Internal communications is a rapidly growing field that businesses are delving more and more into as they realize the numerous benefits. However, the origins of internal communications may reach farther back than you think, giving way to a variety of social, psychological, and technological advances in the field. In this blog post, we’ll provide an overview of the history of internal communications so you can better understand where your company stands.
The Early Beginnings
The first formal employee publications can be traced back to 1840 and were written by employees, for employees. The Lowell Offering is one such example and is in fact the first recorded company magazine written by female workers at the New England Lowell Cotton Mills. Running from 1840 to 1849, the industrial life in New England was still in its early stages, so much of the work was done by hand. Despite this, issues of The Lowell Offering shared much about life in the factory. Then, a few decades later, journalists took over employee communications and “house organs,” periodicals published by companies for their employees, became dominant sources of information.
Beginning in the 1920s, people began realizing that employees needed more to have their basic needs met, such as rest breaks, pay, and fair working conditions, in order to work efficiently. In a speech, Basil Clarke, one of the early pioneers of public relations and who is credited with making internal communications a part of public relations, believed that employees worked more productively when they felt proud of their work and tied to the organization at large.
Then, in the 1940s, the first official book on internal communications, Alexander R. Heron’s “Sharing Information with Employees,” was published. This was the first book to underscore the significance of employee communication and how it promoted successful business outcomes.
Eighteen years after Heron’s publication in 1962, Douglas McGregor published “The Human Side of Enterprise” in 1960. In that book, McGregor shifted the focus away from the employee and toward the manager in terms of providing the right conditions in order to motivate employees and transform them into productive and engaged workers.
Jump forward to the 1980s, when internal communication was still primarily top-down, a structure in which information is distributed down the company’s hierarchical structure. However, we then saw the widespread adoption of a technology that marked a major development in communications: the fax machine. At the time, fax machines were cutting-edge technology that allowed people to more quickly communicate and distribute information to each other.
Then, in the 1990s, the term “engaged employee” was coined, signifying a wider shift towards creating job satisfaction and raising workplace morale. William Kahn was the first to formally define employee engagement, and soon after, more and more researchers began emphasizing the importance of an organization's actions in order to foster engagement.
Stepping into the new millennium, we saw further advances in technology and changing attitudes towards employees and communication. There was the growth of employee intranets, private and secure online networks where managers and employees can create and share content. In addition, with the explosion of social media, the exchange of information began to shift farther away from a top-down flow to a more lateral exchange of information.
Then, in the next decade, we saw a huge focus on effective employee engagement. Solomon Markos and M. Sridevi published an article in 2010 in the International Journal of Business and Management that was titled “Employee Engagement: The Key to Improving Performance.” In that article, they argue that engaged employees are ones with an emotional attachment to their organization and will go the extra mile in order to bring success to their company.
The 2020s: Present Day
In this decade, businesses who are looking to be the top-performers in their space are placing employee communication, collaboration, and engagement at the forefront. These areas—communication, collaboration, and engagement—often go hand-in-hand for a reason: they feed off of each other. However, most companies are still using platforms that focus primarily on employee collaboration with only some communication features. The issue with this is that, inevitably, since the focus of these platforms is collaboration, the communication function is a mere afterthought and often rudimentary.
Intranets and email can similarly foster engagement and communication and are valuable channels in of themselves, but alone can’t provide organizations with the full reach and engagement that truly drives business performance. In contrast, an omnichannel approach in which employees can pick whichever communication channel works best for them, depending on the time, day, or location, will facilitate greater readership and engagement. For example, if you have a sales team always on the go, they might prefer a mobile app whereas your frontline workers might prefer quick text messages with only essential information and your office employees might be happy with email.
With an omnichannel approach, however, be sure that your internal communication processes are automated so no one is wasting precious time manually supporting multiple channels. Cross-posting, cascading notifications, formatting for different devices (mobile phones, tablets, desktops) should also be automated so you can focus on the campaigns, messages, and strategy—not the manual execution. Whatever the channel, you also want to create opportunities and encourage a two-way dialogue between those distributing information and those receiving it.
Furthermore, the most modern organizations are individualizing communications instead of blasting messages company-wide. Your employees should be able to define a clear message as unique as each of them are. Companies can easily increase engagement with their communications by defining specific segments. For example, your employees in New York don’t care about information that is only relevant to your employees in California, and vice-versa. Segment your organization and send the right message to the right employees.
To sum it up, you should also be tracking and analyzing metrics on the reach and engagement of your organization. Without data, organizations can’t know what’s working and what isn’t. Chances are, your leaders are also demanding data to prove that your communication is making a corporate impact. Without this information, and even if you’re calculating it manually, you could be working more efficiently.
Step into the Future with Sparrow
Is your organization in the 21st century? Your organization deserves the best communication tools out there so you can engage your employees, boost productivity, and bring value throughout your workforce. At Sparrow, we believe in the power of workforce communications and can help your business stay ahead of the competition. Book a conversation with us today.