Communication in big companies

Communication in big companies

It’s all up to management

In-house communication channels are supposed to increase productivity. But they are often misused – or ignored entirely. Only management can make a positive change to company communication.

Text: Adrienne Fichter,

Customer advisor Gerhard Fischer writes: “@channel: I am handing over the reins to my successor, unfortunately I don’t have a shift plan in front of me. A customer said that he didn’t really understand the information we recently gave him. How about if we held regular discussions about customer feedback? Have a nice evening, everybody!” Anyone who has ever used the Slack communication tool will be familiar with this scenario. When someone writes @channel or @here, their message is sent to all potential recipients by e-mail, as a desktop message or as a push message straight to their smartphone.

This slacktivism is an annoyance for many companies. Slack is a social network for companies. The tool was designed to allow different channels to be used to organise in-house communication more efficiently. The irony is that companies run the risk of inciting their employees’ urge to communicate and end up with exactly the opposite of efficient communication. 

«Grund für die digitale Geschwätzigkeit kann
Geltungsdrang sein, oder die Angst, dass die eigene Arbeitsleistung nicht wertgeschätzt wird.»

Digital verbiage

Digital verbiage also finds expression in e-mail cascades in which employees add all management levels to the cc line. This might be motivated by a desire for recognition, or the fear of one’s own efforts at work going unappreciated. A few years ago, retailing giant Coop calculated the loss in productivity resulting from the flood of mails, and implemented new measures: “Our employees are regularly made aware of the principles of e-mail traffic,” as Coop media spokesperson Andrea Bergmann explains. A personal chat can be more efficient than electronic communication. Coop regularly offers courses on the topic of e-mail management.

“Most employees think making their track record visible to everyone gives their reputation a boost,” says Joachim Tillessen from the Centre for Integrated Communication Management at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland. Most feared: the careerist. “Many employees get annoyed when their colleagues are constantly posting content to in-house company platforms just to make their own mark,” opines Andreas Jäggi, CEO of Perikom, the trade association for personnel management and in-house communication. It is not known whether this kind of digital presenteeism à la “look how much work I’ve done and how clever I am” has become more virulent now that the home office is becoming so popular – but it does seem pretty self-evident. 

«Um Auswüchsen vorzubeugen, müssen Führungskräfte auf allen Stufen in interner Kommunikationskultur geschult werden.»

Managers are role models

The main reason for the misguided need to communicate is not the technology itself, but rather the culture of communication fostered by the company. “In-house communication should be driven by culture and not technology,” says Tillessen. “It’s no use having a HR department that is out of touch with the people making the rules on in-house communication. Above all, the rules need to be lived by example from above.”

Specifically, this means preventing excrescence by providing training on in-house communication culture for managers on all levels. They should communicate which types of conduct are welcome, what the respective platforms are specifically designed for – whether for news, inspiration, productive processes or knowledge transfer – and lead by their own example. If employees who primarily work at home, and therefore communicate to a disproportionate degree, have “fears of being invisible”, their superiors should dispel these insecurities by means of appreciative behaviour. 

Employees ignore the intranet

Many companies in Switzerland are nevertheless struggling with the opposite problem, one called the “empty disco” phenomenon, a term used by Barbara Josef, co-founder of the 5to9 offices and former Head of Communication at Microsoft Switzerland. She is referring to in-house company platforms that do not find favour among employees. As happened, for example, at lift and escalator manufacturer Schindler. While its “mySchindler” communication concept was awarded the “Bronze Quill” by the Swiss Association for Internal Communication, SVIK, the jury criticised the heavy IT bias of the concept and its failure to allow for cultural factors. This led to the new platform being ignored by employees.

According to a Perikom survey, the 100 biggest companies in Switzerland (based on number of employees) all operate an intranet. But many are only used to store documents, and are not being used to make communication more efficient. It has also been found that middle and top management are often conspicuously absent. “This results in employees having little incentive to use this platform, because they get the impression that their efforts will go unnoticed,” as work expert Barbara Josef explains. “It is of utmost importance to have management involved in using the new platforms. They must lead by their example,” is also the experience that Olivia Bachofer, Brand & Communication Manager at Schindler, has made.


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