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Internal Communication and the Digital Workplace with Asia Kucza
Internal Communications
Digital Workplace

Internal Communication and the Digital Workplace with Asia Kucza

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13 minutes read time
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Published on May 1st, 2024
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Written by Asia Kucza

This episode of The Workgrid dives into the heart of effective internal communications within the digital workplace, featuring the expertise of Asia (Joanna) Kucza, Internal Communications Manager at State Street. Asia brings her extensive experience in internal communications, marketing, and public relations to the table, offering a comprehensive view of the value of strategic employee engagement and technology - in today's hybrid and digital work environments.   In this episode, we cover:  

  • The intricate process of digital segmentation for different personas within an organization 

  • The importance of analytics and effective syndication strategies for internal communications teams 

  • The selection of effective tools for employee comms 

  • The essential collaboration and rapport needed between IT departments and business units 

  • The perennial debate: “Who should be in charge of the corporate intranet?”  

This is a must-listen for anyone interested in the junction of internal communications and the digital workplace. 

[RR] Asia welcome to The Workgrid podcast! Before we get started could you tell us a little bit about yourself and some of the work you've been doing over the last few years

[AK] Thanks for the invitation. I'm currently Internal Communications Manager at State Street which is one of the leading custody banks with over 40,000 employees worldwide. My focus within the internal communications team is the technology area and our digital workspace. 

[RR] Fantastic and I believe when we first met to kind of discuss the podcast you described a bit that you worked quite a bit within public relations and then transitioned over to internal communications. Can you tell me a bit about that?

[AK] Yes, so my professional career has been always sort of on this junction of three areas which was HR, Communications, and Technology. I started as a public relations professional and I went through several different industries to land in the HR industry with recruitment companies of different sizes. From there I moved to more technology focused within HR. After around 10 years of that career, I decided to make a flip to the internal side of things. So, I went from external to internal, becoming the internal communications manager at State Street. 

In my previous external facing career, I was expanding my role to marketing and it was both B2B and B2C marketing, so I was building a 360 portfolio of our perspective on communications both external to internal. 

[RR] That sounds like a perfect fit for working in and around the digital workplace and community external public relations, internal communications, and human resources as well. What are some of your takes on those key differences between external and internal comms, and really taking some of those best practices that are applied as practices within marketing for segmentation, understanding nuance, sentiment, etc. and bringing those into internal communications? 

[AK] I think there is so much that internal comms can learn from and kind of pull from external comms. I think we as internal have kind of been seen as the little sister or little brother if you will. You have these big areas of marketing like marketing research, channels, and technology that's been there, and companies have been investing heavily in. We're talking about technology right, so in thinking about technology tools that support marketing communications, personalization has been there for years, if not decades right. Segmentation is fundamental to building the whole chain of how the customer flows through different communications to create a marketing lead. I think that internal comms can be perceived in exactly the same way. 

Our customers are our internal audience, our employees, and we also want to take them on this journey from hearing about something, getting more interested in it, understanding it, and taking action. So, we kind of create internal leads. I like to think about it that way, and this is even more true for digital transformation, when we need people to embark on journeys with completely new technologies and embrace new ways of working, which is not always easy for them. We have to sell it to them so I think a lot of the philosophy behind how we think about internal comms should be similar to how we think about external comms.  

The investment is not typically as high, as marketing is bringing profit that can be directly measured. There has always been a challenge with measuring internal comms in a way that proves this brings benefit to the company. Of course, it does, and there are better ways to measure, but I think technology is evolving for internal communications, and we have more tools to benefit from and make our work more precise in how we think about our audiences.  

One important thing I'm always seeing as a benefit that internal comms has compared to external is that we know our audience well. We have them at hand, we have all these HR systems that help us understand who our audience is, we can reach out and connect with them directly and we don't need to assess if they're there or not. They are there, but we still must strategically think about it. Are our communications interesting enough? It's not enough to have someone's email to make sure they read and understand the content. We're also using different tools to capture the click-through rates and the actions that the employees are taking. I think we as internal comms are evolving in that way following the path set by marketing, but there's still a lot we can continue to do. 

