8 Communication Trends for a Hybrid Workforce

EPISODE 91Guest: Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manager for Visix

The hybrid workforce has changed the way organizations connect employees to the company, the mission and each other. Although new tech and tools are part of the equation, some good old-fashioned employee engagement techniques are evolving to take center stage in the battle to build community over distances.

In this episode, we look at eight trends that internal communications professionals are leveraging to ensure everyone feels informed and engaged in the modern workplace:

  • Learn how a hybrid workforce has changed the way we communicate
  • Understand that adopting new tech is essential, but not the end-all
  • Explore using more visuals, mobile-first designs and distributed communications
  • Hear how communicators are focusing on EX, recognition, wellbeing and participation
  • Appreciate the importance of frontline managers for message reinforcement

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Derek DeWitt: Everybody out there probably is sick to death of hearing the phrase hybrid workforce. Well, you shouldn’t be because it’s here and it’s here to stay. And the better equipped we are to deal with that, the better our communications will be. We’re gonna talk today about eight communication trends for a hybrid workforce with Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manager for Visix. Hi Debbie.

Debbie DeWitt: Hi Derek. How are you?

Derek DeWitt: Excellent. I’d like to thank Debbie for joining me today and all of you for listening, don’t forget that you can subscribe to this podcast.

All right. So hybrid workplace, when we say that we’re talking about, sometimes people work in the office physically, sometimes they work remotely, whether that’s from home or from Starbucks or whatever. Right?

Debbie DeWitt: Absolutely. And a lot of organizations have been doing this for a long time, but I’d say the majority are getting used to this as a new normal. I know we’re all sick of that term, the new normal.

Derek DeWitt: Well, tough.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, but having a hybrid workforce is a little bit of a new experience for some folks, but it’s definitely affecting communications. I mean, we’re seeing people having to rely on intranets or chat apps, these enterprise apps like Microsoft Teams or even Slack. They’re using a lot more video conferencing. And especially when it comes to company culture, trying to do teambuilding via the web and video conferences.

Derek DeWitt: Well, it’s like, you know, a lot of the advice that you’ll come across today as you’re searching stuff about hybrid workforce engagement and things like that is that maybe if you are having a conference call, one of the ways to help that virtual teambuilding aspect is to do it as a video call and not just audio.

Debbie DeWitt: Oh, that’s absolute. Like everybody needs to have their cameras on. We all respond better when we can see faces and we feel more like we’re in the room together if we can see each other.

Derek DeWitt: Even though we’re obviously not. I mean, I’ve got my cat on my lap and my kids are screaming, you know?

Debbie DeWitt: Right. But, you know, well, hopefully you’ve got some etiquette built in and that doesn’t happen, but…

Derek DeWitt: Shut up!

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. I mean, engagement has always been something that companies have been working on or should have been working on. It’s just the tools that have changed. It’s just some of the methods. So the goal is the same. Some of the other things we’ve seen is, because everybody’s more widespread, you need more feedback from your employees. You need more participation. You know, you need to build community. And so, another thing is focusing on values and wellbeing and motivation. You know, these are all things that we’ve been doing before, but the way we’re doing them and maybe the messaging we’re using has had to change a little bit for the hybrid workforce.

Derek DeWitt: And I think it can’t hurt to first off kind of find out what people are interested in, but also just to try some things and see how the audience responds. I’m thinking specifically of the Visix intranet, and you started doing these question times, once a week. And much to your surprise at the end of the year, you asked people, hey, what are some of the things you like and don’t like the way we’ve been using the intranet during this COVID lockdown phase. And the question time was one of the most popular things. And one of the reasons for that was not just that it was questions and people could think about and stuff, but that people could answer ’cause you’d activated comments, almost like a social media feed. And so, people felt like they got to know their fellow employees through their comments.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Actually, it was, it was lovely as the person putting out the survey and doing this, you know, to have someone say, I literally get up on Wednesdays for the question time. And these are fun things.

Derek DeWitt: It’s a little obsessive, but yeah.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. These are, these are fun questions. What I do is I put up questions like, would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses? You know, they’re fun things. What’s the craziest way you’ve ever been injured? You know, hamburger versus hot dog, you know, things like that. And what was also lovely is…

Derek DeWitt: Ketchup or no ketchup on hot dog? That one, that, people, that gets to fisticuffs.

