6 internal comms experts share their predictions on how the internal communication landscape may look like in a post-COVID-19 world.
The COVID-19 pandemic is drastically changing the workplace. The crisis is forcing businesses to reconsider their short and long-term goals and employees are urged to cope with new ways of working — welcome to the era of remote work!
Even though some shops and offices are about to reopen, most companies are still canceling their business trips while others are cutting off their marketing budgets, freezing hirings, and laying off a part of their workforce.
The thing is, COVID-19 is a global crisis with unprecedented impacts on public health as well as the global economy.
Research shows that the pandemic will push down the full-year gross domestic product (GDP) globally from the 2.5% that was forecasted in January 2020 to 0%. Consequently, businesses are adjusting their organizational structures, their ways of working as well as their employee communications.
The Key Role of the Internal Communications Function
Internal communications professionals play a critical role in their organization as they are the ones who, among with other teams, ensure that businesses run as smoothly as possible. They enable effective cross-departmental collaboration, ensure flawless communications, empower employees and engage with them, and they are also responsible for delivering a positive employee experience.
Put simply, the IC function is the heartbeat of any organization, and IC professionals’ role is even more critical in these uncertain and difficult times.
Think about it: employees have to cope with new ways of working and collaborating, which may lead to confusion and fear in the workplace.
While some of the workers were used to remote work before the coronavirus outbreak started a couple of months ago, it is a big change and challenge for others.
Not all employees have a good Internet connection or the right workspace at home. While parents are working at home all while keeping an eye on their children, other remote employees may feel lonely during the outbreak.
Team leaders now have to manage remote teams scattered around the globe and ensure a smooth collaboration with other departments while business leaders have to find new ways to build trust in the workplace and protect employees against the pandemic.
In these unprecedented (and chaotic) times, IC experts are redoubling their efforts to keep businesses running as smoothly as possible.
They’re building new strategies in no time to ensure cross-functional collaboration, connect and engage with employees, maintain workplace productivity, and most importantly — protect employees’ safety and wellbeing during the crisis.
The success of the strategies they launch during the pandemic is going to have a direct impact on how well businesses will recover from the crisis.
Experts agree that the future of work is happening now. So, how is the COVID-19 pandemic changing internal communications? How the new IC strategies are helping businesses build resilience during these challenging times? What changes are going to stay when the lockdown ends?
We’ve asked these questions to internal communication leaders across the world and here’s what they had to say:
6 Internal Comms Experts Explain How COVID-19 Is Changing Internal Communications
Kriti Pradhan, Internal & External Communication, Digital HR Brand, Driving Innovation as Culture – BCCL (The Times Group)
“In the last few weeks, COVID-19 has spread globally. While a complete lockdown and several other significant measures are being taken by various Governments, medical institutions, and organizations to control the situation, we, as responsible individuals, can extend our support to contain the spread further. Social distancing, accountable and thoughtful communication, maintaining hygiene, following Government instructions are some of the steps we can take to ensure the safety of our family members, friends, and ours.
As a communication professional, this is an appropriate time to structure our thoughts and create a framework to ensure that the employees are aware of the situation, feel engaged, and see this as an opportunity to upgrade and upskill while maintaining their mental and physical wellbeing.
As an organization, we need to be proactive, address their concerns/questions, and ensure that we bring a sense of comfort and trust while ensuring business continuity.
Based on this premise, the first step is to define your communication landscape and segment it into 4 broad areas:
In short, not only does LEAP help you address the employee population, but it also defines areas of work.
The next step is to define your message as it has to be consistent and amplified through the appropriate channels:
- Define your segments – Know what to say to whom, each target audience has a different appetite.
- Communicate – Follow the 5W1H principle and create your communication around that.
- Time is of the essence – Check your facts, avoid miscommunication, and ensure real-time communication.
- Tonality is important – Make it conversational as there are enough preachers around. Dealing with a multi-generational workforce has its own plus and minus.
- Two-way traffic – Create two-way communications because you don’t want a monologue. Eventually, your audience might get tired and stop reading. Always have a “call-for-action” as it helps gauge the sentiment.
- Measure – Check what went right, what could have been better as that’s the only way to improve.
I must say that the ultimate measure of an individual is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and adversity. This is the time for each communication professional to rise to this challenge and make a difference”.
Khaner Walker, Director, Global Internal and External Communications at Lenovo
“We’ve always worked with our colleagues in Legal and HR, but a tight interlock with IT is so critical right now to reach the full potential of Internal Comm’s digital transformation.
At Lenovo, we’re employing a wide variety of platforms and each of them must be safe for each of our employees to use, running smoothly, and easy for us as communicators to work within and update. I firmly believe that working remotely is here to stay, and we’ll only see an increased need for this close collaboration going forward”.
Laura Edwards, Head of Internal Communications at Marsh Commercial
“We’re having to rethink our approach to communication to ensure we can communicate effectively with our colleagues.
Whilst we had a digital approach before, we must utilize this even further to encourage collaboration. At such times, we want to encourage colleagues to connect with one another and help each other through this. For this reason, we’re using employee comms platforms that allow us to better communicate and collaborate during the pandemic.
We’re also heavily focusing on our employees’ wellbeing — it has always been important but now it’s at the forefront.
And finally, as it is usual in times of crisis, comms are being seen as a vital function to the delivery of our business, which feels great!”
