Business communication strategies
Organizations had to rethink their communication strategies when people started working remotely during lockdown. Now, as some people begin returning to the workplace, businesses need to think again. Learn how to get started.
As countries went into lockdown, many companies enabled widespread remote working - often for the first time. This meant sweeping changes to how people talked, worked and engaged with each other.
As some people begin the slow return to work, organizations now have to grapple with a mix of hybrid working arrangements, business communication, and combinations of digital and face-to-face interactions.
So, why is this important, and how can businesses make sure their communication strategies are as effective as possible as we move towards the new, post-coronavirus world of work?
To find answers, it’s essential to define what we mean when we talk about business communication strategies, and how they’re changing in the wake of the pandemic.
What are business communication strategies?
If you want an organization that’s productive, that meets its goals, and that provides a positive Employee Experience – a successful business, in other words – then seamless communication is essential.
Business communication comes in many forms. There’s internal corporate communication – the flow of information, news and conversation between different parts of the business, and up and down hierarchies. And then there’s external communication, with customers, partners and clients.
A business communication strategy takes all these various avenues into account and offers a single vision to set out what, how, when and why people should communicate.
There’s no one way to put a strategy together, but you’ll want to define:
- Messaging: what do you want to say and who in your organization can say it?
- Content: how can you frame goals for each piece of content you produce?
- Channels: how do you understand the channel mix? How do you know the right content to put on the right channel?
What a business communication strategy shouldn’t be is a list of tools and pieces of equipment designed to enable communication. Instead, it should guide everyone in the organization to understand what you expect to achieve through communication.
In other words, an organization might change the channels it uses to communicate, but the communication vision will stay constant.
How do you develop a business communication strategy?
A good communication strategy needs to line up with the overall business strategy. If you're focused on your primary goals, it’s much easier to understand how communication fits into the big picture and how you can use it to achieve your objectives.
A strategy doesn’t have to be the size of a dissertation. In some cases, it won’t be longer than a page or two. It should start by setting out a clear vision in one or two sentences. The rest of the strategy should then offer directions for how managers and employees can help achieve this vision. But it needn’t go into granular detail – getting too specific and piling on the rules can feel like micromanaging and create more problems than it solves.
In the past, communication strategies have been very top-down. But they’re now moving towards a more employee-driven model of a two-way, networked conversation rather than something static and siloed.
Bearing this in mind, it’s a good idea to get everyone involved from the start. You can do this by taking stock of the current state of communications in your organization.
Do an employee survey asking what is and isn’t working about your communication and the platforms you use. The information you gather will give an employee-led steer on where you need to make improvements.
Once you’re confident of the direction of your business communication strategy, you can start to get more specific about the types of communication you expect.
- Should teams start their own internal newsfeeds?
- Does the business need a new or revised policy to help employees escalate issues?
- Do managers need more support when it comes to reaching employees who are working remotely?
- Is your current approach to sales and marketing effective, or is a change of direction needed?
- Is the customer services department achieving its goal of keeping customers on the side of the brand. If not, how can you fix it?
When you can answer these questions, you can start to look more clearly at communication mechanics. In other words, which channels you should be using.
How should you choose communication channels?
People expect the way they communicate at work to be consistent with how they like to talk to friends and family in their day-to-day lives. This is especially important for younger employees – Millennials are 1.4 times more likely than their Baby Boomer colleagues to say it’s important for them to work for a company that uses the latest tools and technologies.
That’s one reason why instant messaging apps and mobile tech are becoming essentials in so many workplaces – especially with widespread remote working. One of their most significant advantages is that they enable communication with people both inside and outside the workplace.
But it’s not just defining the channel and hardware that’s important. You should also use the data and insights you’ve gathered to shape your policies. And these, in turn, should help to influence the types of messages people send.
Good communication policies will set boundaries to make sure people keep their communications respectful, reducing the risk of harassment and bullying. Everyone needs to know the rules and you should also have policies that set out what happens if someone breaks them.
Business communication and change management
Organizational change is a big test of your business communication strategy. Change means uncertainty, and employees will look to the business for answers. It’s a challenge organizations faced when employees moved to remote working. Now it’s happening again as the cautious return to work begins.
This new phase is further putting the spotlight on employee experience (EX), which became so important during the move to mass remote working. The majority of organizations report that their business culture has actually improved since the pandemic, and want to capitalize on this in the future. That means the spotlight is on comms to smooth the transition. So how can you do it?
To communicate effectively through a period of change, it’s important to understand people’s mindsets: change is uncomfortable – 73% of employees affected by change report experiencing stress. Those suffering from change-related anxiety perform 5% worse than average. So your communications must be human and reassuring while being realistic.
- Decide on your key messaging and make sure it aligns with your wider business strategy
- Define who is being affected by the change and how? What will the changes mean for people in different roles?
- Think about how you’re going to communicate. What channels will you use, for which employees, and for which messages?
- Be clear about exactly what is going to change
- Set out the organization’s hopes for what things will look like in the future
- Answer questions and ally fears where you can – share the answers widely for reassurance
- Address rumors by giving the facts
- Make communication a conversation by giving people a forum to ask questions, give feedback and express anxieties. Act on feedback and publicize your actions
Above, all keep talking. You can’t over-communicate during a period of change. Message frequently and through a mix of channels to make sure you keep people in the loop so they can ask and get answers to their questions.
5 ways to improve your business communication strategies
Implementing your business communication strategy is only the beginning. Monitoring, updating and refining it is a continuous process that needs to sit at the core of your business operations moving forward. Here are 5 ways to make sure your strategy stays relevant:
1. Be clear about your goals
The company’s mission is the cornerstone of your communications as well as everything else, so it shouldn’t be a mystery to the people who work for it. Making sure everyone is aware of what you’re trying to achieve will help more people buy into the organization’s vision.
2. Monitor how you’re doing
Make sure you’re constantly gathering data and feedback on your comms approach. One way to do this is to host an always-on survey, asking staff to rate their experiences of using the company’s communication tools and policies at regular intervals. This way, you’ll be able to identify trends or, if you’re making changes, the immediate impact of them.
3. Lead by example
Communicate in the way you want your team to, using the channels you want them to use – for example, if you want to cut down on email, use instant messaging instead. This will empower team members to lead by example too.
4. Give people a voice
Create forums where people can contribute feedback and ideas. Acknowledge their contributions and act on them if you can.
5. Provide ongoing training
This is especially important if your system is routinely changing but is also essential for new starters or people unfamiliar with the types of systems or procedures your business is using. Aim to provide training sessions at least once a year for all employees to ensure they’re using your communication system to its fullest potential and have regular clinics and drop-in sessions for all staff who need to refresh their skills or ask questions.
The current global situation is stress-testing your communications in a time of rapid change. Making them more employee-centered, more human, easier and more efficient is the key to success, and it's vital in making sure employees remain productive and engaged.
Implementing a new business communication strategy needn’t be complicated. With a simple mission statement that connects to the wider needs of your business, you can guide your organization towards clearer, quicker, better communications. Put an employee-centered strategy together with the help of the Workplace EX Comms Handbook.
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