From the choppy, painfully poor audio quality conference calls of the Mad Men era, to email announcements and static intranets, to the modern workplace collaboration solutions that proliferate by the day -- company communications have come a long, long way.

But there’s still work to be done. 

On average, the typical employee receives about 120 emails per day. And that's on the low end. With such a massive daily influx of messages, how can people collaborate more effectively and communicate efficiently?

Many employees prefer to bring apps from their personal lives into work because the legacy tools their companies provide aren't helping them be productive. But if you're in HR or internal communications, you know how critical it is to keep information flowing consistently across your company on a global level.

And communications volume and complexity is only going to get worse.

So the question of the hour is: how can you fix communication within your organization? Most companies today seem to be choosing one of two primary tools to solve this problem:

  1. The Swiss Army Knife: A one-stop shop that allows employees to do anything and everything related to work, all in a central place.
  2. The Screwdriver Approach: A lightweight, context-driven tool to solve one specific communications problem really well.

How do you choose? Which tool will help your employees avoid information overload so they can just get stuff done?

1. Know Your Audience

Most companies spend lots of time and money trying to build successful customer engagement and loyalty plans. But when it comes to the tools most organizations use for internal communications, employee engagement is often an afterthought.

It's time to take as close a look at your employees as you do your customers. A great starting place is with their workstyles -- in other words, their daily work habits and preferences. How do you -- as a company -- seamlessly insert yourself into those routines?

Observing employees with this question in mind can show you how they prefer to engage with the company and its executives -- whether that be through in-person all-hands meetings, email blasts, business software and tools, or all (or none) of the above. And once you understand how your employees work, you can choose the right solution to match their style.

2. Gauge Your Technology Maturity

How dated is your company's technology? Do you know? You should, because understanding your technology infrastructure is key to identifying communication tools that can work well in your environment.

Smaller, fast-growing companies (with no legacy technologies) are finding simple fixes to their employee communications challenges with plug-and-play desktop and mobile apps. Larger companies with more mature, advanced technologies (and an established infrastructure) in place can handle deeper, more long-term solutions like enterprise social networks that will scale with internal communications as the organization's needs evolve.

3. Choose Accordingly

Not every approach works for every company or every employee, but keep in mind that the demand for mobile options is universal. That's especially true today, because everyone works "remotely" at some point -- whether at home, from the airport on the way to a sales meeting or during their daily commute. This can bring all kinds of productivity benefits, but also presents possible pitfalls.

A recent Harvard Business Review article about remote work offers great advice on avoiding conflicts that sometimes arise in virtual workplaces:

The way to avoid miscues and misinterpretation is to match the message with the medium."

Choose mobile-friendly solutions to keep all on-the-go workers connected and involved using the right mediums. In order to cultivate a successful remote culture, think about which communication forms work best, and what channels cater to your employee's preferred workstyles. For example, employees who travel a lot are likely to appreciate short and sweet messages that they can engage with via whichever device they choose.

If your company has a sizable millennial population, know that this generation expects instant gratification. Remember that your employees are humans who thrive off of having information at their fingertips all the time.

To encourage adoption in this environment, avoid fluff-featured tools, and give people specific, yet rich capabilities that are easy to use. Find technologies that meet their demand for instant gratification, while staying safe and secure to protect your company's intellectual property. Match your communications approaches to your employees' habits before they get frustrated and seek out their own (often less secure) mobile options.

So What Does All of This Mean?

It's time to say goodbye to the days of spray-and-pray corporate email messages. Workers won't tolerate cluttered email inboxes or find their way through cumbersome file-sharing systems to find out what's going on at the company level. If you want to engage your employees at every level and drive strategic alignment throughout the organization, decode your employee’s workstyles and find communication tools that fit effortlessly into their daily routines.

By catering to people's consumer habits and adapting to their behavior instead of trying to change it, you can finally achieve the holy grail of employee communications -- messages that reach everyone and make their intended impact.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Matt Erasmus