Caitlin Stonehouse, Internal Communications Manager at CommSec
“There is a lot of uncertainty in the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and everyone is being bombarded with information both in and out of the workplace.
In times of crisis, opportunities can arise, and right now there is a huge one for Internal Communications.
In this pandemic, we have a critical role to keep our people informed and not add to the uncertainty by championing clear, effective communication that gives people the information they need at the time they need it.
That has always been our role, but what I’ve seen in this crisis is not the staging of a revolution, but an evolution for Internal Communications as many more leaders and companies realize even further the value of our function and what it can deliver.
Effective internal communication right now is non-negotiable.
This crisis, I believe, has also officially formalized the shift away from the old ways of working in internal comms. Though this may not be news for some, there is no longer space for lengthy updates or the opportunity of Town Hall meetings that bring everyone together in person.
We have to adapt and get our messages across in ways that will reach and resonate in every home office, dining table or workspace. Our tools, approach, and delivery must be able to be agile and reach our people wherever they are, and this crisis has demonstrated that very clearly”.
Rotem Slupski, Internal Communications Director at Sheba Medical Center
“The COVID-19 crisis holds a great opportunity to strengthen internal communication in organizations and to prove itself as an irreplaceable function.
Internal communication has shifted these days from passing on the organization’s values or updating about current events to building endurance among the teams and to mentally support our employees who live in a time of great uncertainty.
Our main goals and responsibilities in the near future are to reduce the levels of anxiety and uncertainty, to enhance the sense of belonging and — while bearing in mind the intensive work in the healthcare sector — to maintain high morale.
Internal communicators will have to respond quickly to needs and questions that arise from the employees, mostly to be transparent and share information but simultaneously to be proactive and anticipate those needs in advance. These actions will build trust and make our employees our best ambassadors.
I also believe that while the social distancing restrictions will continue to take place, the workplace will fill a larger place in people’s lives as it will be one of the few places to meet other people. Internal communication can use that to increase engagement within teams.
Internal communicators in the healthcare sector will have to adapt to the new reality of remote workers, as until now they relied on them to come physically to clinics and departments. By doing all that, the internal communication will have a key role in connecting everyone in their organization, from management to employees, wherever they are”.
Stacey Keegan, Senior Director, Global Communications at Marvell Semiconductor
“Internal communication plays a significant role in improving overall employee satisfaction by providing a sense of value, respect, and trust. When you engage your employees, you empower them to contribute in a meaningful and positive way to the business.
In helping a company navigate through times of crisis, I’ve found that it really comes down to finding the right balance and cadence of communications, and in leveraging the strengths and expertise of your organization’s executive leadership team.
There should be an emphasis placed on the strategic value of who is going to communicate what. Particularly with COVID-19, we have seen companies update guidelines and employee FAQs in accordance with new information weekly, sometimes daily. This volume of communications should not fall on one leader. Instead, assign thematic platforms across the bench and engage with your audience as appropriate.
How companies manage internal communications right now can ultimately make or break their brand. And, if you aren’t doing everything you can to empower your employees to become brand ambassadors, you’re missing out on a powerful force”.
Internal Communications in a Post-COVID-19 World
The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing business leaders to rethink the importance of the internal communications function in their organization.
While internal communications used to be seen as a function that supports other functions in the business, CEOs now are realizing that IC professionals are strategic partners who play a proactive role in business continuity.
Together with the HR, Management, and Change Management teams, IC professionals build new strategies in no time to ensure that remote teams effectively collaborate and employees instantly get the information they need — from urgent updates to educational materials and safety guidelines.
An agile approach to business continuity must bring together the right mix of employee communications, technologies and leadership. Business leaders who overlook the role of internal communication may have a hard time building resilience for their business.
As mentioned earlier, the future of work is happening now. New strategies implemented by IC teams to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak and build resilience are here to stay after the lockdown.
Some of these changes that may remain with us after the coronavirus crisis include:
The rise of remote work
Experts agree that companies will keep offering flexible work arrangements after the COVID-19 crisis.
If remote work becomes the new normal as predicted by experts and researchers, companies will have to keep rethinking their internal processes and embrace the right technology to support collaboration and communication with remote teams.
Employees’ safety and wellbeing as a top priority
There is no doubt that organizations will take a closer look at their safety policies in the future.
While having a clear and robust safety policy in place used to be seen as a legal requirement, business leaders are now realizing the impacts safety and health policies have on their business and how they can protect and even save employees.
It is also more likely that IC experts will continue to support employees’ morale and mental health as remote work may continue to grow in the near future.
The importance of targeted and real-time communications
Business leaders are realizing that sending out email newsletters to the entire workforce is not the best way to inform and engage employees.
IC teams are taking the workplace communication to the next level by segmenting their internal audiences, personalizing the messages they share with employees, and shifting their strategies to real-time communications.
There is no doubt that IC experts will keep using content marketing tactics to leverage their strategies and support employees.
The increasing scope of IC professionals’ roles and responsibilities within their organization
CEOs are now realizing the critical role their IC team plays in their organization. Internal communicators are the ones who ensure effective communication and collaboration between departments. They make sure that everyone has a good understanding of the business’s goals and is aligned with the company’s strategy. They implement the right technologies to embrace digital transformation and support employees’ productivity.
In other words, IC experts have a direct impact on how successful a business is and COVID-19 is leading executives to give them the attention they deserve.