How Internal Communications can help with Information Overload
The digital era we now live in offers us all enormous benefits. You can carry out a huge number of tasks or complete many different processes with a few taps on your smart phone. And being able to talk and share information with anyone, from anywhere on any device, is fast becoming the norm.
But while digital technology has in the main made life easier, there is one notable disadvantage of living in the digital era – information overload.
The sheer amount, and the constant daily bombardment of digital information is damaging people’s ability to identify and absorb information relevant to them. Nowhere is this truer than in the workplace, where there is a pressing need for employees to take in and understand the right information in order to transform it into knowledge.
Why do organisations need to focus on information overload?
Way back in 1959 legendary business visionary Peter Drucker stated how:
Increasing the productivity of knowledge workers was the most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century.
Organisations are finally acting on Drucker’s advice, due to an understanding that they are now operating in a knowledge economy and so in turn realise that the only true differentiator between organisations – and the key ingredient for continued success – is innovation. Innovation in; ways of working, products, or customer service, for example.
Innovation arises from the collaboration and application of knowledge. But organisations first have to focus on developing knowledge, which is created through experience, developing skills, and yep you got it – information.
Therefore, returning to Drucker’s quote, organisations need to focus on information overload, as this is arguably the biggest factor affecting the productivity of knowledge workers today.
The following are 6 areas we think an organisations internal communications function should be responsible for, to help reduce information overload.
1. Internal communications audit
Internal communicators need to start from the very beginning, by undertaking an audit that looks at the ways in which employees receive information; the format, channel, device, etc, and the preferred / best performing methods. Research should also highlight some of the tools that employees are bringing into the workplace to improve the way they deal with information.
The objective of the audit is to gain a clear understanding of what is working, what isn’t working and how employees would like things to be working (in relation to internal communications and finding relevant information).
2. Understanding employee behaviour
It’s important to recognise that once an initial internal comms audit is completed, the work doesn’t stop there.
Internal communicators need to give ‘measurement’ the time it now deserves. Continued measurement of the performance of channels, content (format and subject/theme), along with ‘listening’ to employee feedback left on social platforms and on individual pieces of content, will help to inform and shape future communications and content.
We all know this by now, but internal communications are a 2-way process, one that requires IC pros to listen just as much – if not more – than they talk.
Again, referring back to Drucker’s quote of improving the productivity of knowledge workers, there is one outstanding way by which many organisations are trying to satisfy Drucker’s request. Using social technologies.
“Improved communication and collaboration through social technologies could raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 to 25 percent”.
(Mckinsey Global Institute Analysis)
Social technologies work so well because they help in achieving personalisation. That being, employees are served information on a social channel that is relevant to them, based on such things as their role, network, previous behaviour/social activity, or the groups they belong to. That way, social technologies help employees cut through all of the noise and clutter to reveal information that is relevant and important to them.
In addition to social technologies, innovative apps are also available. A good example is ImgZine, which is an
Internal news platform that filters relevant news for your employees and allows you to easily measure, optimise and control the information needs of your employees.
It’s worth checking out, here. Obviously only when you’ve finished here though 😉
4. Training and education of the new technologies
If new technologies are deployed and employees are simply made aware of them and told to use them, with little support and guidance, then the chances are adoption levels of the new technologies will be lower than expected. Furthermore, employees who do use the new technologies will likely not use the technologies full capabilities. Which in turn, over time, will see usage levels decline, along with unfortunately the usefulness of the technologies.
Internal communicators need to play three vital roles when it comes to the deployment of new technologies in the workplace:
1. Educator: They need to educate employees on the benefits of using the new technologies – demonstrating the benefits to both the individual and the organisation.
2. Trainer: The best technologies/platforms have a strong user experience, meaning they are easy for employees to use ‘straight out of the box’. But to maximise their effectiveness, employees need to be trained on best practice and the most useful features. The best technologies also change and improve over time, and so it will be up to internal communicators to ensure everyone is aware of the changes and how they can improve the way they use the technology.
3. Facilitator: The success of new technologies, specifically of the social kind, is largely dependent on, as previously stated; employees knowing why they should be using the technology (education) how they should be using the technology (training) and also having a enough people using the technology – needed to fuel it with content, information and conversations. Internal communicators need to continually fuel the technologies with content and listen to the conversations taking place in order to help steer the conversations or add to them, as well as using the information to shape any future communications.
Ultimately, internal communicators are the one’s responsible for ensuring that the new technologies are operating at their best – with a success factor being employees only receiving information that is relevant to them – thus reducing information overload.
5. Making information easier to consume
The go to device for many employees has become their smartphone. It’s used to read emails, check social networks, or to catch up on the latest company news. Consuming content on a mobile device is a different experience to that of a laptop or computer. Employees will instead invariably snack on mobile content, often scanning content to gleam the key points or to determine whether it is relevant and deserving of reading in full at a later time that suits.
The rise in popularity of video as an internal communications tool is its ability to quickly and engagingly communicate information making it a good fit for mobile devices. Similarly, infographics that allow users to easily extract key points work well too.
There are a number of tech solutions helping to make information easier to consume. And one, still in beta testing, is called Skim.it. Skim.it summarises web content into easy to digest ‘skims’ of around 100 words. The user is then able to save their skims (which also link to the full article) to ‘collections’, allowing them to create a repository of useful information that they are also able to share with fellow employees. This is one example of how information sharing and content consumption is being made easier through technology and an understanding of the new ways people consume content – predominantly, mobile first.
6. Focus on peer-to-peer communications
Year after year – as shown by Edelman research – employees continue to be the most trusted sources of company information. This is not only outside of an organisation, but inside too.
Therefore, when employees require a certain piece of information they will likely turn to a trusted ‘in the know’ colleague first for help. The aforementioned is a behaviour used to try to cut straight to the required information. It works great because the employee will also likely provide further knowledge in addition to the information being asked for. Plus, the interaction between colleagues – collaboration – can often lead to new thinking and innovation. And as we stated, at the very beginning of this piece – innovation is what all organisations recognise is needed for continued success.
IC can help to create a collaborative culture, by ensuring employees have the right tools to easily find and connect with the necessary employees. Meaning IC need to again listen in order to identify the influencers and those employees with desirable knowledge.
Face-to-face communication is, and always will be the most effective form of communication. Additionally, an employees direct relationship with their manager can be the be all and end all when it comes to employee engagement. This relationship should also be a key flow of relevant information. And in a digital workplace overloaded with information, the manager employee relationship can be the best tool to use to escape information overload, to zero in on the information that matters most.
So, internal communicators, that’s one more area to focus on to help reduce information overload – the relationship between the manager and employee. But we’ll save any further explanation on that for another time, as the manager/employee relationship is deserving of a blog post of its own.
One other thing…
The goal of many organisations, and a key strategy in digital workplace transformation, is ‘going paperless’. Within the UK, O2 are somewhat pioneers of the paperless approach, with more information on their efforts to be found here.
Given that in the not so distant future, information will only be available digitally, it makes it even more important for organisations to focus on reducing information overload. To help achieve this internal communication functions would be well advised to give attention to each of the six points above.
If you would like help with your internal communication strategies, to help ensure your employees are receiving information relevant to them, then please do get in touch.
Until next time…