During the past year, much has been written about the pros and cons of email as the primary means of communicating with employees. On the one hand, email is an easy to use, ready to access communication tool that enables one-to-one, one-to-few and one-to-many communication. Unfortunately, the ease of using this tool has led to communication clutter that degrades its overall effectiveness.
In fact, the average businessperson can expect to receive approximately 121 emails a day according to The Radicati Group, Inc., a technology market research group. What’s more, a survey conducted by McKinsey Global Institute found that office workers spend an average of 28 percent of their workweek managing email. This has prompted many companies to reevaluate their approach to employee communications and email with some considering a shift away from it as the primary means of communication.
Make Way for Millennials
In addition to the challenges of email overload, companies are also grappling with the changing composition of their workforce and the corresponding communication challenges this creates.
According to Pew Research Center, this year Millennials will overtake Baby Boomers as the largest living generation, with a population of 75.3 million. And with so many Millennials either in the workforce or on the cusp of entering, companies are searching for new ways to keep this young generation engaged by providing communication tools that match their preferences. What companies are quickly discovering is that email doesn’t cut it.
Research has shown Millennials expect transparent and continuous communication thanks to the wealth of mobile devices and social media platforms available today. This demographic, which Pew defines as people ages 18 and 35, desires quick and to-the-point communication managed with a few simple swipes of a keypad. If it’s considered old-fashioned, Millennials aren’t that interested, especially when there are better options available.
Driving Employee Engagement
Finding the best way to communicate and engage with an evolving workforce that is inundated with email is no small task but of paramount importance. Research by Gallup has shown that successful employee engagement can increase a company’s profitability and productivity by 21 percent and decrease employee turnover by 65 percent. Yet according to Gallup’s “State of the Workplace” report, only 13 percent of employees worldwide say that they’re engaged at work. What’s more, in a report entitled “The Impact of Employee Engagement on Performance,” the Harvard Business Review found that of its respondents, 73 percent said that “effective communication” was a key factor in feeling engaged.
Addressing the Challenge
To achieve better employee engagement while battling email clutter and shifting communication needs, companies are embracing alternative communication strategies that utilize enterprise social networks and digital signage.
Enterprise Social Networks
Social networking, enabled by tools such as Yammer and Chatter, are finding their way into company communication strategies as they enable new ways to collaborate and communicate across an organization. For example, Salesforce and Microsoft have launched “enterprise social networks” (Chatter and Yammer, respectively), that allow employees to communicate with one another while conducting other work related tasks (e.g., file sharing, meeting scheduling, etc.) Both companies believe that social networking improves productivity while accelerating knowledge sharing and innovation.
Another alternative communication strategy that is gaining momentum is the use of digital signage. This may include large screen displays of real-time information (e.g., company, department or employee performance versus standard on key metrics, etc.), desktop solutions that provide continuous display of pertinent information and mobile apps that empower employees to receive and act on timely information. Instead of sifting through a sea of emails, signage can automatically filter, package and present pertinent alerts and information that is most critical to employee engagement and performance.
As with other forms of communication that have become intertwined in our day-to-day lives, email isn’t something that’s likely to disappear overnight. Most likely, email will still have a role in work life in the coming years. (According to The Radicati Group, Inc. there were 929 million business email accounts in the world in 2013, and the firm estimates that this number will increase by an average growth rate of 5 percent over the next few years, reaching 1.1 billion by 2017.)
In light of this, there are a few things you can do now to improve employee engagement and communication including:
- Make sure that you’re using the correct communication channels with various groups of employees. For example, many employees are active on social media. Why not leverage these resources by creating private company accounts that only employees can access? Here workers can share information on such things as upcoming office events or birthdays, while avoiding mass emails.
- Investigate digital signage as an alternative channel of communication. Digital signage can be strategically placed in areas around the office that employees will see daily, such as in break rooms, near entrances and in meeting rooms. Here you can relay important information that’s easily updated, such as real-time sales reports, safety messaging or HR notices.
- Update company policies and training regarding the use of email. There’s a time and place for using email, but overuse can be detrimental to achieving your overall communication objectives.
Effective communication is a balancing act. Shifting how your employees communicate with each other can be a challenge and it won’t change overnight; just give it time. Once you’ve rolled out new ways of communicating, don’t be surprised if your employees quickly embrace the tool(s) and approach that is best suited for them.