Big Brother vs Humans: Keeping it real in the internal communication technology race

by Janet Houen, Group Manager Organisational and Change Communication

Published on
October 9, 2017

“So team – today we’re having a Chips ‘n Salsa party! Yes, that’s right … what fun! We’re going to be inserting microchips into your hand with a big needle so you can buy more things from us, and clock on for work, and all sorts of other handy stuff without even having to think about it — plus you get salsa!”.

We’re paraphrasing, but that’s the essence of a recent story about a Wisconsin-based tech firm which convinced 40 of its employees (and the boss’s whole family, including his kids) into the ‘voluntary’ installation — in the individual’s hand — of a company-owned microchip.

This ‘passive’ device is the size of a grain of rice, and doesn’t hurt a bit (“trust us”).

The intent is purportedly to allow team members to make food purchases in the company-owned store, access company technology and buildings without having to stress that they left their ID card in their gym bag or remember their password, and generally be more hardwired to their place of employment.

Not surprisingly, it’s caused a stir of philosophical discussion, and despite assurances that the chip cannot be used for any other purpose or hacked, the thought of microchipping employees remains a bridge too far for most.

There is however a massive upside to the warp-speed appearance of ever-evolving technology channels for organisations seeking to maximise employee engagement and experience.

The digital revolution has opened up unprecedented opportunity for real-time, tailored, measurable and exciting interaction. It’s been coming for a long time, but in 2017 it feels like internal communicators are finally getting to grips with what is possible, how to bring their organisations on the journey, and how to implement effectively in a cluttered and ‘noisy’ information environment.

In the right hands, collaboration tools can be a powerful connector for both small and large organisations. Low-cost video, webcasting of all kinds, live social media broadcasting and other visual or audio messaging is becoming more widely practised — not always as polished as it could be, but a rapidly evolving opportunity, and a democratic one not restricted to top-down, push communication.

Undoubtedly there is risk involved in democracy (which can be a source of nervousness for many leaders) but behavioural expectations are easily set, and the benefits from a feedback and interaction perspective are significant if it’s done well.

Large organisations with diverse, dispersed workforces face the challenge of ‘the hub’ being able to communicate effectively with ‘the outposts’.

The advent of mobile systems and other project-management collaboration tools presents a plethora of options for building culture, connectedness and efficiency.

What’s critical though to accompany this is communication strategy. Only strategy allows you to launch new tools effectively, maintain momentum through regular updates and activity, fix glitches and gripes quickly, and undertake genuine curation which matches and targets content to organisational needs and goals.

The effective use of technology for internal communication has resourcing and budget implications too, as does the ability to bring older systems, equipment and platforms up to speed and continually improve. Many ancient, ailing intranets still creak along, so far behind the eight ball that they should probably just be bulldozed and a fresh start made, but that’s a daunting and expensive task.

Not over-reaching is a critical success factor here.

Our recommendation: choose one or two tools or channels that fit the organisation’s needs and support existing communication culture, and do them well.

You then have a manageable stable to measure and curate, can integrate, target, and minimise information overload more effectively, and can build a strong business case to advocate for what’s next.

And the ultimate goal?  It’s no secret that internal communication is all about getting individuals to opt in, to engage with and contribute to the company’s future in a meaningful and productive way, and bring discretionary effort to their work.

Technology-based communication is here to stay, and will continue to open new doors and ideas at a rapid pace.

However, in a society where the idea of microchipping an employee is even a possibility, leaders and the internal communicators who advise them must remember the power of personal interaction and genuine human connection cannot ever be replaced by an app, a widget or a podcast.

With 2018 just around the corner, make it your new year’s resolution to keep walking the floors, having real conversations, uncovering stories and challenges, visiting the frontline — your organisation will be stronger for it (and we guarantee you will find some great content for your next video blog).

Here’s the full story: Microchipping at work