By Gloria Lombardi

There used to be email newsletters and the old broadcast-only intranet. Then digital screens, enterprise social networks, and mobile applications entered the workplace. Now, more and more internal communication professionals use connected devices and team messaging tools to reach employees.

NeilRieger ProfilePic400pxThe channel and tech developments reflect a new way of managing talent and operating within a complex organisation. Social media and new technology have changed the rules. People have more information about their companies. They also have changing priorities. Innovative enterprises are adopting new ways of interacting to properly engage their workforces and support collaborative working. But in today’s content saturated world, are employees receiving the information that is relevant to them? And, what do they really think of all the communications?

To gather answers to those questions, Signet – a Silicon Valley-based software provider for enterprise communications – has just launched an internal communication research study and encourages everyone, not just comms pros, to participate.

I spoke with the Director of Creative Services at Signet, Neil Rieger (pictured right), to explore the rationale behind the survey. In this interview, he describes the nature of the study and also shares his views on the latest trends in internal communications – such as the rise of interactive experiences in the office space, and cognitive computing.

Gloria Lombardi: Why did you invest in the Signet 2016 Internal Communications Survey?

Neil Rieger: At Signet, we have seen a lot of statistics and metrics around internal communications. Usually, that data is based around how communications might enhance the employee’s experience. But, these common usage stats didn’t break down what employees find valuable within the communications – what are the best topics? How did those communications make them feel? What are employees paying more attention to? Many of our clients have been asking those types of questions.

GL: Is the survey targeting any particular audiences? Or is it open to anyone who would like to participate?

Workplace_Hallway_Comms-4NR: The survey is open to anyone who works within a company environment that has an internal communications department. So, not just internal communicators themselves but all the company’s employees. It’s about understanding whether the workers see any value in those communications.

We’ve kept the survey light-weight by asking multiple choice questions. The first half of the study is about exploring how people perceive internal communications, and what tools their company offers them. The second part of the survey explores the topics and categories of communications as well as how good of a job employees feel the organisation is doing when interacting with them. It includes, for example, how they feel internal communications is doing to nurture employee engagement, and whether internal communications is helping to foster team building or a more social atmosphere in the corporate environment.

GL: From your experience with clients, and also being rooted in Silicon Valley, what are the latest trends affecting internal communications?

Workplace_Lobby_WayfindingNR: Some of the biggest technology companies in Silicon Valley are focusing on making the physical workplace more social, communicative, and innovative to help retain their top talent. For example, they are outfitting their offices with more digital endpoints that offer helpful features to employees throughout their workday, such as interactive way finding kiosks or meeting room signs which are both integrated with the company’s scheduling system to show meeting room availability and allow employees to book an open room on the fly.

A lot of virtual reality is being used in this area too, especially with Oculus by Facebook. We see a lot of people in briefing centres exploring how to use VR to demo their products. Some organisations are already using it to help with office space planning – VR gives their employees a feel of what the experience of working in a brand new building will be like. VR is also used at internal events and is a good tool for people to come together around for a bit of fun.

Workplace_System-4Devices and tools are becoming more connected. The whole workplace environment is becoming cognitive. Among the biggest trends is letting employees use their own devices, which are connected to the company’s tools. An employee’s own device becomes the main point of interaction throughout the day – now the company can provide a lot of information and tools to that particular person.

Messaging tools are definitely popular – whether it’s Slack, Yammer, HipChat, or Microsoft Teams, the trend is toward integrated and ubiquitous solutions allowing communication across platforms and devices – whether it’s their personal mobile phone, company computer or kiosk-style interactive screen.

GL: Are you seeing cognitive computing enhancing employee communications yet?

Workplace_Lounge_Comms-1NR: Data integration across systems helps make software more contextually helpful, enabling employees to be more efficient. For example, if the system knows you have a meeting in a different building, it can send you a push notification to your device to suggest when to leave. You get notified at an appropriate time based on the calculated travel time – which is much better than the basic 15 minute reminder. Or if you’re in a certain building and it’s your friend’s birthday, our system can suggest that you stop by their desk when you have a gap in your calendar to wish them a happy birthday.

These smart connections and contextual notifications nudge people into making smarter decisions.

GL: Could you give me a couple of examples of organisations that in your view are communicating well with their employees?

Workplace_Hallway_Comms-1NR: VISA is doing a good job in managing internal communications at global and local level. They have an advanced content strategy – lots of topics, including employee recognition, internal events, company, and regional news. So, they have set up a global digital network to easily facilitate communications in their lobbies, break rooms, and different areas on each floor at each campus. A global manager supervises all the content for consistency. At the same time, the local managers in each office ensure communications are relevant to their  audience.

In fact, VISA focuses a lot of attention on audience segmentation. So for example, when the offices in California are having a big internal event they really push it hard on their communication platform locally, while the global communications stay at a higher level, focusing on brand initiatives, industry, and corporate news.

IBM, on the other hand, is good at using employee generated content. The company has a global solution center that manages all the activity on external social media. Many IBM departments use different social media accounts. For example, their Design group are very active on Instagram. Not surprisingly they have large lobby media walls – by using a hashtag at an event, employees can tag a picture on Instagram or Twitter and within 30 seconds those images are on the big screens for everybody to see. Then the communications systems can pull in those pieces of media and integrate them into mobile apps or other communication platforms that employees are using internally.

GL: Thinking of your survey, do you have any final thoughts??

Workplace_Lobby_VideowallNR: The internal comms survey is anonymous. We ask participants to be as honest as possible when sharing their feelings on how their companies are doing in internal communications. Some people don’t like to be too negative or overly positive, but this is an anonymous survey and the aggregated results will provide a good snapshot of how the internal comms function is doing across the world. I hope the results will help comms teams consider their own practices, and think about what could be improved.

And, as soon as we have collected the data, we will analyse it and make the results publicly available via our blog and also notify our audience on Twitter.