Debbie DeWitt: Oh, actually I’ll, I’ll put that one on there. But you can do this with a lot of different things. You could also do sort of a two truths and a lie. You could do, you know, guess who, and just say some fun fact about employees, you know, that you’ve surveyed and gotten some, some fun facts.

Derek DeWitt: This, this kind of thing mimics the sort of just informal banter and chit chat that happens when everybody’s in an office. I know everybody’s there to work, but nobody works eight full hours there. Sometimes you just walk past a cubicle, and you go, hey man, your head looks like, you know, whatever. And, and there’s that kind of back and forth where people sort of communicate a little bit of, hey, this is my personality.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. I mean, and that’s why having the cameras on and also building in some just chit chat time into, I don’t care if you have a weekly team meeting that’s only 20 minutes, go ahead and add five for everybody to say, what’d you do this weekend? I was just gonna say another lovely comment that I got about that question time was – and this is the goal – someone actually said, I feel like I know longtime employees that I’ve known for years, I know them better now just by reading their responses to this.

Derek DeWitt: So that’s either indication of, wow, that’s a great idea or how starved that particular individual is for human contact.

Debbie DeWitt: Well, no, it was because those employees have always been remote. And so, they were saying these remote employees, I’m starting to know more about them. Because there are a lot of employees in your company that they might have a team meeting, but they don’t have a lot of contact with people who aren’t on their team. So this is…

Derek DeWitt: Right. Or if you’ve got a sales force, like they only come in once or twice a year to the main office.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. So this is a way, whether or not everyone is working from home or just a few people, it, it wraps them in. And it also makes those remote people feel more included in the culture of the company.

Derek DeWitt: So, let’s talk about these eight trends for a hybrid workforce. Number one is internal communications elevated. Nice title. What’s it mean?

Debbie DeWitt: Well, it’s, it’s, I’m gonna use a catchphrase that’s been around for a very long time, which is getting a seat at the table. It’s been a struggle for communications managers or people who might even be HR managers who have to manage internal communications to be in the room when big decisions are made or when strategy’s being done. And that has changed because everybody realized by going hybrid, we really need to focus on internal communications. And so those internal comms pros are now a part of that conversation. They’ve got that seat at the table.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s right. Just even five years ago, you know, sometimes I think communications professionals, it’s kind of like the C-suite didn’t believe that was a real thing. They were, well, we have to have ’em I guess, but let’s just, they were kind of like shunted off to the basement office, like Fox Mulder at the FBI.

Debbie DeWitt: Ooh, nice reference. I think that it’s, it was kind of looked at as we just put out things people need to know. We send an email; we do a monthly internal newsletter.

Derek DeWitt: Engagement is you’re gettin’ a paycheck.

Debbie DeWitt: I don’t think it was that harsh by any means, but the science behind it You know, people have degrees in communications. This is a discipline, just like marketing. It’s interesting to me that the C-suite has always felt they need a marketing manager who is plugged in and trying new things and seeing what works and what doesn’t and looking at trends and looking at demographics. And that’s what your communications people are doing as well. But for some reason, there just hadn’t been as much of a focus on it. And even if there was, they were sort of still not in the room when business strategy was discussed.

And so, your employees make your business work period. That’s it. That is, to me, I’m not even a communications professional. I do communications, but I also do marketing, but for someone who’s dedicated to this, it’s outstanding that it wasn’t always looked at as the most important thing. Keeping your employees happy and feeling included and motivated is the only way you succeed.

Derek DeWitt: I know there’s this kind of big push for what’s known as distributed communications. What, what’s that all about?

Debbie DeWitt: Oh yeah, definitely. Because people are more distributed, whether it be geographically…

Derek DeWitt: Physically.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Physically. But, also with the hybrid thing, you can be in the same city on the same block and not be together now. So distributed communications is putting out those communications at all levels – at the local level, at the team level. And it actually puts a bigger burden on line-level managers. So, you can’t just have everything coming from your comms team or from high above because everybody’s virtual. You need it at all levels. Yes, there needs to be an organizational push for better communications, but the team managers really have to carry that out at that local or team level.

Derek DeWitt: All right. Second one here on my list is mobile-first communications. What do you mean like, like with people’s tablets and smartphones or?

