In News


James Robertson of Step Two shares his tips on how to use digital media to drive employee engagement.



Every staff culture survey, in almost every organisation, shows that staff engagement isn’t what it could be. There isn’t a clear understanding of overall business strategy, and staff would like to hear more from senior leaders.

It’s no wonder that staff engagement is a strategic priority for many organisations, across both the public and private sectors. Other than mitigating issues, there are sound business reasons for focusing on staff engagement: research has shown that highly engaged organisations are 16% more profitable and 18% more productive (according to the Q12© survey conducted by Gallup).

Rich digital communication was key to supporting huge organisational change at News Corp Australia.

Rich digital communication was key to supporting huge organisational change at News Corp Australia.

At Step Two, we’ve been working with organisations for over a decade to help them use online tools (such as intranets) to provide better support to staff. And it’s here that we see huge digital potential to improve staff engagement.

The starting point is to complete the process of replacing paper-based communication with online channels. External websites have long showed the power of using digital tools for communication, with their mix of written and visual content, including interactive tools and video.

Similarly, intranet-based internal communication can provide a dramatically more engaging opportunity to connect with staff, and in a more timely way. This involves strengthening intranet news, and going beyond corporate ‘blah blah’ content when describing organisational strategy and priorities.

In many cases, this doesn’t require more effort, as substantial time is already being devoted to crafting beautifully designed paper-based staff magazines, and their like.

The next step is to ensure that all staff are able to receiving timely internal communication, even when they aren’t sitting at a desk, or based in an office. The answer to this is delivering news to mobile devices.

Taking a ‘responsive web design’ approach means that one intranet news channel can be delivered, via the web, to multiple devices. The design then adapts to fit the screen.

Without the need for a custom-built app, this makes it easy to publish once with the confidence that it can reach everyone. It also give staff the freedom to decide when to read news, such as on the train to work, before a packed day of back-to-back meetings. (Needless to say, IT will need to enable external access to the intranet from mobile devices, which is straightforward these days.)

There are also new opportunities for giving senior leaders a voice. The classic ‘CEO blog’ still has an important role to play, but only if it matches the personality and communication style of the leadership team.

A less demanding approach can be to fold CEO updates into corporate news, but to give it greater prominence. Video updates can be more engaging than the written word, as long as the duration is short, and staff have the opportunity to listen to it during the working day.

Taking things to the next level, large and geographically dispersed organisations have found success with moving the classic ‘town hall’ meeting online, using real-time interaction to engage staff across every location.

Giving staff a voice is also a powerful, and often straightforward, way of improving staff engagement. The natural starting point is to enable commenting on news (including on the CEO’s update). This is a low-effort way of introducing two-way communication, where even a few comments at first is better than none, enabling conversation to organically grow over time.

Collaboration and social tools are then the next step, particularly tools such as Yammer (etc). These enable the free flow of interaction, including the typically 30% of conversations that are related to non-work topics. This helps to build social bonds and coherence within organisations, which is a key element of all staff engagement metrics.

In short, digital channels help build staff engagement, when used to their full extent. They can replace paper-based communication, and introduce two-way dialog. Digital channels can also reach all staff, regardless of when and where they are.

This is just the beginning. In my book Essential intranets, I explore many other opportunities to enhance staff engagement using online tools, including recognising staff contributions and engaging staff in strategic initiatives. And as online channels continue to grow in sophistication and richness, there will continue to be new opportunities to engage staff, and new ways for internal communication teams to have a real impact.


James Robertson is the founder of Step Two, and the author of three best-selling intranet books: “Essential intranets”, “Designing intranets”, and “What every intranet team should know”. Headquartered in Sydney, James has worked with high profile firms throughout Australia and internationally.