Ongoing digital transformation and the acceleration of remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in digital communication at work. It's an efficient change for HR executives looking for a fast and low-cost way to send communications. But as employees adjust to the day-to-day of virtual connection at work, it's becoming clear that digital communication is not always the most effective or meaningful way to communicate important messaging.
First, those messages are competing with more content than ever before. Employees in the knowledge space, usually known as white-collar workers, are experiencing unprecedented levels of digital overwhelm and burnout now that they receive an average of 126 emails per day and spend about 3.1 hours checking email per day.
And second, digital messages simply aren't as effective as print. Research finds that being in the presence of a smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity and the sense of being "constantly on" makes remote communication less effective.
To further explore how employee communications have changed in the past few years, FedEx Office collaborated with HR Dive to poll 179 HR executives and managers about their communication practices. Here are three important findings from the survey that reveal the important role print will play in humanizing communications for a hybrid remote workforce.
Communication trends skew digital
Despite increased attention to topics of digital overwhelm and digital fatigue, employee communications still skew digital, with about 69% of HR respondents indicating they are using more digital communications products today than they were using in 2019-2020 to deliver employee communications for onboarding, training and benefits.
Much of this change is due to the pandemic (63%), though some survey respondents cite that the format they’re using now is more effective (49%) or that executive leadership initiated the change (13%). The most popular formats include email (66%), in-app communication software (51%), and paper products in the office or by mail (23%).
Moving forward, about 48% of HR professionals say they are planning to use mostly digital products, 38% plan to use a mix of digital and paper communications, skewing toward digital, and 12% plan to use a mix of digital and paper communication products skewing toward paper.
For HR executives that want to deliver a more personal, human touch, this represents an important opportunity to shift more communications about benefits, onboarding, and training to print. "It's human nature to be more engaged by the written word than a scrolling screen," says Tracy Brightman, General Counsel, SVP Legal & Human Resources at FedEx Office.
"When you receive something digitally, you have to work hard to review the fine print and understand what’s being communicated. As an employer, you can’t send that and expect it to be meaningful, informative, and demonstrative of the investment a company is making in a team member."
Print presents opportunity for stronger culture and engagement
As HR executives adjust to hybrid work, company culture and employee engagement will be top of mind; in fact, few executives are confident that their culture will survive a purely remote work environment. Print stands out as an opportunity to humanize HR and create more meaningful connections between employees and the organization and employees and each other through physical objects like custom wellness boxes and thoughtful employee onboarding packages.
"Employees today have a deep need to feel that they are a part of work, even when they’re not technically at work anymore," said John Sullivan, National Account Manager at FedEx Office. "Connecting with employees in print meets that need because it results in a physical item employees can see, touch, and experience as they go about their day. It’s a tangible way to recognize members of your team when so much about our work today is intangible."
Sullivan shared a few recent examples of enterprise organizations choosing to build culture and engagement with customized items for employees: in preparation for the return to the office after the pandemic, one company sent branded insulated mugs and personalized protective equipment to its team; another company, in preparation for Black History Month, created and distributed 3,000 personalized Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion content kits made up of a custom tumbler, notebook, and sticker as well as a best-selling book on the topic. It only took a couple of weeks to kick off and deliver the project, and employees were thrilled with the program overall.
Print opens the door for recognition and rewards
Even as companies adjust to the post-pandemic world of work, the challenges of employee communication will become even more pronounced as some of the work population remains remote. Finding ways to not just support culture, but also build up the individual members of the team through tangible recognition and rewards, will be a critical factor in maintaining high levels of engagement and morale.
However, despite the fact that 27% of HR executives surveyed felt that the most engaging content delivered via print is acknowledging employee milestones, only 15% of those surveyed use print materials toward that purpose. It represents a valuable opportunity for employers to step in and provide that personal, human touch, especially when those touches are personalized to each employee.
In rewarding employees with custom print and promotional items, organizations also create special moments for employees to share via social channels. Celebrating a milestone in such a tangible, physical way boosts the employee’s positive sentiment for their employer while giving the employee an opportunity to share the news on their social media accounts, which can build brand recognition.
Providing employee reprieve through print
The purpose and process of communication at work is changing. As more organizations embrace remote work and a digital approach to employee communication, HR leaders have an opportunity to observe what's really working for their teams—and what could be improved. In many instances, this scrutiny reveals just how overwhelming exclusively digital communication has become and that the best chance for effective communication is to diversify the formats HR uses to reach employees.
Incorporating a variety of formats — including print — into employee communications is more than just an opportunity to communicate a message. It’s also a chance to show employees how much they matter in a way that stands out against a crowd of endless digital messages. As Sullivan says, "There’s no replacement for the extreme creativity print allows employers to bring to employee communications."
Ready to engage your employees in an impactful way? Click here to learn more about the corporate printing solutions offered by FedEx Office.