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Information overload and the role of internal communicators

Organizations are waking up to the alarming increase in information overload and drop in productivity among their staff.

According to RescueTime, an organization which analyses computer use behavior, a typical information worker who sits at a computer all day turns to his e-mail programme more than 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times.The research also found that on an average the worker also opens and reads 40 Web sites over the course of the day. 

Companies are experimenting with methods to restrict access to e-mail and encouraging employees to meet up in person more often or take a break at least 15 minutes in a day. Some organizations are creating ‘no-email’ days during the work week to increase productivity.

Another study concludes that the more email employees receive, the unhappier they are with how email is used within the company. This is reflected in the high number of emails received by those who are concerned about the defects. Although it is not just quantity of email that causes concern, it is also the quality of the email.

For the internal communicator, these are important issues which need attention. Employees need help in getting to relevant information for their work and to contribute to the organization’s growth. The role of the internal communicator is two-fold – to evaluate and assess the information generation and publishing and build processes which streamline the flow of information.

The communicator needs to meaning of the information around and share in crisp, relevant chunks for easier assimilation. The recent boom in social media and Web 2.0 tools provides avenues to achieve this. Today, the employee no longer needs to rely on the organization for information about its products, services or its strategy. They discover it on the internet and the blogosphere much before the organization decides to make it public.

Recently, a senior professional from a leading Indian IT firm spoke about challenges in controlling information within the organization and also the need to understand how much information to share. This is a typical challenge faced by companies who are balancing the changing power shift in the Web 2.0 era where content co-creation, transparency and trust take centre-stage.

The internal communicator’s first step is to understand the various channels, information served and the rate of publishing. This will involve an audit and discussions with stakeholders within the organization.

You can involve employees and stakeholders for creating a guideline or a policy for information sharing and increased ownership.

Creating a centralized channel or routing all communication via a single source aids better recall and easier information intake. Some organizations use the intranet as the only medium for internal communication while stacking all corporate and business news for a weekly release unless it is a crisis message.

Leveraging RSS (Really Simple Syndication) options like Feed Reader or RSS Owl allows relevant information to be served to employees on a subscription model.

While sharing information, the communicator needs to ensure it is written to suit ‘skimmers’ and ‘scanners’, types of readers we find among ourselves. The former looking for key words within the documents to make sense of the information and the latter needing proof of the information’s authenticity to truly believe.

Allowing users to tag, rate, submit, forward, share and create mash-ups of information only increases the distribution and reach of news. Enroll citizen journalists and communication stalwarts from within the organization to enhance perspectives and viewpoints.

Helping managers distill information that is relevant for their teams is another good strategy to adopt.

The role of the internal communicator is more of a facilitator and a strategist than a creator and publisher of information. Companies which recognize this difference will be able to win the minds in the war on information overload.

One thought on “Information overload and the role of internal communicators

  1. I think a lot of the group messages that get sent by email can be sent in better more effective ways, thereby freeing up email for purely ‘one to few’ or ‘one to one’. Interactions where face to face is not appropriate or possible.

    For example:
    Desktop alerts – urgent messages that need cut through
    Email aggregation emags – for general group email type messages containing news and admin updates
    Screensavers – for raising awareness

    There is a white paper on our site that talks about alternative channels to overcome email overload here:

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