Seven strategies for effective IT communication

Elizabeth Millard//December 1, 2014

Seven strategies for effective IT communication

Elizabeth Millard//December 1, 2014

columnist Elizabeth Millard webThe speed of technology can seem like a blur at times — is the iPhone 7 really so far away? — and because of that pace, IT communication can be a particularly tough challenge. People who are bombarded with information every day might skim past notes from the IT department or technology representatives.

Especially at law firms, where associates and partners may be off-site for months with a client, or schedules are simply too loaded for traditional information sessions, some important education can get missed. Crucial information related to new security regulations, software upgrades, planned downtime, and other issues might get overlooked, leading to lost productivity in the long run.

Fortunately, there are ways to introduce tech communication into a firm without an incredible amount of disruption or mandatory meetings. Here are seven tactics for making it happen:

1. Boil down your message. If the server needs some maintenance that requires downtime, then you can communicate that through a one-line email or a text blast to all employees. There’s no need to go into specifics, not even to communicate that the network will be faster or more efficient afterward. Simply writing, “Server will be taken down from noon to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday for planned maintenance; email not available during this time,” will be sufficient. That gives employees time to plan accordingly if they had anticipated working during that timeframe.

2. Meet people where they are. Maybe every department meeting can start with a single quick reminder about security tips, like password protection or public Wi-Fi usage. The break room can have a spot on the bulletin board devoted to IT communication, with frequently changing notices. Meeting people where they are is much easier than asking them to come to a tech session, and that includes finding them in the digital realm as well. You can use the company intranet, text messages, flyers, and email blasts to get your information across.

3. Make it fun. When people laugh, they’re more likely to pay attention. That might mean including some nerdy-but-accessible comic from xkcd.com in an email, or adopting a tone that’s lively while still professional. A sense of personality and humor will go a long way toward encouraging people to open emails that might include useful but dry information.

4. Feed everyone. Seriously, food works. Creating a quarterly event to introduce new technology, and making it a social occasional with food and drink, can draw people to hear your message. Jennifer Beaudette, manager of IT Business Analysis at Fish & Richardson, says that her team hosts events that are well attended because they showcase new technologies but also feel social and enjoyable.

5. Answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”: Making changes to a technology mix, such as adopting a new content management system or online conferencing system, should be communicated with a clear message about benefits to employees. Beaudette says that every new technology at her firm has to include thoughts on how that tech can help a lawyer or the firm. Maybe that means bringing in new clients, or collaborating more effectively with global colleagues, or swapping documents with a single swipe on a smartphone. If the benefits are intriguing, adoption will follow.

6. Pay attention to what works. Not all efforts will be successful, especially if the information being communicated is complex or requires some training. But if you take note of when employees are engaged, it can be helpful for refining your communication strategies, notes Jason Hoffrogge, Training Director at Golden Valley-based Orion Associates, a training services provider. “Once people begin to drift off and check their email, you’ll lose them,” he says, adding that he’s found employees engage successfully with nonlinear training, which means they choose the direction of what they want to learn.

7. Be selective. If you’re dealing with technology changes and security mandates every day, it may be tempting to push that information out to a firm’s employee base so they’ll stay informed. But receiving too many messages means they’ll likely miss the really important ones, even if you emphasize that specific information is crucial. Instead of volume, go for quality, and determine what’s really needed for more efficient collaboration, operations, and mobility. If you build a dam on the information deluge, the resulting stream will be much more accessible.

Creating an efficient IT communication strategy takes time, particularly because it should be unique to your firm and its needs. But once you find a way for people to listen, numerous benefits will follow.

Elizabeth Millard has been writing about technology for nearly 20 years. Her work has appeared in ABA Journal, Law Office Computing, Business 2.0, eWeek, and TechNewsWorld.