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You Can Over-Communicate

There is an adage in communications that you cannot over-communicate, meaning that no amount of communication is too much. For internal communicators, that may no longer be the case. An increasingly recurring comment about internal communications at some of the organizations we work with is that employees feel as though they are being inundated with too many communications from too many stakeholders, and far too frequently.

This could be an increasing trend of organizations communicating too much, which is a resolute shift from how internal communications was handled even five or ten years ago, when it was sparse and cursory. So, what has changed?

With the widespread adoption of smartphones and mobile devices, and the increase of corporate emails being sent to those devices, a quick email usually means that employees can be reached on a device from which they are detached.

Think about your email habits; when you receive an email notification, either on your mobile or on your desktop, do you open that email? I know I do, and unfortunately, it sends everything I was doing before that email to a grinding halt.

Lately, email seems to be treated as a way to cover bases, i.e. if an email (digital timestamp and all) was sent, the communicator can’t be held accountable for employees having missed said email. You’ve probably heard “Well, there was an email about it…” at some point in your career, with the expectation that among the 121 or so emails that the average office worker receives per day, you’d have noticed, read and understood everything from major announcements to interpersonal conversations that accrue in your inbox.

If your organization relies on email as its primary internal communications channel, it’s understandable as to why communications go unread and why your employees may feel inundated by communications.

The mentality of ‘send it out no matter what (even if it’s an email)’ puts an unreasonable expectation on the employee to be able to read and digest pertinent and business-critical communications when 28% of an employee’s day is already spent reading and answering emails, according to a 2012 McKinsey study.

Five years later, that number is likely to have only increased. If you or your organization’s default is to send a company-wide email for everything, it’s time to consider alternatives.

If your organization does not have any kind of governance in place when it comes to sending business communications via email, here’s a quick ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questionnaire to serve as the building blocks for some of those rules.

Consider your communication:

  1. Do employees need to read it immediately?

When you send an email, consider that you are interrupting all tasks, meetings or conversations currently taking place among your intended audience. Is your communication important enough to interrupt that productivity? If not, don’t send that email.

  1. Is it critical enough that it will immediately influence how employees are currently working and will require rapid action?

Is there an expectation that, upon having read your email, its recipients will need to start using different tools, changing behaviours or influencing the tasks that they require to complete their day to day? If not, don’t send that email.

  1. Will your communication need to be referenced by employees in the future?

Are you communicating changes to policy or procedure that employees will need to be able to quickly find to reference when needed? Consider that some email clients archive emails past a certain date, and some mobile devices only sync a certain amount of days for inboxes. If employees will need to find your communication at a later date, you can’t rely on it being in their inboxes permanently, or that they will be able to find it by search.

  1. Have you tried another channel or medium for the communication?

Email tends to be the fallback channel for all communications, because of the investment in both time and budget, all communicators desire their work to be read and consumed by the biggest audience possible; and most people read their emails.

But, until you try another channel, you won’t know what your success rate will be on those other channels.

  1. Is this something you will want to measure?

One of the many downsides to communicating with employees via email is that unless you are using specifically designed tools like MailChimp or Constant Contact for your internal communication, you will not have useable metrics on whether or not your communications are being read.

On most modern intranets you can track pageviews; on videos you can track plays. To really understand what your message penetration is in your organization, you can either survey after your communication has gone out, or you can track its views by using one of the methods described above.

Changing Habits

I understand that fighting the impulse to hit ‘send’ on that communication is going to require a change in behaviour from what you’ve done in the past. It will require a slight adjustment of habits based on what has been successful for you, and it might even mean that in the interim, your communications may not have the desired penetration within your organization.

Just as you’re changing your communication habits, your employees will have to learn to do the same as well. They have always been able to rely on communications coming to their inbox, and it will require some behaviour adjustment for them to understand that that may no longer be the case.

Like any change, some employees will embrace it, and others will fail to understand the importance of the change, or simply refuse to comply with something that is counter to the way it’s always been.

In Conclusion

As consumers, employees are shifting away from having communications ‘pushed to’ them, and are increasingly ‘pulling’ from communications. And that means being communicated to on their own terms, when it is most convenient for them. It is important for communicators to heed the macro trends of how we as consumers expect to be communicated to; especially when those trends continue to evolve.

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