The role of internal communications in keeping employees engaged throughout digital transformation

Digital transformation projects involve the integration of digital technology across all facets of the business. Along with changing the fundamentals of how you operate day-to-day, there are also culture shifts that need to take place, ensuring the organization is ready to embrace new ways of working. Keeping employees engaged during the transformation process is underpinned by good internal communications, but how do you achieve that in an environment where the only constant is change?

Employees engaged during the digital transformation process utilizing good internal communications

Harness internal communications to maintain employee engagement during digital transformation

As we close out 2020, enterprises will be reflecting on how they’ve been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and refining their strategies for next year. But while many projects were being shelved due to budget cuts, digital transformation strategies were continuing, and, in many cases, actually had more accelerated timelines.

At the start of the year, the pandemic forced businesses to act quicker than they would have liked, with research showing 40% of IT teams accelerated their move to the cloud because of COVID-19. But digital transformation is not just one single project that can be wrapped up quickly; it’s a whole cluster of changes that incorporates all departments of your business in some way, and is made up of lots of smaller projects that run alongside and over each other.

These smaller, day-to-day changes have ripple effects that are more damaging to employees and more likely to lead to change fatigue than the larger ‘big bang’ ones, so you need to ensure you communicate with your employees during the changes themselves, not just when the initial announcements are made.

Identify challenges with organizational changes

All this constant change within your business brings the role of better internal communications to the forefront. In order to successfully complete your digital transformation projects, the internal communications team needs to be focused on delivering key messages about the changes to avoid employees becoming disengaged, which will result in lower adoption levels.

Create a culture risk management program to understand the current culture and identify challenges. Utilize tools such as talent surveys and online platforms or intranets to take the pulse of your organization’s culture. You can then evaluate your findings and use your intranet to communicate areas of the strategy that your employees may not be engaged with, encouraging them and increasing the rate of adoption.

You will also want to rethink your organization’s core values to embed desirable behaviors like continual learning conducive to digital transformation and cross-functional collaboration, as the digital transformation process gets underway.

The impact of disengaged employees

The success of your digital transformation strategy will depend on whether your employees can (and want) to meet your business goals and push for them to succeed. If your employees don’t feel connected to the business and lack the understanding of why decisions have been made, they will not be aligned with the long-term goals of the organization, leading to a failure of your digital transformation projects.

Disengaged employees will hamper your digital transformation, resulting in lower adoption rates and, consequently, lower productivity. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused seismic shifts in the way people work, with vast amounts of staff now working from home. Engagement of your employees becomes more difficult without face-to-face contact, and yet is more important than ever before.

Keep your employees agile to change

You need to keep your employees agile, while the company is undergoing so much change, and your internal communications solutions are the key to managing this. With digital transformation projects being run by IT teams, they are extremely process-driven, and the nature of the projects mean that they follow quite a stringent checklist. It also means the communication of those projects won’t necessarily be considered, aside from checking a box to say that changes have been communicated. It’s your internal communications team that brings in the creativity and the connection element to the project, ensuring employees are kept up to date with the information they need to know.

Internal communications will have contact with people across the organization – including frontline workers who will have little interaction with the executive team. You’ll need to ensure that any changes are communicated to all employees that need to be made aware, but do this in a way that won’t have a negative impact on these teams and end up being counter-productive.

The initial project may be to improve productivity across the organization, but some teams may have different processes that could be adversely affected by the digital transformation project. Your internal communications are the bridge for these teams to ensure that everything is to the overall benefit of the organization.

"The role of your internal comms team within the collection of people involved in digital transformation is a necessary one because digital transformation is inherently process-driven. When you give them the challenge of rolling out digital transformation projects, they create a synergy. That collaborative environment is something that’s important for successful implementation and adoption because it considers the element of connection and how this will impact users, and this feeds back into the rollout."

Kaz Hassan - Product Manager at Unily

Of the transformations that fail, 70% of those failures are due to culture-related issues. Creating a high performing culture will enable your organization to thrive off and embrace constant change and ensure the success of your transformation.

Utilize technology for your internal communications

When rolling out a digital transformation project, you need to adapt your internal communications to your employees. Your frontline people who aren’t office-based will struggle to engage with the more traditional forms of communication, so tailor your plans to your individual teams’ needs.

Staff cover for traditional training sessions is costly and rarely practical, so devise a plan to tell your employees who, what, why, when and how, using focused campaigns. Utilize digital signage for frontline workers who are used to seeing updates on a traditional noticeboard, and strive to ‘demystify’ rather than train. Your employees will be able to engage better and understand how the digital transformation affects them on an individual level.

Create social channels for your employees so that they can have those water cooler moments online, and invite them to feedback sessions. Successful digital projects have networks of champions who can convey the value of transformation across their teams. The champions’ active participation can often resonate more strongly with their colleagues than messages coming directly from central teams. This involvement with different stages of the project will ensure your employees remain engaged and on board with the culture of change in the organization.

Digital transformation needs to start with internal communications

While the rest of the business is rolling out digital projects and new technology, your internal communications will need to undergo a digital transformation of its own. You need to ensure you’re equipped to create and deliver the kind of comprehensive communications strategy that will be needed to navigate the accelerated digitization of the workplace.

New digital tools, such as an intranet, need to be utilized to reach your employees how, when, and where they want and need information. The wider digital transformation project needs to roll out to your internal communications team first, so that you can help the project to progress across the organization.

People, technology and process are the three key ingredients to create a solid digital workplace, so you need to create processes to efficiently manage the new technology, which will make life easier for your people.

Struggling to keep your employees engaged during your digital transformation projects?

Your internal communications are paramount to the success of digital transformation, and you need to be fully prepared to embrace the technological changes before these are projected out across the organization. Speak to one of our workplace experts today to find out how we can help.

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