21st-century contact Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2008

The communications landscape has shifted dramatically. It’s hard to believe that only 10 years ago the fax machine was considered state-ofthe-art technology, and if an employer provided any type of company newsletter, it almost certainly required a postage stamp. In today’s world, trying to work without Internet access is unthinkable, and online communications means more than a fancy Web site and an e-newsletter.

Between ever-changing technology and a society that has accepted online interactions to be almost as real as face-to-face interaction, employers have adopted entirely new ways of bringing employees and resources together. Today, online communications is about forming connections, creating and implementing plans, and putting things into action in ways that were previously unimaginable.

Various communication channels, such as e-mail, e-newsletters, live chats and notice boards, are being used by businesses, and these channels are vital to creating and sustaining business in today’s increasingly technological world. But, it’s also essential that these channels offer friendly, accessible, open-face interaction, so that employees feel comfortable doing business without face-to-face interaction.

Smart Business spoke with Renay Wolfrays, the communications coordinator of JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice, about online communications and how they can help your company compete in today’s — and the future’s — market.

What are the best ways to communicate with employees?

There are numerous ways to communicate with employees and one, in particular, that continues to grow in popularity is online employee communications. Employers are utilizing online communication tools to cover a broad range of topics with employees. Everything from benefit summaries and election forms to employee handbooks and the company holiday schedule are being shared with employees electronically via employee intranet sites.

Should a company’s intranet be utilized?

Some companies may shy away from a company intranet for fear that it is too complex. However, many employers are utilizing employee intranets to simplify tasks, such as employee benefit open enrollment, that are otherwise overwhelming. Hosting open enrollment online allows employees to review benefit enrollment information and deadlines, make benefit elections and review their personal and dependent data without the need to complete a mountain of paperwork. It is also common for the employee intranet to include insurance company telephone numbers and links to their Web sites for provider network data and other helpful information. Everything the employees need to make informed decisions is available to them online, for review at any time of the day or night. In the end, the convenience of a streamlined and more efficient enrollment process is realized by both the employer and employees.

How does this work for companies with multiple locations?

There is an added benefit for employers with multisite and/or multistate locations. Online communications offer employers a way to communicate the same information to all employees, regardless of where they are located. A company intranet offers a way to maintain a level of cohesiveness and ensure that the same message is being delivered to all employees, regardless of whether or not they are all housed at the same location. An employee intranet site can also be departmentalized, which enhances a company’s ability to communicate more effectively and efficiently with individual departments when necessary.

Why is an effective online communications system so important?

Whether a small entrepreneurial firm or a large Fortune 500 company, employee communication is critical in today’s hectic and fast-paced business world. Employers should have a plan for communicating with employees, and the plan should be tied to the company’s strategic business plan to ensure that the good intentions to communicate with employees actually happen. Online employee communication systems offer the tools to help communicate important company information in a consistent, timely and useful manner.

RENAY WOLFRAYS is the communications coordinator of JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. Reach her at (412) 456-7011 or renay.wolfrays@jrgadvisors.net.