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

Stuart Sinclair - September 2, 2021

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 2021, with remote working at an all-time high and the need for genuinely 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 be 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.

To complicate the issue further, we now have a vast 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 14 internal communication channels in an organisation and highlighted both their upsides and downsides for you to consider.

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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.

The good:

An app offers a single channel that addresses all your internal comms needs effortlessly. Dedicated to building that vital connection between employees and the business, it is accessible to all, even those 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 many employee app and internal communications software choices 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 a straightforward solution. The chances of a multi-app approach working successfully are poor.

The ugly: 

Beware of apps that require a great deal of set-up. It’s a warning flag you shouldn’t ignore -this is 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.

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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 remains one of the leading 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 broad 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 possible employees may not prioritise the email. They may even delete it 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.

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3. Video conferencing

It’s hard to remember a time when we weren’t using Zoom and Teams on a daily basis. Every company now has video conferencing software in place. It is one of the key examples of internal communication that has transformed the face of business, negating the need to be physically present to work together as a team.

The good:

Video conferencing has kept companies afloat and employees sane during the pandemic. It allows us to connect with our remote employees on a personal level and keep up productivity when physical proximity is not possible. Now, as offices reopen, video conferencing remains in place, reducing travel times and other business costs.

The bad:

While extremely effective at facilitating conversations between teams, video conferencing does not address all elements of the internal communication process. It isn’t able to drive company conversations or share regular updates.

The ugly:

Video conferencing could never be used as the primary internal communications channel for the simple reason that it does little to build employee engagement. It will not keep employees fully informed and up-to-date with company news or assist with transparency and visibility in the workplace.

4. Chat

Chat boards and messaging solutions are now used in a growing number of companies. With the rise of remote working, these platforms are increasingly relied upon as the new way to keep in touch.

The good:

When it comes to internal collaboration between remote workers, chat rooms and messaging software are proving to be real champions. They are a superb way of enabling team discussions and also allow employees to conduct one-to-one conversations with each other. An employee app provides an effortless route to implementing this channel company-wide.

The bad:

It’s hard to direct the direction of the conversation. While you may wish for the chat to focus on a specific piece of work, there’s little to stop the talk from taking another direction. Although they’re ideal for broader collaboration, chat boards are not suitable for specific project work.

The ugly:

While they’re great for team chats, messaging apps won’t help with organisational communication. If you want to update your employees on new procedures, or the latest company update, you’ll need to use another channel.

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5. 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 watch 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.

6. Voice

Podcasts and audio recordings are becoming an increasingly popular channel for internal communications. They offer the perfect middle-ground between text and video, allowing employees to listen to content without demanding their full visual attention. LinkedIn research suggests that 42% of people aged 18-34 listen to podcasts on a weekly basis.

The good:

A podcast from the CEO will have a greater impact than a memo relaying the same message. It has an authenticity and believability that can’t come across via text. Employees can also listen to a podcast whilst getting on with chores or other activities, making it an ideal channel to reach out to those working from home.

The bad:

While it’s positive that a voice recording doesn’t require your employees’ full attention, this is also its downside. There is a likelihood that the message being put across is not being fully absorbed and retained. As a one-way channel, you’ll need to combine your podcasts with feedback opportunities to ensure they’re making their full impact.

The ugly:

You’ll need an effective delivery channel to get your podcasts out there. Otherwise, they risk being unheard and ignored, with all your hard work gone to waste. An internal communications app offers a straightforward way to ensure every employee has instant access to the right technology.

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7. Intranet

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

The good:

A well-managed intranet allows for sharing 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.

8. 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 communicate with employees with an 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 the 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.

Develop a robust internal comms strategy using our canvas

9. Print

Although many businesses strive for a paperless workplace, print still has a decisive 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 proper 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 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.

10. 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 an excellent place to start.

The bad:

Posters need to be kept fresh and updated, or they will quickly become ‘invisible’. Leaving the same sign 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.

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11. 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 promote collaboration between colleagues, and social media is an excellent facilitator.

The bad:

Be wary of creating a casual social platform. It is vital 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. Internal communications software will allow you to create a social space where employees can meet, chat, and share without any associated risks.

12. Leaders

Using team leaders and supervisors to deliver information can have a hugely beneficial effect on 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.

Develop a robust internal comms strategy using our canvas

13. All-Employee Meetings

Looking ahead to better times, bringing the entire company together can be highly 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 news 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 be 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 a considerable 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 announcements, discussion and debate.

14. 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 costly to organise as well as time-consuming. It 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.

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