The transition to flexible working has presented a myriad of challenges for businesses of all sizes. Dynamic Business sat down with ELMO’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Monica Watt, to discuss why internal communication underpins successful hybrid workplaces.
ELMO’s 2021 HR Industry Benchmark Survey Report has revealed that the second biggest challenge facing HR professionals is maintaining adequate communication and collaboration between remote and in-office staff.
Monica defines successful internal communication as informing and engaging your people by speaking to them in a way that is authentic and transparent.
“The whole world at this minute is grappling with prolonged uncertainty,” she says. “People’s social conscience has risen, expectations have risen, demands have risen, uncertainty has risen, and groupthink has risen. Everyone inside a business is currently testing the boundaries.
“Employees want more information about what they can do for themselves to keep themselves composed. When they come into their work environment, their workspace, they’re craving transparency. They want guidance. They want to make sense; they want to know what’s happening around them and what they can do to control that.”
Despite the challenges such uncertainty presents, Monica is confident that organisations can address employee insecurity if they remember that working with people is fundamentally about having clear, concise, structured, and respectful conversations and messages. She also emphasises the importance of being mindful of hidden messages.
The importance of feedback
It is easy- and a mistake – to assume you know what your employees are thinking and feeling.
“If you’re not listening and watching your people, then it doesn’t matter how much you talk to them,” explains Monica. “You need to be listening and doing something with it [feedback] and then talking again. Remember it needs to be a two-way feedback loop.”
“Feedback comes in different forms. You’ve got verbal cues, you’ve got behavioural cues, you’ve got groups. You’ve got to be looking for the cues, and the only way you can by doing that is by creating multiple channels for communication. Either way, the conversation coming from the business needs to be consistent into those groups.
“If people don’t feel like they’re being heard, we all know that has a negative impact on loyalty and commitment to the organisation but also on employees’ wellbeing if they’re confused and in a vacuum because they’re communicating in a channel that isn’t being monitored.
“Remember, if you’re strategizing, discussing, consulting and communicating with your employees, they feel more valued, even if they don’t agree with you.”
Establishing the best channels
Monica says there isn’t one perfect communication framework because not every business is the same.
“It’s trying to understand what works well for your people. What systems, channels and processes can you use to engage people? How are you enabling and promoting the dialogue? How are you encouraging the feedback, and what is the participation?
“You’ve got to think, ‘I need transparent communication because if not, employees will grow frustrated. When they’re frustrated, it breeds a ground of distrust and confusion.’
“What you really want to do is say, ‘OK. What are our organisation’s visions and goals for employee engagement?’ And then talk to them about it. ‘How do you want to be communicated to? How do you want to communicate with us? How do you want to see this information?’”
She warns that a lack of transparency or infrequent communication often creates more disconnect.
“You have to create lines of communication with each other, whether it’s management, people, peer to peer, or cross-team.”
So, does Monica feel that employees should have a say in how they communicate, or it’s the employer’s responsibility to set up systems that everyone uses?
“The answer is yes and yes,” she says.
“The employer has to be able to set up and facilitate the framework for feedback and communication and consultation.
“It’s the employee that then chooses which is the right one for them to be using. Not everybody is the same. It could be via Slack; it could be via email; it could be via anonymous survey; it could be a group survey; it could be through checks and measures; it could be through one-on-one conversations; it could be through performance reviews.
“There is no one right way, but what you’ve got to be able to do as a business is to be able to say, ‘How do you want to communicate?’
“You’re not going to be able to cater to all, but you want to be able to have broad enough channels for feedback and discussion for the employees engage with and if they’re not, then turn the damn thing off.”
“Always remember that people are hardwired for connection”
Whatever tools and systems a business adopts, Monica stresses the importance of creating what she calls ‘sources of truth.’
“There are various things that people are using to aggregate data and information, and so you need to create sources of truth.”
Monica recommends that you learn ways to configure systems like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Microsoft SharePoint, so they become a repository for sharing important company information and policies.
She says: “I think systems have to make communication easy. They need to be able to aggregate information and pull company information easily. And if you’re going to use systems, then educate [employees] in the right way. You’ll be amazed at how much your teams will discover about how to use the system better.”
“The other part is saying, ‘Well, when it’s not working, why isn’t it working? How can we improve that?’”
The changing role of HR
It was the responsibility of HR departments to shut down offices and organise remote working during the pandemic, and Monica believes HR will be at the frontline of people strategy over the next 24 months.
“It’s HR that’s going to help businesses and employees survive together in the way that is going to be materially and commercially successful as well as personally successful for the employee,” she says. “There is no data that tells us what that success looks like. This whole generation is the pioneer; it’s the first of its kind. We’ve got nothing to go by, and so nobody’s going to get it right. Everybody’s got to practice; everybody’s got to try. It won’t be one size fits all.
“The line between internal communications and HR is becoming increasingly blurred. But it seems very natural that the two will work together since both are engaging with the same audience, our people. HR is also being brought into conversations with customers because the employer brand has to relate to the company brand.”
Monica’s tips for improving internal communications
- Always remember that people are hardwired for connection
- Continuously ask yourself: “What is the right type of communication, and when is it occurring?”
- Create spaces for social connection
- Continue to survey your team
- Create multiple channels for feedback
- Monitor your internal referrals
- Reward feedback and engagement
- Judge your success by whether employees remain advocates for your brand