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Email is Still a Useful Channel

The firms that make best use of it are those that first help employees take control of their inbox

As the technology and media used in the workplace increasingly mirrors the world outside it, internal communications teams have a plethora of communications channels to choose from. But more channels don’t equal better comms: as any communicator will tell you, it’s become harder than ever to get a message across to employees.

In this environment, comms teams need to understand what the most appropriate channel is for a certain type of communication — not those with the most traffic or those employees say they prefer, but those that employees will use to learn more about a topic and communicate with their peers.

Email’s Not Dead Yet

Although it may surprise some, company email is still one of the most important ways comms teams get a message to employees. Based on a survey of over 1000 employees, the channel has an above average reach, and an average “likability” rating (i.e., employees don’t particularly love or hate the channel).

The challenge with e-mail as a channel is, as anyone could attest, the sheer volume of messages that employees receive. It’s so easy to miss high-value information in all the noise in a typical inbox.

Research shows that as people encounter a higher volume of information, their ability to process it goes down. And of course, at critical times — big changes or announcements — comms teams will increase that volume. It’s not easy to strike a balance – there is a lot to say, but it can result in employees missing essential messages.

Many communications teams have used rules, permissions, and calendars to try to reduce the flow of mass e-mail. Another innovative approach from those in CEB’s networks of comms professionals has been to help employees feel more in control of their own inboxes: to help them understand how they’re contributing to the noise and specific behaviors they can adopt to fix it.

Get all Employees Humming the Same Tune

One example of this comes from the comms team at health insurance provider, Anthem. They used a three-pronged approach to help employees reduce their contribution to e-mail overload.

After educating employees about what constitutes “negative e-mail behavior” (using humorous personas to make it more comfortable for employees to self-identify their own negative behaviors) and sharing tips for better e-mail management and use, they use peer reinforcement to sustain and spread positive behaviors.

For example, the team frequently profiles employees that have useful tips and tricks for e-mail management, and posts “conversation starters” on the company’s social media channels to urge employees to join the conversation about effective e-mail.

This peer coaching has proved to be an incredibly effective form of teaching and also makes employees more engaged in the lessons.

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