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Internal communication tools: advantages and disadvantages
The overview shows which internal communication tools you should use in 2023 and which are better put aside.
"The medium is the message" is the theory of the Canadian media expert Marshall McLuhan. The much-quoted statement is over 100 years old, therefore McLuhan rather had communication media like books, films, newspapers, and telegrams in mind. But the theory has withstood the test of time and is no less true when it comes to newsletters, Zoom conferences and employee apps. So, when choosing tools for your internal communication, always keep two things in mind:
1. What information (images, graphics, emotions, etc.) can be conveyed through the medium?
2. What does the selection of the communication tool say about you - what implicit message comes across to your employees?
What are the tools of internal communication?
The instruments of internal communication include all tools, channels and means that serve the exchange within the company - between management and employees and within the workforce.
Traditional instruments of internal communication
- Meetings and events
- Employee magazine
Digital instruments of internal communication
- Online meetings
- Internal wiki
- Employee blog
- Social Intranet
- Digital Signage
- Instant messenger
- Employee App
What is important in the selection of tools?
Most of the time, when selecting communication tools, the focus is on leadership communication, i.e., communication between management and staff.
If you want to build a good feedback culture, you also need tools for the flow of information in the other direction: from employees back to management. In addition, communication takes place among the employees.
Whether official company communication or casual exchange among employees: by choosing the right channels for internal communication, you can influence, among other things, how well information is received, the basic tone that develops, how efficiently knowledge is exchanged and how much your employees feel valued.
This guide gives you an overview of the wide range of instruments you can use in order to improve internal communication.
Non-digital internal communication tools
The trend is undoubtedly towards digital means of communication. Nevertheless, there are conversations that are best held in person. And just because a communication channel is not based on the World Wide Web does not mean it is obsolete. Team events and face-to-face staff meetings, for example, will never be completely obsolete.
Meetings, kick-offs, and team events
always have a social aspect. Even completely decentralised companies like Komoot meet regularly and discuss all important topics, eat and drink together and thus create space for an open exchange.
In such a context, topics can be addressed that have a high need for discussion and/or deal with the "big picture".
- Opportunity to network
- Easy team building
- Non-desk employees are also reached
- Effective for employee motivation and employer branding
- Time-consuming and cost-intensive
- Early planning required
- Information must be well prepared and presented
- All participants must be on site
Noticeboard and notices
The notice board is also an analogue tool that is still used. Especially in care facilities or in companies where employees work in warehouses or production, notice boards are the tool of choice. Even though non-digital does not always mean outdated, the notice board is now an obsolete communication tool and can be replaced by digital alternatives, which will be addressed in the next chapter. These include, for example, an internal newsletter or an employee app.
- Is firmly established in many places
- Anyone can post information
- Acts as a meeting place for employees
- Cost effective
- Can reach all employees who are on site
- Information is often out of date
- Not target group specific
- No feedback channel
- Time-consuming to maintain up-to-date
Like many other print media, staff magazines printed at regular intervals continue to be well received by readers. Why? They appreciate having something tactile in their hands to leaf through during their coffee break. Nevertheless, this classic variant of internal communication is on a downward trend. Digital channels for internal communication are replacing employee newspapers - also because it is cheaper for companies.
- Impression of high quality
- Wide reach
- Many possibilities for visualising content
- High printing and logistics costs
- Slow and not up-to-date
- High editorial effort
- No interaction
Digital internal communication tools
The future isdigital for internal communication tools. Most digital tools offer advantages such as group-specific targeting, better possibilities for analysis and location-independent access.
E-mail and internal newsletter
Probably the most popular communication channel for internal communication: e-mail. It does not requireextensive explanation. The figures also show that everyone is familiar with this type of communication: according to Statista, all companies surveyed use e-mail frequently to very frequently. Internal company newsletters are also mostly sent via email.
- Fast and direct communication channel
- Easy to evaluate
- Easy to link with calendar
- Easy to use
- Danger of e-mail overload
- Newsletters are often ignored
- Reaches only employees with email address
- Not suitable for critical information
Online meetings and video conferences
Another classic in corporate communication: the online meeting. It is particularly suitable for smaller groups or large meetings in which only a few participants have the right to speak. For most corporate groups, the advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages: Statistics show that online meetings are used by almost three quarters of the companies surveyed for internal communication.