Debbie DeWitt: That’s it. It’s that simple. This is just a technology shift. Um, yeah, lots of people still have… I don’t wanna say desktops, certainly most people have laptops. There are still people working on desktop machines, but with everybody being hybrid, it makes sense to make sure your communications work on mobile and then also work on those others. It used to be the other way around. Just like with websites, we’ve seen, you know, this revolution of the last, I’d say 10 years of it needs to be responsive for mobiles. Um, now it’s sort of like design for the mobile and then make sure it also works.

Derek DeWitt: Also, and then also, also, oh, PS, it should also look good on a computer.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, exactly. So, I mean, this can tie into intranets or if you’re running a social media site for your employees or a platform or page. Again, those enterprise tools like Teams or Slack. And really mobile-first really impacts graphic design more than anything else, because you do have to design for a smaller screen, less text. You need to look at your delivery schedules. You know, you don’t want to be crowding some feed like Teams where everybody’s getting, you know, 30 chats a day from their team and then also you’re sending 30 things a day.

Derek DeWitt: Right.

Debbie DeWitt: But the great thing is it opens opportunity for like hot linking, you know.

Derek DeWitt: That’s what I was gonna say. Because this technology is hyperlinked, you can easily go bink, bink, bink. You see this now in articles, blog articles all the time, you know, it’s like just the last three words of a sentence link out to another article if you want to know more about that.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. And being a digital signage company, you know, our product actually lets you put digital signage messages into an HTML5 playlist. So that could sit on your intranet. It could go out to mobile phones. It can even go into your Team’s app. But again, if you’re designing for a phone or a tablet, you don’t want to have a paragraph of text. What you wanna say is, you know, whatever your deadline for benefits enrollment is Friday.

Derek DeWitt: Hyperlink, hyperlink, hyperlink.

Debbie DeWitt: One hyperlink, not hyperlink, hyperlink, hyperlink. A hyperlink that goes to an intranet page that says here’s all the details and here’s the signup form. So, you can keep your text short and instead send them somewhere else. The whole point is: get the message in front of them. If it’s relevant to them, they’ll then react by going out to that link.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. Okay. Uh, I think this kind of ties into, ’cause I was gonna make a joke there and say the mobile-first communications notion for hybrid workforces is the case until such a day, as we all have wifi-enabled computers embedded in our skulls. Which brings us to the third item, which is new technology adoption.

Debbie DeWitt: I would state that even if it’s embedded in our skulls, you’re still gonna need to…

Derek DeWitt: You still have to design it.

Debbie DeWitt: …minimize that design. ‘Cause if it’s in my skull, I’m gonna want a lot fewer words. Thank you very much. I have enough already. But yeah, new technology adoption – we’ve already talked about a couple. Obviously, people using more mobiles, but these enterprise…

Derek DeWitt: Well Zoom, Zoom took off like crazy.

Debbie DeWitt: It’s funny because a lot of companies are using Zoom or Slack, but a lot of companies are using Microsoft Teams. Because I mean think about who doesn’t use Microsoft Office? And Teams actually ties into all of that. So, a lot of people have adopted those things. But one of the trends I hope to see is that you start training people on how to use these things. Because we’ve all been on the WebEx meeting or the Zoom or even the Team’s videoconference where someone’s trying to share their screen and they don’t know how. And they just keep putting up a picture of the wrong screen. There’s the horrible, like visual feedback where they share the screen that has the Team’s meeting screen in it and it just like loops endlessly into the background.

Derek DeWitt: Oh yeah. Right. Right.

Debbie DeWitt: So definitely, with new technology comes new training, comes great responsibility to train your people to use it.

Derek DeWitt: I’m reminded of that thing. I think it was from last year where, you know, it was a video conference and somehow the guy’s teenage daughter had been using his computer.

Debbie DeWitt: This is the cat?

Derek DeWitt: Yes. I am not a cat.

