Video Case Study: Establishing Internal Comms Guidelines
Establishing Internal Communications Guidelines.
This is the transcription of the fifth episode of Between Us, a video series focused on tactical ideas by internal comms leaders, for internal comms leaders.
In this episode, Dawn Marinacci, Executive Marketing Director at Ologie shares the tool stack that powers their internal communications, details their process of establishing an Internal Communications Company Guide, and lets us in on ways to avoid the common pitfalls associated with popular internal comms tools. We cover:
How to ensure important information doesn’t disappear into the Slack ether.
How to establish a foolproof Google Drive syntax and organization system.
How to prevent your intranet from becoming a catchall dumping ground.
How to set company norms to protect against Zoom fatigue.
How to write an effective guide to internal communications.
Ologieis a branding and marketing agency based in Columbus, Ohio. Ologie is dedicated to working with purpose-driven organizations and has been working with clients in higher education, arts & culture, and non-profit for the last 34 years.
Dawn Marinacci is Ologie’s Executive Marketing Director. Dawn brings a keen eye for detail and a breadth of experience in branding, marketing, and communications strategy, while building strong relationships with key influencers and decision makers. An avid brand advocate and passionate trend watcher, she brings 27 years of experience on both the agency and client side of business. In her role at Ologie she leads the agency’s marketing efforts, and helps to shape internal communications and culture.
Rachel Kaplowitz is the Founder/CEO of Honey, a reimagination of the corporate intranet, designed to help employees feel inspired, informed, and engaged at work.
Rachel: Before we get to the tools, I’d love to help everyone understand where your company fits into the different types of cultures we are seeing emerging right now. As we’re all getting ready for the post-pandemic state, some people are going back to the office, 9–5, Monday-Friday, back to business as usual. Some people are done with the office, everything will be remote, and operations will be completely virtual. And then there’s a lot of talk about hybrid. I’d love to understand more about what Ologie is planning moving forward.
Dawn: We’ll definitely be moving to a hybrid model. There’s no way we’ll be in the office Monday through Friday again. In fact, I don’t know if we’ll ever be in the office Monday or Friday again. We sent out a survey last week about reentry to the office to help us determine what it would look like. We asked our employees about their needs and preferences and overwhelmingly we got the sense that people want to come into the office when they want to come in, without a predetermined schedule. We kicked around the Tuesday through Thursday thing, which still may be an option. It’s all about creating a fluid experience.
Rachel: I love that you sent out a survey and included your team in the process. It seems like a no-brainer, but there are so many companies I’ve talked to who haven’t gone through that step. So you’ve spent the last year, more or less, working remotely. I’d love to hear any takeaways or insights that you have as it relates to internal communications that you may carry forward from this year.
Dawn: We always have a big focus on our people — but given the year that we’ve had, we’ve really made sure that our employees’ health and safety was the number one priority across the board. We know that work only gets done when people are happy and are able to take care of themselves. We’ve gotten through this as a company because of the empathy and grace that we’ve all shown each other. We’ve been reminded regularly from our Founder that it’s hard and she’s really encouraged people to speak up if they needed to tap out for personal or mental health reasons. We’ve really put that at the forefront of what we do. That required a lot of communication — whether that was from the Founder or from Ologie’s communications team, we made a point of doing that.
Secondly, we had this “all-in, we can do this” mindset. Because, when you go home and you think it’s going to be a month of remote work — and that turns into three months, six months, nine months… it’s really hard. We had clients that really needed help and needed it fast. I think the speed at which we worked increased, which takes its toll on people. But, we have a really amazing group of people here. One of our values is “All-In.” We have an employee community who has this go-get-it mindset and leaders who empower their people. And because of that, it really trickles down throughout the company.
Thirdly, it’s about frequent and transparent communication. We’re big on no jargon and no B.S., it’s really just about communicating regularly — and God knows we have enough channels to do that! And we’ve used all those channels. We’ve always been a transparent company — being a medium-sized, privately owned, purpose-driven organization, truth is our thing. It’s something that we owe our people and stand by it.
