Is Your Company Turning Up the Volume on Internal Communications? Read This First.
I dare you to read this article without checking your phone, Slack, email, or Asana notifications. If that sounds near impossible, you’re not alone. In a recent survey, 73% of respondents agreed that working from home has increased their sense of digital communication overload. The feeling of being bombarded the moment you open your laptop isn’t just a feeling, though. Companies are pushing more information to employees in hopes of staying aligned, connected, and productive in a remote world. And I get it; it’s tempting to drag the spreadsheet on internal communications when you can’t catch up with your team or coworkers at the office.
But it’s also a mistake.
The first consequence of turning up the volume on internal communications is burnout. It’s already impossible not to bring our work home with us (hello, makeshift kitchen office), and getting around-the-clock emails, Slacks, and reminders doesn’t help. Especially for global companies working across time zones, there’s a narrowing window of time when employees can truly “turn off.” It’s promising to see companies providing more mental health support, benefits, and perks, and I believe cutting back on noise and doubling down on asynchronous communication is another opportunity to support employees’ wellbeing.
The second consequence is that more information can actually make employees less productive. Consider this scary truth: Employees spend about 25% of their time looking for information they need to do their jobs, or about 9 hours per week. Part of the challenge is that as companies grow, there are naturally more resources and tools for employees to stay on top of. But it’s not just that. I think we often approach internal communications like we’re playing dodgeball, throwing information at employees to see if they catch it. The result is an overwhelmingly low signal-to-noise ratio, and a lot of information getting dodged. That’s why when rolling out a new program or introducing a new process, we should be asking ourselves: How can I get this right information, to the right people, at the right time?
This is an opportunity we’re actively working on at HubSpot. Transparency is a core value of ours; we share everything. And for the most part, that’s a good thing. In a 2020 survey of HubSpot employees, 99% of respondents said the company’s level of transparency helps them to do their jobs, and 94% said it makes them feel included. Now, as we move to a hybrid model and grow globally across time zones, it’s critical we scale and operationalize that transparency. We want employees to have the information they need to do their jobs without adding ‘air traffic control’ to their daily responsibilities.
Here are a few internal communications beliefs I’m keeping in mind as we help HubSpot adapt to the future of work. Hopefully, they can help your organization communicate at scale, too.
Your resources could learn something from Marie Kondo.
Marie Kondo became a Netflix sensation and household name after asking one simple question that changed how we think about tidying up: does it spark joy? The idea is that if something doesn’t provide value, then it’s probably just taking up space. One reason employees spend so much time searching for information is because there’s a lot of “bad” information in the way. This might be documentation that’s gone outdated, a slide deck that’s no longer relevant, or a spreadsheet that has four versions just like it. Instead of letting your resources turn into a Google doc graveyard, do an audit of what resources still add value and which are just taking up space. If it doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it.
A good communicator never blames her tools.
When HubSpot decided on a hybrid model for the future of work, a lot of employees wondered if we were going to invest in new asynchronous communication tools to better connect and collaborate. When we dug into it, though, we realized that our comms tools aren’t causing friction as much as the way we’re using them. Take Slack, for example. Slack is an asynchronous communication tool, meaning it sends and delivers messages that don’t require an immediate response. But unlike email, there’s an unspoken agreement at many fast-paced organizations that Slack messages require quick responses. That can create an ‘always on’ culture if you aren’t intentional about setting expectations, boundaries, and operating systems. Ernie Park on HubSpot’s engineering team made a compelling prediction that a company’s ‘comms stack’ is going to become as important to candidates as a company’s tech stack. And I think he’s right. The tools an organization uses say a lot about how they work, and I’d add that how they use them needs to be intentional and inclusive.
Your update isn’t as important as you think it is. Sorry.
This one might sting, but it needs to be said. A fair amount of the information we send to employees just isn’t that important. If it isn’t information someone needs in order to do their job right now, then it’s noise. Consider that 62% of emails employees receive are not important. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s not ‘must-know’ information; surround sound about team development, benefits & perks, company updates, and culture programming are all valuable to employees. But these messages and updates have a time and a place, and the key is delivering them to employees when and where they’ll be most engaged.
Boundaries should be the norm, not the exception.
A year ago, if I saw a stop sign emoji or a ‘do not disturb’ message in someone’s Slack status, I’d think, “Relax. We get it, you’re busy.” Since then, I’ve realized these people are geniuses. Working remotely emphasizes how important it is to set boundaries and to be vocal about how and when we work best. Otherwise, how will your team, manager, or coworkers know if they’re adding to the noise or collaborating in a way that works for you? At HubSpot, to normalize taking breaks, we added default Slack statuses like ‘Recharging’ and ‘Lunching’, and encourage people to use statuses to signal that they’re with their kids, at an appointment, or just offline. We’ve also doubled down on helping managers create remote work operating systems for their teams, and guides for learning how their direct reports work best.
Every employee needs a crash course in communicating.
It’s hard to find a job description that doesn’t list “excellent communication skills” as a requirement. But what does that actually mean these days? Communicating in a remote environment is completely different than communicating in the office. That’s why I think companies need to reset and redefine what ‘good’ communication looks like today, and help employees build that skill. It used to be that we would learn through osmosis; new hires could see how someone asked questions to their team in the office, or what types of emails got sent to executives and which didn’t. But now, with information overload and no desks to turn to, it’s hard to read the room. Putting together tips, examples of good communication, and guidance on how to use certain tools can go a long way in setting employees up for success.
Internal communication at scale is hard, especially in an increasingly remote environment. But I believe the biggest mistake organizations can make with communication is assuming that what worked in the past is working today. We need to forget what we think we know about workplace collaboration, and take a beginners’ mindset to scaling our approach. We should be collecting feedback from employees, ‘user testing’ new approaches and tools, and holding ourselves accountable in asking if we really need to hit send on that email.
And if you made it this far without checking your notifications, I’d love to hear more about your company’s internal communications strategy.