Changing channels: why employees demand freedom of information choice

Technology has changed the way we consume information outside organisations, and it is natural that we want the same choices within. Companies that incorporate channel choice in their communication mix will win the war for engagement.

• Employees demand value for their share of attention

• Millennial workers expect the flexibility Bring Your Own Device brings

• Without engaging formats like multi-platform video, your channel mix is missing key tools

Consider these numbers. Every minute on the internet 200 million emails are sent, 2 million Google searches and over 100 thousand tweets tweeted. Over 50% of people use digital channels as their primary news source. Over one third of millenials watch more video online than on TV. There are over 1.5 million apps in the Apple store and 1.6 in the Android store.

Choice is everywhere.

Digital channels and the media revolution they enabled have led to major changes in the way people communicate, consume information, and share interests and opinions. Never before has there been as many choices available for where to get news, to post images, to shop. The range of consumer goods, including devices such as mobile and wearable technology expands weekly.

With the exponential growth in channels — and content — the ability to choose how and where to engage becomes valuable. Time-poor, we seek information that has credibility, that is shared by someone we trust.

But for many people, their choices are taken away when they enter their workplace; one operating system, one type of mobile, one email platform.

The freedom to make information work for them in their daily life is replaced with standardised tools and desktops in the office. More challenging still, in some industries including retail, manufacturing and resources, employees are largely unwired and unconnected.

Except that they are not. They have their own smart phone, or tablet or laptop. For the new generations entering the workforce, the idea of not using these technologies as part of their daily life is a techno-shock. Bring Your Own Device — BYOD, the ability to connect to use the technologies of your choice for work — is seen as an employment benefit. Some would even choose not to work for a company based on their available technology — or the lack of it.

So how are smart organisations are finding ways to recreate some of the choice of channels for employees?

Here are seven ways companies can make the most of the channel mix.

  1. Establish BYOD approaches that allow employees to access key communication and resources through tablets and smart phones. At minimum this includes accessing email, the intranet or employee portal.
  2. Intranets and business tools optimised for mobile or turned into apps.
  3. Provide communication in a combination of push and pull channels. Employees are able to subscribe to email or SMS alerts on topics of interest, with less ‘all staff’ communication creating noise.
  4. Empower employees to interact, provide feedback, collaborate and share information through enterprise social networks. Tools such as Slack, Yammer, Jive, IBM Connections and Sharepoint provide similar experiences as Facebook or LinkedIn within the company.
  5. Employee channel strategies incorporate video to provide immediacy and credibility. With the growth in digital channels, opportunities to hear messages consistently and in an engaging way become a key part of the mix. Mobile video means employees can watch key updates on or off the job. Live broadcasts with questions from across the organisation ensure the most important messages are shared universally.
  6. Remote workers, telecommuters, shift workers, and the estimated 15–20% of employees away from work at any time are able to use tools such as enterprise social networks (groups and discussion threads) and video on demand to consume information at times that suit them.
  7. Making the most of the social component of social media. Providing employees the tools to rate, recommend, comment and share content (such as documents and videos) builds trust and helps manage complexity. Experts within an organisation have a role as curators, sharing the most useful information.

The risks of disengagement

The risk for companies that don’t factor choice into their approach is that employees will tune out, and then become disengaged because they don’t value the mass media corporate channels. With low levels of employee engagement comes a higher risk of talented employees choosing not to stay.

All this choice comes with a warning. Too little, and we run the risk of not meeting the needs of employees as consumers of information. Too much choice creates other problems; information overload, duplication of messages, and people tuning out. It isn’t a case of more being automatically better, but smarter channel strategies provide high return for the effort.

The most effective mixed channel strategies:

  • Incorporate research to understand the preferences and user experience (UX) of employees to discover what will work best for them.
  • Provide a options for online, offline, mobile and subscription services.
  • Ensure two-way communication through discussions, groups or other micro-blogging tools.
  • Recognise the relative strengths of different channels and use the best channel for the outcome, rather than an generic ‘one size fits all’ approach.
  • Prioritise engaging media such as visuals and video to meet diverse audience preferences.

Jonathan Champ is Chief Communicator at Meaning Business and creator of the Shorter COMMS Plan.

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