By Kristen Crandle
September 17, 2009
Strong internal communication is essential to most business interactions. Even more important is the communication that occurs between an employer and its employees. To keep employees informed at Prima Communications, Inc., the company publishes a bi-weekly internal company newsletter, The Chats, and the employee-profile publication, Who's Who. Both publications are long-time institutions, and in the past few years Prima has worked not only to make existing means of communication electronic, but to use technology to communicate important-and sometimes fun-information to its employees.
"Sometimes people perceive the use of technology as gimmicky," said Charlotte Hubbard, Prima's owner and CEO. "But we've found it has myriad benefits, such as keeping our employees better informed and cutting down on overhead."
Communicating with Employees
Prima is a transparent company and always has been-even about unpleasant matters, like layoffs and the reasons for insurance premium increases. This is in line with the corporate culture of treating people well, and it's had a number of resultant benefits. For example, Prima enjoys better-than-average employee loyalty and low rates of turnover.
Other advantages to open communication include:
-¢ A reduction in rumors and fear. Telling people the straight story means there's less opportunity for misinformation. Plus, employees have confidence they're not being hoodwinked.
Prima uses its employee information portal-a shared virtual place just for employees that was added to our Web site almost two years ago-to communicate important internal news.
We also use The Chats. Every issue focuses on information about new employees, clients, and contracts, and includes kudos to employees from clients and peers. The Chats also features news from employees about weddings, new babies and accomplishments outside of work-we want to celebrate employees' whole lives, not just their work lives. We do this in the Who's Who publication as well, in which we ask employees a little about themselves personally.
-¢ Promotion of camaraderie and a sense of shared experience. Publications and memos that everyone reads-in Prima's case, housed on the portal-help create a culture in which everyone feels invested.
-¢ Simply put, a reduction in confusion. Employees know what they need to know and where to find it.
Using Technology to Communicate
It doesn't make sense to use technology only for the sake of it; don't Twitter your employees if there's not something important to communicate. But technology can make communication easier and more efficient. In Prima's case, since the advent of the employee information portal, we've seen the following benefits:
-¢ A reduction in overhead. Not only are our two main publications, The Chats and Who's Who, posted on the portal, so are forms related to insurance, retirement plans, expense reports and many other matters (as well as some fun stuff, like stories and photos from employees on remote assignment, a calendar of community events, and registration for events like potlucks and contests). HR staff receive a lot fewer questions about paperwork and benefits, and are therefore able to focus more on other tasks.
-¢ Better-informed employees. The portal invites lingering. If an employee logs on to check how much vacation time is available, that person may also remember a question about the next 401(k) open enrollment period and stop to read about that, too.
"Employees have told me the portal is indispensable," said Hubbard. "I can't believe we ever got along without it."
-¢ More tech-savvy employees. Prima employees work for a number of high-tech clients, and the more comfortable they are with various forms of technology, the more valuable they are to those clients.
It's hard to imagine any downside to improving communication with employees and using appropriate technology to do that. There's an investment of time and effort, but the payoff can be huge.
Kristen Crandle is the controller and benefits coordinator for Prima Communications, Inc., headquartered in Schoolcraft, Mich. Prima, a technical communications company serving life sciences, manufacturing, and related industries. In 2009 Prima was named one of West Michigan's 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For for the seventh straight year. Kristen can be reached at [email protected].