Published on March 6, 2014
Internal Communication and Collaboration (ICC) Basic considerations and practices for efficient corporate communication and collaboration Alexander Zehnder Head of LOB Solutions MIB, BSc Computer Science isolutions AG, Bern (Switzerland) May 2013 Source : http://encouragingcommunication.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/communicating-symbol.png Abstract The purpose of this document is to provide a general overview about internal communication, considerations and practices. It shall be a guide suggesting certain channels and tools in order to improve the effectiveness of corporate communication and collaboration. Introduction The unstoppable evolution of communication channels has penetrated corporations just as much and fast as it has our private live. Whilst there has been a separation of preferences by generation and age rather than anything else, the future use of digital communication tools will affect the efficiency of us all in our daily work. The “Native-Digitals” will RULE within a few years and companies must not delay a serious preparation of those new media channels. Internal Corporate Communication is a topic that gains importance as the awareness for negative impact of bad communication grows. Business runs differently today as it ran a decade ago. It is faster and tends to become chaotic if not guided by corporate policies and best practices. There is a constantly growing risk of losing control of information as well as increasing time to find relevant information. isolutions ag laupenstrasse 1 ch-3008 bern www.isolutions.ch Seite 1
Literature review It is common to find little information about concurrent academic information about latest technologies and its usage due to the lifecycle duration of such papers. Nonetheless, this document includes some academic information about internal communication as a field as well as self-experienced practices and thoughts where technology meets IC in enterprises. The “public relation review” issue 38 includes a good definition of internal communication, its parameters and outlook for what might be coming in that field (Ana Tkalac Vercic, 2012). Whether employees think the IC is appropriate and accepted is documented by Mary Welch from the Lancashire Business School, University of Lancashire, Preston – UK (Welch, 2012). It is a combination of complex activities and tools that provide a comprehensive environment, which nourish good internal communication. The challenges in communication of a networked enterprise were discussed in the “Inf Syst Front” online magazine (Barjis, Gupta, & Sharda, 2011). Enterprises face the situation that over time the digital natives drive internal communication towards new levels and communication channels (tools) based on their media preferences and environmentally influenced behavior in gathering information like social media interaction in their private lives (Friedl & Vercic, 2011). Even if the importance of IC in enterprises gains awareness throughout the academic and economical world, the return on investment is rather difficult to foresee. Juan Meng and Bruce K. Berger from the department of advertising and public relations from the University of Georgia have written an interesting work about the ROI of IC efforts (Meng & Berger, 2012). Whilst more academic work needs to be done in the field of internal communication, this short literature review shows a glimpse of how wide this topic already is and that there is much more to be expected in the near future. Communication and Collaboration Enterprises have been drenched with technology from planning, manufacturing, logistics, accounting and communication. Most of the transitions towards the technologized environments have been carefully planned and executed. The enterprise internal communication and collaboration mostly lacks of such proceeding. Employees bring new behavior from their personal lives into the daily labor with mostly little awareness of its impact for the enterprise. Confidentiality and security of company information is at stake. For example, it is widely seen, that Documents are simply sent as attachments across the World Wide Web as attachments with little concern about the security problems that might include. Nonetheless, it would be possible with little effort to improve the security of that common practice using digitally signed and encrypted emails. Another issue is the collaboration of several external and internal persons in documents. Sending a document to several people for them to add their information results in a quite chaotic and time-intensive task of coordination and merging that not seldom leads to redundant work and even loss of information and time. Enterprises have discovered that online-collaboration is key in order to increase the efficiency of their team activities. Finally, online-collaboration and enterprise internal communication needs to be streamlined and organized to prevent information to be lost. This document aims to help enterprises to get a practical overview about IC and collaboration, how to use new communication technologies and when. Seite 2