Rachel: You started to touch on something, which is the core of this conversation here. The many channels you have to stay transparent, to make sure communication is flowing, to make sure you’re “All-In,” and everyone knows what’s happening. Before we get into how things are used, the different approaches you have, and why you have these tools in place, can you give us a quick rundown of the tools you’re using to power internal communications across Ologie?
Dawn: We use Slack, Basecamp, GSuite, Honey, and email.
Slack: Quick questions like logistics, screenshots, quick answers, any information exchange that’s instantaneous. We try to use Threads to streamline conversations. We have a channel called “Ologie All” where we share company-wide communication.
Basecamp: Internal project management tool that keeps a permanent record of client projects.
GSuite: We use Docs, Meet, and Drive for sharing big files and back and forth collaboration.
Honey: We use it for a variety of things, we’ll get into this in detail later
Rachel: These are popular tools. We use them on my team. Most of the people who are using Honey are also using these tools. So, let’s break it down a little bit. We know that every tool comes with its own challenge — Honey included. So, I’d love to talk through the most common challenges I hear for each tool and hear more about how your team thinks about it and avoids the pitfalls. Let’s start with Slack.
Challenge: Fleeting Information. You share something important, five seconds go by, and the channel is taken over by gifs, other updates, and before you know it, the important update is off the screen and disappears into the ether.
Pitfall to avoid: How do you make sure information is not missed on Slack?
Answer: We’re big on “share ideas, not documents.” We give folks guidelines about the use of tagging, threads, status updates, and auto-reminders. We’ve also established company norms around response time. Slack has a million little features that people may not be aware of that helps streamline information. Some favorite examples:
If you take the time to explain and reinforce these best practices to your staff and people see other people using them, those things catch on.
We try to be as transparent and explanatory as possible so people understand what each platform is for. It takes a lot of reinforcement. People get lazy. So repetition, clarity, and reinforcement is key.
Challenge: Disorganization. Google Drive becomes a blend of personal documents versus canonical files that all employees need to access — whether that’s at a team or company-level.
Pitfall to avoid: How do you keep your Google Drive organized, consistent, and easy to navigate for your team?
Answer: We organize Google Drive in two ways — internal use and external use. This is where the Project Managers are royalty. For internal, when we get a new client, we create a job code. Then, our client partnership team creates a Google Drive Folder in their individual Ologie Drive (not a shared drive). That’s where they hold all of the working documents within a job. Then, within each client folder, each job code has an internal-facing folder and an external-facing folder.
I think all of this comes down to preparation. I can’t tell you how valuable it is to have Project Managers determine the best system. I encourage other teams to get Project Managers, Account Managers, or the people who are closely involved with the day-to-day operations in the planning process.
ZOOM / GOOGLE MEET
Challenge: Meeting fatigue. Respecting people’s time and access.
Pitfall to avoid: With Zoom and Google Meet so easily at our fingertips, how do you avoid a culture of too many meetings? How do you make sure people are being mindful of their coworkers’ time and workloads, especially now that we’ve been remote?
Answer: We’ve done two things:
Flex Hours. On Fridays, starting at noon, there are no meetings until noon on Monday. So it’s almost like a split 4-day work week, where we give people breaks from meeting. We did that to align with our client needs — that’s when our fewest client meetings are. So this doesn’t impact the client relationship at all.
Camera Off. We’ve normalized turning the camera off for meetings. We require video internally for our weekly company meetings, because it’s our favorite half-hour of the week. We’ve established guidelines so we know that for big meetings like board meetings or presentations, we have the camera on. If it’s just a status update, you have a quick question, or you want to talk through something it can just be a phone call. We want people to feel no guilt for doing it. We have some people who do No Video Mondays. So, on their Slack status, they have a little video icon with an X through it.
It can be overwhelming to figure out how to tackle organizing internal communications, but if you make the time to do it, it’s worth it.
I’d recommend stepping back, evaluating what’s happening, and then implementing a solution. When people think of agencies, they usually think of the creative or the accounts side, but, when it comes down to it, our employees are problem solvers first. They don’t want to deal with inefficiencies. They don’t want to have to dig to find something they need. You can waste so much time just looking for information. And we don’t want to spend our time searching. Our time is limited and we want to be as efficient as possible.