[RR] It's a great point and certainly it's something that is often talked about around the digital workplace and employee experience which is internal communications is often "the cobbler's children has no shoes” and then they look over the fence and marketing has all the shiny new toys in which to really identify segment measure etc. What are some of the ways that you've been segmenting and personalizing from a persona perspective to really identify and understand where people are? You mentioned the personas and the roles but the way they want to receive those communications could be very nuanced in terms of did this land? Was this opened? Was this understood? 

[AK] We have examined this matter from various perspectives. One crucial aspect is the user profile, as our employees also serve as users of our technology. The user profile varies significantly depending on the department they are in, as this determines the specific technology they utilize. It is important to consider their daily digital experience, which is shaped by the technology stack they have access to. Therefore, when crafting communications for broader groups of employees, we must consider whether their digital experiences are the same or if different personas require tailored messaging. By acknowledging the different scenarios in which they operate, we can ensure that our messaging is more relatable and aligns with their daily routines. While we typically categorize users by departments or locations, it is also essential to incorporate the element of their technology stack to enhance the reception and comprehension of our communications. 

[RR] What are some of those metrics that you might use to measure the effectiveness, knowing that the message, the communication, the campaign, has landed within a particular population? How might you go about measuring that and making sense of whether there's alignment? 

[AK] There are several stages or elements that we can measure to determine our success. One of the first stages is communication, specifically reaching the employees. We use different channels such as our intranet and internal social media platform to gauge the effectiveness of our communication. We look at metrics like views, reactions, and likes to assess the impact.

Another important aspect is technology adoption. We work closely with our technology teams to analyze adoption from a technical perspective. This involves looking at metrics such as the number of users who logged in and took action within the platform. We want to ensure that users are following the path we have set for them with the adoption scheme and rollout of specific technologies.

However, it's important to keep in mind that metrics don't capture everything. There will always be some areas where users may have read but not understood, launched but not used effectively, or have other challenges. To address this, we advise our technology partners to have basic resources like frequently asked questions (FAQs) to proactively address user concerns. We also provide channels for users to ask questions, such as forums, "ask anything" sessions for bigger rollouts, and dedicated technical office hours. Additionally, we offer training to support users in adapting to the changes. 

In addition to looking at metrics, it's crucial to be proactive in creating different formats for our audiences to consume the change. This includes considering the different preferences of users in terms of how they want to be communicated with. While some may prefer regular emails, others may want to interact with the content on our social media platform, where they can directly respond, comment, ask questions, and share with colleagues. By offering these various formats, we create open channels for our leaders and technology teams to connect with our audiences and help them understand the change in more detail. 

[RR] That's great it sounds like you're marrying both the qualitative and the quantitative metrics as well as layering in the sentiment focused into more feedback loops whether it be through Community Q&A, AMAs, office hours etc. and gathering that data to really get a profile in terms of use usage adoption am I am I hearing that correct? 

[AK] Yes, that's exactly right. Another important pre-step is to pilot the bigger things. This involves having a group of motivated users who are willing to take the first step and test out new technologies. It's crucial to consider them not just as individuals, but also as representatives of the diverse personas within the company. This ensures that we capture a wide range of feedback, potential issues, and questions that may arise. 

To effectively plan our pilots, we carefully consider how we want to collect feedback. We may choose to have sessions with the pilot group, set up a forum, or create a Teams Channel for discussions. There are various options available to us. The piloting process is essential as it helps the technology teams prepare the solution and ensures a smoother rollout. It also enables us, as internal communications professionals, to anticipate the content that will be needed. This way, when we roll out the technology, the teams are equipped with the language and resources to address common questions and provide instructions and guides. 

I really appreciate working with our technology teams at State Street. They are eager to collaborate with us on creating these materials and guides. There is a strong sense of openness and respect for the users' need for better understanding and clarifications. 

[RR] I would like to discuss the topic of digital workplace technology as a whole. I'm not asking you to name any specific software vendors, but I'm curious to know what you think is lacking from an internal communications perspective in terms of software features and functionality. How do you believe these gaps could be addressed to better support corporate communication professionals? 

[AK] I would prioritize metrics as the first point because our current level of metrics is insufficient for understanding the impact of our communication efforts. Simply knowing the number of clicks or views does not provide us with valuable insights about our audience or their engagement with the content. We should aim to capture more information, such as demographic data and engagement behaviors, to better understand how our communication resonates with employees and motivates them to act. 

