Communications in a dispersed environment

Image: Yammer app in Teams live event hosting Company meeting
By Linda Parkinson-Hardman on

Office-based working lives have changed significantly over the last few months, and it’s hard to imagine they will ever fully be the same again. The coronavirus pandemic has given every organisation a chance to see what life would be like if their workforce were enabled to work remotely, given the right tools. But what happens to communications in a dispersed environment, after all not everything that needs to be said is done in an email or chat! This post takes a look at the importance of increasing your communication channels, rather than reducing them and how you can give staff a chance to replicate some of the non-work social interaction that is such an important part of not only their work-life balance but their ideas, suggestions and behaviours.

How much does your organisation communicate with you?

When I say You, I mean as in YOU the individual?

At first glance, this might seem to be not at all or very little, after all an organisation cannot communicate because it’s not a thing in and of itself. But when we break this down and look at it in more depth, we see that the organisation communicates with us ALL THE TIME.

That’s because an organisation is made up of the people who are part of it. But because we don’t see them as the ‘organisation’ we don’t think of it as communicating.

Taking this one stage further, let’s think about how all those people communicate. Here at Silversands on any given day I’ll receive emails, chat and channel messages in Teams, I’ll get emoji’s and emoticons signifying that someone has read or liked something I’ve just sent to them, I’ll get meeting invites and attend meetings. There will be shared documents, Yammer posts, LinkedIn updates from colleagues and phone calls. And, when I’m in the office, people will pop by my desk, catch me in the kitchen or I’ll see a poster or notice on a board or wall.

Image: Communications via Informal meeting over coffee

Some of these communications will be personal – one to one, some of them will be group-based. Some will be focused on work and others will be the ‘keeping in touch’ type that oil the many wheels of our internal relationships.

Each one of these represents a channel of communication we can use in our quest to improve engagement with, and use of, Microsoft 365.

It can sometimes be a useful starting point to think about what happens in your own working environment. Recognising what works for you is a great way of thinking about what might work for others, but don’t get bogged down in your own preferences, after all this isn’t about YOU, this is about everyone and it is easy to assume that just because you like something, everyone will – unfortunately, that’s not the way the world works!

What about project communications?

When we think about project communications, we tend to think of them as ‘big’ activities, which they are when it comes to planning and preparation. But at their core they are all one-to-one because it will be a ME or a YOU who reads the email, the update or the poster. It won’t be an US and I will do this as a singular activity even if it’s at the same time as a whole bunch of other people, which means I will essentially do it alone. And, to compound that what I hear, read or think as a result of engaging with those communications will be unique to me as well, because everything will be run through the lens of my own personal experience.

At this point, you might be wondering why it matters when we’re talking about the communications part of an implementation project for Microsoft 365.

The reason it matters is that success depends on recognising and accepting that people don’t pay attention consistently THEREFORE multiple channels are necessary.

What channels do you have?

The most common include:

  • Your intranet – if you have one,
  • Email – you can send one to many, but remember they will always be read individually,
  • Updates on your social channels – internal and external depending on how you use social media within the company,
  • Webinars and town hall meetings – which may be mandatory or not,
  • Newsletters – printed and electronic (which is just another email really!),
  • Team meetings – which again, may be mandatory or not,
  • Notices and posters.

The list goes on and I’m sure you’ll add others which are part of your working and office landscape.

But for any of these to work we need to accept two things:

  1. People don’t have to pay attention to what you communicate. For example, they may be forced to attend a webinar or team meeting, but they don’t have to listen.
  2. People hear what makes sense to them. Even though everyone reads or hears the same words, they will interpret them differently!

A great example of both of these points is the threat of redundancy announcement where one guy hears it and is devastated because he ‘knows’ he will lose his job (even though the reality is he doesn’t know because it’s just a warning at this stage), and a woman hears it and thinks ‘wey hey, now I get to start that business I’ve always wanted’.

I have lost count of the number of times clients have baulked at the amount of communication I recommend because they are worried about over-communicating. According to Prosci, one of the biggest regrets many organisations have when it comes to change management is that they didn’t communicate enough.

Informal communications

Of course, until this point we’ve been talking about the formal communications a project may or may not decide to initiate. So I’d like to ask you a question, have you thought about the informal communications you could use where the power of an influencer’s network comes into play?

Image: Commincations from and Influencer sharing his laptop with three female colleagues

By influencer, I don’t necessarily mean a senior manager, I mean those people other people tend to listen to because they are loud and proud. Harnessing their reach and influence can help a communication strategy soar to never before seen heights. And the good news is that everyone and anyone can be an influencer.

And when you harness this opportunity your job becomes easier as all you have to do is provide them the means to share the news on your behalf.

Other informal communications are found in the social side of the workplace. After alll the bulk of office conversations tend to happen amongst colleagues passing the time of day in the kitchen, with their teammates or at lunch. And as communications professionals, we can harness that opportunity by providing a rich seam of information, resources and knowledge that is drip-fed through the organisation by using as many communication channels as possible.

One such channel that really works to support this type of interaction is the internal social network. My favourite happens to be Yammer because it democratises an organisation, giving everyone the same level of voice.

It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or the newest apprentice if you have something the rest of the organisation wants to hear or is interested in, your voice is just as powerful as the most senior of managers – more so in some cases because the message is coming from someone like me!

How Silversands can help

Silversands is a Microsoft Gold Partner and specialises in Microsoft 365 delivered across Azure cloud and hybrid IT environments. As well as technical consultancy we also have a professional Adoption and Change Management practice, following the Prosci methodology advocated by Microsoft. We provide help with things such as user adoption audit, knowledge and learning plans, communications plans, privacy impact assessments (PIA) and equality impact assessments (EqIA).

Quarterly we run a number of online events which provide an opportunity to learn directly from our consultants and this quarter we have a series of 3 x 2 hour intensives around Communication in a dispersed environment. For more details and to register for these free sessions click the links below:

If you would like to speak to one of our Adoption & Change Management experts please complete and submit the form below:

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