Internal Communication Channels: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Stuart Sinclair - October 27, 2020

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. This has always been the case with internal communications. And it’s even more relevant in the present situation, with remote working at an all-time high and the need for truly robust employee communication channels more pressing than ever.

How effectively a message is communicated is just as important as the message itself. And the key to effective internal communication is choosing the right channel in the first place. You need to select a channel that best fits both your objective and your target audience.

You also need to reach your employees. Every single one of them. With hard-to-reach employees and remote workers, selecting the right internal channels of communication is crucial. The problem may geographical, technological or emotional, and the right channels will help to break down those barriers. When you’re looking to significantly improve internal communication, analysing the channels in use should always be your first step.

Just to complicate the issue further, we now have a huge selection of internal communications channels to choose from. Do you kick out a quick company-wide email, create a new webpage on the intranet or organise a remote conference call? Or perhaps this is the time to film a video of the CEO? With so many options at your disposal, it can be a confusing dilemma.

With this in mind, we have pulled out the top 12 internal communication channels in an organisation and highlighted both their upsides and downsides for you to consider.

Top 12 internal communication channels

  1. Employee Apps
  2. Email
  3. Intranet
  4. Video
  5. Digital signage
  6. Print
  7. Notice boards
  8. Social media
  9. Leaders & managers
  10. All-employee meetings
  11. Away days
  12. Conferencing

1. Employee Apps

The internal communications app has been given the number one position for a reason. It’s like a super-channel for businesses. It offers a range of tools and channels and all your employees need to access it is a single device. This can be their own device, or one provided by the business.

 

Talkfreely why you need an employee app

 

The good:

An app offers a single channel that addresses all your internal comms needs, effortlessly. Dedicated to building that vital connection between employee and the business, it is accessible to all, even those who have been historically hard to reach. In normal times, the app focuses on building engagement, but it’s also invaluable in a crisis. Need to put out an urgent message? The app gives you a real-time communication tool that delivers instantly and is the ideal solution for communication in a crisis.

The bad:

There are a lot of employee apps and internal communication platforms out there and selecting the right one for your business needs can be a challenge. Make the wrong choice and you’ll be fighting with technology that doesn’t meet your needs. Be careful of apps that do one thing well, but not much else. You need an app that covers all bases in one simple solution. The chances of a multi-app approach working successfully is poor.

The ugly: 

Beware of apps that require a great deal of set-up. It’s a warning flag you shouldn’t ignore. This one of the common downsides of introducing an intranet. The complexity of the system often means that the set-up and launch of an intranet takes weeks out of your working life. The right internal communications app should be ready to go, straight out of the box, and focused on use rather than set-up.

2. Email

Research by Radicati suggests that each worker sends and receives over 120 business emails per day. Considering this number, it’s understandable that 20% of emails are never even read. But email still remains the one of the main employee communication channels in the majority of workplaces. Of all the internal communication tools, email is the most overused and abused channel on the list.

The good: 

It’s fast, it’s instant and it effortlessly reaches a wide audience. Furthermore, emails can be easily accessed on a range of devices, giving you excellent reach. For these reasons alone, email deserves a place in every internal communication strategy.

The bad:

It’s a one-to-many communication approach that doesn’t promote discussion and engagement. Yes, employees can reply to emails, but who gives a personal response to a company-wide message? Without this two-way channel in place, it’s failing to fulfil a crucial part of the internal communication process.

The ugly: 

With a swamped inbox to deal with, it’s very possible employees may not prioritise the email. They may even delete without reading it. It is hard to monitor if messages have been read and actioned. Unless you can confirm that your communication has been received, you are shooting in the dark.

Develop a robust internal comms strategy using our canvas

3. Intranet

An employee intranet used to be viewed as the ultimate internal communication channel. Not so much anymore. While an intranet is successful in bringing all your information together in one place, it is often the very opposite of a user-friendly solution.

The good:

A well-managed intranet allows for the sharing of knowledge across departments, ensures all information is up-to-date and easily accessible and encourages open discussions. It also allows the communication to flow both ways, giving a voice to individual employees. Effective communication in the workplace relies on these two-way channels of internal communication.

