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Internal Communications: Definitions, Types, Significance

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Internal communications is about keeping all employees at all levels of an organization connected and informed. The main goal of an internal communications strategy is to ensure that all members of an organization are well informed and can work together effectively.

Clear and optimized communication is an essential factor for the success of any company, whether it has ten or a thousand employees. Over 40% of employees say their trust in their leadership and team has been affected by poor communication.

From the frontline workers to the administrators behind the desk, when each individual has a clear understanding of company goals, values and policies, it makes for a much more connected workflow.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about internal communication, what types of internal communication there are and the benefits of a solid internal communication strategy.

Understanding of internal communications

Internal communication can take various forms - email, intranet, chat apps, newsletters, face-to-face meetings, bulletin boards, or an app specifically designed to streamline internal communication.

An effective internal communications strategy helps every employee feel connected to the overall company vision and therefore knows how their individual role contributes to the company's overall success.

A solid internal communications strategy goes a long way to fostering this engagement - employees feel included in the company mission and understand the role they play.

Regular communication also helps build trust between employees and managers, thereby strengthening a sense of belonging. Additionally, these open communication channels allow employees to share their ideas, concerns, and feedback so that they feel valued and empowered.

In frontline organizations, an effective internal communications strategy is even more important. Employees who are away from their desks are harder to reach via email or memos because they don't constantly check email or messages (or perhaps don't even have access to these tools). However, these frontline workers have an even greater need for clear communication to avoid misunderstandings, improve safety and compliance, and communicate urgent updates.

An internal communications app like IceHrm is ideal for companies with remote workers because it connects all employees and provides everything they need in one place.

Types of internal communication

1.Formal top-down communication

This type of internal communication is passed down from higher levels of management to lower levels. It starts with the top management, who makes all the calls and then passes on their instructions, policies and decisions to the company's employees through managers and executives.

As part of an internal communication strategy, top-down communication is a structured approach that ensures that important directives and guidelines are communicated consistently. Top-down communication not only ensures consistency, but also helps effectively disseminate company goals throughout the workforce.

Formal top-down communication methods for employees include company-wide emails, official announcements, regular town hall meetings, or senior management memos.

For example, in a hospital's internal communications strategy, this could be an email to the entire staff communicating new patient care protocols. In a manufacturing plant, a bulletin board might display upcoming safety training dates. Or in retail, a company-wide text message can relay information about a new product that management wants to promote to employees.

Benefits of formal top-down communication in the context of an organization's internal communication strategy

  • It is an efficient way to convey comprehensive messages.
  • The messages are controlled and tailored to the company's goals, which avoids misunderstandings.
  • It conveys a sense of professionalism when conveying important information.

Disadvantages of formal top-down communication in relation to an organization's internal communication strategy

  • No consideration is given to how employees can give feedback.
  • Passively receiving information can lead to disengagement.
  • The flow of information can be slow, leading to delays in decision making and implementation.
  • It's impersonal, which can make employees feel undervalued.

2.Formal bottom-up communication

This is a process in which employees at lower levels of the hierarchy pass on their feedback, suggestions, concerns and ideas to higher levels of management or leadership.

This type of communication passes information from “bottom” up the organizational structure, allowing employees to have a voice, contribute their insights, and influence decision-making processes.

When part of an internal communications strategy, formal bottom-up communication not only empowers employees but also promotes a culture of inclusion and innovation within an organization. It is a valuable channel for capturing real-world insights that are often overlooked by senior management.

Less than half of employees feel they can easily provide feedback on important communications; a solid bottom-up communication strategy is one way to solve this problem.

In a frontline organization, there are many ways to implement formal bottom-up communication. Employee surveys are a popular way to gather feedback from an entire team at once, and IceHrm's in-app survey tool allows HR teams to get real-time data directly from employees' mouths.

For example, in healthcare, nurses and medical staff could use formal bottom-up communication to suggest improvements to patient care protocols or report safety concerns.

Other formats for bottom-up communication include anonymous feedback forms and regular one-on-one meetings between employees and their managers.

By actively encouraging and responding to this type of feedback, companies can harness the collective intelligence of their employees and adapt to the changing needs of the industry.

Benefits of formal bottom-up communication in relation to an organization's internal communication strategy

  • Employees feel heard and valued, which leads to higher employee engagement.
  • A range of different perspectives can be gathered, leading to more comprehensive and innovative solutions.
  • Frontline employees can identify challenges that may not be apparent to higher-level management.
  • When employees are included in change processes, they are more willing to support and adapt to new initiatives.

