No question about it. Strong internal communication is critical to a strong business. But it’s not easy — especially when workplace dynamics are constantly fluctuating. For example, not long ago, Covid forced organizations to embrace remote work. Now, return-to-office policies and hybrid schedules are adding new layers of complexity. Change is a universal challenge. Yet, the most successful leaders keep everyone in the loop so their organizations can continue running smoothly. What’s the secret? Diverse communication.
Why Diverse Communication Matters
Every organization strives to build a work culture that attracts and retains top talent. Communication plays a key role in this process by helping employees feel recognized, valued, and supported.
When people feel more deeply connected with their employer, their work, and each other, morale and engagement naturally improve. But some ways of making this happen are more successful than others. This is where diverse communication shines.
At first glance, this strategy seems focused on tools. Certainly, access to useful tools is important. For instance, you’ll want to be sure employees can easily conduct video calls and informal digital conversations through collaboration platforms like Slack or Teams.
But the most powerful solutions reach far beyond tools like these. Diverse communication strategies look more expansively at how information flows within an organization — and what may be inhibiting that flow. For example, you’ll want to understand:
- Job Roles: How do different functions and roles communicate? What’s the typical frequency and nature of these interactions? Where are the bottlenecks? What are the implications when communication isn’t effective?
- Individual Styles: You’ll also want to consider various communication modes. Although people may behave similarly when performing similar tasks, each of us brings our own preferences to work.
- Other Variables: Many other elements come into play. For instance, generational differences, cultural differences, and work environment differences. All these and more can influence the ways coworkers connect, interact, and share information.
Because so many variables are involved, trying to standardize communication is counterproductive. Instead, start by researching various communication needs, preferences, and styles. The more you understand your employees’ unique strengths, behaviors, and traits, the better you can serve them as individuals and teams.
Let’s look closer at several key factors…
What Shapes Diverse Communication?
1. Generational Differences
With four generations actively participating in today’s workforce, managing multigenerational teams is a growing challenge. Each generation comes to work with unique expectations and approaches to communication:
- Baby Boomers grew up in an analog age, so they’re likely to appreciate direct, face-to-face communication more than virtual interaction.
- Gen Xers weren’t exposed to digital devices until early adulthood, so their preferences tend toward a Boomer/Millennial blend of informal, flexible communication via phone, email, or text.
- Millennials have relied on instant messaging and text communication since their teen years, so they tend to appreciate fast digital chat-style communication.
- Gen Zers are comfortable with digital technology because they’ve been surrounded by it their whole lives. But interestingly, they also crave one-on-one feedback and authentic communication experiences, like those provided in team huddles and video calls.
Does this mean you should standardize communication based on what “most” Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, or Gen Zs prefer? No. Age is only one part of the equation.
2. Team Dynamics
Each department in your organization has no doubt established distinct communication patterns and preferences. So, to communicate effectively across the organization, leaders must understand multiple group norms and provide various experiences that accommodate everyone, regardless of their department or location.
But departments can’t work efficiently in isolation. That’s why it’s also important to foster a sense of community and connection that spans groups, functions, and geographic boundaries. You’ll want to understand how individuals from across your organization consume and share information. By leveraging this insight, you can offer customized communications that also reach across differences to build a sense of shared identity and purpose.
3. Individual Work Styles
Which comes first — technology or work preferences? In the digital age, it depends. Sometimes technology leads the way. For example, mobile apps entered the workplace, not because employers drove adoption but because employees everywhere started bringing their smartphones to work.
At the same time, employees introduced another groundbreaking technology shift — the widespread use of social media at work. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, 56% of employees use social media during business hours for work-related purposes, such as connecting with subject matter experts.
Knowing where employees currently spend time communicating is helpful, because you can leverage those channels to improve other types of organizational communication. The more you rely on tools and channels employees already use, the more engaged and satisfied they’re likely to be with your strategy.
Weak communication only increases misunderstandings and unnecessary conflict. This erodes team cohesion and productivity. Ultimately, it jeopardizes company culture and business performance as well. Technology can help avoid these issues by letting people share information faster and more easily. But tools, alone, don’t guarantee successful communication.
For example, it’s possible to misinterpret a face-to-face conversation. But the likelihood of miscommunication increases dramatically when you rely on digital tools to conduct that same conversation. And the problem only multiplies when your entire team works remotely or on a hybrid schedule.
Another potential pitfall involves messaging itself. Although employees need and want timely access to information, it won’t have much impact without meaningful context. Do you explain how a news update is tied to your company’s vision and values? Why is it relevant for employees? What should they expect as a result of this news? Think strategically about how to frame content so it receives the attention and support it deserves.
To ensure company-wide news and information are highly available to all, many organizations provide collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams. These solutions make communicating with in-office and remote employees quick, easy, and reliable. Without these channels, people are not just less productive. They’re also likely to feel disconnected from colleagues and leaders, as well as company culture and goals.
And for in-office employees, one way to amplify communication is with digital signage displays. Their visual appeal engages people and helps them quickly digest news as they move through company spaces. Plus, you can quickly and easily update screens anytime to personalize the messaging for individuals, groups, or special events. Some companies even use digital signage to streamline their meeting room booking process or provide visual wayfinding cues to enhance the in-office experience.
These are just a few examples of endless tools that can enhance workforce communication. The tools you choose should reflect your organization’s unique needs.
Why Diverse Communication Beats Generic Methods
When budgets are tight and businesses are juggling multiple priorities, applying a one-size-fits-all approach to internal communication may seem tempting. But that won’t work. Here are several reasons why:
- Digital Expectations Have Changed: Outside of work, modern employees are accustomed to receiving personalized content that fits their preferences. This shouldn’t stop when they clock in. Interacting with individuals in ways they prefer will improve engagement. Ultimately, it will improve operational efficiency and effectiveness, as well.
- Leaders Can’t Afford Blind Spots: Organizations thrive when they include people from various backgrounds, cultures, and points of view. Yet many leaders struggle to accommodate others’ experiences. When communication ignores these unique perspectives, trust, team-building, and collaboration suffer. But a more customized approach can bridge these gaps and bring people closer together (without requiring them to be located in the same place).
- Too Much is at Stake: Studies show that when employers tailor internal communications, their workforce is more responsive, productive, loyal, and engaged. In a tight talent market, why risk your relationship with employees by choosing not to address their unique perspectives?
A successful communication strategy begins with insights about the people in your organization. Rather than relying on hunches or third-party data about just one dimension of each employee’s identity, take time to gather and analyze intelligence about everyone’s communication preferences. The answers are only a few questions away. All you have to do is ask.
An internal communications survey can help you:
- Identify and prioritize issues that need improvement
- Reveal the most effective communication methods for various perspectives
- Establish benchmarks, so you can measure progress over time
With this first-hand data, you can apply sophisticated targeting techniques to communicate with whole departments, or with individuals who are likely to be more responsive when they receive information packaged in a particular way.
By adopting a strategic approach to diverse communication, you can keep your organization running smoothly while eliminating roadblocks that hinder information access and knowledge sharing. It may take time, but if you commit to continuous improvement, you can create a more successful, inclusive culture that employees will love and others will admire.