Also, it is important to recognize that digital skills are becoming increasingly important in internal communications. Contrary to the assumption that internal communications professionals are not technically inclined, I believe that developing digital skills is crucial. We need more advanced options and tools to help us analyze and optimize our communication strategies. By leveraging these tools, we can gain a deeper understanding of how our content attracts employees' attention and drives engagement. 

Furthermore, I would like the technology tools used for internal communications to offer a truly integrated experience. While some vendors claim to provide integration by offering a few channels together, I envision a more comprehensive integration that allows us to connect different tools from various vendors. This would enable us to track how employees interact with content across different platforms, such as email, intranet, and social platforms. By understanding the employee journey and identifying where they may get stuck or disengaged, we can develop targeted strategies to encourage their participation. For example, we could provide dedicated training or personalized messaging to address their specific needs and concerns. 

My ideal scenario would involve robust metrics, advanced digital skills, and a fully integrated experience that allows us to analyze the employee journey and tailor our communication strategies accordingly. Any progress towards this vision would be greatly appreciated. 

[RR] Over the years, it has been amusing to hear that one of the challenges faced is the inability to effectively map the customer journey. It is true that there have been tools claiming to identify where people drop off, but if these tools are not integrated into the ecosystem, there are still gaps in the mapping process. On the marketing side, there are numerous technologies available to gain a deep understanding of the user, perhaps even understanding their conversations in their living room and their specific needs. 

[AK] I would also add, Rob, that what you just said about the whole ecosystem is something we really need to consider as a company. Oftentimes, different departments bring in technologies to achieve their goals, but this can lead to a growing and sometimes confusing technology stack. Employees are left unsure of which platforms to use for what purpose, especially when the names of these platforms keep changing. It would be helpful to have a cohesive ecosystem in place to minimize confusion and make the employee experience smoother.

Additionally, in internal communications, we tend to focus more on top-down messaging, targeting specific departments without considering the perspective of individual employees. Understanding the nuances of our audience, such as their adoption behavior and engagement levels, would greatly improve the effectiveness of our communications. Unfortunately, we currently lack tools to easily measure and capture these behaviors. Setting up a community of engaged users, like our digital Champions at State Street, is a step in the right direction, but we need technology that can identify and engage with different types of users during the rollout of new technologies. This would greatly enhance our productivity and effectiveness in the digital workspace. 

[RR] I think in the near future, with the rise of AI, it will be possible to understand the user and deliver key messages intelligently across various channels. This is important because tech debt and unrationed technology pose significant challenges for organizations of all sizes. By having strong governance and efficient end user computing teams, we can reduce the technical debt that we manage and maintain, which often accounts for over 30% of our workload. If we can intuitively understand the user and deliver messages effectively, it will benefit both the organization and the employee. 

As we transition into a more hybrid work model, it's important to reflect on the lessons learned from corporate communications pre-pandemic. With more people working remotely or in hybrid class models, the process of identifying and targeting our audience may have shifted or changed. It's crucial to understand how this identification process has evolved and whether any new strategies need to be implemented. Have there been any notable changes in how we approach targeting? 

[AK] I believe the recent shift towards multi-channel communication has emphasized the need for us, as internal communications professionals, to consider how we can effectively provide knowledge and information to users in a way that suits their preferences and availability. This may involve utilizing a combination of email, intranet, and interactive sessions, among other formats, to ensure employees can connect with the content that is most suitable for them. 

Additionally, the push towards remote and hybrid work has brought about a positive change in terms of leadership transparency and technology adoption. It is crucial for leaders to be transparent with employees about plans and strategies, helping them embrace constant change and feel more comfortable knowing that evolution is ongoing. By providing employees with the bigger context and explaining the reasons behind changes, they are more likely to accept and adapt to them. 

This transparency, coupled with creativity and openness to using different communication channels, ultimately benefits the user. As internal communications professionals, we can leverage these various formats to help employees digest and engage with the information effectively. 

[RR] one of the questions I had for you is the relationship that oftentimes internal Communications, corporate Communications has to build across the business and as as well as IT how are some of the ways that you're partnering with it and user computing to ensure that the Technologies, the channels, the tech stack, is the right mix for your audience? 

