We’ve already talked about how information overload could be having a serious negative impact on your frontline staff. It’s a problem afflicting much of the modern workforce due to the rise of tech and easy access to information. Information overload makes it difficult to make sound decisions, causes stress and mental health issues, and in some cases has even caused depression and serious medical complications.
According to a report by Deloitte, “information overload and the always-connected 24/7 work environment are overwhelming workers, undermining productivity and contributing to low employee engagement.”
Luckily, there’s a solution. Here’s the magic recipe for avoiding information overload – and sharing communications your staff will actually read and retain.
1. Run an internal communications audit
The first thing you should always do when you try to improve a problem is to investigate it fully. An internal communications audit will help you determine:
- The extent of the problem
- The problem’s impact on productivity and quality
- Any effect on morale
- Likely causes
- Potential solutions
Note that this audit doesn’t have to be a comprehensive, all-encompassing audit, either. You can run an audit with a very limited scope (in fact, that could be even more effective at getting useful results than a general-purpose audit).
An audit for this purpose would cover informational overload and the factors contributing to it, such as internal communication policies, tools being used, and the format and nature of the content being sent out.
2. Keep things short and bite-sized
Frontline staff can’t leaf through dense, multi-page documents, or watch an entire 15-minute corporate video. They simply don’t have the time.
Instead, keep it short and simple. If you’re sharing an announcement or product information, limit yourself to a few key points, and then direct staff to longer resources in a central hub. If it’s a video, chop it down to a few minutes, max.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but making your communications shorter will actually increase your chances of getting your entire message across.
3. Triage what information goes out and when
The Deskless Report found that while 86% of frontline leaders say they’re sending meaningful communications to their workers, 59% of frontline workers say the communications they receive aren’t actually useful.
This is a serious gap in the effectiveness of internal communications that can not only lead to information overload – it can erode your workforce’s trust in management. By sending out too many irrelevant communications, or sending the wrong information at the wrong time, you’re sending the message that head office is out of touch with what’s really going on at the frontline – and your workforce will stop paying attention.
Every type of internal communication has a time and a place. It’s up to you as a leader to know when it’s a good time to send one out, and when it’s better to hold off or consolidate communications for another time. Not only will this result in avoiding information overload – it will build trust with your staff and drive more engagement with your communications.
4. Focus on targeted, segmented communications
We’ve all fallen prey to the “cc” and “bcc” traps – and the same pitfalls are possible with frontline communication. One of the best things you can do to reduce information overload is to limit communications to highly targeted groups. Just because you can copy the entire frontline workforce, doesn’t mean you should.
The longer it takes employees to sort through their messages and find what’s relevant to them, the less time they have to digest what’s actually important. Be intentional about how you target your comms. What do frontline workers need to know versus floor managers? Does every region need to get an announcement about an upcoming promotion, or is it just relevant to the west coast? If you’re re-sharing information, does it need to go to everyone, or just the workers who are still exhibiting knowledge gaps?
For example, in a recent webinar, Tania Walsh, Manager of Digital Communications Strategy at telecommunications brand TELUS, talked about how she mitigates communication fatigue by targeting associates based on three tenures and knowledge levels – Novice, Average, and Master. Meaning, new hires get a lot more context than a sales rep that has been with the organization for a decade.
5. Include the “why”
Information overload isn’t just about the amount of information received; it’s also about the quality of information. How easy is it to digest and remember? Can a frontline employee immediately internalize the information they’re getting?
Giving context, or the “why,” when you communicate often makes it more accessible for staff, so that they can better understand and act on the information you’re giving them.
Let’s say you’re announcing a policy change. If you give specific reasons for the policy change, it increases the likelihood employees will support the change and even be motivated to help other team members adjust, too. It also arms them with the information they need to provide a memorable customer or guest experience while implementing the changes.
Not that it’s always easy. “Sometimes it can seem like the enemy of simplicity is context,” says Walsh. But it’s important to give that sense of “why” while being concise. Walsh always tries to bake three “whys” into her communications: why it’s important for the company, why it’s important for the associate, and why it’s important for the customer. “It brings them along in the journey,” she says.
6. Rethink how information is presented
Finding the right mix of how information is shared with your staff can be an integral part of avoiding information overload. After all, how an employee gets information is just as important as what information they get. That’s why communication tools should be audited on a regular basis – companies should always be looking for the right balance of tools, processes, and human interaction.
It’s a delicate balance. Pre-shift team huddles, for instance, are great opportunities for employee engagement and feedback, and are an efficient way for managers to reinforce company values. Relying on them too much, however, can have its downsides as managers can easily get trapped in a communication cascade.
And as we already mentioned, keeping announcements short and bite-sized is a great way to boost info retention and engagement, but you’ll likely need to supplement those communications with a hub of longer resources that staff can access as needed.
Information overload is a serious problem that needs to be tackled from multiple angles. Not sure if your workforce is at risk? Check out our recent post for signs of frontline information overload.