Google’s Community Guidelines Demonstrate a Tighter Internal Comms Grip

Last week, Google released community guidelines for employees. The suggestions came as a response to employee discord on everything from sexual misconduct policies, to the representation of conservative political viewpoints. 

A workplace heralded for employing the best and the brightest, Google loudly celebrated its progressive stance in the otherwise restrictive ecosphere of corporate America. As a result, companies began to strive to build cultures mimicking Google so they could attract brilliant and meaningful recruits. Google emphasized the importance of free thinking and speech as part of its ethos. 

As a company grows, so does the variety of personalities and backgrounds of employees, which contribute to the promotion of diverse creations and thinking. Ultimately, the addition of diverse opinions should help the company become more well-rounded.

Growth, however, can yield growing pains. At almost 100,000 employees, Google management felt it needed to revisit and remind staff of the importance of work. In addition, it wanted to reel in what it felt were wasteful and hurtful discussions. 

The new Google community guidelines say: “While sharing information and ideas with colleagues helps build community, disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story does not. Our primary responsibility is to do the work we’ve each been hired to do, not to spend working time on debates about non-work topics.”

Did Google communicate these ideas effectively? Will employees embrace and accept this shift in culture or feel repressed? Time will tell. 

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

In addition to releasing the guidelines, Google announced it would create a team of monitors. It's their job to oversee employee discussions on internal forums. If an employee goes afoul of Google's guidelines, the staffer could receive a reminder from management. In addition, the worker could be subject to “other actions as appropriate in response to significant or repeated policy violations.”

For Google, a company known for housing massive amounts of public data and promoting digital privacy, harnessing an internal communications task force of sorts may strike some employees the wrong way. This is especially so since the brand has made its name promoting freedom of expression and ideas within its workforce. 

Annual Review of Community Guidelines

Google is a massive company. Its workforce of more than 104,000 employees is dynamic. Hundreds of employees change their status daily. Large groups join and leave the ranks of Google employees regularly.

Google keeps up with lighting-fast changes in technology. Similarly, it must now pay careful attention to its employee culture. If the new community guidelines stand any chance of success, they need to be as dynamic and fluid as the company's workforce. 

A best practice for most companies has Human Resources, internal communicators and senior leadership gathering yearly to examine policies, values and community guidelines. Should they find anything that may have become outdated or shifted, it's best to update guidelines and corporate values.  It is much easier to get work done when employees understand and agree on a company ethos.

Empower Employees Through Extensive Communication

Google’s new internal moderation system may ruffle feathers. Alienating employees can be a lot to handle in an environment where staffers are accustomed to think and speak freely. The imposition of moderating forces runs the risk of disrupting the energy of Google's staff. A culture of fear could result, reducing the free flow of work-related ideas.  

Google's internal communicators may be able to bridge this gap. One of the keys will be to discuss the guidelines openly. By prompting timely, forward and honest discussions about new guidelines and processes, Google and other companies can lead employees to feel empowered to ask questions or comment on policies. This sort of openness creates a culture where staff feel they are part of a solution, instead of a problem. 

Another best practice is to emphasize internal communication. Making it part of an employee’s training puts it on par with network safety or guidance on harassment.