Quit your Yammering: Why relevance trumps tech when it comes to internal communication

If you’re one of the many people whose inbox is constantly groaning under the weight of unread email, look away now.

New projections from technology market research firm Radicati show that total worldwide email traffic, which includes both business and consumer email, is estimated to rise from this year’s 281 billion per day to 333 billion per day by the end of 2022.

For employees, managing this email onslaught can be a difficult task – and one that can even have a negative impact on productivity.

Answering the employee communication challenge

This has resulted in a boom in technology solutions in this space in recent years, presenting business owners and HR teams with a wealth of software-as-a-system (SaaS) options, covering everything from chat-heavy tools such as Microsoft’s Yammer through to collaboration tools such as Slack and social-media-style tools like Workplace by Facebook.

SMEs, therefore, are not short of a range of shiny tech-shaped answers to employee communication problems. But are those the answers to the wrong question? In aiming to better connect with your people, is it right to start with the tech?

Ultimately, better communication is a means to the end of better staff engagement – and better engagement leads to a happier and more productive workforce. By taking a tech-first rather than people-first approach, companies are starting from the wrong point.

Not only does this mean bosses open themselves up to potentially unnecessary costs, but there is also a risk they are introducing tech which can be detrimental to the productivity issue it is trying to solve.

Adding to the digital noise

Take chat tools, for example. Used well, they can streamline and accelerate communication between employees across the business, providing a more rapid-fire alternative to email. But in the wrong hands – or used without direction – they can simply add to the digital noise employees are increasingly exposed to (and frustrated by).

Evidence of this frustration was seen recently when cloud-based collaboration tool Slack suffered a global service outage. While this prompted concern among users, others took to social media to celebrate, expressing their relief at the hiatus and indicating they would likely get more done in the absence of the distraction.

This underlines the importance of not just providing tools for employees but making them as relevant as possible.

Giving employees what they need

Too many communication platforms adopt a “more is more” approach, carpet-bombing the workforce with company information and asking them to sift through for the parts they need. Busy employees would rather look for an easily-accessible feed of information that helps them do their job better.

And for businesses where a significant proportion of the workforce might not have access to desktops or even an email address, then any communication tool must be accessible via mobile to fit with the needs of workers on the move.

In addition, for companies in sectors such as retail, where a larger proportion of the workforce is made up of younger generations, expectations around corporate communications are different – and much higher.

Communication approaches might once have been split along B2B and B2C lines to separate formal from informal, but the consumerisation of the workplace means these boundaries are now more flexible. So content is expected to follow cues from social media, drawing on chat functionality, imagery and video, and encouraging a more two-way, conversational dialogue.

The challenge is to bring all these elements together into a solution that achieves the end goal of better communication and engagement – in an environment appropriate for work and not play. Technology will provide the means to solve this problem, but the starting point must be the team.

Guy Chiswick is UK managing director of Speakap

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