Ask the expert - Markus Niederhäuser

August 25, 2020
Stefanie Zürcher
Communication Manager

Why is internal communication important?

Internal communication takes place always and everywhere where people are together. It fulfils a basic human need. In the corporate context, we understand internal communication as planned and controlled communication management. By using suitable means of communication, the requirements of the employees regarding information, communication and collaboration are to be fulfilled. Thus, internal communication makes an important contribution to achieving the company's goals.

A conclusion from the guideline interviews of the ZHAW study is: " Internal communication has very limited resources. What is the reason for this?

In our study, we talked to communications managers of medium-sized Swiss companies. The number of employees ranged from 280 to 1070. Compared to large companies, resources are naturally much scarcer there. But it is indeed an old complaint that too little attention is paid to internal communications. In this respect, however, we are currently experiencing a turning point: the digital transformation in general and the Corona crisis in particular have clearly demonstrated the value of internal communication.

According to the ZHAW study, many companies still work with outdated intranet solutions. Why might it be that many companies are still finding it difficult to set up a digital workplace?

There are certainly different reasons. Many companies prefer to invest in their external communication, in a convincing Internet presence or in sales-promoting marketing communication tools. In addition, many companies have a technological patchwork carpet. They are afraid to touch functioning systems. Ultimately, however, it is also a question of corporate culture: those who want to promote dialog and collaboration are also more likely to be willing to invest in modern platforms.

Internal communication to ALL employees is still considered "nice to have" in many companies - especially in industrial companies. What is your opinion on this?

In many companies, it has been accepted for too long that it is not possible to reach all employees with communication tools such as the intranet or e-mail. But I believe that companies are currently rethinking their approach. The necessity is clear to everyone by now. Then there are now also good communication tools that don't require a digital workstation of their own. The Beekeeper employee app, for example, is being used successfully in industrial companies.

To what extent has the demand for a well-functioning internal communication increased since COVID-19? Can internal communication benefit from working from home more often?

If you no longer have employees on site, you inevitably have to strengthen internal communication if you don't want to "lose" them. I think that the experiences made so far are mostly positive: managers and employees alike have noticed that the basic functions of internal communication, namely information, dialog and collaboration, can also function at a distance. Tools such as MS Teams, Skype or even Zoom have received a strong boost and will continue to enrich the communication repertoire in the future. However, during this time it also became clear that personal social contacts can only be digitally replicated to a limited extent.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in internal communication for Swiss companies?

In our study we have received some answers to these questions. Employee accessibility remains a major challenge despite the current innovation drive. The variety of tools and the associated flood of information are further challenges. And then it is still not easy to create consistent internal communication at the interface between the communications, HR and IT departments.

Has the Covid-19 epidemic changed the demands on communication channels?

Not fundamentally. Since employees were no longer physically present, tools with video capabilities have experienced a tremendous upswing. This initially led to bandwidth problems for individual companies. By now, most seem to have that under control.

The ZHAW study points out that there is a multitude of tools and platforms for internal communication. What are the criteria for choosing the right tool?

The existing tools must certainly be taken into account as a starting point. Ideally, a new tool should complement the existing communication tools and not simply duplicate them. Experts sometimes recommend that the tool should fit the company and its culture. This is not wrong. But I go one step further. The introduction of a new tool can also be a powerful tool to work on the corporate culture. The prerequisite for this is that the company management is behind it and acts as a role model.

In your opinion, who are the most important stakeholders in an organization when introducing a new tool?

Whoever launches a new intranet today is very likely to design it as a social intranet that is capable of dialog. Ideally, it combines information, communication and collaboration functions. Broad support within the company can only be achieved if every single employee is considered an important stakeholder. In a digitalized world, every employee assumes communication functions. Communication becomes a joint task. Of course, this also applies here: Without the unconditional support of the company management, even a social intranet is difficult.

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Markus Niederhäuser is Head of Continuing Education at the Institute for Applied Media Science IAM at the ZHAW. He conducted the study "Internal Communication of Medium-sized Companies" together with Katharina Krämer and Nicole Rosenberger and can be downloaded here (in German).

The study was made possible at the suggestion of and with partial financing by the companies isolutions AG and ahead AG.

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