Don't let the intranet stifle communication

Technology provides new channels to company staff, but managers need to use it creatively Don't let the intranet stifle...

Technology provides new channels to company staff, but managers need to use it creatively Don't let the intranet stifle communication

IT is all about channelling communications, so, in theory, IT firms should be fantastic at talking to and listening to their staff. But this is not always the case.

There is no doubt that web technology and the development of sophisticated intranets has enhanced the way in which firms can talk to their workers and staff talk to each other. It is not just about upwards and downwards communication but about passing information laterally between colleagues who perhaps never meet or even speak.

The problem is that many employers are using their intranets badly. Take the idea of team briefings. The original model, which predates the web by several decades, involved senior managers issuing a monthly core brief of information to line managers, which they in turn issued to their teams. That core brief probably contained information about the organisation's recent performance plus details about future plans and projects. The briefing meeting was an opportunity for staff to quiz their managers about that information.

It was fine in its day but as working patterns have changed and become more flexible in terms of when and where people work, it has become harder for teams to get together. The development of intranets and e-mail has been a godsend. Employers can simply post their core brief on the intranet for staff to access when it is convenient to them.

The problem now is that employers believe that by putting information out on the intranet, the workforce has read and understood it. This is rarely the case. In addition, staff attitude surveys by The Work Foundation show that line managers are workers' preferred source of work-related information.

Ditching the corporate intranet is not the answer, but using it more creatively and more interactively could be. Good web communication, as IT people know, is about making the most of tools such as online surveys, staff chatrooms, webcams, videoconferencing and other interactive technology.

At the same time, we must not forget the power of talking face-to-face. It is not about recreating a meetings culture but about using existing meetings and events to reinforce the corporate message and give staff a chance to thrash out their views.

The real lesson to be learned about talking to staff today is that not everyone wants to communicate or be communicated with in the same way. Employers have to find the right mix that enables them to harness the emotional loyalty of every member of staff.

The first step has to be to find out what staff want to know, and how they want to find out about it. Are they happy with the communication processes? Do they get the information they need? Do they feel adequately consulted? Are they listened to? Do they get feedback on the information they give, and what are their communication media preferences?

At the root of any great place to work are the workers, and they have to be at the root of any employee communication strategy. You cannot take the people out of communication.

Ceri Diffley is an occupational psychologist and a consultant with the survey and diagnostics unit at The Work Foundation

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