Internal communicators will have their work cut out for them again this year as we head into the second year of global uncertainty and rapid change being caused by the coronavirus and its impact on businesses.
Keeping up with the latest internal communication trends and learning from what other businesses are doing can help solve any internal communications headaches you might be experiencing.
Lessons learned from 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented in the way it affected organizations around the world. Some businesses were hit very hard as a result of shutdowns and economic downturn, while others thrived. Some were able to transition their workforces to remote work successfully, while others struggled. And for other industries, front-line workers still had to attend their workplace, but with added safety measures to help keep them safe from the virus.
As a result, internal communications were critical to keeping employees informed about all these changes, particularly as situations could change quickly. Organizations came to value and respect this function.
A survey by the Institute of Internal Communication found that 90% of internal communications professionals surveyed felt that their response to the crisis would likely benefit the profession’s long-term credibility.
The survey found that 66% felt that leaders in their organizations were looking to help guide them through the crisis, and 71% had experienced a significant increase in their workload or capacity.
Internal communication trends to incorporate in 2021
Many organizations have had to change their approach to communication to communicate effectively, embracing new methods and channels to ensure that they reached their intended audience.
The lessons learned from 2020 will help to shape internal communications in the year ahead, with these internal communication trends ones to consider adopting:
1. Cutting through the “noise” to get your message across
With employees having to access so many different platforms and tools in the workplace, many can feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they receive each day and may ignore critical information. This includes emails, instant messenger notifications, video calls, corporate social media posts, intranet content, and so on, coupled with all the notifications they get all day long in their private life on smartphones.
Given the urgency of the information, you’ll likely need to communicate in the year ahead about closures, outbreaks, safety precautions, vaccinations etc, having a “single source of truth” that employees know they can trust and know will provide them with official information is essential.
The internal communication trend to follow is having a system in place to cut through all this noise. For example, pop-up alerts are an excellent way to do this, overriding other software programs to keep everyone in the loop.
2. Continued focus on health and wellbeing
With the pandemic taking its toll on people and case numbers rising in many parts of the world, employees will need more help and support than ever before - particularly if they are recovering from the virus or have lost a loved one to the virus. There are other issues too, like mental health and workplace health and safety messages around PPE and ergonomics and this is an internal communication trend we expect to see much more of this year.
Internal communicators will have to keep finding innovative ways to share these messages and ensure that they cut through. Online tools are invaluable, such as portals on the intranet or even apps for smartphones that employees can access 24/7 to get the help, support, and advice they need.
3. Reaching frontline employees like never before
Non-desk workers have traditionally been hard to reach for internal communicators. When they don’t have access to the information they need, they can become disengaged, feel disconnected, make mistakes or listen to rumors and other incorrect an unofficial information.
The pandemic has sped up the trend to improve communication for non-desk workers through digital tools such as apps that help to keep these employees up-to-date with the latest advice and information from management, no matter where they are working.
4. Increasing use of data
Internal communications professionals increasingly measure the impact and effectiveness of their communication efforts. Having access to analytics and other data measurement tools can help determine the impact of the internal communications channels being used and the content.
Suppose you don’t know what content your employees are responding to and engaging with (your internal communication KPIs). In that case, it could result in a lot of wasted time if you continue to create content that isn’t getting any traction.
5. More focus on the employee experience
HR departments are increasingly implementing what they call the “employee experience” into their processes.
Internal comms has a role to play in this to help embed it in the company’s culture, to ensure that all employees have a streamlined and consistent experience working at the company - from when they are first recruited until they leave the organization.
Good communication is key to this, and ensures that throughout the journey the employee understands what the company is trying to achieve and what their role is in making that happen.
6. Developing communications practices for ongoing flexibility
According to a Ragan Communications survey, 75% of workers who have had access to increased workplace flexibility during the pandemic would like to keep having it in the future.
Internal communications protocols, tools, and channels adopted during the pandemic should also be done with one eye on the future if this really does become the “new normal” in the workplace.
Measures put in place now should consider:
- Whether they will enable employees to collaborate and be productive in the future
- Whether they will stop “silos” from forming when people are not physically in the same location
7. Having a role in the virtual onboarding process
With many organizations working remotely, it can be challenging to get recruits on-boarded when they aren’t attending the physical office environment and aren’t meeting their new manager and co-workers face-to-face.