Debbie DeWitt: I am not a cat. Yeah. Yeah. Definitely, you know, put some parental controls on there. You know, and the other thing is training is not just how to do the basics, but you may not even realize you can do breakout rooms in Teams. You know, you can do surveys and polls. And I’m not just plugging Microsoft Teams. This is true of all of these platforms. They are really building in a ton of features ’cause they don’t want you to use anything else. So…

Derek DeWitt: Right. We want to be your one stop shop.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. So, if you don’t take the training or at least get a basic overview, you might be using several platforms when you only need to use one and that’s, that’s a big problem. Um, if you push stuff out to a platform no one wants to use, it’s buggy, or…

Derek DeWitt: It’s like if you’re, you know, trying to have a social media presence and you realize that actually Instagram and Twitter are the only things that my audience use. Then also putting things on Facebook is in fact a waste of work hours.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. And same thing with your communications platform. If you’re pushing out to a platform no one uses, or no one likes to use or wants to use, it’s wasted effort. There may be a period of experimentation. You may need to use a couple. Now you don’t want to go out and buy some enterprise app, which is, you know, not cheap. Um, and then find out no one wants it. So try some things out. But the biggest thing is: find out which one the employees, the recipients of the communications, want to use. It’s not about your design team or your communications team saying, oh, this is great for me to send these things. It’s about the people on the receiving end and what do they want to use.

Derek DeWitt: And you know, if you do have a majority of your employees like a particular platform, but some of the people don’t like it at all, well you’ve already got built-in cheerleaders. You don’t need to hand down a director from on high of, well you’re going to use it, figure it out. You’ve got people who like it, who would probably be very happy to help train the more reluctant participants.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. In most cases, people who don’t like it it’s because they’re not sure of how to use it or they’re unfamiliar with it. Or you’ve got too many platforms running. Because there, there can be a backlash when you add a fifth way to have videoconferences and everybody’s gotta manage those passwords and everybody’s gotta have, you know, a desktop app for each one of them. So that’s the other thing is some people can just get burned out. And that’s why you need to choose one, choose the best one. And like you said, have your champions and cheerleaders lead the charge on training and getting people on board.

Derek DeWitt: Alright. Four is more visual communications. By that, I suspect you mean, you know, picture worth a thousand words. Try and design all of your communications visually first, text second. Is that what you mean?

Debbie DeWitt: That’s what I mean. Um, it is definitely, it’s also, fewer one-on-one conversations. Now, that’s not true if you’re doing like videoconferences, you can have a lot of those. But fewer emails. You’re not throwing posters up. You know, you’re not populating a bulletin board if it’s a school or a campus or something like that. So, this is very excellent for digital signage software makers, I will say.

Derek DeWitt: Hmmm.

Debbie DeWitt: But we’ve always been champions of visual communications. You know, on average, I just read a stat somewhere that it was something like the average employee receives 121 emails a day.

Derek DeWitt: Today, still? I hate email.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. So, and definitely younger employees are not email fans. So, although email is still the number one way that organizations communicate, you don’t wanna overload it. So more visual communication. I think this goes hand in hand very much with the adoption of social media. We all know that on social media, we tend to tune in faster to a video or a meme or a photo someone posts than we do just a text post. And it’s kind of the same thing. This can be digital signs. It can be online channels like your intranet. Even that, if you have an intranet homepage and your posts are just text, it’s less engaging. So you need to be more visual.

Derek DeWitt: I think that’s why like Facebook, not that long, not terribly long ago, for people who just want to do a short post, they have these little backgrounds you can choose now just to give a little extra, you know, visual pizzazz to your, does anybody know where I can buy hot dogs or whatever, whatever your question is.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. It makes it a visual communication versus just text. So we’re seeing more and more of that. A lot of that is driven by the technologies we’re using. And video’s a huge part. Because you know, YouTube’s, YouTube’s the second most popular search engine in the world. It’s in the number two slot now who knows what will happen because Google gives or gave text results. YouTube is visual. And it’s funny, you’ll see even Google on the search engine results you get now, there’s more and more imagery. They’re putting in the little snippets and the carousels full of images and things like that. Because again, they know visuals engage people. I’d say data visualization is super important for a hybrid workforce.

Derek DeWitt: And I think with modern technology, like I know the Visix Signage Suite software, it’s actually pretty easy.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. You can…

Derek DeWitt: Like, why wouldn’t you do it? It’s so easy and it’s so effective.

Debbie DeWitt: It’s no different than every month, you had an Excel spreadsheet with a bunch of stats. And when you needed to show your manager progress, you didn’t give him the stats, you gave him a pie chart.

Derek DeWitt: Right.

