Communicating Technical Messages to Your Employees

Communicating Technical Messages to Your Employees

One of the many tasks an internal communications team takes on is helping specialized, and often more technically focused, departments communicate important information to the entire organization. Whether it’s working with your benefits manager to help explain the open enrollment period or assisting the IT team to ensure operating system updates are performed on time, your task remains the same…

That is, to help your colleagues parse down highly technical or specialized information into messaging that is delivered in a timely manner, easily understood by a majority of the organization, and communicated in a way that is accessible to all of your colleagues—whether they are deskbound or working out in the field.

… Sounds like a tall order, right?

Don’t worry! With the right preparation, it can be done both efficiently and effectively. Here are 10 steps to help you communicate technical or highly specialized information to employees throughout your organization:

1. Prioritize Advanced Planning

When it’s time to start planning for the upcoming year, it’s a good practice to kick things off by meeting with your colleagues in specialized functions to get a better idea of what types of communications they anticipate sending out over the coming months. Your HR team, for example, knows it needs to communicate about open enrollment at the same time each year. Your IT team may also have schedules prepared for downtimes or rolling out new software updates.

During these meetings, work with your colleagues to develop a calendar of when these anticipated events will take place, discuss high-level messaging needs and frequency of outreach, plan what graphic or design needs may be required, and then build out a schedule that allows you and your team plenty of time to draft, review and promote. This is also a good time to review any unexpected events that took place over the previous year that may have required a quick turn on communications outreach. You might be able to develop some guidelines and templates to make future unexpected, but urgent, outreach easier.

2. Know Your Audience

Before drafting your message, consider your audience. How familiar are they with the subject of your messaging? For example, if you need to communicate an IT update to a group of software engineers, chances are they’ll understand what’s going on without much additional explanation of technical terms. But if that IT update is going out to a group of salespeople or accountants, they may need to receive that message in more simplified terms.

When sending a message to a group who may be unfamiliar with the topic, think about how you’d share that same information with a parent or friend to whom the concept would be completely foreign. It may take a little more time to finalize the messaging, but you’ll likely save time on responding to follow-up questions later on.

3. Keep It Simple…

When it comes time to communicate highly specialized information to employees within your organization, keep it simple and try to avoid overly technical terms and jargon. The health insurance open-enrollment period is often your HR department’s busiest and most important time of the year. Tasked with enormous amounts of information to share, they may welcome your input on how to clearly and concisely highlight what’s necessary to understand about the benefit and the information to help them decide if they need it. In addition, it’s best to avoid industry jargon. Many benefits materials are rife with acronyms, so taking the time to help decode and explain the alphabet soup to employees will go a long way in helping your messaging to better resonate.

4. … But Also Be Very Specific

Continuing with the open enrollment example, details matter. Most employees only get one opportunity per year to update their coverage, so it’s important to get it right. Make sure the most important details of your outreach—such as deadlines, required paperwork and links to additional information—are topline in your communication, instead of being buried in a long, text-heavy email. Calling out important highlights at the top of the communication, using bullet points, bold text or headers, and including a clear call to action both in the text and the subject line can help ensure your messaging gets across clearly.

5. Incorporate Visuals

When navigating an unfamiliar website or set of complex forms, having a visual guide as a reference point can make a task much easier to complete. According to Inc.com, you need to look no further than Ikea for best practices in providing visual instructions.

So, how do they do it?

  • At the top of every Ikea instruction sheet are pictures of each item you need before getting started. Similarly, when preparing colleagues to take on a new or complicated task, let them know if any special software, documentation or access codes are needed. It’s also helpful to provide an anticipated length of time they should set aside for the task.
  • Every instructional illustration contains one image per step. Take screenshots from the actual process so your team can visualize exactly what they should see on their screens. Avoid providing a single image with multiple steps indicated and, instead, offer one image with a simple set of instructions for each step. You can also use arrows, circle specific spots or highlight certain sections to draw attention to where the user needs to go.
  • Pointing out pitfalls. Navigating a new system can be anxiety inducing. What if I click “send” before I’m finished? What if I hit the wrong button? When writing out instructions about what to do, it’s beneficial to include helpful tips about what NOT to do as well. For example, note that a page may take some time to load, and that the user should not try to reload it. Or remind folks to save the form after each question to avoid losing data.

6. Test the Process Yourself

Once you’ve created your visual guide—test, test and test again. If possible, set up a dummy account and fill in a form several different ways to ensure your visual guide covers each step and every potential pitfall clearly. After you finish testing, ask a colleague who is unfamiliar with the process to complete it themselves using only your visual guide. Having an outside perspective can help ensure you don’t miss steps that are important to the process.

7. Use Different Delivery Methods

Depending on your organization, different employees receive information in different ways. Deskbound employees may have constant access to company email accounts or intranet sites, in which case electronic communications such as email or blog posts are an effective way to share information. For non-deskbound employees, better tactics include breakroom fliers, notices on digital messaging boards and manager communication during team meetings. In addition to using multiple platforms to share information, it’s also important to share instructions using different mediums. For example, visual instruction guides may work well for some members of your team, while others might prefer a tutorial video that guides them through each step of the process.

8. Communicate Early and Often

For important, planned events that require employee action, it’s vital to communicate as early as possible, on a frequent basis and across multiple fronts. We all know how easy it is for emails to get lost in your inbox. And what about employees who have planned time off during an important timeframe? Giving a heads up about events as soon as possible allows your employees to be better prepared for them, or even make alternate arrangements if they cannot complete the task during the scheduled timeframe. Reaching out multiple times via email, newsletters, intranet posts and breakroom fliers helps to ensure that everyone who needs to know about the event is well aware of when it’s taking place.

9. Offer a Group Training Session or In-Person Assistance

If the event you’re communicating is highly technical or requires a level of online proficiency that some members of your team may not possess, setting up a group training session could be worth your time. Having a member of the team responsible for the event speaking plainly, in person and with the help of some of the tools discussed above can go a long way to helping your employees feel more secure about what needs to be completed. Those employees may also have specific questions about concerns you hadn’t considered, allowing you to update your materials accordingly. Setting aside time to help certain employees complete the action in person within a one-on-one setting is also a helpful consideration.

10. Provide Easy-to-Find Educational Resources

We all know there are a bevy of available resources for any technical communication event. However, as previously discussed, it’s important to stick to the most important details in your outreach. That said, for those employees who are interested in learning more, providing a link to trusted resources where they can dive deeper is always a good idea.

Once your outreach campaign is over, it’s helpful to take some time to reflect on how the project went. Check open rates and website analytics to see which communication format worked best. Talk to employees to gauge their reaction to the outreach. For instance, was it helpful? Timely? Confusing? Scheduling a post-mortem with your team and/or the team you assisted will help you assess what worked and what could be improved for the next outreach event.

Every company is different, and while there’s no one correct approach, these 10 steps should help you in your efforts to educate and inform your team when it comes to communicating complicated or technical instructions.

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About The Author

As an account supervisor, Erin provides day-to-day management for our agency’s B2B, professional services, corporate and non-profit clients. A strategic planner with a passion for storytelling, Erin has a strong background in internal communications, PR, social media and event management.