We asked Mike Klein, Internal Communication Expert and Principal of Changing The Terms, how he sees the internal communication landscape evolving in the #PostCorona world. Here’s what he had to say:
On the surface, the story of internal communication during the COVID-19 epidemic has been a great success story, with organizations calling on their in-house IC personnel to organize and deliver critical notices and other information to protect employees while enabling business continuity.
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Indeed, if that’s all there is/was to say, that would be a positive and praiseworthy story. But to focus on it alone would exclude the massive opportunity for internal communication to help reshape the way business is done, and for IC practitioners to shape the #PostCorona future rather than be shaped by events.
It’s not optional — IC professionals need to act to shape the future
Some may argue that this might not be the time or place to start this conversation, while the disease is running its course, so many IC professionals are either occupied on COVID-19 crisis duties, or are trying to get themselves redeployed into new work opportunities.
But whether or not this conversation is “appropriate”, it is comprehensively imperative.
While it is impossible to conclusively predict the future, we know enough about a number of trends to have ideas about how society and its enterprises will move through the COVID-19 recovery process.
- Remote/distributed working during the crisis will have generated an unprecedented level of acceptance for roles not requiring physical positions.
- Considerable job losses are displacing millions of workers who will likely to move over to different organizations after the economy restarts.
- The gap between the end of the lockdown periods and the 9-18 months anticipated for a vaccine indicates a need for continued social distancing after the full lockdowns end.
- Ongoing requirements for social distancing will mean no “return to normal” for a wide range of sectors, such as air travel, restaurants, educational institutions, public transport, college and professional sports, live event producers, cinemas and others serving high densities of customers.
- Continued social distancing would also likely mean a continuation of remote-heavy workforces. Some organizations will likely look more widely, perhaps even globally, for talent. This could lead to new adaptations of diversity and inclusion issues for these workplaces.
- Varying government bailouts on the one hand, and bleeding of liquidity on the other, will likely lead to considerable international merger and acquisition activities, as more cash-rich companies see opportunities in a “fire sale” on assets.
A different world
Add up these trends, and the #PostCorona world looks tangibly different from the world we have known. It also looks like a world rife with opportunity for smart internal communication people. Here are some of the opportunities I see:
- Supporting and sustaining a compelling organizational context will require the best available internal comms technology – and the most creative IC minds to apply it.
- Traditional IC tactics like luxurious management conferences and other high-density face-to-face communication interventions are unlikely to be feasible until a vaccine emerges, and may be hard to defend cost-wise thereafter.
- Onboarding has often been problematic, especially in large organizations. What happens when onboarding meets the large-scale recruitment of remote/distributed workforces? Will induction into practices and policies still be the focus? Or will there be a need to actively facilitate and navigate a brand new kind of employee experience?
- On the other side of onboarding, the tribality of surviving legacy employees will likely become vital and problematic at the same time. Vital: as the relationships between people who know each other and know how things work will effectively replace physical locations as the core of companies’ activities. Problematic: as even the best onboarding is unlikely to drive and nurture all of the new relationships required to make new employees effective.
- Most organizations have resisted relationship mapping or Organizational Network Analysis, but its use before and after hiring waves and before acquisitions may finally start to make mainstream sense, as they offer a way to assess and adjust their increasingly intangible organizational assets.
- Surviving organizations will also likely to become more serious consumers and analyzers of organizational data, and IC folk who are competent with data and capable of driving their measurement agendas will be more strongly positioned to influence organizational decisions.
- Managerial communication will retain its importance, but not its form. Listening, monitoring and engaging on-line will need to complement increasingly limited off-line elements of this long-prioritized IC role.
There are many things IC professionals can do to identify and illustrate the changes that we’re likely to see, and those they want to see.
This is a conversation we need to have in our communities: be they associations like IABC, where I’ve been involved for 19 years, or the Institute of Internal Communication in the UK, where Jennifer Sproul (by fellow guest next week) serves ably as its Executive Director, or in more informal IC groups.
My view: we need other people writing online about the future they want and the future that makes sense in the world that is emerging. This isn’t about “getting some blogs out.” It’s about creating some common views about what this picture “should” and “will” look like to help guide the way things will emerge.
We also need to challenge people — practitioners and leaders equally — who talk about “getting back to normal”. We must actively discourage denial of the changes that are taking place and their organizational and societal impacts.
Most of all, we need to help each other stay strong. We need to watch out for each other, and we need to take care of ourselves. There are tough times ahead. But with commitment and intelligence, we can help shape those times, instead of simply being shaped by them.
About Mike: Mike Klein is an internal communicator with twenty years of experience in the field in the US and Europe. He has IC experience with global organizations including Shell, Maersk, easyJet, Barclays, and Omnicom. Mike is the 2018-2019 Chair of IABC’s Europe – Middle East – North Africa region and is the founder of Changing The Terms. Mike has recently joined Smarp’s Strategic Services Team to help our enterprise customers take their employee communications strategies to the next level.
What’s next? Download the eBook “Building a Better Company with Internal Communications” where we share more tips and best practices for crafting an effective internal communication plan during and after the COVID-19 outbreak.