Debbie DeWitt: Because it’s an instant…

Derek DeWitt: Boom. Uh oh, I see. Thank you. Boom.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. And so, you can do that same thing on digital signs. And again, when we say digital signs, you can also, those messages can go out to your intranet or whatever else. But using visuals to communicate things like KPIs, you know, progress to goals or our goals or whatever. Even if it’s a little thermometer filling up for a fundraiser, it’s gonna be more impactful. And I mean, even if you, if you are absolutely strapped to an email program at your work, throw the visual in the email, because again, it just gets information across so quickly. So I would just say, look at every message you’re doing on digital signs and everywhere else, and replace text with visuals every time you can.

Derek DeWitt: I think the keyword there is replace, however. What I see, and I see this certainly in blogs and things, because a lot of content creators are trying to get to a certain word count and so on so that Google will rank them a little higher. So very often what you’ll see now is someone has put in, let’s say a pie chart or a bar, a bar chart. But then they will then use words to describe the, so they’re just duplicating the information. I would say in the modern age, especially as we’re saying mobile first, don’t do that. If you’re gonna do the visual, then just do the visual. I can, if I can’t figure it out, it’s a bad visual. I don’t need you to then write two paragraphs explaining to me what the visual means. Either I got it and that’s redundant, or I didn’t get it and you need to redesign your visual.

Debbie DeWitt: You’re very passionate on this subject.

Derek DeWitt: It really, it drives me crazy. It really, really does. ‘Cause I’m like, oh look, it’s the same information. Again, I don’t have time for this. I have 121 emails to answer.

Debbie DeWitt: I will give everyone, give these people you speak of, the benefit of the doubt and say that they might be trying to appeal to different types of personalities. Because again, you do have some more people, some people who respond more to visuals, you do have some people who prefer text.

Derek DeWitt: And I will say this – for people who are blind or visually impaired, they probably have software that is reading the text. And I don’t know what the state of the art is on reading a graph. I don’t know that they can.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. Yeah, no. So, and sometimes even a visual of those monthly stats has some explanation. You’ve got asterisks with little notes. Oh, the spike in June was because of this. ‘Cause you know that’s a question people are gonna ask or there’s some outlier. So, when it comes to visual messaging though, what you can do – I’m gonna leave the email out of it because that’s gonna be a corporate style thing – but if you’re doing messaging on digital signs or out to playlists or social or anything like that, again, show the graph and have a hyperlink that goes to a page that shows that.

Derek DeWitt: Ah, there you go.

Debbie DeWitt: Because a lot of people may question the data. They’re gonna know, where did you get this from? You know, they may want more detail. You don’t need to try and do that all in one place all at one time and especially not on like one 50 inch screen.

Derek DeWitt: Right? Yeah. Obviously, a lot of this ties into five, which is focus on EX or employee experience. We wanna make this the best experience possible for our audience in this particular instance, the employees.

Debbie DeWitt: Right? And we have a whole podcast that covers EX and gives you some tips overall to improve employee experience. But the brief explanation right now is that this is everything from a person’s first impression with your organization, like when they went to your website to see a job listing, all the way through after they leave you. If they retire, what are they gonna say about you? So, it’s their entire journey with your brand and your company.

But EX is different now. With the hybrid workforce, you are having to build community and culture in a very different way. And it can be a little harder because people aren’t physically coming together. So, a big thing is to have, as we talked about before, very clear and very consistent communications. And participation and feedback are super crucial since people aren’t getting together. Certainly, if you can get people together, do. You know, once in a while, or in very small batches and safely while we’re in the time of COVID obviously. But I will say the next few things that we’re gonna talk about actually build on this, principles of employee experience.

Derek DeWitt: So moving right along, number six, more focus on employee recognition. And now I know a lot of people, and I’ll admit that I’m one of those people because I’m confident to the point of extreme arrogance, so I don’t really feel like I need a lot of recognition.

Debbie DeWitt: You sound so likable.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. But you know, you and I were talking about this the other day that I’m an extrovert and we extroverts have a tendency to kind of pooh-pooh self-identified introverts. And yet I’m beginning to suspect that there are a heck of a lot more introverts out there than there are extroverts. And so it, I think maybe employee recognition is really, really important and we’ve just kind of, you know, through certainly the last half of the 20th century, we kind of just shunted aside those people who need that or want that. And even as an extrovert, yeah, it feels good when your boss goes good job. It does. Of course it does.

