Congratulations, you’ve made it through the initial crush of the COVID-19 crisis. It’s been a sprint, right? Unfortunately, nobody is quite sure just how long you’ll be running, so you need to shift to a pace that’s sustainable over the longer-haul.
Like many aspects of work and life, the COVID crisis has resulted in significant advances in technology for communication, and communication for HR is no different. HR and employee communication professionals are increasingly taking pages from the world of marketing and using technologies and innovations that not only provide revolutionary benefits to employees, but enable HR to keep up with the unprecedented demand for communications over the long-haul.
#1: Think well beyond the intranet, HR Portal and email
Just about everyone has created a dedicated intranet site or portal as the single-source-of-truth for all-things COVID for employees. These sites have a ton of information on new and constantly changing HR policies, access to key HR applications and the latest news on how and when employees may return to the workplace. This is a great start.
But today’s intranets, HR portals and digital workplaces, no matter how much they’ve evolved over the two decades since they were first created, are no longer able to serve as the be-all and end-all they once were.
Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that no matter how much effort companies have spent redesigning their intranets and HR Portals, personalizing them, and promoting them as key information resources, employees don’t start their day by checking out the latest news on their intranet home page, or visit very often.
What employees are doing these days is starting their day, and spending most of their day, in Microsoft Teams. Let’s face it, Teams and related Microsoft365 apps are where the vast number of employees spend the bulk of their time – in video meetings, collaborating on content, and getting work done. And these days, this also includes frontline employees.
Couple this employee behavior with the well-known truth that the best way to get information to people is to put it where they’ll see it most often, and with the least effort… And that place is Teams.
Here’s what that can look like, and how to make that happen:
#2: Automate, Automate, Automate: Content Publishing, Content Curation and Content Flow
Start by leveraging apps that enable content automation such as automated publishing, curation (to battle fragmentation) and search optimization.
Consumer marketers, in an effort to speed up content publishing and also produce more content, across more channels with less effort adopted automated content solutions years ago. They embraced apps that let them publish to many channels with a single click, saving a ton of time while significantly increasing reach and audience engagement. Many of these apps have become major technology players, such as Salesforce, Hubspot and Marketo.
For HR and employee communication these consumer-facing marketing apps aren’t viable options to be used with employees, nor are they designed to work with the secure channels used by employees. The result: most companies are still managing HR/employee-facing content the same way they’ve done for over a decade: manually creating and pushing content down a few basic channels (the intranet and email).
Finally, this is now changing.
HR and employee communications can now use one of the new breed of apps built specifically for this purpose. Gartner calls them Employee Communication Apps, which take the content coming from HR, internal comms, IT, facilities, company leadership and use tools to automate the way content is curated, published and analyzed to track effectiveness and engagement.
Here’s an example of what this can look like:
Example: The Power of 1-Click Broadcasting
Getting critical content to employees has been a manual, intensive process that’s often involved sending an email, and then posting that same content to an intranet page.
Now there’s a much faster, easier and far less labor-intensive way to manage this – and get that content distributed far beyond just email and the intranet. The latest Microsoft365-based solutions allow you to push out content to multiple channels, simultaneously, all with just 1-click.
For example, let’s say that there’s new info from the CEO or CHRO about the latest plan for work-from-home employees to start to return to the workplace. Using one of these new communications apps, with one click you can post that content to a SharePoint intranet or portal, and have it automatically sent as an email. But you can also automatically have that content appear in a Microsoft Teams feed, in a Yammer feed, even a Slack channel, in the Latest Update section the COVID Resources page on the Intranet, pushed out a text message, and also appear as a notification directly on your Windows, MacOS, iOS or Android device.
Considering content like this needs to be published multiple times a day, every day, for the foreseeable future, doing this manually would be nearly impossible, take a long time to produce, and use a lot of labor to execute. But using new communications apps, it’s all automated and instantaneous.
