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Internal communications in the digital workplace

By Fran Brosan, Chairman

In the digital workplace, what you need is a platform where people can collaborate, not an ossified recreation of the organisational structure. So said Lee Bryant at the recent Melcrum Digital Communication Summit in London.

It was a good start for a day which, for me, underlined the journey that internal communications is on; moving away from being a mouthpiece for corporate messaging and repositioning itself as an enabler of collaborative working. And, in the process, internal communications will hold more data on employee attitudes and behaviour than HR or IT. Time for a seat at the top table, perhaps?

The real driver behind all this is the growing evidence that getting the digital workplace right improves productivity, which in turn drives business performance. This is confirmed by the stats: 36% of a business’s performance is impacted by how well it collaborates according to the Melcrum survey, and McKinsey estimate that social technology creates a 25% increase in employee productivity.

The first day of the conference looked at the digital workplace, best practice intranets and how to drive adoption. There were excellent case histories from Unilever, XChanging and CocaCola Enterprises, brilliant insights into search and infographics from Kristian Norlingand Emma Whitehead at The Guardian, and a lightbulb moment for me. It was this:

“Employee engagement is the result of digital helping people to do their jobs better, find each other easily and access expertise more quickly. It is the outcome not the goal.”

Clearly plenty of others have already got there too. Edward Ford at Thomson Reuters recommended:

“Start with the business objective. Show how internal platforms can sell more, save money or create better products”

His view was that good intranets help you do your job properly by being transactional and collaborative. Build them to provide interactivity, encourage participation and allow co-creation.Give people what they want and they will reward you with the behaviours you want.

As Jonathan Philips from CocaCola Enterprises put it: “Essentially it’s about ensuring it’s fit for practical purposes so that you can get people there and then they get other stuff whilst they are there.”

In short, the only way to drive adoption is to make the intranet a useful tool.The best intranets do this, rather than being repositories for corporate gunk. There’s a great infographic here, by ClearBox Consulting, that illustrates this. But, while the social intranet or email might reach 80% of the audience, it’s still important to remember the long tail and use a combination of offline as well as online tools and tactics, to reach staff across geographies, whether they are office or field based, with or without access to the internet. Good examples were the uses of QR codes for employees to access information via their personal devices and digital signage around the workspace.

Mobile was a repetitive focus. With people accessing their phones up to 150 times a day and 45% of interaction with social platforms such as Chatter coming from mobile, it is a critical device. The top tip is to allow people to access the information they use regularly quickly and easily.

So it does seem that internal comms is shifting from being ‘the mouthpiece’ of the organisation to being the channel enabler. By holding information on staff and understanding what they want and need to know, internal comms is becoming strategically valuable – at the heart of business strategy and not just the communicator of it.

A final word of warning, however. According to Melcrum, 60% of execs are not yet seeing the results of investment in digital and in many organisations, IT, HR and internal comms are all run separately. For there to be a truly digital workplace these functions need to work together. It’s not just in external communications that the intersection of marketing, IT and HR matters – and internal communications is well placed to play a pivotal role.

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