Debbie DeWitt: Oh. I’m an affirmation junkie. I’m, I like beg for it if I don’t get it. So yeah, no. I don’t know how that ties into extrovert and introvert. I don’t know. I’m sure there could be extroverts who desperately want recognition as well. But I will say, I would, I would just go on the assumption. Don’t even look into that. Assume every one of your employees need meaningful feedback. They need recognition.

Derek DeWitt: Right. No one’s gonna hate it. Right? No one’s gonna go, well, that was stupid telling me I did a good thing.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. I mean, they need recognition from managers. They need it from peers. And you need to think about doing it in front of peers. Because especially when it comes to, I believe millennials certainly and Gen Z even more so, peer recognition is huge. And you need to be careful with that. Like certainly recognize those achievements and things. On the other hand, when you’re in a team meeting, if something didn’t work out, you don’t wanna blame anybody. There should be no negative, public negative recognition. I think any…

Derek DeWitt: We lost that client. Thanks Bob.

Debbie DeWitt: I think every HR manager already knows this and every, hopefully, line manager knows this. You don’t publicly shame people. But public recognition is great. This is where digital signs and these kind of visual messages can come in, giving kudos. Do it at the individual level, do it at the team level. And if your sales team made their, or say exceeded their quarterly quota, you’re gonna put up a message about that. But also call out some of those individual sales reps who helped with that.

Derek DeWitt: Who did especially well. But you know, it occurs to me like I know, uh, obviously even just a small thing is, you know, people’s work, anniversaries, birthdays, things like this. However, if you’re gonna do that, like I know one of your suggestions is very often, like at the beginning of the year, create a calendar. Just, the people’s birthdays don’t change. The work anniversaries don’t change. Stick ’em all in at the beginning of the year so you’re ready.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. I mean, definitely have a content plan and put recognition into part of that plan. If you’re not getting that feedback from managers of, hey, I wanna give a shout out to Derek or whatever, put reminders on your calendar to ask them. Is there anything that I can highlight? Um, you wanna make sure it’s even across the organization. It’s very easy to constantly recognize the sales team or something like that, but you need to make sure your support people, your frontline factory workers, you know. It’s kind of like in hospitals, the doctors get all the glory, but nurses right now have come into the spotlight.

Derek DeWitt: That’s a good point, yeah.

Debbie DeWitt: So, you know, but also think about the receptionist, you know. Think about your admin, your finance people. Because if not the other thing that you have to be careful with recognition is if there’s a group or an individual who never gets it, but is still doing a good job, they’re gonna wonder why, and they’re gonna not feel great about that. So yeah, like you said, create a simple calendar for things like an anniversaries and birthdays. That’s an easy one. But also, like put a reminder on your calendar for like quarterly reporting. Every time your managers are all doing their status reports, is there something we can call out that’s positive and someone we can thank for that?

Derek DeWitt: Right. Right. Number seven is a phrase that has been used a lot in Visix content over the years – democratized communications, which sounds so good.

Debbie DeWitt: It is, it is good. It’s letting more people participate. You know, peer-to-peer communications are even more important now that we have a hybrid workforce. You know, people want the employee experience and how they communicate to mirror what they do in daily life. Now it can’t always be social media, but you can create those kinds of experiences. Like we talked about, um, a very basic thing that we didn’t have before we went to more remote workers was, um, a like button on intranet posts. We had, we always had comments, but we didn’t have a like button. And sometimes people don’t have something to say, but they wanna acknowledge it.

Derek DeWitt: It’s like kind of a “Kilroy was here”. I was here.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, exactly. It’s I saw this. I like it. Good job. But I don’t want to just be the 13th person to comment “good job”.

Derek DeWitt: Good job. Good job.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. So that’s peer-to-peer, you know, that even though corporate put the post on the intranet, it lets the peers then get in on that recognition and it’s democratizing the whole process. So I would suggest, you know, if you can anywhere, build in commenting, definitely emojis. Everybody loves emojis.

Derek DeWitt: Except me. I hate them.

Debbie DeWitt: And if you can, let people upload images, ’cause a lot of people like to use gifs and things like that.

Derek DeWitt: Mm. I do like gifs.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Message boards and chat obviously keep people more engaged. It’s a lot more engaging than email to be able to send a quick question and not wonder when you’re gonna get a reply. You can see instantly someone’s seen it, you know, and usually you get a faster answer, which is great.

