Ask the Expert - Thomas Maeder

In our 'Ask the expert' series, we sit down with internal communication professionals to understand the growing relevance and impact of this topic within organizations.

April 15, 2021
Pascal Grossniklaus
Founder & CEO

Thomas Maeder is an independent Management Consultant and Project Manager. He has over 20 years of experience with projects and management tasks in the field of digital communication, collaboration and processes. With his company rethink digital, he advises and supports companies and organizations in projects and issues relating to intranets/employee portals, employee apps, social collaboration, digital workplace, and employee experience.

Why is internal communication important?

Effective internal communication creates added value in a company or an organization by:

  • Orchestrating the communication of relevant information to the different target groups
  • Facilitating company-wide dialogue between employees and between managers
  • Communicating the common values of the corporate culture
  • Strengthening the sense of "we" and thus promoting identification

Especially nowadays, when many employees no longer meet regularly at the workplace due to home offices, increasing decentralization and flat organizational structures, the importance of (digital) internal communication has once again risen significantly.

Many companies are working with outdated intranet solutions. What could be the reason that many companies are still struggling to provide a modern employee communication platform?

One reason for this is certainly the fact that intranet solutions were not considered business-critical for daily work in the past. Which may be true, depending on the functional scope of an intranet. Accordingly, intranets were/are sometimes managed very stepmotherly.

Another reason is that intranet solutions are often not seen as an actual application, or neither as a product or service with a clear business responsibility and defined KPIs. This leads to intranets being introduced "only" as a project, and afterwards no one really feels responsible for the continuous optimization and performance measurement.

A third reason is certainly the fact that there is often a lack of the necessary digital skills and resources in corporate communication, and that it is not even known what modern intranets or employee communication platforms can do in these days.

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

I myself have never understood how companies create a two-tier society by effectively excluding non-desk workers from internal communication, or from access to the intranet/employee communication platform. Especially as often non-desk workers represent the largest employee population.

Fortunately, however, this has changed dramatically. In all my current projects, non-desk workers and office workers are now considered equal user groups. If necessary, the required technical and organizational foundations are also created, such as identities/logins for all, regulations for the use of private smartphones for business purposes, etc.

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

The pandemic has triggered a great digitalization dynamic. More than ever, functioning, digital internal communication channels have become indispensable - e-mails to office workers alone are no longer enough.

I think internal communication can benefit from the pandemic in that many companies/organizations have modernized their technology in recent months (cloud, software as a service) and made new tools such as Microsoft Teams available. Now it is a matter of using these new digital possibilities within the framework of integrated employee communication.

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

Human resources and digital skills are often very limited in internal communication. This is unlikely to change. On the other hand, the demands of employees for up-to-date internal communication and digital channels have increased. Added to this is the rapid and sometimes confusing technological development. Internal communication is therefore well advised to obtain the appropriate expertise and support in order to keep pace and continuously improve.

Has the COVID-19 epidemic changed the requirements for communication channels?

Not fundamentally. But I would say that the pressure has increased in an organization to have functioning, digital internal communication channels. Channels that are state of the art in terms of both content and technology - and are accessible to desk workers and non-desk workers from everywhere and with all devices.

Which criteria are decisive in choosing the right tool for an intranet?

The term "intranet" is very vague and there are many different forms. I therefore recommend criteria derived from these 3 questions:

  • Which processes/use cases for which employee population should be addressed?
  • Which technologies are already being used internally today and which skills are available internally?
  • What competence and cooperation is expected from the service provider/supplier of the tool?

Of course, one could also list the criteria of cloud or non-cloud. But here I am clearly of the opinion that today only a tool/software as a service from the cloud comes into question for a modern employee communication platform.

Who do you think are the most important stakeholders in an organization when introducing a new tool?

Tools or software are always "only" there to digitalize and hopefully simplify certain processes/use cases for certain employees. With an intranet or employee communication platform, all employees are affected and at the same time the most important stakeholders. It is therefore advisable to segment the entire employee population in order to better understand and take into account the specific needs of each user group.

Other stakeholders in intranets/employee communication platforms are of course communication, HR, IT, business - in fact the whole company.

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