Disadvantages of formal bottom-up communication in relation to an organization's internal communication strategy

  • Collecting, reviewing, and responding to large amounts of employee feedback can be time-consuming.
  • It can be resource intensive and require specialized software.
  • Not all employee suggestions are in line with company goals or are feasible.
  • Formal bottom-up communication can lead to inconsistent messaging between teams.

3.Formal horizontal communication

This is the exchange of communications between individuals or departments at the same hierarchical level within the company, e.g. in cross-functional meetings or cross-departmental emails.

In contrast to the vertical communication described above, where information flows up or down within an organization, formal horizontal communication occurs between colleagues who hold similar positions within the organization.

Consulting firm Fierce, Inc. found that 86% of employees believe a lack of proper collaboration and miscommunication between teams leads to mistakes in the workplace.

Formal horizontal communication facilitates the smooth functioning of departments, coordination, collaboration and information sharing. For example, in a retail business, it is important that the sales team communicate effectively with inventory management to ensure products are stored efficiently.

In frontline organizations, formal horizontal employee communication connects the various cogs that make up the company and keeps it running. As part of a structured internal communication strategy, it can take many forms, e.g. Project reports, regular email updates between departments and the establishment of dedicated cross-functional teams.

When done correctly, formal horizontal communication enables seamless collaboration and turns the company culture into one of teamwork and shared goals.

The key to this is constant communication. Using an internal app with chat functionality - be it a private message exchange or a group chat - encourages regular collaboration. IceHrm's chat feature enables seamless conversation to encourage employees to collaborate and share ideas.

Benefits of formal horizontal communication in relation to an organization's internal communication strategy

  • Promotes knowledge sharing between colleagues with different expertise.
  • Enables teams to align their efforts and activities and avoid overlap or conflict.
  • Improves communication within the organization, resulting in a better company culture.
  • Allows colleagues to give each other feedback on their work, which they are often more receptive to than feedback from above.

Disadvantages of formal horizontal communication in relation to an organization's internal communication strategy

  • Reliance on formal channels can hinder spontaneous creative interactions between colleagues.
  • Communication can be isolated within certain departments.
  • Can sometimes be time consuming, especially if multiple people need to be involved.
  • Cannot adapt well to rapidly changing circumstances or unexpected needs.

4.Informal communication

Unlike other aspects of an organization's internal communication strategy, informal communication is not facilitated or governed by the organization's internal communication channels. It takes place spontaneously between colleagues, as a “watercooler chat”, so to speak.

This type of communication often takes place in a casual atmosphere or through personal relationships and can occur at different levels of the company, including between employees and managers and even across departments.

Informal communication includes face-to-face conversations, social media interactions, instant messaging, and phone calls. It serves as a complement to formal communication channels and plays an important role in building relationships and shaping corporate culture.

We can look at Bank of America as a case study. Customer service employees' breaks used to be staggered to avoid a staff shortage when dealing with customer complaints. However, an internal audit found that productivity increased when employees spent breaks together and socialized over lunch.

Often, frontline workers work in silos and are isolated from their colleagues. In frontline organizations, informal communication goes beyond simply exchanging practical insights and provides employees with a sense of camaraderie and belonging. In stressful environments like hospitals or retail, where teams must work seamlessly together to serve customers and patients, these informal connections are invaluable.

Additionally, employees can share valuable information learned on the job that may not necessarily warrant discussion in official channels. This includes, for example, tips for dealing with certain customers, which patient rooms are better heated or even finding a replacement for a shift.

The informal nature of these interactions fosters a culture of responsiveness that ultimately contributes to a more resilient and unified frontline workforce.

The main feed in IceHrm is specifically designed to encourage that informal communication that keeps an organization running. It brings the entire company together in one place, without the formality of a memo or email chain. The feed looks and feels like the social media apps we're already used to, making it easy for anyone to use.

Benefits of informal communication in relation to an organization's internal communication strategy

  • Quick and easy, especially in fast-paced environments.
  • Helps build personal relationships and a sense of camaraderie among employees.
  • Enables frontline workers to socialize and engage with their colleagues, especially those for whom these opportunities do not come naturally.
  • Practical knowledge, tips and best practices are easier to share in informal conversations.

Disadvantages of informal communication in relation to an organization's internal communication strategy

  • Frontline workers have limited opportunities to communicate spontaneously, necessitating a centralized platform for informal communication.
  • It can lead to the spread of inaccurate information or rumors if not managed properly.
  • People who are not involved in certain conversations or social circles may be inadvertently left out.
  • Important issues may not receive the attention they deserve when discussed informally.