Derek DeWitt: That’s true. I would also think that democratization of communications also is localizing what you’re putting up there, making sure that it’s relevant to that specific group of people, despite the fact that they’re maybe far flung.

Debbie DeWitt: Absolutely. Yeah definitely, you wanna talk to the audience.

Derek DeWitt: Tailored.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Tailor it to that audience where they are and that can be even down to the team level. We say this all the time, you don’t need to show every message to everyone.

That actually brings up a great thing that I was reading about the other day, which is one of the other trends, it’s not on this list, but knowing when to put the pause on communications. Because we’re a hybrid workforce and we are using email and intranets and chats and enterprise apps and social. And then you on top of that have your own life, which is email and you know, websites and social and YouTube.

Derek DeWitt: My mother, and yeah, right.

Debbie DeWitt: So, you need to also, don’t just throw out communications because there can be a panic that sets in of, oh, we’re not all together. We need to communicate something every day, so everybody knows we’re all here. We all know we still exist. And what you don’t wanna do is overwhelm people. So democratizing is allowing more people to have a voice. It means amplifying communications and democratizing them, not necessarily just creating more. Don’t just allow this avalanche of messaging to happen because that can actually really overwhelm and sometimes alienate your audience.

Derek DeWitt: I’d also say just like, you know, if you live in a democracy, I think you should, uh, vote. But I understand people whose stance my vote is to not vote. To not participate is also a choice. You shouldn’t make it required that people participate. That’s kind of part of giving people a choice. There’s stuff out here. It’s available for you if you want. Maybe there’s more available than you care to interact with. But hey, we gave it a try.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Never make it mandatory. I mean, unless it’s someone’s job description to do messages for your digital signs obviously. That’s actually a place where you can democratize as well. It may not be, hey, we just want everybody and their brother being able to throw up a message on our screens or that goes out to mobile or chat apps. Instead, it goes through an approval process. Like our software, you can create something from a template, but then the digital science manager has to approve it because they can control the schedule to keep that volume down.

Derek DeWitt: What about using, uh, surveys and other forms of feedback? If you don’t know what people are interested in, how do you know what works?

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, absolutely. Like you talked about voting. That’s where people can vote for what they like in your communications, basically. What they want, what they don’t want. So, you’re gonna wanna do those regularly and we actually have another podcast that covers that pretty in depth.

Derek DeWitt: Oh yeah. That was Andrew Brown and Elizabeth Williams from Academy of Business Communications. I would say too, though, don’t just survey once up at the top. Because the fact is until people have had the opportunity to see some of the things that you’re offering, they might not have any ideas in their head. Hey, what would you like to see? I don’t know. Then they see 15 different things over the next couple of months. They like eight of them. They tell you that. And then that might stimulate them. So you need to do this regularly.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. And hopefully, as we’ve said, you have a content plan. I mean, even if you’re starting from scratch, we’ve got infographics with a hundred content ideas. You know, you should be talking to your managers. What, what do they think should go on screens? So, if you do that initial survey, you can certainly have some checkboxes of what sounds interesting and then go back later and see how it succeeded. And you’re gonna want to do these regularly. Don’t do it like once a year. Don’t make it a 400 question survey. Do short little polls and surveys throughout so that, you know, everybody feels like they’re participating more often.

Derek DeWitt: Or at least they have the option to participate.

Debbie DeWitt: Yes.

Derek DeWitt: And the last one is wellbeing and DEI, which is diversity, equity and inclusion, are now taking center stage.

Debbie DeWitt: Certainly, the diversity thing has become more important in the last few years. You know, as in all things we’ve rebranded it as DEI. But this is very important. And we all know the last year with the hybrid workforce getting larger and people coming together less often and sometimes taking on more work, there’s a real mental health impact. When COVID is gone and, and we’re all back to normal, we’re still gonna have a hybrid workforce. They’re still not gonna see each other and have that comradery as often. And so, wellbeing is a big thing. And actually, just employee health obviously leads to healthier, happier employees, which is more productive and better results for your clients and for your business.