In the pre-COVID times, a Robert Half survey around 60% of managers have had new employees leave during the probation period - with poor onboarding processes usually to blame.
If employees feel lost, confused, unsupported, forgotten or bored they will start to reconsider whether the company is the right fit for them - and may look to jump ship quickly. It’s even more complicated when they are sitting at home isolated from the team.
Good communications policies and practices can help overcome this, and internal communication departments have a crucial role in designing how this will work in their organizations.
Get more ideas on onboarding employees during COVID.
8. Increasing need and appetite for on-demand content
On-demand content such as pre-recorded video messages, workshops, quizzes, seminars and lectures is an internal communication trend that has become part of everyday life in the COVID-19 world. People have become used to watching content at a time that suits them and can, therefore, fit more learning and development into their schedules.
Previously when this content was available via face-to-face delivery only, employees would often miss out if they had scheduling conflicts.
9. Broadcasting leadership messages
Holding significant corporate events such as townhalls and roadshows is becoming quite difficult. They often take a lot of planning and with lockdowns and other restrictions changing all the time, all that work and planning could be for nothing. Even when they can go ahead, social distancing, limits on numbers of people, and wearing masks can make them less effective - particularly if you have to exclude a large number of people from attending.
Broadcasting to the entire organization helps to overcome this. It means you don’t have to go on the road to deliver messages at different worksites in the company which reduces costs - and you can reach everyone at the same time so that there isn’t a delay in information being shared to different sites. And when you have the content available as “on-demand” - those employees who weren’t at work that day don’t have to miss out.
10. Increased focus on diversity and inclusion
2020 wasn’t all about the pandemic: it was also a year with a lot of activism and push for social change, peaking with the global protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the middle of the year. Businesses are increasingly focusing on their inclusiveness and conveying this to their external clients.
It’s a mistake to overlook employees in this as well: they want to know what their employer is doing to make their workplace a diverse and inclusive one.
Telling stories about diversity and inclusiveness is just part of it. You can also have images that are more representative of your diverse workforce - and these can be used on screensavers, digital signage, and other content.
11. Acknowledging the role internal comms has in crisis management
Internal comms professionals have historically been frustrated at being overlooked and not having a seat at the table in many organizations when there is a crisis. Too often, companies in the midst of a crisis make the mistake of focusing on the external world: media, government, clients, partners and other external stakeholders.
COVID-19 has forced many organizations to acknowledge that internal communications are just as important as external communications when managing a crisis. In some circumstances, it is even more important.
Learn more about how COVID changed communication in companies.
With conspiracy theories, “fake news” and rumors on the rise, it’s vital that employees are provided with timely and accurate information from a reliable source and aren’t learning about things second-hand or third-hand.
12. Demand for real-time information has risen
Getting information out quickly and accurately has become extremely important given the pace of change and the speed at which information can become outdated and obsolete. It’s particularly important when it means the difference between employees being safe and employees being in danger.
Tools such as emergency alert notifications which can be deployed in a matter of seconds are one of the latest trends in internal communications that are a good way to ensure you can reach everyone in the workforce with critical information fast.
13. Giving employees a voice
Two-way communication has needed to evolve and be embraced to ensure that management knows what employees are doing and how they feel.
Leaders have to listen more and act upon the information they receive to make improvements. One-on-one discussions are quite valuable for gathering this information, but surveys and polls can also help employees give information in a way they may feel more comfortable with.
Hopefully, this is an internal communication trend that is here to stay beyond the pandemic, improving company cultures.
14. Strengthening the brand from the inside
In recent years there has been an increased focus on strengthening the company’s brand, including its purpose and mission, and making employees brand ambassadors. Improving employee engagement is part of this, as is focusing on internal branding to ensure that what you project to the outside world is consistent with how the company acts and behaves internally. This includes graphics and other design elements but goes further to include language, actions, behaviors, transparency and accountability.
15. Embracing automation in internal communications
Busy internal communications professionals can get ahead of their workdays’ demands by creating and scheduling content in advance when things are “quiet” to save time later when things are busy. Creating editorial content calendars and workflows can also assist with this.
These internal communication trends build on what we have learned throughout 2020 and no doubt will be further built upon and honed in 2021 to adapt to emerging and unforeseen issues. One thing is for sure, internal communications professionals are essential to every organization to help keep employees informed, engaged and safe.