Grapevine word-of-mouth often reaches those who might have otherwise missed the original transmission. Likewise, it's more flexible than formal internal comms. In addition, the grapevine can help improve relationships between employees and spread insider tips that can make work more effective.
On the other hand, informal communication can distort the meaning of information. It fosters rumors and misunderstandings that are difficult to control after the fact.
#8. It brings people together in a difficult situation/ crisis
In times of crisis, internal communication is key to surviving without escalation. Being able to communicate timely and efficiently with employees and external stakeholders in the organization can reduce stress and get things done. However, internal crisis communication research has found that managers communicate significantly less with employees during a crisis. Nothing spreads faster than office gossip, and accurate communication from management can prevent negative situations.
Not only does internal communication help you steer the narrative, but it also supports short and long-term crisis management. Short-term management addresses the incident itself, while long-term plans focus on preserving the company's reputation and enacting measures to prevent negative situations from repeating.
How to boost your Internal Communication?
By now, you’ve probably read a lot about what is and why you need a robust Internal Communication strategy. Next, you will find out the answer to the ”how” question.
How can you boost your Internal Communication strategy?
While there is no single perfect formula for effective communication in the workplace, there are techniques that will boost your reach and impact. Whether it is the need for a two-way flow of information, clarity of message, or frequency of communication, these internal communication tips will positively influence productivity and overall results. And that’s because they work.
Tip #1 Reach every employee
It’s simple to send a company-wide email to everyone in your workforce. However, ensuring that email is opened, read, and understood is a different matter altogether. In every organization, there will be a hard-to-reach group of employees who are not receiving the efforts of the internal communications department. Some may be remote, working from home, or will not have access to the necessary technology. Others are just sitting across your desk but are still not engaging with the messages being issued.
Ultimately, what makes an employee inaccessible is not down to their location or role. It’s all about the internal communications channels they have access to. By allowing employees to connect to your internal communication software using their own devices, you’ll be opening up the access channels, and information can start to flow smoothly in both directions.
Tip #2 Sharing is caring
Include in your strategy the concept of an open house on the information. Too often, businesses operate in silos. They take the view that information is power and hold essential news and data back from their workforce. If the aim is improving internal communication, then you need to take the opposite view on this very important matter.
When managers share information between departments and teams, the outcomes are positive. Not only does it boost understanding and knowledge across the workforce, but it also boosts engagement levels.
Tip #3 Engage not announce
One of the common internal communication mistakes is to deliver a one-way information stream. Leaders deliver organizational information, expect it to be read and understood, and leave it at that. However, you aim to ensure that your audience also has the opportunity to respond to these messages. You need to deliver a vital two-way dialogue between leaders and employees.
To drive engagement, you need to offer up opportunities for staff to give feedback and discussion. This simple but vital step is one of the prime ways to improve internal communications.
Tip #4 Lead by storytelling
Storytelling is well-documented to be a successful way of communicating. Keith A. Quesenberry, a lecturer in the John Hopkins University's Center for Leadership Education in the School of Engineering, proved that the human brain responds differently to being told a story than watching a PowerPoint presentation.
Storytelling is particularly effective when it comes from leaders. People choose to follow leaders because of how they make them feel, and stories are an influential way to create strong emotional connections with employees.
If you want your employees to communicate effectively, make sure your leaders are doing it too. When you consider improving internal communications, one of the best things you can do is lead by example.
Tip #5 Keep it simple
When you’re crafting a communication, keep it simple, brief, and to the point. Make sure it’s interesting too. If you want to connect with your employees, you need to grab and hold their attention. When you aim to improve internal communication, never forget that your messages must be easy to understand and relevant to your audience. Your communication needs to connect on an individual level. Beware of overloading employees with complex and extensive information.
The best practice is to send the right information, to the right people, at the right time. You also need to consider whether you’re sending the right amount of information. When it comes to the internal communication process, less is more.
Tip #6 Make a schedule and stick to it
Your employee communication should always be regular, scheduled, and meticulously planned. When the internal communication becomes erratic and unpredictable, you will find engagement levels tend to plummet. Employees will soon feel forgotten if a previously regular communication channel is no longer populated with new information. Sticking to your communication plan is especially true for remote workers, who rely on regular updates to keep connected to their work.
Schedule all your regular communications: send out notifications of upcoming events, conduct routine checks, and surveys and release daily updates. With minimal effort, you can deliver a constant stream of information to your workforce.
Tip #7 Get social
Most people are accustomed to consuming information on the go. Yet, many businesses are cautious when it comes to social media apps and platforms. There is a perception that people will become less efficient if they start using them. In addition, some social media platforms have a reputation of being hard to monitor and control. However, times are changing, and these tools are evolving too. There’s a huge wealth of data that says employees who can easily contribute to in-house discussions will be better motivated and engaged, which leads to a better employer/employee relationship.
Tip #8 Just listen
The previous steps are pointless if you don't know how to listen and take in the new information. Quite often, listening is more important than publishing information. It's not enough to ask for input. It is vital to be able to wait for it and listen to it. In the end, we have two ears and one mouth, so we should hear more than we talk.
Internal Communication during the pandemic crisis
During a crisis, who is going to be thinking about a company’s employees?
Like all crises affecting companies, the COVID-19 emergency brought employee communication to the forefront — this time even more than usual. With physical distancing, employee communication became the primary way to promote closeness between people in organizations. In particular, employee communication managed various challenges on how employees are communicated with, provided relevant information, and kept updated as news continues to change day-by-day.
The coronavirus pandemic put a spotlight on senior leaders and if they could rise to the challenge of crisis communications during a time of strong uncertainty. It was up to them to inspire employees to remain productive to ensure business success. Many leaders rose to the occasion and communicated with transparency and vulnerability.
In a changing workplace, employees must be more informed, connected, and engaged than before. Internal communication plays a crucial role for a post-pandemic workforce. With this crisis coming to a hopeful end, many stakeholders have realized the impact and value of effective communication that reaches its employees quickly.
During times of unprecedented change, there are plenty of things out of our control, but internal communication is not one of them. Put you and your employees in the best position to weather any storm by communicating more often, being transparent when you do, and responding to your employees’ needs. You might not predict what the future holds, but you can make the most of the present.