Internal communications refers to messaging and communication tools, such as email, meetings or apps that a business uses to share information with employees. The best internal communication approaches ensure two-way interactions and transparency. Businesses with strong internal communications have healthier cultures, happier employees and are able to adapt more rapidly to change.
We asked 29 experts for their tips on how to improve internal communication at work:
1. Put the Emphasis on the Relationship
Sharon Woodhouse, Publishing Consultant, Conspire Creative
One way I have improved internal communications is remembering and practicing the coaching tool of being with someone and not his or her problem. This approach puts the emphasis on the relationship — being with someone, listening and maintaining the connection. From this state, the resolution of conflict is much easier.
How do I know it works? What once were anxiety-filled and complicated situations often now become easy, simple conversations.
2. Use Trello to Communicate and Collaborate on Projects
Maggie Aland, General Manager, Fit Small Business
If you’re juggling lots of projects with many team members, using email for questions, status updates, and tracking changes just doesn’t cut it. That’s why we use Trello at Fit Small Business. It’s a visual project management tool that lets our teams communicate on projects as a whole and in subgroups. Trello’s drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to visualize and change the status of different projects and add comments, tasks, pictures, sources, documents, and more. Start a free account today.
3. Stop Using Email
Puneet Gangal, CEO & Founder, Aciron Consulting
One way to improve employee communication is to stop relying on email as a means of internal correspondence. Instead, create a digital workspace by implementing a collaboration hub like Microsoft Teams, RingCentral Glip or Slack, where information is no longer siloed in email inboxes but instead is shared with teams. Use these collaboration tools to encourage a better way of having discussions and communicating internally.
4. Provide a Channel for Employees to Share Their Voices
Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, CEO & Executive Creative Director, Tribe
Two-way communication is critical. Companies often focus their efforts on pushing information out to employees, but it’s just as important to provide a channel for employees to share their voices — from questions and concerns to valuable customer insights. Possible channels range from the intranet and internal social media to town halls and other face-to-face leadership meetings to a dedicated email address for employee comments or even old-fashioned suggestion boxes.
5. Say What You Want, When You Want
Brianna Rooney, Founder, Techees
I think it’s really interesting to hear how common bad communication within a company is. I have one rule. Say what you want when you want. No need to schedule meetings or let anything eat inside you. [When] something happens you don’t like, talk about it immediately. [Communicate whenever] something comes up you want fixed, changed or tweaked. Whatever it is, say it out loud as you think it.
Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
6. Create Face-to-Face Interactions
Ami Brabbins, Business Development Director, Slidebank
Communication tools like Slack are great for day-to-day interactions, but you can’t beat in-depth, face-to-face conversations to build trust and align priorities. We’re a distributed team with an ambitious workload, so we’re not all together that often. With a product to build, it can sometimes feel like a luxury to spend time discussing the bigger picture, but nothing is more important for having a team that pulls together.
7. Adopt an Established Framework
Werner G Krebs, Ph.D., CEO, Acculation
If you’ve identified internal communications as a problem, one turnkey approach is to adopt a framework that fosters greater communication, such as sociocracy (better known by its trademarked version, Halocracy), ISO9001, Six Sigma, TQM and/or value engineering.
While controversial, spoofed in Dilbert and sometimes fiercely resisted by senior management who feel the greater accountability threatens their fiefdoms, there is a great deal of literature, how-to manuals and consulting, auditing and certification services available to help business owners implement these systems and explain them to key stakeholders.
Best of all, these frameworks can be applied selectively and quantified using project management analytics to let you track improvements in productivity, corporate governance and return on investment (ROI) and keep only the best parts that are demonstrably helping your business.
8. Be an Active Participant in Your Team
Hanna Cevik, Marketing Manager, Reason
In my experience of working in small businesses, where it’s possible to know the whole team you’re trying to communicate with, the very best way to improve your success rates has to be to take part in the team yourself. Speaking from an ivory tower, especially in tech agencies like the ones I work for seems either ignorant or fearful — neither of which is going to cultivate any rapport. By understanding how your colleagues already communicate with each other, you’re going to have the best success.
9. Provide Clear Guidelines
Jonathan Jenkins, Lead SEO Consultant & Founder, Lofty Rankings
Determine which channels are appropriate for what types of internal communication and set guidelines regarding these channels. Most workplaces want to encourage small talk and a friendly atmosphere, but this type of “water-cooler” conversation should be channeled appropriately so as not to interrupt the workflow of others who might be trying to focus.
For example, you might decide that any communication that relates to work deliverables should be sent via email. Casual communication could be via chat or confined to appropriate Slack channels. Similarly, anything demanding urgency could be tackled with an email accompanied by a chat or even phone call. The important thing is to come up with guidelines and communicate them clearly.
10. Develop an Internal Communications Plan
Tina Wefer, Executive Vice-President & Chief Strategy Officer, FSIC, Inc
I’ve found that people don’t communicate either because they don’t know when or what to communicate or don’t think to update the team.