[AK] Building a strong partnership is crucial for effective communication. It requires both the internal comms professional and technology partners to have curiosity, willingness to learn, and ask questions to understand and test technology. Educating partners on user needs, the importance of providing upfront answers to FAQs, and planning communication is essential. While agile approaches are valuable for optimizing rollouts, technology communications require upfront preparation and a language that is both accurate and understandable to users. Regular catch-ups with technology partners help stay informed about upcoming developments and provide suggestions for effective information transmission. However, there are areas where the partnership can be strengthened, such as determining ownership of the intranet and setting the tone, strategy, and budget. These areas require open conversations and collaboration to meet employee needs and leverage technology effectively in internal communications. 

[RR] It appears that you have successfully instilled a strong partnership between the business and IT throughout your career. One key factor for success in implementing intranets is the establishment of a governance structure and program strategy. In my experience, organizations that prioritize these aspects tend to achieve better results. However, it is crucial to ensure that the governance committee remains active beyond the initial 3-6 months, as people often get caught up in other tasks. Similarly, maintaining focus on the program strategy is essential to avoid losing momentum. The most successful implementations are those where a strong partnership exists, allowing both parties to define and align the intranet's purpose for the organization and its employees.

[AK] Exactly, the challenge lies in the fact that internal communications tools, such as the intranet, are critical. However, they may not seem critical in the sense that the business can still function without them. Users will somehow find the information they need, but there is a significant productivity loss in having users search for information and dedicate time to it. It would be much more efficient if they could simply access a well-built internet with an established search functionality and immediately find the information they need. This improvement would greatly enhance the company's productivity and the user experience. It would also lead to a more engaged and motivated workforce that appreciates having a workplace that is set up for them to work efficiently and easily. 

[RR] A couple final questions here for you Asia. What's your go-to productivity hack for managing your day to day tasks and staying focused? 

[AK] My recent hack, which I've been using for a couple of months now, is to plan my to-do list by scheduling specific time slots in my calendar. This approach goes beyond simply creating a list of tasks for the week. Instead, it involves allocating dedicated time for the larger, more demanding tasks that require focused attention. These are the tasks that we often try to avoid or postpone, as we tend to get caught up in less important activities like checking and replying to emails. 

By setting aside specific time blocks for these challenging tasks and committing to completing them, I've found that my productivity has significantly increased. Rather than easily giving up or postponing them, I push myself to tackle them head-on. This approach has proven to be highly effective because it ensures that I cover significant milestones throughout the week. For example, I aim to accomplish at least one major task per day, allowing me to stay motivated and focused. 

In the context of remote and hybrid work setups, it's crucial to maintain self-motivation and structure. By implementing this time-blocking technique for important tasks, I've been able to create a sense of control and prevent work from overwhelming me. This strategy has helped me grasp my workload more effectively and ensure that I make progress on essential items.

[RR] I think that's something everyone should adopt - setting that time with oneself otherwise the notifications and the distractions well they'll take you away whether you like it or not. What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career?  

[AK] I won't say anything new to many of the internal communications professionals, but it's important to reiterate the most important lesson: listening. This applies to listening to leadership, both directly and indirectly, understanding their motives, context, and expectations. It also applies to listening to your audience and being attentive to different forms of feedback. Don't neglect any feedback, as it may represent the voice of others who may not openly express their perspectives. Listening is the key skill for an internal communications professional. As someone who is talkative and easily interacts with people, I have often been reminded of the importance of listening to others. 

[RR] That's great and if you could recommend any resource or book for those who are maybe starting their corporate comms internal comms career what might you point them towards?

[AK]  My approach to educating myself and gaining insights in my field involves actively seeking out user-created content such as podcasts and videos. I find this to be an incredibly insightful way to explore different perspectives and nuances of technology. For example, when there is a new technology being introduced and I need to draft communications about it, I browse through various digital experts' podcasts or articles to not only understand the official language of the platform or vendor we are promoting, but also to learn about the experiences of users who have already interacted with it. Additionally, I make it a point to stay up to date by regularly listening to podcasts and relying on them for valuable insights.

This blog was adapted from The Workgrid, a podcast about the digital workplace, technology, and everything in between. For the complete episode, please visit: Internal Communications and Digital Workplaces

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