Communications Policy

  1. Purpose
  2. Principles
  3. Responsibilities
  4. Categories of information
  5. Communication Channels
  6. Communicating with nonPC-based staff
  7. Communicating Change
  8. Professionalism in Communication
  9. Feedback and monitoring
  10. Further information

1. Purpose

Communication takes on many forms and is fundamental to the success of any organisation. Communication is key to the achievement of our aim of ‘working together to enable excellence’. Communication is also critical in engaging our staff in the development of the IT organisation.

There are many channels of communication available to staff and many processes, formal or informal, for their use within teams and across IT Services and the University. This Policy outlines the responsibilities of all staff within IT Services in maintaining good communication practice, the main communication channels available to staff and how and when they might be effectively used.

Additional information and guidance on communication for IT staff 

2. Principles

The guiding principles of this Policy are:

  • To ensure staff are fully informed of all relevant activity, to enable them to be as effective as possible in their role and to support the strategic direction of the organisation and the University.
  • To ensure all staff are aware of their responsibility for maintaining good communication practice.
  • To provide easy access to essential, useful and engaging information for staff and students.
  • To provide opportunities for staff and students to provide feedback and engage in discussions related to planned IT developments.
  • To provide effective methods of communicating during a serious incident.

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3. Responsibilities

This section details the responsibilities of all IT staff, and of particular groups, in communicating effectively within the IT organisation and wider University:

3.1 IT Senior management team

  • To ensure information is made available to all staff and students in a timely manner and via appropriate channels.
  • To ensure managers have the relevant information available to communicate with their staff effectively.
  • To maintain open channels of two-way communication and to listen to feedback and comment from all staff and students.
  • To communicate with the University Senior Management Team.

3.2 IT Line Managers & Managers

  • To communicate regularly with their teams, preferably face to face, to ensure information is available and understood within the context of the department and working environment.
  • To ensure they and their staff are maintaining good communication practice in accordance with this Policy.
  • To maintain open channels of two-way communication, to listen to feedback and comment and to keep senior managers informed.
  • Zonal team leaders to manage communication channels within their zone to ensure staff and students are aware of local IT activity.
  • Technical Service Managers will work with Service Owners to agree planned maintenance downtime and will communicate with Service Owners when there is unplanned downtime.
  • Managers of services owned by IT services to coordinate communication to staff and students  in regard to changes to services. Where services are used by a select group of users then managers will have appropriate channels in place to distribute messages.

3.3 All IT staff

  • To ensure they are informed and have access to information in order to be as effective as possible in their role and to support the strategic direction of IT Services.
  • To ensure they are maintaining good communication practice in accordance with this Policy.
  • To use open channels of two-way communication to keep line managers and colleagues informed.
  • To communicate with colleagues across the University where necessary.
  • To communicate politely, clearly and promptly with staff and students in relation to IT Services.

3.4 Committees/Working groups / Virtual teams

  • To ensure details of meetings and work are made available online in a timely manner and key activities are advertised via the staff newsletter.

3.5 Communications Manager

  • To maintain this Policy.
  • To assist in the dissemination of information to staff and students via appropriate channels.
  • To manage communications for University wide IT activity.
  • To manage and advise on communication channels for IT Services communication purposes.
  • To provide support and guidance on content development and mechanisms for effective communications.
  • To offer guidance to IT staff, teams and managers in maintaining good communication practice in accordance with this Policy.
  • To support IT Services in realising the principles in section 2.

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4. Categories of information

Depending on the nature of the information or the intended audience, different channels of communication may need to be used.  In addition, the individual or team responsible for the communication will vary. Here are the main categories of message within the University:

4.1 IT management and strategic direction

This includes information from senior management and committees regarding the overall management of IT Services and its strategic direction. This may be updates on regular activities or committee decisions or it may be new information and activities that need to be communicated to staff and students in a timely and appropriate manner. This may involve internal communication of important information via management cascade or staff meetings, as detailed in section 5.1.1 Strategic communication. The responsibility for this communication lies with the IT Senior Management Team. 

4.2 Day-to-day work related information for IT staff and users

This is the information staff members require to carry out their work day-to-day. It is the responsibility of individuals and their colleagues and line managers to communicate this information effectively.  IT staff should inform the IT Service Desk, and where appropriate raise changes through the Change Advisory Board (CAB), of all planned changes and maintenance activity.

