Imagine a typical all-hands meeting. Some workers might take notes and ask questions, while others straggle in late, only to spend the meeting peeking at their phones. If you’re in a leadership role, it can feel frustrating to see that telltale electronic glow in the room. But if you’re an employee and the information doesn’t relate to your day-to-day work, it’s easy to tune out. And this is just one of a number of ways that internal communication can break down in the workplace.
Internal communication is any kind of work-related communication that happens within an organization, from companywide announcements to conversations between coworkers. Thinking of internal communications as a companywide strategy, rather than the responsibility of an individual or department, can help your organization address structural pain points and create a culture of trust, transparency and cohesion.
As James Harter and Amy Adkins of Gallup write in the Harvard Business Review, “Communication is often the basis of any healthy relationship, including the one between an employee and his or her manager. [Consistent communication]—whether it occurs in person, over the phone, or electronically—is connected to higher engagement.” Higher engagement is also good for profits. Gallup recently found that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share.
The good news is that absolutely everybody can play a role in creating a culture of open communication in the workplace.
A strong internal communication culture begins with leadership
Your human resources department and managerial staff may communicate with your employees on a day-to-day basis, but your workforce still expects a two-way flow of communication with leadership. Companywide meetings and newsletters are a fine way to communicate announcements, but you may seem detached if that’s the primary way you keep in touch with your employees.
Everyone wants to feel appreciated, so when it comes to internal communications, accessibility, visibility and transparency are your magic words. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind.
Make sure major announcements come from you first
You never want your employees to hear first about a big announcement, like a merger or change of leadership, from an external source (like the news or social media). Developing a communication plan before a major change will help you maintain your employees’ trust and increase companywide acceptance. The Slack Future of Work study found that workers prize transparency in general: 80% of workers want to know more about how leaders make decisions in their organization.
Personalize your newsletters
Everyone appreciates a beautifully formatted email, but it’s just as important to think about your content. Your updates should be skimmable and concise, with a minimum of acronyms and jargon. Get personal when you sit down to craft your updates, too. Ask yourself questions like:
- What are you feeling optimistic about right now?
- How can you applaud the employees and teams creating exceptional work?
- What’s your story? Is there anything from your personal life or professional experience that you can connect to this moment in the company’s lifetime?
Be sure to always include information about when and how your employees can ask questions and continue the conversation.
Improve your knowledge management system
Is it easy for teams to find the information they need to do their jobs well? Or do documents and meeting records get lost in electronic folder systems that resemble Russian nesting dolls? If finding and sharing information is a pain point within your organization, consider evaluating the usefulness of your current knowledge management system.
Managers: keep the lines of communication open
If you’re a manager, you have high visibility into your team’s workflow and are in a good position to advocate for them. You also have an opportunity to boost internal communication by soliciting and acting on your colleagues’ feedback.
As best-selling author Jacob Morgan puts it in The Employee Experience Advantage, “There are still organizations around the world that simply don’t ask employees for feedback or ideas or encourage them to share their opinions. Oftentimes when employees in these types of organizations do speak up, they get squashed by bureaucracy and office politics.”
By keeping the lines of communication open between you and your employees, you’ll help everyone feel respected and want to contribute to your organization’s long-term success. Here’s how.
Have regular one-on-one meetings
Here’s your opportunity to solicit honest feedback from each of your employees. Find out what’s working and not working for them and which blockers you can remove. Consistent meetings are especially important for building trust with introverted employees, who may do their best thinking outside of group working sessions.
Plan meetings strategically
It’s true, many people dislike team meetings, but sometimes a face-to-face conversation is the best way to reach a decision. Before scheduling your meeting, set and share an agenda to keep the meeting running on schedule, and give participants the information they need to prepare ahead of time. Afterward, send a follow-up message with action items and meeting notes.
Make pitching ideas easy
Pixar’s co-founder Ed Catmul, told Slack about a curious trend he noticed as the animation studio’s success grew: Employees were becoming fearful about pitching ideas. Catmull suspected that this caution came from the high bar the studio had set for itself, as well as a growing hierarchical structure.
He found ways to remove the power structure from Pixar’s brainstorming meetings so that team members at all levels would feel more comfortable pitching ideas. By giving everyone the opportunity to share ideas freely, you’ll increase psychological safety, show that you value your team members’ perspectives, and maybe even discover your next blockbuster hit.
Recognize exceptional work
Make it your M.O. to be generous with your positive feedback. Logging praise in a shared document or digital hub can help employees feel especially appreciated, because documentation increases visibility across teams and communicates success to senior leadership.
All employees can help build a culture of transparent information sharing
As an employee, you are your company’s advocate. If that sounds like a big job, it’s because it is. Rita Linjuan Men, an associate professor in the department of public relations at the University of Florida, says, “How employees feel about the company and what they say publicly are often perceived as more credible, forming the basis of how external stakeholders view the company. That’s why we say a favorable and enduring organizational reputation is built from within.”
When you do well, your company does well. Here are a few ways you can help create a culture of transparency and information sharing.
Be honest about what’s working and what’s not
Are you getting support, or are you feeling left behind? Which projects do you love working on? You have the right to initiate honest conversations with your manager about your work. Alison Green, a Slate writer and the author of the book Managing to Change the World, recommends working with your manager to create a communication system that works for both of you. “Once your system is established, put yourself in charge of making it work—meaning that if your boss cancels a meeting, you should take the lead on rescheduling it.”
Strive for clarity and alignment in your daily work
Internal communication is about information sharing at every level, even the day-to-day stuff you discuss with your teammates. Here are some ways to help your team stay swimming in the right direction:
- Document decisions and processes in a shared place, like a digital hub or folder that everyone can easily access
- Are you the kind of person who likes making checklists or other project management material? Share the love with your teammates: Don’t hesitate to create and share documents that will help keep your team informed and aligned
- Did you just complete a project? What worked well and what didn’t work so well this time? Ask your coworkers for their honest feedback so that you can all get better together each time
- Block out time to focus on the projects that need your undivided attention. If you’re on a deadline, schedule independent work time on your calendar and let your teammates know about it
Share your expertise
What are the unique skills and perspectives you have to offer your coworkers? Don’t be so humble—everyone has them. If you have a special skill or insight to offer, look for ways to contribute to internal blogs, newsletters, lunch-and-learns or your digital hub. While knowledge sharing can certainly support your own professional development, it also strengthens your team and improves your work environment. That’s because many workers value being part of a team or community, and sharing information can help people reach across departmental silos and create more cohesion.
Internal communication is everyone’s job
It’s common to assume that internal communications is the responsibility of HR or the communications department, but everyone has a role to play. Ultimately, creating a culture of trust, transparency and respect in the workplace comes back to the way people share information and talk to one another.