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Printed employee publications are still wanted

01 Jun, 2020 Internal communication

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

Based on the fundamental assumption that employees want to find out what is happening in their organization, should an employee publication be electronic or printed? Or should all employee communication be face-to-face? After all, various past studies seemed to show that employees most want to hear organizational news from their supervisor.

The answers, like most things in real life, vary considerably according to many factors such as:

  • the industry/sector, structure and location of the organization in which they work
  • the number and type of employees who are located in head office and/or regional offices
  • the proportion of workers who are office-bound or deskless
  • the type of information the employees want.

Listen – ask employees what communication they want!

Your best approach to determine the most effective way to communicate with employees is simply to ask them. Conduct focus groups and employee surveys to find out what they want – because the response will vary greatly according to your organization’s unique circumstances of a multi-generational workforce.

Research conducted by Angela Sinickas examined the results of surveys of an impressive number of 382,000 employees in 15 companies. She compiled the results from surveys she conducted among client companies. Overall, her surveys found:

  • As more electronic choices become available, preferences for electronic channels grow.
  • The new digital options don’t replace other existing electronic channels or even print – employees actually prefer less face-to-face communication if they have more digital choices.
  • Electronic channels that ‘push’ information to employees’ attention (emails and e-newsletters) are more highly preferred on most subjects than passive ‘pull’ sources such as intranets and websites.
  • Around 75% of employees are unwilling to give up printed employee publications for exclusively electronic forms of communication.
  • Some of the more successful communication programs combine both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ approaches by sending emails or periodic newsletters with headlines and brief summaries of news containing links to their intranet or website for more details.

Remote workers’ needs

The coronavirus has turned so many more people into remote workers! The predictions are that the number of remote workers will jump higher from 2020 onwards. A recent survey found that 41% of global businesses say they already offer some degree of remote working, while 60% provide flextime opportunities that allow employees to choose when to start and end their workday. Upwork’s “Future Workforce Report” 2019 predicted that 73% of all teams will have remote workers by 2028. And that was before the coronavirus struck. FlexJobs’ annual survey in 2018 found that 65% of respondents are more productive in their home office than at a traditional workplace. Fewer distractions and interruptions, less stress from no commute, minimal office politics, and a personalized, quiet environment are all contributors to a more productive remote worker. Obviously, the most used channels of communication with remote workers are email and the company intranet. However, email leaves communication gaps for many segments like manufacturing, frontline (customer-facing), and other ‘deskless’ workers – jobs that don’t include digital work.

Deskless employees have always been difficult to connect with— after all, team meetings, posters, and break room or plant floor signage only go so far. Nearly half report they don’t know management’s vision for company growth, which might be because 58% of deskless employees say they hear from corporate only ‘a few times a year’ or ‘hardly ever.’ It’s no surprise, then, that so many non-wired employees have low engagement and high turnover. At least mailing a monthly or quarterly magazine to each employee’s home, can help. Also printed newsletters or posters in employee break rooms are useful.

Hard-to-reach employees may not always be connected to their company’s formal digital networks, but they are plugged-in in other ways. Communicators can drive stronger connections to these audiences by leveraging the mobile technology they already have. Just about everyone has access to a cell phone. The Pew Research Center reported in 2019 that 96% of Americans own a cell phone of some kind, and 81% own smartphones. The demographics show this level of adoption isn’t exclusive to younger people, 74% of Americans ages 50–64 are smartphone users.

Employees still like access to printed publications

Based on focus group research, preference to retain a print option is often due to the lack of time allowed on the job to access the intranet, and people’s tendency to read printed publications while commuting or waiting for customers.

Print used to be the traditional channel to reach employees on an organization-wide basis. In today’s fast-moving world, direct, and immediate channels are available, as print is no longer suited for ‘timely’ corporate communications. Printed material runs the risk of being outdated by the time it reaches employees. Nevertheless, print can be a powerful way to tell great stories, spotlight company culture across different worksites, recognize employees for good work, and inform employees about current issues.

Print publications are stable resources for employees to consult at their leisure. People like to have something they can hold in their hands, especially when they’re not connected by computer. Printed products can also be used to support online initiatives. Well-known companies like Disney, UPS, and The Home Depot all ensure reach by mailing them straight to their homes, according to a 2018 Bonfyre report.

In spite of the strong increase of online communications and social media, print continues to live on at Siemens. The Siemens monthly print publication, Siemens World (published quarterly in the United States), is used to reach a global audience. The magazine is distributed and translated for each of the company’s international regions. In North America, employees receive a division-specific version of Siemens World bundled inside the global magazine. Among the content employees expect to find in the publication are typical articles written about corporate programs, values, compliance as well as anything noteworthy happening online that Siemens Corporate wants to promote.

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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