We developed an internal communications plan that outlines the topic, purpose of the update, communication owner, audience, internal resources the owner relies on, format (email or other tools) and frequency/deadline. This clearly outlines responsibilities so everyone in our company — primarily remote employees — knows when someone is hired, when we have a new customer, when we’ve added new functionality to our software — you name it.
We know that this worked because our team has commented that they appreciate the proactive communications, and our employee survey tells us that our communication has improved.
11. Let Employees Know How they Fit
Leah Weiss, Ph.D., Stanford Graduate School of Business Organizational Behavior Lecturer, Corporate Culture Consultant, Author of “How We Work,” Leah Weiss, Ph.D.
Make sure everyone on your team knows their purpose or how they fit into the puzzle that is a project or company — nearly 50 percent of employees have no idea what they do at work and are afraid to ask.
Letting someone know exactly how they fit will improve communication and eliminate that fear of asking for help or discussing work.
12. Host a Morning Show
Harold Hardaway, Ph.D., Co-founder, Cardigan Communications Group
In my previous role, we created a quarterly 45-minute morning show featuring our senior leaders discussing company performance and new initiatives and giving shout-outs to employees across the organization for stellar performance.
It not only allowed our employees to see another side of our leaders but also allowed us to get a consistent message to all employees at the same time. It became one of our most popular communication vehicles that received high marks for engagement and employee education in both employee surveys and focus groups.
13. Align Strategy to Goals and Metrics
Shanta Bodhan, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CEBS, HR Services Manager/Customer Success, EmployeeChannel, Inc.
Take a planned, strategic approach to employee communications that includes creating a communication strategy that aligns to company business goals, targeting communications to relevant employees using target audiences and educating managers and communicators to enable them to create better, more engaging employee communications.
Don’t forget to build metrics and analytics into your communication strategy so you can evaluate its success objectively without having to rely solely on subjective methods like employee surveys.
14. Move the Furniture
Tzvi Zucker, Contact Marketing Manager, Proggio
Our company, Proggio, improved internal communication by rearranging the physical layout of the office. Each team sits around a large table, with no dividers or cubicles in between team members and with whiteboards nearby. We know it works because the amount of post-action fixes has gone down significantly in each division of the company.
15. Encourage Employees to Address Issues Directly
Meghann Arnold, Director of Team Success, Readers.com
One way we’ve improved communication within our teams is by actively encouraging team members to go directly to each other with questions or concerns rather than going to their managers. Often the first thing a manager will say when someone brings them a concern or complaint about someone else is “what did they say when you talked to them about it?” Phrasing it this way instead of a generic “I think you should talk to them” helps foster an environment where direct communication is the norm rather than the exception.
16. Create a Culture of Conversation
Diane Strohfus, Chief Human Resource Officer, BetterWorks
Improving internal employee communications starts with the organization making a conscious decision to create a “culture of conversation” companywide. This involves committing to transparency and putting systems and practices in place that support continuous, open and ongoing dialog between peers and especially between employees and their managers.
I’ve personally seen the power of conversation truly transform the culture and the business results. A motivated, engaged workforce is truly the most powerful asset an organization can have. The advantage of using continuous performance management software is that we’re able to see those conversations and track the impact they’ve had toward improved employee retention, increased organizational agility, and building leadership pipeline.
17. Conduct Meetings via Facebook Live
Roger Morgan, Founder & CEO, pawTree
We rely on multiple ways to best communicate with our remote sales team.
We conduct a private group Facebook Live sharing session whenever we have exciting or sensitive information to share with our sales reps. It’s a lot easier to communicate feelings and nuances and make sure I’m best understood that way too. The format provides a more personal connection between our in-office team and our remote petPros to share stories, provide feedback and get inspired for a great week of helping pets and pet parents.
The format provides more interaction, a more personal touch and higher energy experience with voice and facial expressions via live video and an ability to record the sessions so missing teammates can watch at their leisure and hear and see the same message.
18. Connect Your Team on the Slack App
Christoph Seitz, CEO, CFR Rinkens
We streamlined our communication through an app called Slack, which integrates many of the traditional methods of communication into one place. It also helps keep the team accountable because everyone can see where a project stands and the deadlines that come with it. Everyone on the team is able to see any updates, pictures, files and more.
19. Use Project Management Software like Basecamp
Adam Binder, Founder, Creative Click Media
We’ve improved internal communications using Basecamp, a project management and communications software which provides an overview of all the projects and deadlines each employee has on their plate.
Basecamp allows us to assign tasks and to-do lists to each employee to keep everyone on top of their work while also encouraging inter-team collaboration. Being able to draw inspiration and ideas from each other is important in a creative industry such as ours, and having it all organized in one location ensures nothing is missed.
20. Use a Team Communications App Like Tipi
Raminta Lilaite, Co-founder, Blue Oceans PR
At Blue Oceans PR agency, we have been using a new team communications app called Tipi. For us, it’s more efficient than Slack as you are not bombarded by constant messages, which can reduce productivity. Tipi instead allows users to organize all team and company information into folders, keep all the processes transparent and keep deadlines clear. It has helped the motivation and efficiency of our company.
