While internal communication may seem like an obvious term, it still causes a lot of confusion and debate in the workplace. Especially now, as many organizations are operating a hybrid workplace model.
But for us to get better at internal communication, first we need to do a better job at understanding the definition of internal communication, the history and the function of internal communication, and some examples of what good internal communication looks like.
Internal Communication Defined
Internal communication (IC) is defined as the process of aligning employees to company strategy by systematically informing, influencing, motivating, and engaging people at all levels of the company through the one-way and two-way channels—digital and physical—that are most relevant to each employee.
Simply put, internal communication is about keeping employees informed.
If the definition above seems extensive or complex, it isn’t without reason. As Intranet providers, we have seen a lot of definitions about internal communication, so it was important for us to understand and dissect these definitions, as well as craft one on our own.
It is also worth understanding the difference between internal communication (singular) and internal communications (plural).
While internal communication is the overarching view of how an organization communicates with their employees, internal communications are the actual tools, tactics, and channels that facilitate the internal communication.
For further reading on how we came up with our definition, I suggest you check out: What is internal communications? We analyzed 40 definitions to find out.
History of Internal Communication
While the concept of internal communication may feel new, it’s actually been around for a long time.
Back in the 1890’s the Cadbury chocolate family were among the first to consider their employees more than just a "living tool". They chose employee welfare over commercial advantage, and they recognized the value of employee communication.
By the 1920’s researchers discovered that to optimize employee output you need more than regular rest breaks, pay, and fair working conditions—employees need to feel emotionally connected to their work and those around them.
Twenty years later, in 1942, the first book on Internal Communications was published: "Sharing Information with Employees" by Alexander R. Heron. It was the first time anyone touched on the significance of employee communication, and its correlation to strong business outcomes.
In the 1960’s Douglas McGregor published The Human Side of Enterprise, which contrasted traditional managerial styles with a people-centred approach.
The focus began shifting again. In 1980. Employees needed to be persuaded to believe in leadership and their company. However internal communication was still one-way, top-down.
By the 1990’s there was increasing research into employee engagement, and the term “the engaged employee” was coined.
The 21st century ushered in a brand new era of transparency, as we saw the rise of video and social media. This is when things really began to shift. Employee engagement is now front and centre. Digital technologies now contribute $900 billion to $1.3 trillion annually, and two-thirds of social media’s potential value lies in improving collaboration and communication within and across enterprises.
To learn more about the history of internal communication, check out our article and infographic: History of internal communication in the workplace.
Role of Internal Communication
As mentioned earlier, the role of internal communication has evolved over the last year, but it’s core purpose remains the same: Keeping employees connected and informed, whether remote, deskless, or office based.
And if anyone ever underestimated the significance of strong internal communication, the pandemic likely changed that!
Overnight, employees around the world looked to leadership and internal communication professionals for clarification on office closures, COVID-19 protocols, and work from home guidelines.
In one internal comms survey, two-thirds of respondents said that organizational leaders were seeking their advice more, and 90% considered the current situation to have a positive impact on the profession.
The role of internal communication isn’t going away any time soon. Pandemic or not, employees require regular check-ins, town hall meetings, or video announcements.
Good internal communication also includes creating a positive culture of recognition and appreciation. And social tools that make it easy for everyone to participate and comment.
Successful Internal Communication Examples
Good internal communication doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not without a dedicated strategy. We are proud of the following ThoughtFarmer customers that have excelled at good internal communication.
The growing pains of acquisitions: Piksel
The aftershock of 22 rapid acquisitions left leadership at Piksel with clear silos across the organization. Newly-formed business units were still functioning as independent entities. Not only was culture fragmented, departments were still using their own tools for internal communications: a disparate collection of emails, wikis, and file share sites that weren’t linked together. Learn how they used their new intranet to improve internal communication.
Shifting to real-time communication: Lenczner Slaght LLP
Lenczner Slaght once relied almost exclusively on email to communicate and inform employees of firm updates and news. They knew an intranet wouldn’t solve that problem entirely but it would allow them, over time, to prioritize how, when, and where they communicate. Learn how Lenczner Slaght’s new intranet has shifted employee communication away from email and towards real-time communication.
A single source of truth: Hachette Publishing
At the onset of the pandemic, Hachette’s intranet became a valuable tool—one that allowed the publishing company to quickly create and share detailed information, and maintain a strong sense of community and connectedness throughout the entire company. Learn how Hachette transformed their intranet into a single source of truth for internal communication during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Empowering employees to improve internal communication: Coast Mental Health
Good internal communication is the responsibility of all employees—not just internal communication professionals. At Coast Mental Health, their intranet is owner and governed by the employees. Guidance and feedback is provided, but employees are encouraged to be accountable for the pages/content created. Learn how this approach has led to excellent and unexpected intranet content.
Measurable improved internal communication: Capital Region BOCES
Thanks to analytics, Capital Region BOCES was able to measure the results of their internal communications efforts. In less than a year they realized gains that far exceeded their expectations. Nearly 400 employees completed a 12-question baseline survey over a two and a half week period in June 2016, prior to the new intranet site launch. Employees were then polled five months later following the launch. See the results of the efforts.
Internal communication has evolved into a critical component to every single workplace. But it’s much more than just making sure employees talk to each other. It’s also about finding and using the best technology available and understanding how it can best be used to improve collaboration and performance.
Effective internal communication isn’t just the job of professional communicators, it’s the responsibility of every single one of us—and something we all stand to benefit from. The better we get at internal communication, the more engaged employees feel, which ultimately leads to high productivity, increased profitability, and reduced turnover. Who can argue with that?
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