- Verbal exchange offers space for questions
- Also reaches employees in home office
- Hardly any technical knowledge necessary
- Risk of "zoom fatigue" - fatigue from too many online meetings
- Non-desk workers cannot participate
- Not all service providers are DSGVO-compliant
An internal wiki is a knowledge database where employees should find answers to all their questions. As a rule, the internal wiki is part of the (social) intranet. In terms of knowledge management, employees should be able to benefit from the knowledge of others and post content themselves. This includes information in all formats, such as videos, presentations, onboarding documents or notes.
- All important documents in one place
- Search function
- Easy to manage thanks to user-generated content
- Few opportunities for interaction
- Can become confusing
- Only for employees with a PC workstation
The staff blog is often part of the internal wiki. Here, too, staff members can post content in text, image, or video form. This can be contributions with tips on specific tasks, reports on experiences or news. Employee blogs only work if employees are informed about new content - for example, by email, push message on Slack or in an employee app. Employees are not likely to visit a company blog by their own initiative. This could be one reason why only about one in ten companies frequently uses the blog as a communication channel.
- Promotes exchange between employees
- Informal format
- All employees have equal rights
- Extensive data maintenance is necessary
- Non-desk workers are left out
- Chat platform is seldom provided
Nowadays, many companies rely on the intranet as their primary instrument for internal communication. Information, documents, and much more are made available to employees on the platform, which is only accessible to company employees.
The social intranet also offers the possibility of interaction: employees can communicate with colleagues via direct messages and send files. The structure of the social intranet is reminiscent of well-known social networks and provides users with current information, news from groups and much more through a news feed.
- Promotes exchange among employees
- Also suitable for management communication
- High user numbers due to comparability with social media
- Often unclear
- Focus only on desktop employees
- Not target group specific
- Bottom-up communication hardly takes place
They function like digital noticeboards : electronic signs that provide information like posters - only in digital format. While this type of communication is mainly used at railway stations and airports for electronic display, digital signage also plays a role in internal communication. The screen replaces the analogue noticeboard
- Easy to update
- Acts as a meeting place
- Suitable for all staff on site
- Location bound
- No interaction
- No group-specific targeting
- Additional walking distances
Private Instant Messenger
The use of antiquated internal communications tools, which do not enable direct exchange among the users, has led to the use of private messenger apps in the workplace.
Employees who do little or nothing at their desks chat with colleagues on their smartphones to stay informed. They often use apps that are not recommended: WhatsApp is not the only app that poses data protection risks. Facebook Messenger and Telegram are other examples.
- Easy exchange between staff members
- Possibility to create group chats
- Private smartphone can be used
- Employees do not have to be at work
- No editorial processing
- Danger of spam
- Work and private life become blurred
- Often poor data protection
- Functionality does not go beyond chat
Instant messengers especially for companies
The better alternative are messengers for companies, which also enable uncomplicated exchange between colleagues, but are designed for use in a business context: for example, Slack, Teams and RocketChat. Although these are good mobile apps, they are designed for desktop use - unlike messenger apps for mobile phones.
- Easy exchange between staff members
- Possibility to create groups
- Easy sending of documents
- No editorial preparation
- Not designed for non-desk workers
- Limited functionality
Online employee surveys
Through digital employee surveys or dedicated HR tools, modern companies can anonymously get a picture of employee satisfaction, solicit suggestions, and spontaneously gauge the mood in teams.
- Anonymous and thus honest feedback
- All employees can be addressed
- Filtering by team or work location possible
- Often low participation
- Online surveys usually do not reach non-desk workers
An employee app combines the advantages of messenger apps with those of the social intranet. Thanks to a practical newsfeed, the app presents relevant information clearly and concisely. Users can create their own content, comments or even video conferences with just a few clicks.
In this way, employees in the warehouse or production also receive current internal information and can directly feedback their experiences, competencies, and suggestions for improvement from practice. According to the Statista survey, company apps are currently used frequently or very frequently in about one fifth of the companies interviewed.
- Non-desk workers are reached
- Direct exchange between employees
- Simplifies bottom-up communication
- Can be used on private smartphones in compliance with the DSGVO
- Not useful for companies without non-desk workers
- Data protection risks with cloud services from outside the EU
- Complex if too many functions are integrated
Conclusion: It's all in the mix
The choice of internal communication tools is not an either-or question. And less is not necessarily more, because the instruments fulfil very different purposes. Combining several channels is one of the trends in internal communication.
The comparison above shows that almost every tool has its meritsIt is important to discourage parallel use of different communication channels. Employees should have a clear understanding of which channel is suitable for each type of communication. And this only works if managers use the channels themselves accordingly.
How can internal communication be improved?
How well your internal communication is received also depends on the choice of tools. Before that, however, something else matters.
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