We all know that staying connected with employees is crucial for better engagement and employee experience. To counter any disengagement caused by the COVID-19 crisis, many organisations have been putting a lot of effort into their internal communication strategies, incorporating technology to help achieve this. But introducing internal communication tools like HR software portals or workspaces and expecting employees would communicate and engage with you through these platforms from the get-go is wishful thinking. Things can go south pretty quickly if you try to give employees a voice without investing time in laying the foundations, or having a handle on what people are really thinking and feeling.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s not impossible to successfully use internal comms platforms to create open, honest cultures where employees can connect, collaborate, and help to drive the business forward.

So how do you make sure you get it right and turn your internal comms platform into a tool that can be used to proactively build employee engagement?

Involve people from day one

Employee engagement initiatives have a tendency to be ‘done to’ people. They are often launched in a blaze of glory, but then flounder or fizzle out entirely because no-one has really communicated clearly with employees about what the purpose is and why it’s important for them to get involved.

There needs to be some kind of narrative about where the business is going and how using whatever internal communication mechanism is introduced will help people play a part in that. In other words, don’t treat people as passive recipients. Be clear about what it is you want them to engage with and get them actively involved in conversations about how they can best use your internal comms portal.

Nurture it

You can’t launch an internal HR portal and expect people will start using it enthusiastically from day one. It will take a little while for people to feel confident about contributing, and to trust that they can comment freely without repercussions. Creating a team of internal champions who make regular contributions and encourage colleagues to join in is one way to get off to a good start. Making the portal the home page on people’s computers and using it as a route to access key documents, such as HR policies, can help too. Being clear that senior leaders support the initiative is also important. It’s about finding a subtle way to ‘give people permission’ to use the portal, otherwise, they may be worried that spending time on the platform – albeit an internal system – could be seen as time-wasting.

Communicate, don’t broadcast

One of the common mistakes people make is to use internal portals to ‘broadcast’ messages. Yes, of course it’s a great place to share important corporate information and to keep people up to date, but you need to talk ‘with’ people, not ‘at’ them.

Encouraging dialogue is a great way to get instant feedback about new initiatives or ideas – and to see how they are landing with employees. Managers are often very wary of inviting dialogue with employees because they don’t want to have to share information or justify their actions; but not all conversations have to be about reaching consensus.

Be responsive

There’s nothing more demotivating for employees than to be met with silence or indifference when they post an idea for a new product or service, or suggest a way to solve a business problem. It’s important to respond to people and show them you are listening – even if you don’t necessarily agree with what they are saying or think their idea won’t work.

You want to encourage healthy, open debate, and to stimulate creativity and innovation by providing a forum where people can add insights and ideas. Managers need to think carefully about their contributions and responses. Yes, there will be times when they need to set the record straight, but if they dominate conversations or shoot people’s ideas down in flames, it will soon stifle the very atmosphere the business is trying to create.

Don’t expect it to solve all your problems

An internal portal can bring enormous benefits to the business. It can connect people across the organisation, help employees get quick answers to questions, and enable colleagues to work together to develop new insights and solve operational issues. It can play a huge role in driving engagement, allowing people who may not have formal authority to emerge as natural leaders in a given area, and generating a sense of belonging and excitement.

But it is not, however, a cure for all your organisational ills. An internal network will reflect the culture of the business it is serving. So, if you have a command and control culture where people are encouraged to keep their heads down, they are unlikely to behave differently on your internal portal. But if you are genuinely serious about opening up channels of communication and engaging in dialogue with employees, then an internal HR portal is a great way to support that.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.