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Simon Haighton-Williams: Why IT leaders need to focus on internal comms

Simon Haighton-Williams, CEO of Adaptavist, considers the value of internal comms

 Communication is the life-blood of innovation: the better it flows, the faster ideas can spread and percolate within an organisation. Innovation thrives in environments where communication flows are complex and unpredictable, where the interconnections between members of the organisation are not always obvious. There’s method in the madness of taking up valuable office space with ping pong, table football and free drinks in the office, because they foster these connections.

So, in a world of remote work, are we doomed to slow the pace of innovation? The short answer is no, but recreating this connectivity within an organisation does demand a different, more considered approach.

Our Digital Etiquette research covering over 2800 knowledge workers shows that the absence of these social interactions is not only what people missed most in the transition to remote work, but this loss also had a major impact on motivations.

Personal relationships not only improve communications, but also provide a valuable support system. These relationships are also particularly valuable in mitigating misunderstandings, and relieving tensions such as those that can arise from misinterpreting the tone of digital communications – something one in three of us have done. In fact, one in four workers has had to apologise to someone about a message which was misinterpreted.

Such mistakes prove a major source of anxiety – particularly amongst younger workers. 46% of Millennial workers worry about this daily (vs an average of 38% and just 22% of over 45s). 12% of the under 35s worry about this constantly. While it’s not a new problem, as a greater share of our communication becomes virtual, it is something we need to understand and address.

Lack of consensus in how to behave and communicate virtually in the working environment is a big part of the problem. Opinions differ widely on almost every aspect and our study revealed some marked differences between departments: engineers feel that making critical comments on work-based messaging platforms is broadly acceptable (only 16% felt this was unacceptable), but 33% of those in sales or marketing find this unacceptable.


Inefficient communication leads to half a day a week being wasted

Lack of clarity on which channels to use for which type of information is leading to workers spending 45 minutes a day on average – or half a day a week – searching for information which has been sent to them. With new channels being added (one in three are now using WhatsApp for work), it’s even easier to find ourselves constantly switching from one context to another. Not only do we lose around 30 percent of our time dealing with interruptions[1]. Such frequent interruptions create added stress[2].


Anxiety impacts not only our wellbeing, but also our ability to innovate.

Free-flowing, organic communication creates complexity as we cannot logically predict where ideas and information will come from and evolve. Yet, when it comes to handling complexity, our capacities are varied and when our anxiety increases we tend to adopt a preference for hierarchy and structure, constraining the flow of communication. In so doing we inadvertently throttle innovation.

In a tough economic climate, when innovation is urgently needed, we need to: address the learnings from this first phase of digital transformation; look closely at how communication is flowing through the organisation and make the necessary changes to prevent issues in the long-term.


3 ways to support innovation through communication

Provide guidance and support a culture of collaborative learning

Training in how we can use these communication channels to interact more effectively as an organisation can make a big difference, yet only around half of those in the study had received any such training. Simply clarifying processes like which channels you should use to share files or when to use the company alias and what should be posted in each type of Slack channel can help to reduce unnecessary noise and inefficiency.


Encourage ‘random’ interactions by providing clarity

Giving clear guidance on the accepted Digital Etiquette of your organisation can empower people to socialise and to set up events and activities, which will build the vital cross-functional relationships and interactions.There will be a degree of trial and error and different solutions for different times so take an iterative approach.


Unlock the potential of your network

By looking at an organisation’s internal communications as a network we have been able to identify: where the silos and inefficiencies are occurring; and where they have people on the periphery with little engagement. We can then provide actionable insights to help teams to adapt and thrive. Crucially, once you can see these things in a network, you can then measure the impact that that your actions are having on the network.

To download the report or further information and tips visit