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4 ways internal podcasts can help boost remote employee engagement

The pandemic-driven shift to remote work has companies scrambling for innovative ways to stay connected. 

4 ways internal podcasts can help boost remote employee engagement
[Photo: Tea Oebel/Pexels]
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We live in a whirlwind of information. We’re all consuming media minute to minute in ways we could never imagine just five years ago. New social media platforms like TikTok have us laughing and dancing, and we watch breaking news live as events unfold as if we were there. Yes, we live much of our lives online, and with the pandemic plunging us into a work-from-home future, our workplace too has suddenly gone digital.

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The pandemic accelerated certain behaviors by 5 to 10 years, ushering in the “future of work” we’ve all been hearing about for so long. We’ve all engaged, to some degree, in a mass remote work experiment. Digital platforms have performed exceedingly well during this time: Zoom has become the de facto video meeting software and filled the void of face-to-face meetings and office chats. Slack and Teams have allowed for easy and quick communication among employees, facilitating instant messaging and simple, efficient file sharing. Email has remained a constant of work life.

While these platforms create a hum of the workplace, they fail to bring to life the culture created in an office. They just aren’t designed for it. The half-hour scheduling of Zoom can leave little room for discussions of what people got up to during the weekend. The need to update colleagues about our work can supersede the desire to update them about our lives. It can be easy for a sense of belonging and inclusion to wane from this lack of personal engagement. Workplace culture is not just a buzzword–it’s greeting the new employee, shouting over to congratulate a colleague on a job well done. And it’s something we’re all nostalgic for.

Employers have largely overcome the challenge of adapting to work from home from the productivity perspective. The almost overnight scramble to move to at-home work left employees grappling with internet connections and video camera setups. Now, employers turning their eye to the long-term challenges of working from home and rethinking internal communications to foster connection between employees and their workplace is top of mind.

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The explosion of podcasts is well-documented. Listenership in the U.S. alone has grown more than 37% over the last three years. People are spending more time than ever listening to podcasts, and it’s not surprising that new social media platforms like Clubhouse are betting on the future of audio at a time when 38% of employees have reported video call fatigue since the start of the pandemic. Podcasts have long been an established marketing tool. But recent circumstances have made businesses think more creatively about how they communicate internally. And they’re finding that internal-only podcasts are a great, personalized way of reaching their staff at this turbulent time.

Podcasts are popular for a reason. They let people into a conversation; fans of podcasts may feel like they know the hosts of their favorite shows. This sense of camaraderie may be increased by the relaxed nature of an audio discussion. Podcasters often aren’t lecturing or informing; they’re chatting. The blank canvas of an audio conversation also leads to podcasts that take innovative approaches to topical discussions. With an overload of content streaming by us every day, from our overflowing email inboxes to incessant news updates, a strong podcast will break through the noise.

Unlike real-time video meetings and messages, which demand our presence and attention for much of the day, podcasts can be consumed on our own time, at our own pace. It’s easy to dip in and out of a podcast while driving, working out, or having lunch.

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Over the last year at Workvivo, the employee communication platform I cofounded, we’ve had several clients ask us to introduce podcast functionality onto our workplace communication platform. And since introducing this, we’ve seen that companies of all sizes are embracing this new way of communicating with their staff. The podcast medium lends itself to a variety of formats that can provide great value to employees:

Fireside Chat

Employees are burned out and feeling uninspired. Fireside chats can be a great way to stimulate creativity and excitement within the company. Bringing in interesting external speakers to share their wisdom with employees can be a great opportunity for training and education. There is, of course, no uniformity of guests in this format—industry experts, former employees/founders, and business speakers are all examples of potential guests for fireside podcasts. Employees will feel special if they can hear exclusively from industry experts talking about topics relevant to their jobs. Companies aren’t able to host the usual events under the current circumstances and this kind of podcast can fill that gap and are logistically much easier to arrange.

Lessons from Leadership

The relaxed nature of podcasts can also be a great manner of exploring a company’s culture by interviewing its leaders. In a company of 50,000, it’s rare that staff will get to spend significant time with the CEO or even other members of leadership. And even in a smaller company, sometimes even with town halls there isn’t enough time to delve into the company’s broader goals. McKinsey research has found that when their company’s purpose is activated and aligned with them personally, employees are more likely to be loyal, engaged, and willing to advocate for their company. It can be hard to feel part of something bigger when you’re commuting 6 feet from your bed to your laptop. Hearing leaders shed light on their perspectives and goals for the company and how things are tracking can help get employees on board and working toward a common goal. 

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Onboarding

The relentless barrage of documents and spreadsheets that form the onboarding process of so many companies can be stressful and intimidating. And without the in-person experience of chatting with your new colleagues and manager, this sense of overwhelm can be amplified for new joiners. Channeling some of this information into a podcast with a human voice can be a good way of making the process more personal and letting new employees know that they’ll be supported during what can be a confusing time. The serialization of such podcasts can help new staff members gradually build up the knowledge they need to play a strong role on their team.

Recognition

All good companies ensure that their workers are celebrated for their achievements. What better way to give those employees a platform to talk about their accomplishments and praise them for their hard work than with a conversation shared throughout the company? This kind of podcast can offer a source of inspiration for other teams to achieve their goals. By taking the notion of “employee of the month” a step further, you can put a spotlight on success stories from around the company, building a sense of momentum and positivity around work.

Distributed workforces aren’t going anywhere anytime soon—Workvivo’s survey found that 90% of employees will stay with their company longer if working from home remains an option. And as employers rethink how they communicate with staff, they should consider deploying podcasts. Of course, this is not a panacea for employee engagement and must come as part of a wider strategy. But the growing trend of internal podcasting reflects a wider move toward creative ways of communicating. Old-school bulletin boards and company-wide emails simply won’t cut it anymore in a new age of communication.

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John Goulding is the CEO and cofounder of Workvivo, an internal communications platform that helps companies increase employee engagement.