Communicating effectively presents a problem for businesses of all shapes and sizes, from a tiny office with a handful of people to an international corporation with employees in the tens of thousands.


The effects of poor communication can affect every element of the businesses, with potentially disastrous results. At the very least, the resulting mistakes and misunderstandings will slow an operation down, and a particularly bad break in communication can be incredibly costly.


But alongside the more obvious problems relating directly to work operations, communication issues can cause a raft of other problems that, while more subtle and harder to detect, can be just as dangerous.


Poor communication can leave staff feeling neglected and isolated, creating a negative environment for the workforce and damaging morale. Sickness, absenteeism, low productivity and high staff turnover are recognised symptoms of disaffected staff. Worse still, the effect only grows more pronounced and harder to address as a company gets bigger. How can large organisations avoid this problem and effectively communicate when they may have hundreds or even thousands of employees spread across multiple locations?


Over 40 years ago, United Biscuits recognised the solution and developed its own live radio station for the factory floor, with astounding success.


UBN leads the way

Launched in 1970, United Biscuits Network (UBN) was a radio station broadcast for staff and hosted by professional DJs on-premises, including a young Dale Winton and Roger Scott among many others. In place of the advertising content on a normal radio show, the service played short information and training pieces about procedure and safety. Instead of the dull, utilitarian messages you might expect, these info pieces were usually full of jokes and riffs on popular culture and music, and proved to be popular enough that staff would even request their favourites.


Interactivity also played a key part in the show, and the factory employees were encouraged to get in touch with their song requests and messages such as birthdays, important announcements, and jokes, helping to build a stronger sense of community in the workplace.

The UBN radio station proved to be a huge success for the company and eventually expanded from two factories in London to other United Biscuits factories in Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. The station is credited with drastically reducing staff turnover during its nine-year run.


While playing music and talk sections to keep staff motivated and entertained during their day definitely has its benefits, it is in the potential for interaction and communication that in-store media really shines. It is here that the value of creating a unique station like UBN over piping in an existing station becomes apparent.


Bridging the communication gap

A strong sense of teamwork and company loyalty can be even more important for staff’s morale than the work itself. A common barrier to achieving this is the “us and them” school of thought where staff members feel alienated from a particular group within the company, usually the management. This can be a serious problem anywhere, whether it’s a small shop, an industrial factory or a corporate office.


Leadership and corporate development specialist Brigitte Jaquillard also recognises the importance of interactive staff radio to motivate the workforce, which is exactly why we recently appointed her as an advisor on bringing interactive radio to large business workforces.


“Interactive staff radio is a great opportunity for breaking down walls and building bridges between staff and management, but it absolutely depends on how the management wants to play. It’s a chance for them to humanise themselves in the eyes of their employees, and the best way to achieve this is with a sense of humour,” explains Jaquillard.


“It’s very much what we’ve seen with the British Royal Family in recent months. As Prince Harry has travelled the world to strengthen diplomatic relations, he’s displayed an easy sense of fun and the ability to laugh at himself. He’s helped the family to climb down off their pedestal and communicate with real people, and there is a lot to be learned from the example.”


To refer back to the example of UBN, station manager Adrian Love has said they always aimed to be more like court jesters than the “voice of doom” traditionally associated with an official message from the company.


Alongside humanising them, it lets the company connect in a really up-to-date way that staff will be familiar with and more aligned to. Better yet it’s a fairly inexpensive approach, especially compared to publishing company bulletins, posters or magazines, which are much more likely to be ignored by staff in any case.The cost of poor communication although hidden, is high.


Perhaps most importantly of all however, it shows workers that the company is actually listening to them and taking their needs on-board.


Instead of talking at their staff they can communicate with them fully because the radio broadcast is two-way: it listens and responds to requests. It discusses topics that are relevant and from an inclusive perspective.


A lack of communication is one of the most commonly cited reasons for poor morale, and there are few greater opportunities to combat this than being able to speak directly to staff and encouraging them to communicate back. Further this approach scales up perfectly, allowing for better communication and connection across multiple work sites and even across the world.


I believe any company that takes staff morale seriously should be following the 40-year-old example of UBN and implementing their own interactive staff radio stations. With such a valuable morale and communication-boosting tool available, it would be a colossal waste to ignore it.


Bruno Brookes, CEO of Immedia Group PLC