Customer Engagement
Creating a Customer-Centric Company Culture

Embrace the Weirdness for Better Internal Communications

Jill Thomas
March 27, 2017

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Do you complain about having too many emails in your inbox? Do your ‘feel important’ emails often disappear into a black hole, thus making it difficult for you to get stuff done?

You kind of hate email right? We all do. And yet the idea of exploring a different method of communication at work gives you anxiety. I totally understand your dilemma. I can hear you internally screaming, “I don’t need one more thing to learn, another platform to sign into and monitor, and yet another notification distracting from actually getting stuff done!” Fair enough.

Nonetheless, I’m advocating just that – after you read this plea (or use it to convince your boss). But first, I’ll outline the merits of using a collaboration tool like Slack or Jostle instead of email for internal communications. At Innisfree Hotels we use Slack for marketing department communications. Now, my team is leading the charge to move the rest of our internal email discussions (with 1,500 distributed corporate team members) onto our recently adopted Intranet platform called Jostle.

But, why add something else?

First, these platforms do everything email does and more by folding together email, instant messaging and file sharing into a platform that’s fun to use. You can have one-on-one conversations, private team chats, and company-wide forums. Best of all, team members can contribute to discussions sitting at desks or on the fly via tablets and phones. For instance, the Jostle Viewer works with over 50 file types, including videos and design files. You can look at and download files in your browser on any device you may have with you at the time.

But I am not promoting these platforms because of their functionality. There are bigger issues at stake here.

These platforms promote and facilitate authentic transparency and, thus, employee engagement. Transparency is a loaded term, but for the purpose of this argument, I am talking about something simple: I mean giving more people in your company the ability to see into different parts of the organization.

Transparency builds trust and breeds innovation.

Public discussions make it easier for everyone to know what everyone else is doing. Think about your email box. What percent of the emails in there would be okay for everyone in the world to read? Probably most of them. Folks in marketing may not be interested in how to clean stains from carpets, but it’s okay if they know about it, right?

There are lots of good reasons to have more team members peer into discussions they couldn’t access in a private email box.

It makes people aware of what’s going on in different departments and locations. And, it eases the contribution of bright ideas and solutions from unexpected places in your company. Many of your team members have hidden talents, and transparent discussions will help you leverage their collective brilliance. Also, people can better plan their work if they know what is going on in other departments or locations. Often we aren’t aware of how our work impacts that of others and don’t think to update each other – knowing builds empathy, understanding and helps you work together better to find solutions that work for everyone.

Plus, transparency dispels paranoid fantasies. When you send an email, you must selectively decide who to include. It is common to accidentally include people who are not interested or leave out people that needed to know. Even though it may not be intentional, failing to include people in email messages sometimes breeds resentment or confusion. Talking in a public forum helps dispel these paranoid fantasies by giving people access to the history of debate about decisions that might otherwise appear random. It enables people who might have been forgotten or ignored to look back and see why or how something took place.

What we know about organizations, in general, is that the more knowledge people have, the more likely it is they will make better decisions – and the more likely it is they’ll feel invested (more engaged) in their work.

Then, there is collaboration.

Younger employees likely grew up with social media, which has changed how they communicated with each other and impacted what they expect at work. Research demonstrates that Millennials favor transparent work duties, expressiveness, and a collaborative work environment. Therefore, using collaborative software for company discussions will facilitate these goals by discouraging information hoarding.

Most of us don’t hoard information on purpose. It’s just that – compared to social media – email is an onerous information sharing tool. Posting a quick update on Slack for everyone to see is easy and faster than crafting an email and then deciding who to send it to. These apps support off-the-cuff remarks and brainstorming because people are not expected to overly think through their word choice. Serendipitous banter promotes original thought and honest viewpoints.

Everything gets saved.

Discussions in collaborative apps are archived, and a good search function makes it simple to find that link that someone posted three weeks ago that you now want to review.

Casual chats about how to do things, fix things and solve everyday problems build up over time creating a defacto library of organizational knowledge. This archive will be a fantastic resource for onboarding new employees and developing best practices and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Most of these apps enable you to search conversations by topic or team member. Reviewing past discussion threads allows new users to acquire valuable insight into about how your company operates, how your team members relate to one another, who knows the answers to what questions, and who makes the decisions about what.

Everything stays in one place.

I am going to say it again: Social media and smartphones have changed how we communicate.

Think about how you interact with the people you know and then ask your colleagues about how they talk to their spouse, children, high school friends or poker buddies. Likely, they use apps (like Facebook Messenger, SnapChat, or What’s App), and they might even use different apps for different groups of people. Even if you aren’t conscious of it, there are probably many groups of people you already don’t communicate with via email. So, it isn’t as big of a stretch as you originally thought to ask you to use a cloud-based app to communicate at work.

Communicating internally in one app creates a clear boundary for internal messaging.

Many people have jobs that do not entail sitting at a desk all day or are expected to be available 24/7 and, therefore, need to be able to communicate on the run. As a result, work messages often move from email to text to Facebook messenger and back again. Moving conversations from one platform to another sometimes makes it difficult follow the evolution of decision. However, a mobile, accessible, cloud-based app gathers internal communications in one place. Segmented discussions sort topics into easy-to-follow threads that your team members can monitor on the fly.

You can tune in when it suits you.

Email is forceful. People view emails as tasks because there is an expectation of response. As a result, we all try to limit how many emails we send. People can check collaborative discussions when it is convenient for them and tune out threads that don’t interest or apply to them.

You can also use an application to host virtual meetings.

Set a time and ask everyone to hop on to quickly review a new concept or get approvals. Participants in message threads don’t need to be concerned about talking over each other, which levels group dynamics for quieter people who tend to participate less during in-person brainstorms. When the meeting is over, you’ll have a written record of the session that can be reviewed by others or posted into a planning document. So, if someone misses the meeting, they can later read the thread at their leisure and contribute more ideas.

Most importantly: it’s fun.

You can create dedicated threads to share jokes, memes, and cat videos. Does anything promote bonding and teamwork better than a great cat video?

But you are going to have to convince the older folks to embrace the weirdness. People who have succeeded in the buttoned-up world of the well-written email, may not feel comfortable in an online playground filled with constant notifications, dashed-off quips, emojis and funny animated GIFs. All of these feelings are valid. However, I challenge you to give it a try for the sake of collaboration and the kind of radical transparency that is essential to innovation and efficiency in a fast-paced digital world. Keep your mind open while you get used to it (and be sure to adjust your notification settings to your liking). You might find GIFs are the perfect way for you and your team to express yourselves!

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