When people in charge of internal communication think about how to improve their program, the first ideas that usually come to mind involve shiny new methods.
“Let’s introduce an app,” one team member will say.
Another will suggest creating more YouTube-style videos.
And a third might recommend introducing an internal social network to help employees connect with one another.
These methods for communicating with today’s workforce have tremendous potential. The challenge is that many organizations face technical, logistical and financial obstacles to introduce new channels.
But there’s one communication method that’s often overlooked, even though it is one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways to get employees’ attention and provide them with vital information.
What is this approach? Workplace communication, such as posters, bulletin board postings and electronic screens.
Workplace communication deserves your attention because even if your company has some virtual workers, most employees spend the majority of their time in a company office, manufacturing plant, store, warehouse or other facility. That means they walk through an entrance, clock in (if they’re hourly workers), visit the restroom and wait in line in the cafeteria. And while they do so, they could gain valuable information by looking at posters, bulletin boards or electronic signs or screens.
Advertisers know the value of “environmental” communication
What is the fastest growing advertising medium? If you guessed television or even mobile ads, you’d be wrong. The winner is what some marketers call “environmental” advertising, as in outdoor billboards and signs.
Why? Because advertisers know they can catch their audience’s attention when driving down the road or pushing a cart. In fact, the market for outdoor advertising in the U.S. reached $7.3 billion in 2015, and continues to grow. And “digital signage” is the hottest trend in store displays; an array of retailers — from supermarkets to bookstores — are widely using these screens
The power of workplace communication
The best part is that, even if your budget is miniscule, you can create posters or bulletin boards. All you need is paper, some tacks or tape, and the know-how to get your message across.
Here, then, are 5 best practices for developing meaningful workplace communication:
- Create powerful posters
Posters have great potential, but they’re often put together quickly without much thought. The result is often mediocre: lacking a strong visual element, full of words, trying to convey too much content, not compelling. And employees, who always know good communication when they see it, respond appropriately. Here are employee comments from a focus group study conducted at a manufacturing facility:
• “I never look at posters. They just don’t seem relevant to me.”
• “Posters here are terrible. You’d have to stand there and read them — who has time for that?”
• “I glance at the posters on the way to the cafeteria, but most of them seem like they’re just up so that someone can check something off their list — you know, ‘I put it on a poster, so I communicated it.’”
2. Revitalize bulletin boards
Like posters, bulletin boards are modest, unassuming channels that actually pack a big punch. And all you need to be successful is some cork, a box of push pins and the ability to channel your inner third-grade teacher.
Here are a few rules of thumb for making the most of bulletin boards:
• Create interest and engagement through colorful visuals. Employees need information that is quick and easy to digest and understand. Visuals such as progress charts, diagrams, photographs and posters support the need to “get it fast.”
• Develop a consistent architecture. You need a blueprint to organize the information on your bulletin boards. Key content areas could include:
o Calendar of upcoming meetings and events (local or corporate wide)
o Job safety policies
o Employee recognition
o Career development opportunities
o Goals/strategies/performance results
• Designate individuals to maintain the bulletin board(s) in his or her area/location. This includes revising and/or replacing outdated information, and collecting employee feedback if you have interactive features like suggestion boxes.
3. Use digital screens to recreate a billboard experience
• Make content relevant to your location and the employees who work there, by answering the question, “What does it mean to me?” For example, provide information about your facility’s upcoming employee event accompanied by a slideshow of photos from last year’s festivities.
• Keep content fresh. Even the best-placed digital screen will get ignored and turn into “furniture” if you don’t keep it alive with new information. One way to do so is ask content experts to submit information every week.
- Use animation to attract people’s attention. One simple way is to provide a slowly scrolling list of birthdays, anniversaries or other special celebrations.
4. Memorize this workplace communication mantra: “Location, location, location.”
Here’s a key reason workplace communication isn’t effective: It’s in the wrong place.
For instance, a digital screen may be hung 10 feet high in a sitting area outside several conference rooms. Or posters are placed on easels in the hallway leading to the employee cafeteria. (If an employee pauses to read them, he or she would be rear-ended by colleagues racing to lunch.)
Successful workplace communication needs to follow the same rule of real estate property: location, location, location.
To solve the problem, spend time observing how employees behave in the workplace and how they interact with current communication. Then build a plan for how you’ll relocate workplace communication to take advantage of:
• Places where employees stand and wait, such as in the cashier line in cafeterias, at the credit bureau, outside and inside elevators and near the time clock.
• Ways employees move around the facility. Do they sprint down a hallway, but move more slowly near a coffee kiosk?
• Unusual spaces. Take a page from retailers and consider nearly every surface, including floors and windows.
A simple change — moving workplace communication to a better location — can make a big difference.
5. Think outside the wall to develop eye-catching communication
Although posters, bulletin boards and digital screens are the staples of workplace communication, they’re not the only ways to send messages to employees. For example, consider:
• Table tents in the lunchroom/cafeteria. They’re simple to create and employees eating lunch will (at least) glance at them.
• Customized coffee sleeves for the refreshment kiosks. This is especially effective when you want to remind employees about an upcoming event.
• “Clings” for walls, floors and windows. These plastic decals can be simple — almost like stickers — or much more elaborate, such as person-sized posters. What makes clings different is where they’re used — where employees are walking, on windows near entrances and on walls in key locations.
You can keep workplace communication very simple or develop a more comprehensive strategy involving several methods. In either case, providing information in employees’ physical space is an effective way to cut through the usual clutter and get your message across.