Choosing the right method of communication is especially crucial for HR professionals who often have to deal with sensitive and delicate information.
In any HR department, communicating important business information to employees can be a challenge. Firstly, the correct method of communication has to be selected: face-to-face, internal mail, fax, email or telephone?
Then there are the security issues to consider: is the information private or confidential, can the message be intercepted, will it be accidentally blocked by IT security methods?
Thirdly, there is also the issue of whether the recipient will actually receive the message and absorb the contents: will an email be deleted, will a letter be dropped in the bin, and will a fax be forgotten?
Poor communication is one of the most common criticisms employees have about the businesses they work for. This puts further pressure on the HR department to overcome all of the variables above in order to succeed in getting relevant and timely information to staff in a secure format and leads to the obvious question: which methods are the most successful?
Face-to-face or via the telephone can be a very effective means of communication, especially if the information is not confidential. However, the effectiveness of the message is reliant on the recipient actually absorbing the details and recalling them when necessary. Without having the message in writing, it is too easy for employees to forget important details.
Internal mail is therefore an ideal alternative, providing staff with all the details in a format that is easy to digest and that can be referred back to when necessary.
Again, it has its failings: mail can be opened by unauthorised employees, easily lost and even dropped straight into the bin if an employee is unaware of the importance of its contents. The same problems also apply to the use of fax to communicate, especially now that the fax machine is used less often than it was a few years ago.
This leaves only email or the intranet as the ideal forms of communication. The corporate intranet has certainly seen an increased pick-up in recent years with many larger organisations using the site as a repository for shared information and a means to communicate quickly with colleagues via communal message boards.
Certainly, to share company-wide documents and non-confidential information, an intranet can be very effective. However, it does fall on someone’s shoulders to ensure the information is current and correct and unless the necessary data is easy to find, employees may be unlikely to return a second time.
But what if the document is confidential or private? Many organisations may be reluctant to send such information over email for fear of it being intercepted or lost somewhere in cyberspace. However email has come along way since the early days of its introduction, now considered by many as a very viable means of exchanging highly personal data.
Automating paper and mail based business processes makes communication much quicker, freeing up HR staff to concentrate on more pressing activities and because the information is already in electronic format, it is much easier for recipients to file data directly to their desktop for future reference. Additionally the faster response also keeps employees happy as they feel they are getting a quicker reply to their queries.
The one major concern with communicating online using email is the security risk but there are many delivery options available today that take advantage of encryption and password protection to ensure that only the intended recipient can access information.
For example, an email can be used to direct an employee to access an important document on the server via an encrypted internet connection. Alternatively, the employee may be asked for a username or password before the information can be downloaded. Another option is to send the document as an encrypted PDF or HTML document attached directly to the email but only accessible via password.
Email is certainly the most flexible means of communication and with more and more employees, whether desk-bound or on the move, reliant on email as a primary source of communication, it is only logical that the HR department follows suit and uses the many advantages of email to improve communications with its own staff.
Sarah Farr is marketing manager for Premiere Global Services