A strong internal communications function is essential for every company, both culturally and operationally. It helps keep employees aware of relevant news and updates, excited about how they contribute to the organization’s mission and success, and committed to continued progress.
Keeping everyone on the same page is tough enough when employees work at the same location. But now with the rise of remote work, internal communications is even tougher to manage. Distributed teams must remain connected, informed, and engaged. But how can you ensure that people are aligned and productive when they’re located in different cities, regions, countries, and time zones?
Avoid the Easy Solution
Many companies have adopted a “lift and shift” approach to internal communications. However, this is risky. You can’t assume whatever works in a physical office location will make sense in a virtual environment. For successful results, carefully consider your organization’s unique situation, issues, and needs.
As the manager of internal communications and events at a remote-first company, I understand how challenging it is to keep employees in 70+ countries connected and in the loop. Here’s what I’ve learned about leveraging internal communications to take far-flung teams to the next level of engagement, effectiveness, and wellbeing.
The Power of a Smart Internal Communications Strategy
My daily activities focus on coordinating events and communications that showcase company news, updates, and policy changes. But at a more fundamental level, I’m responsible for developing strong connections and community within the organization.
Why is this so important? According to Gallup research, 85% of the global workforce is either not engaged or is actively disengaged at work. This gap translates into a sobering $7 trillion of lost productivity.
The good news is that an effective internal communications strategy can move the meter on engagement and productivity. This is especially important in a remote or hybrid work environment, where you can’t rely on casual office interactions to facilitate social connection and cohesion. With a viable approach you can:
1. Unlock Valuable Insights
From an operations perspective, improving information flow between departments and functions breaks down information silos. This gives people clearer visibility into work priorities and progress across the organization. It also means people can work together more efficiently and productively without needless duplication of effort.
2. Separate Signal From Noise
Solid internal communications also cuts through organizational noise. This gives employees better access to essential company information. It also clears the path to resources people need to perform their job, so they aren’t overwhelmed by Slack messages and email threads. Ideally, it helps everyone feel more supported and empowered to succeed in their work.
3. Connect Critical Dots
From a culture and engagement perspective, internal communications is uniquely positioned to foster connection and community in multiple ways, by:
- Facilitating connections between employees, so people develop a sense of community and belonging.
- Linking people with work that is happening across the company. This helps them understand the organization’s collective progress and impact.
- Connecting people with the company’s mission and vision, so they feel they’re contributing to something meaningful and purposeful. That’s the ultimate goal — to give people a sense of belonging and purpose through their work.
Designing Internal Communications for Virtual Teams
When remote-first companies rethink internal communications with inclusion in mind, employee wellbeing and engagement follow. But what does it mean to be intentional and inclusive? Here’s an example:
Imagine you’re launching a new company-wide program. You’ll want to think carefully about the purpose behind your communications. What outcome are you seeking? What kind of response do you anticipate? What’s the ideal timing and structure for your message? Putting intention behind your plan helps you determine the who, how, when, where and why of information you’ll need to share.
Also, where does inclusion fit in? It ensures everyone has equal access to the information you share and equal opportunity to participate in events. For example, you could launch your new company-wide program by announcing it at an all-hands meeting. Then you could follow-up by sharing a video recording and a written summary. This reinforces the message for attendees, while helping those who couldn’t attend come up to speed.
After the initial announcement, people are likely to have additional concerns and questions. So you may want to set up a dedicated Slack channel where employees can ask questions openly or anonymously.
These are just a few ideas to illustrate how multiple communication tools and channels can help people quickly find, consume, and respond to new information at their convenience. It gives individuals more choice and autonomy. And because they’re in control of when and how they engage, it supports workforce wellbeing. In short, it shows that your organization cares about employees.
Building a Sense of Community and Belonging
Increasingly, we hear about an “epidemic of loneliness” that is eroding workforce health and wellbeing. The impact on organizations is steep. Related absenteeism costs employers $154 billion a year, not to mention the cost of poorer job performance.
Employers can’t afford to ignore this issue any longer. Investment in promoting deeper workplace social connections makes sense, especially for remote team members who don’t see colleagues face-to-face each day.
Virtual organizations can reimagine communications and events in ways that enhance a sense of community. This contributes to a stronger, more unified company culture that spans locations, language differences, and time zones.
Paradoxically, it may actually be easier for remote-first organizations to foster social connections than their traditional in-office counterparts. That’s because working on a distributed basis levels the playing field, bringing everyone together on the same virtual terms.
For instance, think about your regular all-hands meeting format. Is it a one-way broadcast where leaders outline business updates? How could you transform this forum into a fun, engaging event people actually want to attend?
What if you set a lively, upbeat mood by playing music while people join the call? How about weaving interactive elements into the agenda, like polls or game-based challenges? Or you could ask employees to suggest topics prior to each meeting. Then you could develop content and programming based on their interests.
Imagine an all-hands that’s not just about business, but about coming together as a team to celebrate the people who make your business special. What would that look like? Intentionally redesign that event. Then start experimenting so your vision becomes reality.
Virtual community building can also happen through online spaces focused on common interests, values, or identities. For instance, you could offer informal social Slack channels where people can discuss pets, parenting, travel, mental health, and so on. When people get to know each other based on personal interests that cut across departments and geographical boundaries, it builds familiarity and trust. Ultimately, this leads to stronger, more productive work relationships.
3 Tips to Optimize Internal Communications
Essentially, internal communications professionals are marketers, responsible for keeping employees aware, interested, involved and enthusiastic about all the meaningful work happening across an organization. With that in mind, here are three tips for optimizing remote team communications and events:
1. Be Intentional
Think about the purpose of each communication campaign, event, or experience, so you’ll use employee time and attention efficiently and effectively. Keep inclusion top of mind, so people can engage and consume information when it’s best for them.
2. Build for Your People
Design and create with your audience in mind. Proactively listen and work with stakeholders to develop content and programming that resonates and enhances the employee experience.
3. Focus on Your Company’s Specific Needs
Every organization is different. What works for one won’t necessarily work for another. Consider your unique challenges, goals, and context. Then design custom solutions that are purpose-built for your organization and your people.
Internal Communications: Looking Ahead
Remote work may not be for everyone, but it is here to stay. In this new environment, organizations can elevate the employee experience by reimagining internal communications. If we do this well, employees will connect around a common purpose, regardless of their work location. And because they’re more informed, engaged and excited about work, they’ll hopefully be happier to show up and contribute each day. Now that’s something worth striving for!