Martin Elbel is a lecturer for "Management of Internal Communication" at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. He most recently worked as Director of Corporate Communications at MedTech company Medela, and now he heads projects in the areas of communication, change management and employee engagement. Elbel began his professional career as a journalist and consultant at a Zurich PR agency, and then he headed communications departments at UBS, Lucerne Festival, Switzerland Global Enterprise and Swiss Re. Internal communication and employer branding are particularly important to him.
Why is internal communication important?
Good internal communication informs all employees continuously and transparently about important events in the company. Employees feel that they are taken seriously. They better understand management decisions, which can be unpleasant in difficult times. Praise and success stories motivate employees and they become authentic and committed ambassadors for the company. The company can retain such valuable employees and becomes interesting for good new employees. The company's reputation remains high or even grows.
Many companies work with outdated intranet solutions. Why do you think that many companies still find it difficult to provide a modern employee communication platform?
Management underestimates the value of internal communication or lacks the will or courage to provide continuous and transparent information. Even when these managers are active in internal communications, they often underestimate the effort involved and do not realise that good technical systems can make communication even faster and better. Finally, other IT projects are often considered to be more important, which is why it takes a long time to get budgets approved for efficient employee communications platforms.
Internal communication with ALL employees is still considered "nice to have" in many companies - especially in industrial companies. What is your opinion on this?
We are hungry for information in our private lives, aren't we? WhatsApp, Facebook, Linked-In, news platforms: we visit these sites many times a day! And within the company, where we workover eight hours a day, this should not apply? Internal communication turns employees into employees who think for themselves - and no company can be successful today without them!
To what extent has the demand for well-functioning internal communication increased since COVID-19? Can internal communication benefit from the increased implementation of working from home?
COVID-19 has a huge potential to create uncertainty, and this can have a strong impact on productivity and quality of work. Because many people work from home, no other functioning direct channels are available, such as personal meetings and brief encounters at the coffee machine. In the past, people used to go to the next room to talk to colleagues, today they want to be able to address them at least via the intranet platform. Intensive, good internal communication becomes even more important under COVID-19, and I have experienced myself that it is more appreciated since COVID-19.
Has the pandemic scenario changed the demands on communication channels?
Yes, especially in two areas: Top-down information should be even faster and easier to find, and platforms must make virtual meetings, exchange via chats, dialogue, and document sharing uncomplicated. Now the rapid change from a simple information platform to a comprehensive collaboration platform is called for.
What do you think that are the biggest challenges in internal communication for Swiss companies?
Management must engage in internal communication and take action on their own. They need to recognise that this requires good specialists in the communications department and that dialogue-enabled, easy-to-use systems make the whole company more successful. It helps if employees themselves request more information (for example in employee surveys), and it is valuable if the little communication that already takes place - despite any unfavourable conditions - is of good quality and creates a positive impact.
What are the criteria that determines the match when choosing the right tool for an intranet?
For me, three criteria are of primary importance: Employees should be able to use the tool fast and easily, without long introductory periods, using just a few basic options; the tool must have simple interfaces so that it can be easily integrated into an existing IT environment; it must be scalable and continuously adapted to new developments by the provider.
In your opinion, who are the most important stakeholders in an organisation when introducing a new tool?
Project management is the responsibility of the communications department. It integrates IT and formulates the requirements. The communications people convince management (who approves the budget) and support them in creating good internal communications. And, through good stories, the communicators create the desire among employees for more internal communication.
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