The bad:

It relies on employees actively seeking out information themselves, which may lead to time-restricted employees failing to access important messages. This is especially relevant for remote workers who may struggle with logging in whilst away from the office. Workers on the road without computer access may also miss out.

The ugly:

One of the main reasons intranets fail to engage employees is relevancy, or the lack of it.

Without active management, an intranet can quickly become out of date and obsolete. As soon as employees realise that the information is no longer reliable, your intranet becomes redundant. In addition, comments and post-sharing require careful policing.

4. Video

When it comes to effective engagement, video is your top choice. While people will remember 20% of what they hear and 30% of what they see, they will recall 70% of what they both hear and see. The combination of visuals and sound make it a ‘super-engager’ and one of the most favoured methods of internal communication.

The good:

Video is a versatile and low-cost form of communication, making it simple to output frequent messages across the company. Easy to access on multiple devices, it delivers substantial reach. An internal communications app makes it simple to send video messages without the need to implement additional software.

The bad:

Videos are a one-way communication channel without a feedback option. However, it is possible to invite comments on the video to encourage greater engagement. Still one of the more popular internal communication ideas, it’s worth remembering that not everyone will sit and listen attentively to a 10 minute speech by the CEO. Keep it short and sweet.

The ugly:

Timing is everything when it comes to company-wide announcements. With video, people will access the message at different times, leading to a temporary imbalance of knowledge. One of the key internal communication best practices is the prevention of misinformation and rumour. Best to keep video to less critical announcements.

5. Digital signage

We are in the digital age and screens are everywhere. We may as well take advantage of them. Whether it’s a TV screen, a display wall or a company screensaver, screens will help you to communicate with employees with unrivalled immediacy. This is one of the types of internal communication that will always attract attention.

The good:

It is simple to make the most of screens already in your workplace. Display company messages, mix in information from intranets, and reinforce brand identity – all at the same time. Screens can also reach employees on the frontline, without personal computer access.

The bad:

Well-planned digital signage is an excellent brand extension, but it has to be first-rate. Low quality or poorly planned digital campaigns can do more harm than good.

The ugly:

The messages on your screens need to be regularly updated if they’re going to continue to have an impact. Implement a schedule in your internal communications plan and keep on top of it to ensure your screens don’t become side-lined.

6. Print

Although many businesses strive for a paperless workplace, print still has a powerful role to play in internal communications. Just take a look at the key internal communication case studies – print is still featuring strongly. Newsletters and memos are a tried-and-tested route to sharing information throughout an organisation.

The good: 

With the right branding, messages will always be clear, consistent and in line with the company style guide. It offers reading material during breaks and gives staff a rest from screen time.

The bad: 

It is not easy to manage version control of print communication and information can date quickly. Remember that print has to be delivered in order to reach your employees, and this requires both time and money to achieve effectively.

The ugly:

As a one-way employee communication channel, print does not readily invite feedback and engagement. Communications could be read the wrong way, which may shut down discussion. The failure to give employees a chance to speak is one of the most common internal communication mistakes.

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7. Notice Boards

Sometimes, simple is best. Posters and visual displays on the walls of the workplace are very inexpensive, highly targeted and easy to keep up to date. Often undervalued for their low-tech profile, banners and posters are still effective internal communication channels. In the current situation, office-based communications are no longer as impactful, but their day will come again soon.

The good: 

For messages that you need to keep reiterating, such as mission statements and company values, not much will beat a well-branded poster for an on-the-spot impression. When you’re looking at improving internal communications, visual displays are a good place to start.

The bad:

Posters need to be kept fresh and updated or they will quickly become ‘invisible’. Leaving the same poster on the wall for five years is a sure-fire way to ensure it is ignored.

The ugly:

The ultimate one-way communication channel, posters offer no opportunity for interaction or feedback and therefore can feature poorly for employee engagement.

8. Social Media

Opinion is polarised on whether social media is an effective channel for internal communications. As with all internal channels of communication, it has both positive and negative aspects, but handled correctly, you could find it an invaluable tool. Consider building it into your internal communications app to give you closer control.

