The Gatehouse Blog

Innovating employee communications for a modern workforce

Senior Internal Communication and Engagement Director Rebecca Gallagher shares the approach she has taken at 2U, Inc. to create dialogue and measure impact.

Developing a measurable strategic communication plan is not a simple task in any organisation. Add the complexities of a fast-paced, rapidly growing global company that recently acquired another global business and it can feel like an impossible mission. That’s the landscape I operate in at 2U, Inc., a leading education technology company that partners with great universities and colleges to build the world’s best digital education. While it can be a challenge to create effective employee communications for 2U’s modern workforce, there are some strategies I have adopted that have made internal engagement more effective.

Step 1: Listen to the employees

Fortunately, 2U employees are eager to share feedback. Through quantitative (electronic surveys) and qualitative (focus groups) research, we evaluate existing channels, leadership communications, and the resonance of strategic messages on an ongoing basis. Through these tools, we have identified a need to create more conversations between leaders and employees, to reduce the noise and variety of tools, and to build a community to connect an increasingly expanding, both in size and geography, employee base.

Step 2: Define your purpose

When you know what you are trying to accomplish, it is easier to understand where to spend your time and what questions to ask to measure the impact of your communications. We have a unique challenge – to connect a growing workforce in a way that encourages open dialogue and quick decision-making while staying true to our values. And we needed to accomplish this without adding to the noise. Our purpose is to empower leaders to be more connected communicators, while giving voice to all levels of employees throughout all offices.

“We have a unique challenge – to connect a growing workforce in a way that encourages open dialogue and quick decision-making while staying true to our values.”

Step 3: Make small, deliberate steps toward systemic change

We are fortunate to have a strong foundation with fewer than 5 percent of employees indicating dissatisfaction with overall employee communications. Therefore, our changes represent an evolution, not a transformation.

We are reimagining existing communications and challenging each other to imagine what each vehicle could look like or accomplish if we were to start from a blank page. Broadcast communications (email, digital signage, intranet) are becoming more visual and inclusive of video and social interactions. While digital signage could be one-directional, we add QR codes to encourage engagement and action. Rather than generating content solely within communications or via key clients, materials are crowdsourced from all employees when possible for increased connection to the content. We are also shaping the agenda for quarterly, virtual all-company business meetings based not only on executive priorities, but also the topics most requested by employees.

While reimagining existing communications, we are simultaneously finding new ways to reach the right audiences with relevant messages in an environment where they were actively engaged. Social collaboration tools have grown in popularity over the last decade due to their ability to connect dispersed workforces, increase collaboration, and help teams make more informed decisions more quickly. At 2U, Slack is an extremely popular tool that not only encourages discussion, but brings together dozens of design, project management and marketing tools into one workspace, reducing emails and saving employees’ time. That’s why our intranet relaunch this year will have an unexpected component. Instead of dedicating resources to market the intranet as yet another communications destination, we are adding the functionality for employees to access information on the intranet from within Slack, just as they access information in other tools they use each day.

Slack is a unique tool and it’s not right for every organisation. Fortunately, there are a variety of options, including mobile apps, social intranets, and many direct competitors within the social collaboration space. For us, it is effective as an internal Twitter – enabling us to push out real-time information and get immediate feedback. It catches people’s attention, where they would simply ignore an email announcement or an intranet news story. For example, we used it to share information about the recent consolidation of our New York offices into one building in Brooklyn. As we got closer to the move, employees needed more detailed information, so we used Slack to trigger them to pay attention to new content made available on our intranet. We are planning to use this for alerts, when something important or urgent comes up and we need people to stop what they do and listen.

Slack will also change our approach to employee communication, making it more conversational. As a “social” tool, it naturally encourages immediate feedback from employees, providing a pulse check on how messages are received. As we grow in scale, it will become more difficult for our senior leaders to be visible to employees and keep up with what’s happening in each of our offices. We are planning to hold weekly ‘Ask me Anything’ sessions, where people can catch up with leaders and ask them questions.

A measurable impact

The evolution is still underway, but the impact is evident. Confidence in our leadership and business strategy has remained steady despite significant organisational change. Engagement in defining quarterly business meeting content has increased, while anonymous suggestion box comments have decreased. Readership of the corporate e-newsletter increased slightly with content engagement significantly increasing.

To us, success does not necessarily translate into numbers of active users or time spent in any one tool – even though these metrics are available – but rather in the ongoing confidence in our strategy, high levels of employee engagement, and reduction in the overall volume of emails, particularly requests from people who cannot find the information they’re looking for on their own. And ultimately, of course, success lies in our ability to continue to deliver our business goals.


BIOGRAPHY – Rebecca Gallagher

Rebecca is a strategic communicator with experience creating and executing external and employee communications strategies in the broadcasting, online retail, hospitality, technology, and tourism industries. Currently, she leads the internal communications and corporate citizenship functions for 2U, Inc., a global education technology company headquartered in Lanham, Md.

Connect with her online at rebeccacgallagher/.