The result: not only are your employees far more likely to see the right content – where and when it’s most convenient for them – all without having to go visit their intranet, or even stop what they’re doing and switch out of Teams or other Microsoft365 apps (like Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, etc.), but your department is able to handle increased workload without adding staff or outsourcing to consultants.
Employees will come to rely on up-to-date, valuable information coming from their employer they can trust. And that will result in a significant boost in engagement, not to mention increased productivity for you and your employees.
#3: HR is a Trusted Resource: Now More Than Ever
It’s been an amazing time to be in HR and employee communications. The acceleration of visibility and gravitas within the company as a by-product of the COVID pandemic has been unprecedented. As David Berger, Senior Vice President, Communications Leader at Wells Fargo said, the communications role is no longer operating at the margins of the company. It is affecting the company at the core.
(David Berger, Senior Vice President, Communications Leader at Wells Fargo)
Paula Angelo, VP of Internal and CEO Communications at The Hartford, mentioned that a pulse poll by Weber Shandwick found that employer communications are fostering greater positivity, confidence and pride in their employees.
The communications teams are largely responsible for that statistic, she says. “That earned goodwill [of employers by their employees] will have a lasting impression. There’s no going back.”
In order to demonstrate this high level of value, on an ongoing basis Paula advises that communicators take the learnings from the pandemic and apply it to their other communications objectives.
“To the extent we can use [more and better] metrics to demonstrate our value, we should do so.” she says. “Sometimes we get great outputs but not great outcomes.” Taking a page from the marketing function, HR and employee communications should be just as data-driven in managing how they create, manage and distribute communications to employees, as marketers are to their customers.
This becomes easy with the advances in reporting and analytics specifically for communicators. As employee communication apps continue to expand the ability to capture and analyze data, communicators can now craft messaging based on actual employee behavior and interactions with those messages. By using technology to give communicators the ability to hone in on the messaging that elicits better employee interactions, communicators can drive higher employee engagement levels. The better the data available to communicators through advanced analytics, the more effective their communications.
#4: Adopt an Agile Approach – It’s not just for IT
While Agile has been widely used in IT for years, it’s quickly being adapted by other teams – specifically HR/employee communications – to increase flexibility and speed during these times of unprecedented change and uncertainty.
When COVID hit, everyone’s 2020 plans got tossed out the window. Many functions like HR and communications are used to working from fairly long-term annual plans, which simply aren’t viable in today’s changing world. To adapt, companies like The Hartford have formally adopted the Agile Approach – often associated with managing IT projects – for managing their communications function. And it has paid off big-time.
(Paula Angelo, VP of Internal and CEO Communications at The Hartford,)
A recent study by McKinsey found that teams using Agile out-performed traditional teams during the pandemic, especially in their ability to react and adapt. Referring to the companies in the report, McKinsey said, “almost all of their agile business units responded better than their non-agile units to the shocks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic by measures of customer satisfaction, employee engagement, or operational performance”.
If you haven’t adopted Agile, don’t worry. McKinsey says. “We believe the changes that some companies have already been making during the pandemic can give them a leg up in honing their agile practices for an uncertain future. Now they should reflect on what helped them and sustainably embed those practices for the long term.”
Putting it all together
The pace of COVID-19 means that neither deliberate nor frantic responses are going to work in the long run. Instead, encourage the use of these four technology-driven strategies to make HR/employee communications more effective.
- Think beyond the intranet, HR portal and email. (hint: Microsoft Teams)
- Use the latest communications apps to automate and streamline content publishing, curation and content flow
- Leverage modern analytics to make data-driven communication decisions.
- Take an agile approach for flexibility and quick reactions
The results will be more time for your team, better and more effective responses to your employees need for trusted information, and most important: better informed and engaged employees.
At the end of the day, Michelle Projekt, VP and Global Head of Internal Communications at PepsiCo summed it all up: “I would hope that our employees feel we treated them well and that we cared and that they look back on this [Pandemic era], having had a positive experience and engagement and connection with PepsiCo. And are they’re still as engaged then as they are now.”
(Michelle, Projekt, VP and Global Head of internal Communications at PepsiCo)