I’ve been reading the Remotely Interested report from Jenni Field (Redefining Communications) and Benjamin Ellis (SocialOptic). I was particularly interested in the findings about line management and information flow.
Remotely Interested finds remote workers do not feel overwhelmed: only 3 per cent report they got too much information. In fact 27 per cent feel they don’t have enough information.
A lot of internal communications goes through the line manager. The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) 2016 research suggests 76 per cent of middle managers are expected to be communicators. It’s a two way flow, with managers as a critical link in the whole system. They can cascade messages down, but they can also provide key insight into what matters to employees. People prefer to communicate with people, ultimately.
In my experience and from conversations, it’s not team members that are reporting overwhelm but managers. And there are two broad reasons for that:
- their skills
- the volume of information they are being asked to communicate.
Finding out how information flows
As an internal communications manager I’d want to look at both of those. Only looking at one will not resolve the information flow.
Field and Ellis suggest there can be a quality drop off in the delivery. The CMI report says 31 per cent of managers feel very confident communicating which means 69 per cent don’t. I’ve sat in a few all-staff meetings wincing inside. Some edit bits out, others add ideas in with speculation. Some disown it with body language. It’s crucial for internal communications managers to dig into why. What can we do to support managers to be sure-footed when communicating key objectives with their team?
Ultimately, though, internal communications people can’t control how a manager works with their team. What we can control, however, is the amount of information flowing through them.
A channels audit, digging in to find out how many unofficial channels exist on top of the formal ones, helps. A leader may think their weekly email to all their department is helpful but it may be adding to a sense of information overload. We can look at the infrastructure to make sure things are working.
Another approach for an internal communications manager is talking to your leadership team about what strategic internal objectives are a communications priority. Then when building a communications strategy, you can keep coming back to “is this supporting your priorities?”.
Taking control of the information flow
As more workforces become dispersed, ensuring there is a sluice gate on how much information flows through managers is critical. Alongside investment in line manager training, it means we are setting up managers to succeed.
I can provide internal communications management, including audits of channels or identifying where information is getting tangled up.
You can read the Remotely Interested report summary online.