Issues of internal communication From an academic point of view, the IC has to deal with several main issues whereas the top ten were identified by the Delphi Study in Europe as followed: 1. New internal digital (including social) media 2. Change communication 3. Crisis communication 4. Trust and credibility of leadership 5. Employee engagement, loyalty, motivation 6. Cultural diversity 7. Developing internal communication policies and standards 8. Auditing, budgeting, and return on investment measures 9. Value for money 10. Outsourcing (Ana Tkalac Vercic, 2012) This shows how broad the field of IC really is and makes it possible to image that its importance is highly underestimated. Types of communication To be able to gain an overview, it is necessary to classify the types of communication. Regarding the direction of communication, it can be divided in: ONE-TO-ONE ONE-TO-MANY MANY-TO-MANY MANY-TO-ONE It must be understood, that MANY-TO-MANY as well as MANY-TO-ONE in practice always results in ONE-TO-MANY and ONE-TO-ONE as it is an individual who provides information to be sent. On the other side it is similar, even information is meant for MANY, it is an individual that receives it. This shows that even if we think about mass communication, finally it ends up in one person transferring information to another. Verified and unverified When information is provided, the sender sometimes wants or needs to make sure, that the recipient has actually got the information. For an example, you send an Email and expect the recipient to send any kind of acknowledgement, that it has been received. We will call this, VERIFIED COMMUNICATION. If you want to share your thoughts or opinion like in social network walls generally you do not expect a specific answer or acknowledgement, then we talk about UNVERIFIED COMMUNICATION. Seite 3
TYPE ONE-TO-ONE ONE-TO-MANY (1►1) VERIFIED Email (delivery receipt) Chat UNVERIFIED Email (no delivery receipt) (1►n) Newsletter Website Broadcast (TV, Radio, etc.) BLOG WIKI Conferences (Video, Voice) MANY-TO-MANY (n►n) MANY-TO-ONE (n►1) Webforms Table 1: Verified and unverified channels It is very important, to be aware whether the information should be verified or not in order to have clear expectations from the recipients. For example, an email should be answered within one working day unless the recipient is CC or BCC, which means it is only for their information but no action required. If information is communicated in a BLOG or alike, the writer cannot expect anyone to have read it except there is some feedback written. With other words, do not expect the information to be transferred to a specific individual using unverified communication channels. Real-Time and Non-Real-Time Communication might be very time critical in some cases wherefore the following table identifies the channels being real-time or not. If someone is calling a person by phone and the respondent answers it, a Real-Time communication has started. If a person sends an Email, the respondent does not need to answer immediately. Several minutes, hours or even days may pass before the answer is given, therefore it shall be considered Non-Real-Time communication. Just like the Email, a Chat does not necessarily be real-time, as the respondent may answer later. TYPE ONE-TO-ONE (1►1) REAL-TIME Calls (Voice, Video) NON-REAL-TIME Email Chat ONE-TO-MANY (1►n) Live-Broadcast (TV, Radio, etc.) MANY-TO-MANY (n►n) Conferences (Video, Voice) Email Website Broadcast (TV, Radio, etc.) BLOG WIKI Webforms MANY-TO-ONE (n►1) Table 2: Real-time and non-real-time channels Seite 4
Even in the fast world we live today, it should be always considered if information needs to be transferred immediately and not. Usually real-time communication is a very invasive way as the recipient is forced to leave any activity in order to communicate. For example if someone is in a meeting and there is a phone-call coming in as urgent, the meeting needs to be interrupted. Information retention Another important issue of ICC is the fact of whether information transmitted can be retained technically and how efficient can it be found and accessed later. For example a phone-call usually is not recorded, but even if it would be, the unstructured information transferred is very hard to find as the call would have to be re-listened completely and there is no current practice how to search in phone-calls for certain topics except for police, FBI and other legal investigation offices. Voice transcription nonetheless might become more relevant in the unified communication field enabling content search in voice messages. Further in the future of course would be such search in video messages for content. Anyway for now, it is not a common practice in ICC and therefore awareness must be increased of when transferred information can or should be retainable and how much effort is necessary to find it. TYPE ONE-TO-ONE (1►1) Retainable/searchable Email Written chat ONE-TO-MANY (1►n) MANY-TO-MANY (n►n) MANY-TO-ONE (n►1) Broadcast (TV, Radio, etc.) Email Website BLOG WIKI Non-retainable/searchable* Phone calls Voice chat Video chat Webforms Conferences (Video, Voice) *commonly not recorded Table 3: Retainability and searchability Seite 5
ICC recommendations Considering the importance of corporate wide internal communication and collaboration, following recommendations to streamline the flow of information. Policies As more numerous a company grows, the more important clear rules become. Taking into account the previously classifications, rules shall be provided and institutionalized in order to streamline internal communication. Leaving employees the freedom of choice their preferred channel of communication and sharing documents may cause disorder of information flow and even failure of internal communication itself. Following some examples that show the difficulty of the absence of communication policy. Example: Documents send by Email An employee (A) of the sales department sends an Email with an offer draft as Word-document attached to his three colleagues (B, C and D) for them to comment on it. No read nor delivery receipt has been requested which leaves it up to the colleagues to manifest they got the Email and its attachment. That the company has disciplined employees in regards of reading and answering Emails, wherefore two of three (B and D) send a response to the sender confirming that they received the Email and will work on the review during the day coming