21. Use Zoom for Video Conferencing
Elyssa Respaut, Project Manager, AmDee
Everyone with AmDee is remote, working across four different time zones. While it is not always easy to have internal communications, one of the best ways we have found is to have regular 15- to 30-minute meetings weekly via Zoom to check in, see if there are any questions about projects currently being worked in or concerns for projects in the pipeline.
They are usually one-on-one conversations, and then we can discuss more globally in larger meetings if needed or in a longer meeting if the concern or discussion warrants it. It’s otherwise a great way for us to make sure tasks are getting done and everyone feels they can talk to us whenever if they have a problem, but they otherwise know they have a fixed time to always talk to us.
22. Use DiSC
Tina Schust Robinson, CEO, WorkJoy
I am on the board of a local nonprofit organization. We completed the DiSC profile to understand our communication style and preference and to understand what engages and frustrates us. We shared the results in a team meeting to increase awareness and to re-establish best practices for communication that produces results. The outcome — less likely to take communication choices personally, more direct and outcome-oriented emails and greater satisfaction with how efficiently we can get things done with a diverse and geographically scattered team.
23. Use Skype for Business
Frank Diaz, President, Omzig
One way I’ve improved communication in my organization is with Skype for Business. It’s built into the Office365 suite and allows for me to reach multiple people at the same time, archive my chats, video conference, audio conference call, send files, pictures and even emojis.
Everything integrates with my phone neatly so I can isolate work communication from my personal.
24. Use an ERP Tool
David Alexander, Digital Marketer & Small Business Coach, Mazepress
Avoid relying on internal emails and replace this antiquated way of collaborating with an enterprise resource planner (ERP) tool that allows you to collaborate and communicate more efficiently.
Every time I help a company to make this shift to only using email for external communications I have seen massive improvements in productivity. Details get lost in long email threads and micromanaging responsibilities is near impossible.
Using an ERP allows you to solve all of these issues and despite the misconceptions, even the small businesses can benefit from affordable solutions like Asana, my personal choice and what I teach my clients how to use.
Tony Lamb, CEO & Founder, Kona Ice
Strong internal communication is important in any business, but as a franchise with more than 625 franchisees, I have been tasked with finding a way to communicate brand-related items to them in an easy, digestible manner. A few years back, I started doing video e-newsletters. I would record myself talking through the different updates the franchise system needed to know.
This could be anything from details on truck upgrades, a new campaign or tips on how to run a successful Kona Ice business. The video e-newsletters usually have a high open rate, and we will hear positive comments in response to the e-newsletter. But, the best way for us to tell that the video format works is by the actions our franchisees take. If we get requests for a truck upgrade or see an opt-in for a system-wide campaign, we know they are listening to us and the messages are resonating. Looking ahead, I’m thinking about adding other team members into the videos. This will be good video practice for them, plus it will help to build their relationship with the franchisees.
26. Use Animated GIFs to Express Tone and Emotion
Tyler Koblasa, CEO, CloudApp
GIFs aren’t just for Snapchat using millennials. They are a brilliant medium for conveying tone and emotion in an extremely short format where text typically dominates. Whether you’re in Slack, Skype, or an email, most business tools now support communication through GIFs to allow you to communicate with co-workers and customers better.
27. Implement a Digital Workplace
Mike Hicks, Vice President of Strategy, Igloo Software
Workers spend on average nearly 20 percent of the workweek looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues because they have too many communication channels and no internal communications strategy.
When this starts to happen, communication becomes ineffective as it becomes white noise and employees start to overlook key information thanks to an influx of messages. By implementing a digital workplace to break down information silos, organizations can maintain a consistent communications strategy with a single destination.
28. Send a Text Message
Joel Lee, SEO Marketing Specialist, Trumpia
Believe it or not, text messaging has dramatically improved our internal communications because of one simple fact: Nobody reads emails anymore while texts get read almost 100 percent of the time. We primarily use it for mass announcements like benefits changes and company updates.
29. Stage Your Communications with a Media Kit
Linda Pophal, Owner & CEO, Strategic Communications
One of the big a-ha moments I had in my career was the importance of appropriately staging communications.
For instance, make sure you’re not putting information in the employee newsletter/on the employee intranet that you haven’t already shared with supervisors and managers. They don’t want to be caught off-guard when they start receiving questions about issues that they haven’t been appropriately briefed on.
In one organization we managed this process through what we referred to as media kits. Whenever there was some news or an announcement for the organization we would first create a media kit which included background information, FAQs, slides and others for company leaders starting with vice presidents. They would share the information with their direct reports, who would share it with theirs and so on within a specified timeframe so that the appropriate people received the information at the appropriate time.
The Bottom Line
According to our pros, effective internal communication requires three things — a communication plan or strategy, great tools like Trello, and a philosophy that embraces clear, transparent, two-way dialog. We hope these ideas spark your business to improve internal communications.