So really, in terms of communications, you want to focus on giving people more information. Again, watch overload. But information gives people a sense of security and control and safety, which reduces their stress. You know, it’s pretty easy. If you leave people just dangling out there on their own at home with a laptop and they never hear anything, they’re not sure where they fit into the process, that can be very stressful.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. The human mind does not like question marks. There’s a question mark, we kind of require an answer. You know, I even just think of something as simple as like, wow, is my boss mad at me? Even if your boss isn’t having a conversation with you, as you walk around the office, you can see your boss’s body language. You could see if they avoid you, if they don’t smile at you and so on. But if you’re not in the same physical space, there’s no way to make those judgements.

Debbie DeWitt: That’s true. Yeah. So, messaging that keeps people informed and educated and updated will keep them engaged and that promotes wellbeing. And you can also just do very overt things with wellbeing messages, you know, giving tips and resources. If you have timesaving tools, if you have multitasking training available. If you have stress relief tips for sitting at a desk all day, little exercises and stretches you can do. Actual health messaging can really promote the idea and hopefully the core value that your company or your organization cares about your employee’s health and their wellbeing and their stress levels.

Derek DeWitt: And their work life balance. I think that that’s, that’s becoming, it’s certainly important from the employee perspective and it needs to be now important from the organization’s perspective as well.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. And it is. That’s what, these are trends. These eight trends come from surveys and studies and multiple articles. You can go look up, but this is a big one. Understanding that wellbeing adds to every bottom line indicator. It really does. It has actual business outcomes. Um, it’s a huge topic in the HR world. HR bleeds naturally into internal communications. And modern employees expect transparency from their company. They expect a culture of respect and inclusion.

You know, we know that internal communications should have always addressed these, but if you haven’t been, you need to now. You need to build these into your calendar. Talk about your values, talk about that you value diversity. Even give some motivational quotes that talk about, you know, equality and inclusion. Uh, make sure those recognition messages you’re doing or surveys or anything, make sure, like I said, they’re inclusive. Everybody gets a chance. Everybody gets a voice. And I think that DEI is just gonna grow as an internal communications and HR topic over the next few years.

Derek DeWitt: And I think it’s also a little bit of, you know, midline managers and above educating themselves a little bit about the demographics and makeup of their workforce, especially a remote workforce. I mean, now people are being hired as part of that remote workforce that have never been in the office. You know, they’ve been working for the company for six months. They’ve literally never been in the same room as anyone else in that company. And yet it’s still incumbent upon you to learn something about them and, and find out, not just do they like cheese or they don’t like cheese, but you know something about their background and what they prioritize and what they think is important. Because, while you want to do inclusion messages, you don’t want to do it in a way that is ham-fisted or culturally insensitive or just wrong.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. I mean, that goes back to what we always say, which is know your audience. I mean, hopefully you’re doing all of those things and you made a very good point. This just can’t be a bunch of surveys from corporate HR that then get fed to communicators. This needs to be at the managerial level and team leader level. And it has to be an ecosystem, not just a push, you know. It can’t just be, we suck in this information at the top and then we push out stuff that looks like that. Your line-level managers are doing this on the front lines. They have to reinforce what you’re saying and then feed that feedback they get back up to you so that it becomes more of an ecosystem.

I’d say at a minimum, if you’re a digital signage manager and you’re listening to this, advertise your values about DEI. And, you know, just make sure everybody understands your expectations for how employees treat each other.

Derek DeWitt: Mm. Yeah. Like you said, you’re not just creating some kind of like faceless corporate template to just push out there and like, look, we’re, we’re mimicking caring about you. It needs to be, your communications need to be intentional.

Debbie DeWitt: Absolutely. And, and the fact is you do care about these people. It’s very rare that you get a situation… You may have one grump in the bunch who’s not into this, but most managerial teams, certainly at the line level care about their teams. And it’s just reinforcing that and letting them know. And also, you can do that on a personal level. You’re having videoconferences or team meetings, but you wanna do that corporate wide because that reinforces the culture throughout.

Derek DeWitt: So that is eight communication trends for the modern hybrid workforce. There are others out there on the web and in the world, and I’m sure that more will develop as time goes on and the remote or hybrid workforce becomes the norm instead of the new kid on the block. Please check the transcript of this podcast episode on the Visix webpage under Resources/Podcasts for links to more materials on the hybrid workforce topic. Interesting conversation. Thank you very much for talking to me today, Deb.

Debbie DeWitt: You’re welcome.

Derek DeWitt: This was Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manager for Visix. Thank you for listening to Digital Signage Done Right.