The importance of effective internal communications lies in creating an engaged, connected workforce

For a truly effective internal communications strategy, the workforce should be three things: connected, engaged and aligned.

A connected workforce

The right internal communications strategy bridges the gap between field workers, frontline workers and office workers. Without a widespread network, internal communication can stagnate or even become ineffective.

Frontline employees are always at a disadvantage because, in most cases, they do not have company email or a desktop like company office workers.

More than 80% of the global workforce works without a desk. Whether your company is in healthcare, manufacturing, or transportation, these frontline employees need to feel just as included and valued as those behind a desk.

For these companies, effective internal communication means lower turnover, higher profits, a better employee experience and higher productivity. Read more about communicating with employees without a job here.

A committed workforce

Transparent communication strengthens employee engagement and promotes work morale.

When employees are informed about the company's vision and the reasons for certain actions, they feel a sense of belonging and inclusion. Transparency promotes trust because employees feel like their contributions and concerns are valued, leading to increased engagement and overall satisfaction.

Two-way communication is critical to employee engagement - as mentioned, top-down communication can lead to passive absorption of information, which is an engagement killer.

An effective internal communications strategy gives employees the opportunity to raise concerns and provide feedback or suggestions to management. This gives them direct influence on decision-making, which directly increases their commitment to their work.

A unified workforce

Aligning teams and goals across the organization, from the CEO to front-line employees, is critical to success.

To do this, it must be ensured that all employees know the general company goals and know how important their individual work is in achieving these goals. A study conducted by IBM found that 72% of employees do not understand their company's core strategy due to poor communication.

Don’t let these 72% be your employees. A coordinated workforce ensures that the messages communicated reach everyone and are understood in the manner intended.

Effective internal communication leads to better collaboration within teams and across departments.

Strategies for implementing successful internal communication

Only 7% of employees believe that internal communication in their workplace is accurate, timely and open.

Building a coherent internal communications strategy is key to uniting and motivating your employees. We'll share some strategies to help you create a successful internal communications plan, or you can read our detailed step-by-step guide to creating an internal communications strategy.

Use technology for internal communication

Today, there are countless tools and software that help companies stay on top of internal communications. Gone are the days when we had to rely on printed memos and morning meetings.

IceHrm and other digital communication tools that promote collaboration and information sharing can completely revolutionize an organization. They provide an efficient way to disseminate information in real time, engage employees and promote collaboration.

Not only do these platforms allow employees to ask questions, provide feedback, and participate in discussions, but they also serve as a central location for policies, procedures, and guides that employees can access.

A recent Emergence study found that more than half of unemployed workers are dissatisfied with the software solutions provided by employers.

Particularly for decentralized teams and organizations with frontline employees, technology-enabled internal communications plays a critical role in keeping employees informed, connected, and aligned with company goals.

Understand the best way to reach your employees

It is clear that organizations are made up of different types of employees, and traditional top-down internal communication strategies typically do not take this into account. To ensure your message is relevant to your target audience, you need to tailor your message to each audience.

For example, a message for frontline employees might focus on practical details and the impact on their day-to-day tasks, while a message for senior management might highlight strategic implications and long-term company goals.

Think about which employees you want to reach with your internal communication strategy and divide your target groups according to the following criteria:

  • Professional function
  • Seniority level
  • Communication needs
  • Whether they are desk or frontline employees

You can then analyze previous engagement data to find out what type or format of content works best for each audience - E.g. email, live chat, video, etc. - and what times communication works best to get the most engagement.

The use of technology can be very helpful here. IceHrm offers powerful real-time analytics to help you figure out what content resonates best, when, and to whom.

By adjusting the messaging approach and using data to optimize content and timing, internal communications become more effective, increasing employee engagement and alignment on goals.

Introduce regular feedback

Without regular feedback, internal communication is one-sided, which is not conducive to employee engagement and satisfaction.

Any successful internal communications strategy should include procedures for regularly obtaining feedback from employees at all levels of the company. This can be done through surveys, suggestion boxes, town halls, anonymous feedback or weekly meetings with managers.

Through employee feedback, an internal communications strategy can actually be shaped by the people it impacts, not just the senior decision-makers behind the desks. Identifying areas that need improvement - before it becomes a problem - is crucial not only for employees, but also for the success of the entire company.

With IceHrm's technology and tailored strategies, organizations can achieve a connected, engaged, and unified workforce, driving success.

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