Rachel: So you’ve mentioned this idea of streamlining information and the importance of making sure everybody knows where to find things. You started to touch on Honey in the beginning and now we’re going to circle back to it. A big reason people start using Honey is that word streamline. They want to have one, single source of truth, for the most important company information. We see people sharing executive updates, big company-wide updates like Open Enrollment season, or even sharing something like that employee survey you mentioned earlier. So, talk to me a little bit about how your team is using Honey and how it helps unify the other platforms across Ologie.
Dawn: Honey is our homebase.
We do a weekly newsletter — it’s really brief — called Friday Notes and goes out every Friday. We post our HR policies and procedures into a Group so people can easily locate them. We also have a Group for People Leaders (anybody with direct reports). We’ve done a lot of training with them about how to have difficult conversations, things related to performance reviews, and resources to help them get a pulse on how their people are doing. We post a lot of this information for them in this Group on Honey along with our People Leaders Guidebook, forms, and guides for performance reviews that they can reference anytime. We’ve been using it to post our mental health resources. We offer our employees 10 free sessions per year. We post things from our employee assistance program there. We also use it for quick polling. I recently used the Polling feature to help me come up with an idea. We were developing a Thought Leadership Website and we were trying to come up with a name, so we asked our team to vote on their favorite one. It really is our place that people know will have the information they need.
It’s been a really great tool for us. We’ve had Honey for six years — it’s a staple. We onboard our new people by having all of the essential information on Honey. It’s interesting, when I was talking with some of our new employees, they said that when they started at Ologie, they went to Honey and started digging through past Friday Notes to get up to speed. It’s been a really great asset for us in so many ways.
Rachel: As I said, every tool has its challenges — Honey included. So, I’m curious to hear your take on this. You were mentioning Friday Notes, which has become a wonderful ritual for your team. People know when to expect it and where to find it — and they don’t need to sort through a lot of extra information to get there.
A lot of teams, when they buy a new tool, they want to look at usage statistics. And sometimes they fixate on questions like “how many Posts are going out?” or “How much content is being shared here?” But, sometimes, like in your case, less can be more. When you have a company that has Slack or email overload, sometimes what you need is a platform that helps with streamlining and curating information.
So, tell me, how did you manage to create these rituals on Honey so it didn’t just become another dumping ground where everybody shared whatever they felt like sharing?
Pitfall to avoid: How do you ensure that Honey is the home to curated and streamlined company information and doesn’t just turn into another dumping ground for company content? What are some Groups and rituals you’ve set up to help keep this streamlined?
Hands-on Planning & Training. When we first set up Honey, when your team came out to Columbus and onboarded us, that was super successful. For our team, we really benefit from hands-on training to get a feel for new tools.
Slack Integration. We connected Honey with Slack, so that when we post Friday Notes to Honey, it also alerts people on Slack. I think it’s about identifying common themes for communication, having the information start and live on Honey, and then figuring out how to keep people updated — whether it’s through Slack or email.
Identify important Groups. We started by setting up our most important Groups. We asked, “what are the Groups we can create that would be applicable for everyone?” We thought more about the types of communication happening across Ologie, instead of just assuming every department or project team needed their own Group. Some Group examples:
Friday Notes: archive of weekly Friday newsletters.
HR: 401k resources, employee handbook, payroll info, etc.
People Leaders: (private group) Resources & guidelines for People Leaders.
Social Justice: resources from Ologie’s Social Justice Committee.
Gen Z: research and industry reports to support client work.
We’ve had pretty much the same Groups since we started using Honey, because we were really selective. We didn’t want to start off by creating too many Groups and then have some with little usage. We were pretty good about making sure it didn’t become a free-for-all. We wanted it to be an impactful place where people could find things that mattered.
Rachel: That’s really helpful advice. Less can definitely be more. And I really like the Group examples you gave. There were some that were department specific, but most of the examples spanned a lot of departments and different types of people across the organization. That’s where I see Honey really thriving on successful teams — it’s the people who start by asking “what are our needs?” Or, to put into a product manager’s lens, “what are our user stories?” It’s helpful to actually imagine what information, resources, or documents people will actually need before you make your very first Group on Honey. You’ll realize pretty quickly that it’s rarely siloed into specific departments. I think the actual use case is a wonderful place to start — and then not being afraid to curate, limit who is allowed to post, and be selective about the Groups you create.
