Should HR Set Guidelines for Online Communications?
There can’t be many of us who don’t use at least some sort of online communication in our everyday lives. Whether it’s chatting with friends via Facebook Messenger, leaving comments on Instagram posts, speaking to online customer service reps through their chat systems, or emailing with everyone from friends and family to businesses.
Put simply, more than ever before we are communicating differently with people. In person catch ups with an employee are becoming rarer and even phone conversations are being elbowed aside by the tap tap tap of a keyboard.
And while we may (currently, at least) reminisce over the days when it took five minutes to swing by a coworker's desk and check a pressing HR matter with them, there’s no denying that sending an online message can often be quicker and easier.
But having an emoji filled conversation about what to have for dinner with your significant other over WhatsApp is - or at least it should be - very different to the conversations you have with your coworker and clients over Zoom or Slack.
The problem is, as we increasingly deal with coworkers, companies, customers, tasks and errands online, the lines between casual chat and work-appropriate conversation are becoming blurred.
Should your HR department set guidelines for online communications?
With that in mind, the Hezum blog is taking a look at tips to bear in mind for more professional online business communications.
And while you as someone working in Human Resources may be confident that your messages and emails are apt in a business setting, can the same be said of all of your company’s employees?
If you have the sneaking suspicion that some members of staff could use a brush up when it comes to their internal and external communication skills, there’s no better time than now to start setting some company guidelines.
Asynchronous communication and synchronous communication
First of all let’s look at the difference between two different types of online communication: asynchronous communication and synchronous communication.
Asynchronous communication is a conversation that is delayed. For example, if one of your company’s Facebook followers leaves a comment on a post that your marketing team has published, that happened on your follower’s own time.
If the person responsible for managing your social media accounts doesn’t reply immediately, the conversation is therefore delayed.
Meanwhile, synchronous communication happens in real time; for example, a conversation with a coworker on Zoom (or whatever your organization’s preferred platform is) or a conversation with a customer on a live chat platform.
As with most things, there are pluses and minuses for both asynchronous and synchronous conversations, especially in a workplace.
And your employees need to have guidelines based on each, depending of course, on what your company uses to communicate - both internally and externally.
For example, when using asynchronous communication, it is imperative that comments or queries are replied to in a timely fashion and by a set deadline.
It can be easy to think of social media as less important than other channels of communication, but that question on one of your posts that’s gone unanswered for days is flagging up to your followers (and your potential customers) that you don’t respond to them, or respect them even.
Respond to comments, answer questions, deal with complaints, and provide information across the board. It can be tricky to keep track of, but on the plus side, you’ll have time to form a measured response.
The good thing about synchronous communication is that it allows you to be ultra responsive; something that is often crucial in customer-centric environments. Your teams can reply to queries, deal with issues, and even take orders in real time.
However, you need to make sure that the people handling the communication are doing so in a fashion that reflects your company’s brand and image.
Poorly worded responses, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, hasty and ill thought out replies are all a no-no.
Anyone answering questions over real life chat should also make sure that they advise the person they are talking to if there needs to be a pause in the conversation while they look up information, log into systems or speak to a supervisor.
The three gates of speech
The three gates of speech may have connotations of mindfulness and spirituality - as opposed to business and commerce, but they can still serve as a useful reminder when sending emails and other longer form written communications.
Basically, before posting anything online or hitting the send button on an email, stop and check what you’ve written and ask yourself if it would pass through the three gates - figuratively speaking:
- Is it true?
- Is it necessary / helpful?
- Is it kind / respectful?
If you can honestly answer ‘yes’ to all three of those questions then you should be good to post or send.
Instilling this ethos in your employees ties in nicely with the idea of a company culture that is motivating, respectful, and welcoming - to both staff and external contacts.
Communication with a purpose
It can be easy to forget that when we’re communicating online it is often helpful to explain the context of a message.
We can get caught up in simply getting that query answered or that document emailed - but how does our communication look to the recipient? What is the purpose of that email, message or social media post?
By clarifying your intent in the first place you’ll lessen the chance of a back and forth over what the other person is meant to do with the information you’ve sent them. It will cut down on miscommunication and confusion and help to avoid people going off on tangents.
The absence of verbal cues
We’ve all been there: that text message or WhatsApp you received came across as unfriendly or abrupt. “Have I done something wrong?!” you ask the sender - to which they’re usually perplexed and respond “No, of course not!”
It is notoriously difficult to convey emotion or meaning in short messages - unless you throw in a bunch of laughing / crying / angry / insert other emotion here emojis!
And let’s hope that your employees aren’t peppering their professional communications with little round faces that are Laughing Out Loud!
And let’s also hope they’re not using LOL, ROFL or other acronyms and text talk either…
Having said all that, while emojis have no place in a professional email, depending on your industry, they can work well on social media as a way of drawing attention to your posts.
Although be sparing and use emojis that are in context. You might also want to reserve the emojis for your B2C communications rather than your B2B ones.
So just how do you get the ‘feeling’ or vibe of a message across when you’re talking online or emailing someone?
After all, when you have a conversation in person the way you say things, the tone of your voice, your facial expressions and your body language can say almost as much, if not more than, the actual words coming out of your mouth.
To avoid misunderstandings wherever possible in written communication ensure that layout is clear, and that punctuation, grammar and spelling are correct. And most importantly, that the tone of the communication is consistent with your company or brand.
Formal and authoritative? Knowledgeable but friendly? Fun and tongue in cheek - while still professional? Decide what tone defines your organization and ensure it’s rolled out across all forms of communication.
The seven C’s of communication
Finally we’ll finish off with the seven C’s of communication which you may also want to include in your HR guidelines for online communication.
- Complete: does the message, post or email contain all the necessary information?
- Concise: have you got to the point and not gone off on a wild tangent?
- Courteous: are you being polite? Even a message of complaint should still be respectful.
- Considered: have you considered how a recipient will feel after reading what you have to say?
- Clear: does your message provide clarity? Is it easy to understand?
- Concrete: are any ambiguities addressed? Is the information factual?
- Correct: have you checked for spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors?
HR guidelines for online communication: conclusion
These days all it takes is one ill-thought out message or poorly worded social media post for your company’s image to take a real battering.
Yes, you can delete posts from social media, but you can’t guarantee that someone hasn’t taken screenshots first. And you can never get back unprofessional emails and chat threads.
By implementing guidelines for your workplace’s online communications you’ll stand a better chance of ensuring all employees are on the same page - quite literally - when it comes to safekeeping your organization’s reputation.
I'm a UK-based content writer here at Hezum. I've an interest in all things HR and company culture.