Filed under: Collaboration and social
There’s no question that the nature of internal communications is going through a period of radical change. These changes are being driven by four workplace trends:
- Changing demographics, with many organisations now finding themselves with four generations of workers, each with different behaviours and preferences.
- Flexible working practices, which have been transformed radically (and often overnight) by the recent pandemic.
- New workplace technologies, with a raft of new collaboration and productivity tools being widely rolled out.
- Evolving workplace expectations, particularly about engagement with organisations and senior leaders.
Most internal communication teams conduct regular surveys to assess the effectiveness of internal messaging. This might be in the form of a stand-alone internal comms survey, or as part of a wider culture or ‘pulse’ survey.
While there is a reasonably common set of questions used in these surveys, they may only relate to ‘traditional’ internal communication practices, primarily top-down messaging from leaders and corporate services areas.
With many internal communication teams taking on responsibility (and business ownership) of social/collaboration tools, what can be missing are key questions about collaboration tools and practices. This article provides a suggested list of survey questions that will help to shed light on this vital aspect of modern organisations.
A selection of typical survey questions
While there are many ways of building an understanding of internal communication needs and effectiveness, common survey questions include:
- What are your preferred sources of information?
- Are you getting the information you need in a timely fashion?
- How would you rate the communication you currently receive?
- Which types of messages are you most interested in receiving?
- Are you provided with the information you need to do your job?
- Are you able to quickly and easily find information when required?
- Do you have a clear idea of how the organisation is performing?
- How effective are senior leaders at communicating?
- How effective are your line managers at communicating?
- How transparent do you feel management is?
- Do you feel you have a voice within the organisation?
These are a sample of questions across multiple categories, including corporate communication, employee engagement and work productivity. They are intended to give a “360 degree view” of internal communications, and there is clear overlap with questions included in culture surveys (which is why the two surveys are often combined).
These questions are great to ask, but they miss the entire category of collaboration and social interaction, which is rapidly growing in importance.
Adding collaboration and social into the mix
Traditional internal communication channels include the intranet, email, printed newsletters and face-to-face interactions. Most organisations have struggled to make these channels work effectively, with email dominating, and a ‘scattergun’ approach to messaging creating more noise than cut-through.
To this already challenging environment, new tools and technology platforms have been added.
These include collaboration tools, such as Microsoft Teams, Workplace by Facebook and Slack, to name just a few. These tools help smaller groups work better together, such as projects, teams and business units. They are intended to be used daily (or hourly!) for ongoing conversations, shared documents and richer interactions, all designed to improve the productivity and effectiveness of groups.
There are also social tools, such as Yammer and (again) Workplace by Facebook. These platforms are often used to foster a stronger culture within organisations, through purely ‘social’ groups relating to dogs or jogging, as well as providing a way for leaders to have two-way interactions with employees. Social tools also help to bridge silos within organisations, encouraging the sharing of knowledge and helping to accelerate innovation.
Collaboration and social tools matter for internal communication teams, for a few key reasons.
Firstly, these tools are at the heart of new ways of working, shifting away from face-to-face meeting and clunky email interactions, towards more seamless and ongoing streams of interactions within teams and projects. This has been extraordinarily accelerated due to the impact of the pandemic, which created an overnight shift to entirely remote working. Many IT strategies also place these tools at the vanguard of a wholesale modernisation of enterprise platforms.
Of equal significance is the degree to which internal communication teams are becoming the business owner of these tools, putting their hands up to help drive adoption and use across organisations. This is very much the case for social tools, which have a natural affinity with existing comms channels and the traditional role of internal communication teams. The ownership of collaboration technologies may still sit with IT teams, but collaboration adoption may also end up being led by comms teams.
For all of these reasons, it’s become vital to understand how employees are using collaboration and social tools, whether they’re meeting practical needs, and whether staff are getting the support and assistance they need. It’s therefore time to add questions about collaboration to internal comms surveys.
Eleven survey questions about collaboration
The starting point for most organisations is to build an overall picture of digital literacy, collaboration tool usage, collaborative behaviours, and the overall role of collaboration tools. These eleven questions provide a solid foundation for this.
- How often are you using these tools? (scale: not at all -> multiple times each day) Provide a list of both authorised and unauthorised tools, to build a picture of actual usage patterns.
- I am typically using collaboration tools for these activities. Provide a list of common activities, such as video chatting, sending messages to others, sharing files, etc.
- I am comfortable and confident using our collaboration tools (scale: not confident -> very confident). This helps to give a sense of the digital literacy of employees, across various business areas and roles.
- I understand which collaboration tools I should be using for a specific activity (scale: strongly disagree -> strongly agree). This examines the degree to which employees know ‘what to use when’, and it’s particularly important when multiple, sometimes overlapping tools have been rolled out.
- I have the knowledge and skills needed to make effective use of our collaboration tools. This digs into the how much support and training employees have had for collaboration tools and practices.
- I am using collaboration tools effectively within my team or project. This looks at the local collaboration practices within smaller, more tightly knit groups of employees.
- I am using collaboration tools effectively to work with groups or individuals outside of my immediate team. Beyond intra-team collaboration, this explores the degree to which collaboration tools are meaningfully crossing organisational silos.
- I am using collaboration tools with people outside our organisation. This identifies the degree to which collaboration encompasses external organisations, such as suppliers or service agencies.
- Our collaboration tools help me to feel more connected with our leadership team. This explores the role of social tools to enhance engagement between the leadership team and the wider business.
- Our collaboration tools help me feel more engaged with our organisation. Beyond engagement with leaders, this question addresses the role of collaboration tools in fostering culture.
- What could be provided or done to help you use collaboration tools more effectively? Ending with an open-ended question provides greater depth and qualitative insight into the potential activities for improving collaboration adoption and use.
Note that there are already a lot of questions in a typical internal communications or culture survey, so this list has been tightly constrained in size. Where appropriate and possible, further questions can be added to dive into use of specific tools, or particular collaboration behaviours.
Measuring, then managing
All-staff surveys will not, of course, provide a complete picture about collaboration and social interactions within organisations. In practice, they should be supplemented by:
- Staff research, primarily using one-on-one interviews to provide a deeper and more holistic understanding of employee practices, needs and points of pain. Even a modest amount of research will uncover a lot of meaningful insights, including the ‘why’ of employee behaviours, not just the ‘what’ identified in surveys.
- Rich analytics, providing quantitative details on actual tool usage. This should go beyond the basics of number of posts, number of replies, proportion of staff using the tools in a given week, etc. In addition to this, modern analytics should give insights into the type of posts, the nature of interactions, and the overall shape of collaboration (such as whether it’s only happening within business units, or spanning the org chart). Note that this might need a third-party solution, beyond what’s provided in the collaboration platforms themselves.
At the end of the day, this all comes back to the old adage of “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”. With collaboration tools on the rise, and internal communications teams playing an increasing role in their ongoing success, it’s crucial to have a complete picture of collaboration needs and behaviours.
The simple starting point is to add a handful of questions into the next internal comms survey, and take it from there!
(Please do reach out if you’d like some help building a clearer understanding of collaboration and social tools within your organisation.)