IT staff have a responsibility to keep staff and students updated on the progress of IT requests. It is important to use the Service Desk tool (TOPdesk) to communicate appropriate information on the progress of requests.

4.3 University-wide notices

This is information that all University staff /students or large groups of staff/students  will benefit from and can be generated by any team within IT Services. Such information may be news items, useful advice or notices of planned maintenance and is the responsibility of the Communications Manager to disseminate. IT staff should inform the IT Service Desk of all planned changes and maintenance activity.

4.4 Local / Zonal notices

This is information that a geographically defined number of staff/students would benefit from and can be generated by any team within IT Services. Such information will usually involve notices of planned maintenance. It is the responsibility of individuals and their colleagues and line managers to communicate this information effectively via Zonal Team Leaders. IT staff should inform the IT Service Desk of all planned changes and maintenance activity.

4.5 Service notices

This is information that a defined number of staff/students would benefit from (not covered by 4.4) and can be generated by any team within IT Services. Such information will usually involve notices of planned maintenance relevant to a service owned by IT Services. It is the responsibility of individuals and their colleagues and line managers to communicate this information effectively. Where appropriate Services owned by IT Services should have clear guidelines on communicating or consulting with key stakeholders / users.  IT staff should inform the IT Service Desk and Communications Manager of such activity.  Services owned by teams outside IT Services are expected to have their own procedure for communicating with key users or a defined set of users.

4.6 Serious incidents

The Emergency Situation Action Plan (IT staff) details what constitutes a serious incident. During a serious incident, the Emergency Management Team will be responsible for all communication and will advise relevant staff should assistance in communicating be required. Plans are in place for all effective channels of communication to be utilised where necessary.

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5. Communication channels

Here is a summary of the primary and secondary channels available to staff when communicating information in the above categories:

5.1 Primary channels

The methods of communicating in this section have been designated primary channels as these are the preferred methods of communication amongst staff and students.  Face to face communication is by far the most effective method. 

5.1.1 Face-to-face communication

Communicating in person with colleagues is considered to be the most beneficial method of ensuring information and knowledge are shared. The conversational nature allows for greater understanding of the context of the message and encourages reflection, questioning and feedback. Here are some instances of face-to-face communication:

Prescribed communication

There are some University policies and processes where face-to-face communication is prescribed – for example the Staff Review and Development Scheme (SR&D) requires a one-to-one discussion, as does the Return to Work Policy and others.

IT strategic communication

IT Services will hold at least 4 all staff meetings during the year where staff. In some circumstances, senior management will require information to be disseminated through managers as quickly as possible and, as far as possible, via face-to-face staff meetings where understanding of the information can be assured and feedback can be gathered and discussed. It is vital that all staff receive this information within a given timescale and that all staff understand the intent and the outcomes of the information and are given an opportunity to discuss, comment and provide feedback.

All other face-to-face communication

In all other circumstances as part of the working environment, staff are encouraged as often as possible to meet with colleagues or use the telephone to discuss issues verbally, rather than relying on email or printed material.

Whilst it is important to manage the amount of time spent in meetings, well-managed meetings or discussions are an effective and efficient way of sharing knowledge, solving problems and ensuring common understanding and appreciation of issues. Research suggests that face-to-face communication engenders greater trust and understanding than any other communication method. It is important therefore, that staff have opportunities for one-to-one and group meetings with colleagues (within and outside IT Services) and their line managers on a regular basis and that dialogue in those meetings is two-way.

5.1.2 Email

Email is one of the most common methods of communicating within the University, however it is often considered to be overused and inappropriate so staff are asked to make efforts to ensure that messages are appropriate to the recipient and other channels considered eg. Enterprise Social media, staff newsletter etc.

Email is useful when large numbers of staff need to be informed urgently.

Mailing lists exist for a number of organisational units and IT Services have a number of mailing lists related to services. Key IT announcements are sent to the subscription mailing list  it-update@bristol.ac.uk.

All-staff / student emails at all other times are coordinated by the Communications Manager and will be sent as necessary for timely information that is considered important to all staff and students.

Zonal team leaders also manage communications lists for Zonal areas and will cascade information to contacts for dissemination to staff / students.

5.1.3 Bulletins and newsletters

Weekly all-staff bulletins are distributed on a Thursday afternoon and are collated by Internal Communications in the Public Relations Office.  Where possible IT Services will use this channel to communicate key announcements. 

