Your guide to the best internal communications software

11 January 2021 | Faye Waghorn

And using an intranet as a communication tool for your employees

The trauma that was 2020 taught us much, and for business leaders, underscored the value of a robust employee comms strategy and flexible internal communications solutions.

Remote workers and distributed workforces compelled organisations to do things differently and, in many instances, their usual approach – and their communications software – were found wanting.

But the best reason for looking back is to learn the right way forward. Here, we dip into:  

  • What are the common barriers to effective internal communications? 
  • What are the three core models of communication in general? 
  • Understanding the three main categories of company intranets.
  • A tour of some of the most popular comms tools in the marketplace – and their pros and cons.
  • Selecting internal comms tools – what should you consider? 
  • How to bring it all together – and avoid creating more silos.

Common barriers to good internal communication

Even long before the pandemic struck and forced many of us to work in isolation from our kitchen tables and spare rooms, grumbles around shabby or inadequate workplace communications were rife. And you needn’t take our word for it:

  • 86% of corporate executives, employees, and educators say that ineffective communication is a primary reason for workplace failures. (Fierce, Inc survey).
  • 74% of employees say they miss out on crucial company communications. (Gallup).

And the negative impact of rubbish or non-existent internal comms can’t be overstated. When team members perceive that they’re left out, they could, reasonably, conclude that they’re unimportant to their employer. Feeling like they’re mere Oompa Loompas can lead to low morale, disengagement, and higher employee attrition rates. 

But why is this? What are the classic barriers to good employee comms? Our table, below, shows they’re both psychological and practical.

What gets in the way of effective internal comms?

Cultural blockersAn elitist culture, where information is shared among leaders only, or distributed on a ‘need to know’ basis. And managers who have still to develop in their roles may lack the initiative or confidence to impart information.   
Information overwhelmA high frequency of comms, especially via email, can leave people feeling bombarded and confused. Often, they’re not sure what to prioritise, and crucial comms get lost in the noise.    
Hard to reach employeesThe vast majority of the world’s 2.7 billion workers – 80% – don’t sit at desks and are harder to engage. Remote workers with no easy access to company mobile devices lack parity with their more connected colleagues.    
Poorly written or designed communicationsCompelling comms demand good writing skills, and an appreciation of the effectiveness of other comms mediums, like video messaging and infographics. Your comms may suffer if this is left to line managers without running past professional internal communicators.    
A disconnect with the intended audienceComms that aren’t in the recipients’ native language or fail to recognise their frame of reference or cultural nuances.    
Lack of senior buy-inWithout endorsement by the big cheeses, some messages – especially those around cultural and behavioural changes – risk failing to land. Leading by example is vital.  
Clunky technology Systems which don’t enable timely targeted comms and push notifications. And from the users’ perspective, limited searchability or poorly structured information channels cause frustration.   
Too many internal comms channelsWith no consistency around what comms channels are used when, messaging becomes messy.    
No internal communications strategyFor setting goals and measuring success – and consistency in your messaging – a clearly defined communications strategy is vital.  
Disengaged or disenfranchised staffThe battle to win hearts and minds may demand an honest evaluation of deep-rooted issues first.  
Limited resourcesAn overstretched or under-resourced internal comms team.  

The three core models of communication

Did you know that the way we communicate typically falls into one of three *models? These are:

  • The linear model – the process of one-way communication, where the sender transmits a message, and the receiver consumes it or perceives it as noise. The linear communication model is used across businesses to support customer-focused activities like sales, marketing, and PR. Some company intranets function this way too.
  • The transactional model, also known as the circular model. As the name suggests, the participants – called communicators, take turns transmitting and receiving. Company intranets which empower employees to contribute suggestions and ideas fall into this category.
  • The interactional model describes a more mature form of communication, where the participants are more engaged in – and responsive to – one another. Rather than taking turns to transmit, (like the transactional model), the process is more interpersonal, as the parties truly listen and respond to what’s being communicated. In the context of company intranets, the interactional model could include feedback on employee surveys – for example, ‘you said, we did’ style messaging. 

