The Gatehouse Blog

Spring clean your internal communications

Jenny Nabben argues that internal communicators should spend as much energy reducing the ‘noise pollution’ faced by their audiences as they do producing content.

Spring is traditionally a time for getting rid of the old and welcoming the new; a time to declutter and create the space for new beginnings. But when it comes to communications, we can be guilty of believing more is always better; more channels, more messages and yet another campaign. It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of over-production and believe the value we bring to our organisations is derived from the volume of communications we manage.

As the function responsible for engaging, inspiring and motivating employees to support the organisation’s goals, it’s tempting to believe that content is king. But while we recognise how critical it is to understand our different audiences – how often do we measure how much ‘noise’ our audience is exposed to and do we understand the cost to employees of what’s commonly known as information overload? Spring might just be the time for us to focus on having a digital detox.

But it’s not only the lost time and reduction in productivity to consider, there’s a growing body of research on the stress-inducing impact of information overload. Author Linda Stone suggests that sitting at our desk for seven hours a day, hunched over a screen causes email-apnea or the tendency to shallow breathing and breath-holding. And in turn, this encourages the body’s nervous system to move into fight or flight mode which increases our levels of stress.

Whilst for some organisations email has been overtaken by new collaboration channels, it’s unlikely that email has disappeared and more likely that employees simply receive duplicate messages via several channels. But it’s not just digital channels that demand our constant attention. Employees also have to filter information from internal digital screens, busy intranet channels, Twitter, social media, video, conferences, townhalls and of course, the ever-present meeting culture which few organisations challenge.

Here are some of the important facts, according to current research, on the impact of information overload:

  1. On average, most office workers receive around 350 emails a week with managers receiving up to 300 a day. Yet, around one third of those are seen as unnecessary.
  2. It takes between 7-27 minutes to return to a task after being interrupted by email.
  3. HP research identified a reduction of up to 10 points in our IQ as a result of being overloaded by email and that 10 point reduction is the same as being under the effects of marijuana!

Because we’re often so focused on production and creation of messages, it’s easy to find yourself in a blind spot and to forget just how overloaded employees’ working lives really are.

So, unless we consciously plan to reduce the amount of digital noise, the communications function becomes part of the problem rather than the solution. The annual strategic planning cycle is the perfect time to re-balance our role as producers and include targets on reducing noise pollution in our organisations. Once we recognise how critical it is for leaders and employees to experience more uninterrupted thinking time, we can play our part in making that happen.

Here are some top tips to create breathing space that will allow employees time to reflect, digest and problem solve more effectively:

  1. Take time to familiarise yourself with the eld of information overload so you have all the facts. Check out the Information Overload Research Group at iorgforum.org.
  2. Look at what technology companies are doing to reduce information overload as well as the social scientists, psychologists and neuroscientists in the field.
  3. Include ways of measuring information overload in your organisation and use the data to inform your planning activities.
  4. You might set up a pilot group of office workers to help you identify frustrations, common interruptions and information that is out of date or irrelevant.
  5. Ask your team to brainstorm ideas for reducing the volume of noise in the organisation. Ask for their personal insight into the stress caused by information overload. Set stretch goals for noise reduction in specific channels.
  6. Ask your audience to be part of the solution and find out how to ensure information is more targeted and relevant to their jobs.
  7. Get your leaders involved in the conversation about how to increase productivity, reduce cognitive overload and to allow employees to be more creative. Make noise reduction a strategic priority.
  8. Every time you launch a new channel consider which one you can switch off. If that’s not possible, be disciplined about avoiding message duplication.
  9. Create quiet spaces in the organisation where employees can work without digital interruption.
  10. Challenge your own thinking about your role as a communicator – remember that production is only half the picture.

“Because we’re often so focused on production and creation of messages, it’s easy to find yourself in a blind spot and to forget just how overloaded employees’ working lives really are.”

The purpose of internal communication is to create great conversations in our organisations; conversations that educate, inspire, connect and create deeper commitment to shared goals. And what characterises great conversations is that they include silence and space and encourage everyone involved in the conversation to think more deeply.

Once we switch our focus and include noise reduction as a strategic priority in our planning, we will naturally focus our efforts on communication activities that add real value and develop a more critical eye over everything we do. When we see ourselves as producers, it’s too easy to be seduced by the latest technology or new digital channel and to spend budget on yet another campaign. We might deliver better employee engagement and better organisational outcomes by simply turning down the volume, getting rid of the clutter and cleaning up the noise pollution.

“We might deliver better employee engagement and better organisational outcomes by simply turning down the volume, getting rid of the clutter and cleaning up the noise pollution.”

 

 

BIOGRAPHY – Jenny Nabben

Jenny Nabben has held senior communication positions at HSBC, British Gas, the UN’s World Food Programme, Coca-Cola Enterprises and Lloyds among others. Jenny designs and delivers training, coaching and facilitation for global companies. Jenny has an MBA and is a Master Practitioner in NLP, coach and facilitator.

Jenny’s has published two books Influence and Presenting with Confidence with Pearson publishing.

@nabbencomms