why face-to-face conferences still matter in internal comms

With a shift to digital does an email from the top work as well as the traditional conference? There's a place for it. But there's a place for the traditional event too.

by Theresa Knight 

Picture the traditional staff conference - you know the one where the chief executive and senior managers engage with the workforce, give them key messages, put them into workshops and take questions from the floor.

They take a lot of time and effort to plan and put together. But in these days of social media, e-bulletins and unconferences is there a place for them?

Well our staff seem to think so – our feedback shows it. 

At Nottingham City Homes we employ just over 900 staff, ranging from accountants and customer service staff through to plumbers, caretakers and housing officers. Between us we manage and maintain almost 29,000 council homes across Nottingham.

Once a year we bring our staff together, mix them up and deliver a two-hour session to them – doing nine sessions over three days in total.  

They get the chance to meet and chat with the chief executive and directors beforehand over a cuppa, hear the latest about what is happening in the company and future plans, and get the chance to meet colleagues face-to-face. There’s always lots of ‘great to finally meet you’ conversations going on.

Last year we used the conferences to launch our new three-year corporate plan to them – outlining how their work goes towards our vision of ‘creating homes and places where people want to live’. And we got them to tell us what we should start, stop, continue and do differently when they broke into workshops.

This year we fed back to them on our progress so far. And then came something they weren’t expecting – we told them we’re giving them an extra days leave. Two days before the conferences we’d been told we’d achieved Investors in People Gold level, so it was an ideal opportunity to give them the news instead of the impersonal email to everyone.

We also used the workshops this year to give people the chance to complete their employee survey. This has meant we’ve had an amazing response rate of almost 85% - giving us a real picture of how people feel about the company and working for us.

In our evaluation we asked colleagues if they wanted another staff conference – an overwhelming 92 per cent said yes. And 95 per cent of those who came said they found the conferences useful.

So would I recommend it as a communication tool? Absolutely. There is still a place in the internal comms mix for the good ol’ staff conference amongst the use of social media, e-bulletins, intranets and SMS.

Theresa Knight is pr and communications officer at Nottingham City Homes.

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