Dawn: One other thing I’d add in… we’re always looking at research and industry reports to support our client work. One of our key audiences in Gen Z. Because we work with colleges and universities, it’s important for us to know that audience. So, we have a Gen Z Group on Honey that’s really just about posting reports and research that we find. People know if the Strategy Team is working on a project and need the latest information or some research, they go to Honey. For me, if I come across new research or a report that would be useful to our people, I share it to Honey.
Rachel: That’s a great example to share. It gives people an entry point — and permission and comfort to post something that’s company-wide. Because usually, you’d find like a cool TED Talk or industry report and Slack it to one or two people or maybe email it to someone — you don’t really know what you’re supposed to do with it. So, having a really clear space that’s asynchronous and won’t interrupt anybody — it’s there if people need it — it might be in three months, it might be tomorrow. It’s a really great way to do it.
Okay, so we’re nearing the end here. What you’ve said about every tool and process so far is about communicating guidelines — making sure people know what it’s for and how to use it and what’s expected of them. So, let’s get into the how behind the how. How do you communicate all that stuff to people in a way they can hear it and reference it? You’re onboarding new people — how do new people know what to do with all these tools?
Dawn: I’m glad you asked, because we developed this beast early on in the pandemic. We started with an introduction to communications — explaining why it’s important to have communications guidelines and why it matters. So made a Table of Contents that broke it down into:
Storing and sharing files.
Voice & video calls.
We included little snippets explaining how to use each tool and then shared a specific example to demonstrate proper usage. I think those examples were really important. We got a few strategists together, assessed our realities and needs for remote work, and identified what we needed to do to get a handle on all of the tools in place.
Every employee has a PDF and digital copy of these guidelines they can reference. But, we also use it as an opportunity at our company meetings and on Slack to reinforce some of our guidelines. There are parts of this document that we’ve needed to reemphasize and reinforce at our company meetings, but it has ultimately created a really nice shared set of expectations and guidelines for our team.
Rachel: I love when internal comms lives on the same team as Marketing. I see internal comms all over the org chart — it could be a part of HR, on the executive team, so many different places because it touches everyone. One thing that I always find interesting about when it’s on the marketing team is the parallel we can draw between internal and external communications. So much of what we do externally completely applies internally. Nobody would ever be surprised if you said that you had to tell your external audience something 1,000 times in 1,000 different ways, and on 1,000 different channels. Internally, it’s like “hey, we told you something once, why didn’t you understand?” We’re still the same humans! So it’s great when you can take a lot of the practices that you’re doing externally and think about how you can reinforce them internally.
Okay, last question of our interview. So many great ideas. And what I love is that so many of them are simple. And what may feel like obvious ideas, but it’s never in actuality easy to find the time to think through and actually implement. I’d love to leave everyone with one specific, tactical takeaway that they can implement. So, if you had a team that was really inspired by that Communications Guideline you just showed us and they wanted to go and do it themselves, what advice would you give them if they actually wanted to go and put pen to paper?
Dawn: The main thing is to not be intimidated by it. It’s easy to get intimidated by it because there are so many communication channels. Start by getting the right people in a room (or a Zoom call) and don’t make it too big of a group — I’d suggest limiting it to about three people. Then, look at each individual tool and ask “what do we use this for? What are some best ways to use this? And what are some examples we can show people?” That’s what we did with this — we took it platform by platform.
Start by listing the frequent issues that you encounter — and someone will usually have an easy example that demonstrates “instead of doing X, we should be doing Y.”
Before you know it, you’ll have a giant stack of examples and best practices. We have 4 whole pages dedicated just to Slack.
It’s important to include a diverse group of people in this conversation — maybe somebody from account management, someone from creative, someone sharing and organizing big files. Just get in a room (physical or virtual) with people who love project management, care about organization, and actually use the tools and it will start coming together. With the right people in the room, it’s easier than you think.