back at the end of the day. As the sender (A) has not heard anything from colleague (C), he decides to call. The colleague C answers and confirms that he has no yet read the Email because he is in a meeting and will do so later. Everything works out fine; the employee (A) receives the comments of B, C and D that evening. As each one has reviewed the draft, there are now 4 versions of the document that need to be merged. Several points were addressed in parallel, which caused unnecessary workload. Additionally, the new reviewed and merged draft needs to be resent again to everyone for approval. The circle starts again and it becomes clear that such “collaboration” and communication by Email is rather inefficient, but still widely used. Real-live example: Document management by collaboration tools The same initial situation as before, an employee (A) works on an offer draft and wants his colleagues to review and comment on it. The sales department share a common workspace with sub-sites for each project. The employee (A) saves the offer draft on the collaboration workspace with versioning enabled and sends a notification to his colleagues (B, C and D). To provide documents consistency, the CHECK-OUT/CHECK-IN feature is enabled. This feature causes that only ONE employee can MODIFY a document at once and each change results in a new version. Due to this document management, the employees are forced to work serial one after another, but avoid double work and the need for final integration (merge) of documents. Seite 6
Policy recommendations GENERAL - Written clear and simple polices for internal communication - Avoid redundancy of information and documents - Define which channel for what information shall be used and when (Scenarios) o VERIFIED: If information has a specific receiver and you need to assure message was delivered o UNVERIFIED: If information shall be searchable and available later for TEAM-MEMBERS - Use BLOGS for discussions - Provide SINGLE POINTS OF ENTRY for: o Change requests o Issue reporting o Proposals o Frequently asked questions (FAQ) WORKSPACES - A workspace should be opened for each project or client from the very beginning - Grant ALL involved users appropriate permission to create/read/update/delete documents from the very beginning - Use workspaces instead of local folders - Include META-DATA whenever possible BLOGS - Create BLOGS inside the Workspaces and take the scope and team-members into account - Use BLOGS instead of Emails for information that is of concern for the involved team in order to provide this information also to new joining members who otherwise would not have access to this information - Ask team-members to FOLLOW the BLOGS that are relevant for them - You MUST NOT believe, information in a BLOG has been read by any individual as long as no response has been posted - Keep MESSAGES short and concise - Posts MUST be placed in the right BLOG - Assign a responsible MODERATOR for each BLOG (usually PL or creator of BLOG/Workspace) Meetings - - Use shared calendars and propose Date, Time, Place, Duration, Agenda for each meeting (do not ask but propose) Review availability and respect BUSY-BLOCKS Define: o Responsible o mandatory members o optional members Reference/include additional information One MUST NOT wait for all attendance but start on time (Waiting does punish the punctual and reward the late) Seite 7
Interruptions - - Notification POP-UP may disturb and distract employees Emails shall be checked about three times a day: o First thing to do o Before lunch o Before leaving at night Like that EMAIL-NOTIFICATIONS should become unnecessary (less interruptions) Chat POP-UP interrupt and may interfere during presentations, consider turning the notifications of and review chat events several times a day similar to Emails Voice- and Video calls are highly interruptive, as the receiver has to attend them immediately wherefore Email or Chat should be preferred if possible Conclusions Due to the essential importance of corporate internal communication and collaboration, each company should do an effort to identify its specific needs and provide employees with a concise ICC-Policy or ICC-Guide. First identify the stakeholders, then classify the used communication and collaboration channels and observe how employees use them. GOOD-PRACTISES should be analyzed if they might apply and improve the ICC. Put the ICC-Guide in place, review the results and user acceptance and adjust the ICC-Guide if needed. Internal communication and collaboration is permanently evolving wherefore it is necessary for enterprises to add this as a recurring issue to be managed. It must not be underestimated as the impact of failing ICC may put the future of the company at stake. Tables Table 1:Verified and unverified channels ................................................................................4 Table 2: Real-time and non-real-time channels ......................................................................4 Table 3: Retainability and searchability ..................................................................................5 Bibliography Ana Tkalac Vercic, D. V. (2012). Internal communication: Definition, parameters, and the future. Public Relations Review - 38, 223-230. Barjis, J., Gupta, A., & Sharda, R. (2011). Knowledge work and communication challenges. Inf Syst Front, 615-619. Friedl, J., & Vercic, A. T. (2011). Media preferences of digital natives’ internal communication:. Public Relations Review, 84-86. Meng, J., & Berger, B. (2012). Measuring return on investment. Journal of Communication 164, 332-354. Welch, M. (2012). Appropriateness and acceptability: Employee perspectives of internal communication. Public Relations Review, 246-254. Seite 8
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