A monthly all student newsletter is collated by Internal Communications in the Public Relations Office. Where possible IT Services will use this channel to communicate key announcements. 

IT Services produces a monthly staff newsletter for IT staff to pull together information related to organisational and team activity.

IT Services produces a bulletin once every two months  for distribution to all staff on key IT activity.

5.1.4 Web

  • The IT Services' website contain news items, events and links to useful information for staff and students.
  • News and the IT status page are updated on a daily basis. Staff and students are encouraged to use the IT website, whether on or off campus, in order to keep up-to-date with staff-related information.
  • IT requests and the tracking of requests can be done by staff and students via the IT Service Desk (UoB only).
  • MyBristol, the University portal, provides access to University tools and services. The portal can be used to broadcast messages to staff and students and will be used for key announcements.  It is a main route for students to services.  However, as not all staff use the portal on a regular basis it will not be used as a main communication channel for that group.

5.1.5 Enterprise Social Network

IT Services will use enterprise social networks (Yammer) to enhance communications amongst staff and across teams. The IT Services Group in Yammer will be used to disseminate information to staff and allow for feedback and questions.  In addition, all staff in IT Services are free to use the IT Services Yammer group  to update colleagues on work related activity or to pose questions to staff on work related activity.  Other groups in Yammer are in place to discuss non-work related queries such as social events and advice on local tradesmen. Groups are also in place for location specific information. Many teams have created groups to aid communication between team or project members.  It should be noted that email is the preferred channel for time critical information to staff.

5.2 Secondary channels

The secondary channels listed here are a supplement to the primary channels in section 5.1. These channels have varying degrees of popularity and effectiveness as they are not consistently used across IT Services or the University.  It is sensible to consider a range of channels suitable to the target audience and use multiple channels in communications.

5.2.1 Notice boards / posters

There are many notice boards across the precinct for displaying information for staff and students. Zonal team leaders should arrange the use of notice boards so that information is advertised in a timely manner and, importantly, is removed when out of date.

5.2.2 Printed material

IT Services produce leaflets and handbooks for staff and students.  Should staff wish to produce any printed material, you are reminded of the IT style guidelines (IT staff) and asked to contact the IT Communications Manager.

5.2.3 Social media and digital signage

IT Services use blogs, wikis, twitter and Facebook to supplement communications with staff and students. These are complimentary channels as they cannot be relied upon to reach a majority of staff or students.

Staff are reminded that use of social media, as with all communication, is undertaken on behalf of the University, therefore is subject to the University’s Code of Conduct, the principles being respect and dignity in all correspondence.

IT Services have direct access to put communications of digital signage screens in some Libraries and in the Computer Centre.  There is also the potential to add content to screens used in other parts of the University.

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6. Communicating with non PC-based staff

Many members of staff do not have regular access to a PC to check the IT website or their email accounts and may be missing important information. It is the responsibility of line managers to ensure that information is passed to staff in a timely manner, either verbally or in print.  Emails will be kept to a brief and concise format to allow them to be easily read in print.

7. Communicating change

Programmes of change from IT Services will be more widely understood and accepted if staff are aware of the programme as early as possible. An understanding of the objectives and an involvement in the process will help staff and students to accept and embrace change. Communication needs to be a key consideration from the beginning of projects conducted by IT Services. The Communications Manager will provide support and guidance.

8. Professionalism in communication

In all communications staff are reminded of their responsibility to serve the interests of the University  and ensure appropriate content at all times. Communication is undertaken on behalf of IT Services and the University, therefore is subject to the University’s Code of Conduct, the principles being respect and dignity in all correspondence.

Staff should ensure appropriate response times are adhered to when communicating, particularly via email. During absence or when staff will not be able to respond in a reasonable time, staff should provide an out-of-office message for their emails with details of an alternative contact.

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9. Feedback and monitoring

Activity will be undertaken by IT Services to monitor satisfaction with communications including surveys with staff within IT Services and the wider University.

10. Further information

IT Services will review current practice on a regular basis to make improvements in order to provide effective communications channels and processes for staff and students.

The Communications Manager has responsibility for managing the key channels of communication and the application of this policy within IT Services.  The Communications Manager will assist IT staff to ensure compliance with the communications policy.

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James Brimble, Communications Manger, IT Services, 15 July 2011

(updated December 2014)