Internal communications in the digital age

June 30th, 2017 Posted by comms 1 comment on “Internal communications in the digital age”

We were delighted to host our second interactive roundtable discussion with Prospect Resourcing on 28th June in Hong Kong. We were joined by thirteen senior communications and HR professionals to discuss Internal Communications in the Digital Age, and it was lovely to see a mixture of new faces and those who had attended our previous roundtable event.

The objective of hosting roundtables is to help further the Internal Communications profession in Hong Kong and Asia, by bringing people to share their best practises and challenges, and learn from each other whilst building their network. theblueballroom seeks to bring our knowledge and expertise from working with multi-national clients on a global scale to the group.

Trends in digital and internal communications

Kate Shanks, Managing Director of theblueballroom, opened the session by sharing some key trends in digital and internal communications. The key insights and discussion were:

  1. Everyone attending the session utilised an intranet to share daily news as well as host important documents such as compliance manuals and policies. These predominantly host push content, and it varied the level that employees could feedback or interact with the sites. Some also encountered technical challenges and were unable to share video content through intranets.
  2. Apps globally are on the rise, and are proven to have 3x higher engagement than intranets. There is greater potential for two-way communications, a stronger appeal to millennials, and ability for all employees to access via their devices (not requiring access to a computer). Yammer was predominantly used across the group.
  3. Virtual reality had only been trialled by one company represented in the group. They and theblueballroom shared the benefits to give employees a real experience of places they can’t be themselves e.g. inside a remote factory, or inside the latest company innovation such as a new train or aircraft
  4. Artificial intelligence was highlighted as an area that is becoming more accessible, with chatbots increasingly cheaper and off the shelf tools available. Again, whilst not widely adopted in the roundtable group, Kate shared that companies have been utilising as an HR tool to answer employee questions effectively and efficiently, given bots are proven to find information significantly faster than humans!

The group all unanimously agreed that whilst technological advances offers huge potential for companies to transform their internal communications and increase levels of employee engagement, digital will never be substitute for face to face communications and being able to talk directly with, and hear messages directly from, your employees.

What holds us back from adopting digital into our employee communications?

It was interesting to hear companies talk about how much further progressed they are in digital adoption with their customers than with their employees. Through discussion the group uncovered the key reasons to be:

  1. Justifying the budget and being able to demonstrate a return on investment
  2. Compliance and regulations, particularly within the financial services industry
  3. Employees time, particularly for those in service roles who are expected not be using their phones during the working day, it’s challenging to engage them with work content outside of this time
  4. Anxiety towards giving employees a platform to share their views with the wider company and the possible risk of abuse, and anxiety from employees towards posting content in a public company space.

The essential role of the corporate leadership

A large part of the conversation centred on how critical it is for leaders to show the way to the rest of the company and set the culture for adoption of digital tools.

The basic communication from leaders and managers about important company and team information needs to be in place as a hygiene factor, before employees are likely to want to interact with broader engagement content.

When engaging with employees through digital, leadership behaviour needs to endorse the more informal and sociable nature of communicating. This has been done successfully in the past by leaders posting informal information, such as their Monday morning commute to work. Utilising digital e.g. video or podcasts, also gives an opportunity to humanise the leadership team. The group shared examples like “60 seconds with” had worked well, or using Yam Jam (live chat) on Yammer, for Q&A sessions with employees. When done on a regular basis, this can make dialogue with the leadership group a more natural part of everyday communications in a company.

It’s also important for leaders to be active in responding to posts from employees, especially answering questions.

It was recognised that not all leaders will naturally be good at this, but the opportunity is to find those in the company who are and create glowing examples of them for the employee population.

Key tools for success

The discussion highlighted other key tools for success. Firstly, employees are more likely to engage with content that is of personal interest to them (as they are outside of work in their social media groups). Creating groups they can chose to be a part of, for example social responsibility, women in business, or even sports team, is a powerful way to drive employees to intranets or apps.

Secondly, community managers can play a vital role in building digital internal communications through driving content, responding to comments and questions to generate dialogue, and prompting leadership at the right times to engage.

Finally, building relationships with your IT team can help to un-lock the common issue of “things aren’t possible”. Working with them as partners and asking for their help to solve a challenge, rather than directly asking them to deliver something, can foster creative thinking and a willingness to help breakthrough the challenges.

Digital is advancing quickly in many aspects of our lives, and companies need to keep pace with the ways in which their employees absorb content and communicate. As more and more millennials enter the workplace, the expectations from employees will only increase.

Intranets and apps can be utilised to be more efficient ways of communicating and sharing or hosting information.

Digital is also a key way to engage employees, through utilising enablers such as video through to virtual reality to communicate in more immersive and engaging ways, and app platforms to allow two-way communication.

What we heard loud and clear was the companies making the most progress, were the ones with senior leadership sponsorship to use digital to transform their internal communications and employee engagement.

theblueballroom hosts interactive roundtables in Hong Kong on a quarterly basis where we deep dive into different internal communications topics. If you are interested to be a part of the conversation and attend future events, please get in touch or join the LinkedIn group Asia Internal Communicators Professional Network.

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1 comment on “Internal communications in the digital age”

Emma Dale says:

Great to have hosted the event with theblueballroom. It was good to hear how most participants are making in-roads into using digital as a key tool to engage employees. However, I think there is work to be done to get leadership on board. Leaders need to adopt a more social approach to engagement and to be happy to respond to posts from employees.

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