* source – ‘Models of Communication,’ Businesstopia.

The three main categories of company intranets

Broadly, intranets fall into three different types: 

  • An internal website. This type of intranet is based on one-directional, one-to-many publishing. The people who interact with it fall into two groups; those who publish, and those who consume the content. Think the linear model of communication we mentioned, above.
  • A collaboration platform. This intranet type is two-directional, and is interactive, unlike the above internal website. While a core group of people is responsible for publishing new content, it enables its users to be heard, too. For example, via discussion forums, virtual suggestion boxes and ideas boards. This intranet reflects the transactional model of communication.  
  • A digital workplace, or distributed intranet – is a central, go-to hub for your users, which acts as their gateway to the other applications and the tools they need to do their jobs. This is an employee-centred intranet and most closely mirrors the interactional communication model referenced.  

A helicopter tour of some popular internal communications tools for employees

Here, we take a quick spin of several of the most widely used internal communications solutions and pick out some pros and cons.

Communication Software / Employee Communication Tools  In a nutshell, what is it?ProsCons
SharePointA web-based, document management and collaboration tool.Highly configurable. Integrates with Microsoft 365 and other systems. Unless properly governed, can become a content wild west.   
Skype for BusinessEnterprise-level communications software. Includes instant messaging, voice over IP (VoIP), and video conferencing.Somewhat beside the point – see cons!Nearing the end of life. With the focus on Teams, Microsoft is retiring the platform on 31 July 2021.   
SlackA channel-based messaging platform.The channels make it easy to categorise discussions. Intuitive, user-friendly interface.With the free version, it often spreads ungoverned through a business. Conversations purely presented as a persistent feed of chat can make it difficult to find content.  
Microsoft TeamsA proprietary business communication platform, bringing together people, content, and business tools.  As Microsoft’s golden child, Teams is updated regularly with new features and functionality.  Integrates with third- party apps as well as the Microsoft suite.The depth and richness of Teams can be overwhelming for new users. Demands a decent level of governance to maintain order and control.  
ZoomCloud-based video conferencing and online chat service.Relatively easy to use and doesn’t require users to download software.Security concerns, including Zoom bombing.  
SocialChorusStandalone enterprise communication platform with an accompanying mobile app.Straightforward content publishing with granular audience segmentation.Aligns more to the internal websiteend of the spectrum; lacks deep integrations with line-of-business apps. Getting your data off the platform should you move to a new solution is challenging.  

Core considerations for your internal communications tools

When it comes to identifying the right tool for your communications with your employees, what should you look for? While this does, of course, depend on your circumstances and objectives, we recommend that you factor in: 

  • Mobile-first – reach your employees wherever they are.
  • Cloud-based – the freedom and agility to manage your internal comms wherever you are, too. 
  • Fast – allows communication in real-time, when necessary. 
  • Measurable – lets you understand the level of engagement and monitor the success of your employee communications. 
  • Modern – if not professionally, your people will probably be accustomed to the likes of instant messaging and emojis in their personal lives using social media. This type of stuff can encourage employees to engage.   
  • Facilitates targeted comms – different job roles or demographics often call for separate and distinct messaging. A platform that can push comms to specific categories of employees can be invaluable, especially in times of urgency or crisis.

Bringing your internal comms together

So, we’ve looked at various comms tools and solutions, and given you a few pointers around your approach. But how do you avoid creating just another comms silo? And how do you ensure the success – and longevity – of your comms strategy?

The answer is to pull everything you and your employees need into one central hub:  a modern intranet. Our Fresh Digital Workplace does this – and more. Whether you choose to use one internal comms tool or a half a dozen, you can plug them into Fresh. And you can bring order and consistency into how you communicate and how your employees consume information and collaborate.

If you’d like to learn more, we’d love to hear from you, please click here to book a demo or contact us for an informal and friendly chat.

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