The good:

Social channels can be excellent for encouraging information exchange and increasing engagement with younger employees. It is a good way to create genuine connections between employees. The role of internal communication is to encourage collaboration between colleagures and social media is an excellent facilitator.

The bad:

Be wary of creating a platform for employees to chat on. It is important to guide the discussions and encourage a healthy exchange of knowledge, rather than just gossip and rumour.

The ugly:

Close monitoring of social channels is crucial. As with any two-way channel, the opportunity is there for anyone to express their opinion. There is always the risk that private content is released through negligence, ignorance or other mistakes. An internal communications platform will allow you to create a social space where employees can meet, chat and share, without any of the associated risks.

9. Leaders

Using team leaders and supervisors to deliver information can have a hugely beneficial effect on the impact of your internal communications strategy. The personal approach, handled correctly, will increase employee engagement across the company.

The good:

Teams can feel comfortable in their environment with people they know which can promote discussion, feedback and involvement. With good line managers, communication can be incredibly effective. When it comes to communication in a crisis, leaders play a crucial role in calming fears and encouraging decisive action.

The bad: 

A good leader will have a very positive effect; a poor leader could be damaging.

Typically, the success will depend on the competency of the leader and training, with all its additional cost implications, may be required for leaders to communicate effectively.

The ugly: 

Without the right plan, structure or time management, it is easy for employees to switch off and disengage. Furthermore, leader presentations and team meetings may not be suitable for all types of information.

10. All-Employee Meetings

Looking ahead to better times, bringing the entire company together can be extremely effective. Also known as a ‘town-hall’, an all-employee meeting is an excellent way to gather an organisation together and to share information so that everyone hears the same information at the same time. This should be a priority once restrictions are lifted, giving employees some much needed personal contact.

The good:

Town-halls can make leaders more personable, while communication feels more personalised. A significant benefit of a town-hall is the promotion of discussion, feedback and debate, where everyone has an opportunity to speak. It can highly successful in communicating change, where you need everyone’s buy-in for a successful transition.

The bad:

A town-hall is a high-cost, high-effort communication channel. It requires huge time commitment from leaders and employees which can be expensive in terms of lost working time. Furthermore, not everyone may be able to attend, particularly remote and dispersed workers.

The ugly: 

Too much information in one go can be an overload. The main message you want to put across may get lost in a surfeit of messages, discussion and debate.

11. Away Days

Again, while this is not a possibility in the current situation, away days should not be left out of the internal communications plan entirely. Typically used for team building, an away day is a chance for employees to focus their attention on the direction of the organisation, rather than their specific role. It is an opportunity to connect and engage across all levels.

The good: 

It allows employees to network and have face-to-face communication which encourages clarity and reduces the risk of miscommunication and confusion. Away days can boost morale, team spirit and motivation. The benefits of good internal communication can really be seen after a productive away day.

The bad:

Away days can be incredibly expensive to organise as well as time-consuming. It is also takes an entire day of productive time away from the business. In addition, you need to consider the irregularity of such events, which makes them unsuitable for regular internal communications updates.

The ugly:

Without prior communication, the topics for discussion may not be what the audience wants to hear, resulting in a negative experience.

12. Conferencing

Video conferencing has really come to the fore in recent times. Whereas it was once considered a nice-to-have, now every company has a robust conferencing channel in place. It is one of the key examples of internal communication that has transformed the face of business during the crisis. Conferencing allows leaders to reach a wide audience, providing the tools are in place and technology is reliable enough to ensure effective employee communication.

The good:

Conferencing ensures information sharing in real-time. Conferencing offers leaders a way to communicate to a mass audience regardless of where employees are. This has been a life-saver to the majority of companies throughout the pandemic.

The bad: 

The logistics of conferencing are not so simple. It may not be easy to ensure all workers are available at the same time (e.g. shift workers). It also require workers to be available in a quiet space, which can be difficult to organise when working from home.

The ugly:

Having the right technology for conferencing is critical. Nothing is more likely to lose the attention of your audience than a poor line or one that keeps breaking up. Make sure you choose a robust platform and take steps to ensure your employees are set up correctly from their remote locations.

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