In 1899, the Philippine-American War was getting started, Bayer had just begun selling aspirin to the masses, and Lever Brothers in London created the first known employee suggestion box.
Lever Brothers introduced internal communications to the industrial world; since then, companies have made it a point to keep their employees as informed, engaged, and profitable as possible.
Today, suggestion boxes everywhere prove that businesses still care about feedback. Their existence also illustrates the fact that internal communications methods have largely remained the same since 1899.
Nowadays companies rely on printed newsletters, flyers on bulletin boards, emails and intranets to keep employees engaged and in the loop.
The need to update
While it’s nice to see technology incorporated, intranets have been largely ineffective for years, and emails are just digital flyers.
These engagement methods don’t work. According to Gallup’s most recent employee engagement survey, just 30 percent of American workers feel engaged in their work. A recent study by Mindshare and Dynamic Signal revealed that 74 percent of employees feel they’re missing out on company information at work.
Businesses cannot afford to let this continue — it’s estimated that actively disengaged workers cost the U.S. up to $550 billion each year in lowered productivity and high turnover.
Something is awry in internal communications. We’re barely scratching the surface.
Moving into the future
By adopting new technology for internal communications, businesses can renew their engagement with employees by offering relevant information in a personal fashion. Not only will that increase productivity and boost employee happiness, but it will also benefit the company’s public relations.
Internal communications and PR are two sides of the same coin. Employees need to believe in something before they feel comfortable selling it or talking about it on social media. Brand messages reach 24 times further when they’re shared by employees, and 90 percent of consumers trust recommendations from people they know — there are obvious benefits to engaged, involved employees.
Today’s workforce is full of mobile-first digital natives. With that in mind, here are three ways leaders can exploit these tendencies to move their internal communications into the modern era:
1. Make it mobile.
Four of five smartphone users check their devices within 15 minutes of waking up, and 53 percent of young people would rather give up their sense of smell than their access to social media. Instead of posting notices that will never get noticed, companies need to meet their employees where they’re at: on their phones.
2. Make it shareable.
Internal communication doesn’t have to be dull and dry, and it certainly doesn’t need to come in the form of long blog posts. Human attention spans are declining; research from Microsoft reveals we’re less focused than a goldfish. Don’t try to force information down employees’ throats; create and deliver engaging content. Why not try a BuzzFeed-style .gif list?
3. Make it watchable.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how many words is a 30-second video clip worth? Instead of sending newsletters and reports, try recording town halls, video conferencing, or video emails from the CEO or your factory in Bangalore. A platform for employee-sourced peer-to-peer video could serve as 2016’s suggestion box.
A lot has changed since 1899. The U.S. has close ties to the Philippines, and every medicine cabinet in the world has a bottle of aspirin. Internal communications just hasn’t kept up with the times. It’s time to deliver 21st-century tools to the practitioners of this storied and crucial function.
A version of this article originally appeared on CEO.com.