Corporate Television Catches Employees' Eyes

By Matthes, Karen | Personnel, May 1991 | Go to article overview

Corporate Television Catches Employees' Eyes


Matthes, Karen, Personnel


During the Persian Gulf war, Millions of Americans stayed glued to their TV sets because the wanted to watch the events as they happened. Indeed, television and other electronic media can bring the entire world into a viewer's livingroom.

Now businesses are finding that their employees are demanding to know what's happening within their company just as fast. Whether it's news of a restructuring, a change in policy or a new product announcement, employees want to know "the scoop" as soon as senior management makes a decision that affects them. However, some companies say they are finding traditional communication methods, such as company newsletters and magazines, to be too slow and the office "grapevine" too unreliable. Therefore, they are adding more technological methods to their communications arsenal. Videos and computers are commonplace. And some companies, including IBM and AT&T, are taking a cue from real life and developing their own corporate television stations.

From pedestrian to slick

Just 15 years ago, many companies continued to offer little more than a company newsletter that featured wedding announcements, classified ads and human interest stories and an employee handbook that outlined company policies in order to fulfill legal requirements. Desktop publishing wasn't used to make updating handbooks easier, and marketing techniques weren't applied to promote the various savings and benefits plans.

"Their style was pedestrian, and many were just a step above photocopying," d Pamela Cook, a partner at Kwasha Lipton, a consulting firm based in Fort Lee, N.J.

As baby boomers developed more sophisticated tastes, things began to change. By the early 80s, upper management began to understand the benefits of "marketing" the company to employees. At first, publications became glossier. Soon videos replaced slide shows.

Employees get the picture

Today, many companies communicate to employees by means of videoconferencing, simultaneously providing live or videotaped broadcasts via satellite to a select number of receiving sites. In this way, they can reach a large number of employees from diverse locations without incurring the costs of transporting people in different offices to a single location.

Videoconferencing became especially useful during the Persian Gulf war, as many U.S. firms restricted travel. According to Anthony M. Franco consultants, satellite videoconferencing inquiries increased 50 percent to 75 percent nationwide. While experts attribute the increase to the war, they predict that companies will stick with videoconferencing during peacetime as a way to cut costs.

One organization that firmly believes in the benefits of videoconferencing is the US. Postal Service. Besides the newsletters and various magazines it publishes, the Postal Service established a satellite network in December 1990 to keep in touch with its enormous employee population of more than 750,000. When postal rates increased last February, they used the network to simultaneously train employees from 73 divisions about the implementation of the new rates. " It's just something we had to do to control the communications in an organization this big," according to David Charters, senior assistant postmaster general. "We're very excited about [the satellite network]; we feel it's a way to speed up communications and make sure the message is out there clearly"

In addition to videoconferencing via satellite, many companies distribute videotapes, usually for prerecorded speeches, conferences and training.

Advances in personal computer technology also have played a role in the modernization of employee communications.

"Businesses were spending millions of dollars on benefits plans, but employees weren't using the benefits because they didn't know about them"' Kwasha Lipton's Cook said.

These days, employees can access their company's computers to review the status of their benefits accounts-and even to enroll in certain programs. …

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