This time last year, we were all talking about the ‘new normal’. A year on, the radically transformed workplace has become just ‘normal’. The pandemic brought a whole raft of different challenges and new ways of working, accelerating the rate of change like never before. The role of internal communications is now in the spotlight and getting some well-deserved attention. But how does it fit into today’s modern workplace?
Today’s organisations face a working environment of increasing complexity; the employee base is changing, remote working is now the norm, the need for information is more crucial than ever, and the digital workplace is becoming increasingly sophisticated. In order to thrive in such a challenging business situation, the internal communications strategy needs to be ready to adapt.
This blog explores the evolution of employee communication in this complex new reality. We take a look at the trends in internal communication that will be making their mark in 2022 and how they will change the face of business as you know it.
1. The continued prominence of the IC role
Anyone who works in IC understands the importance of internal communication. We know that effective internal communication is the answer to driving change in the workplace and ensuring strong employee engagement. However, convincing senior management to invest in our plans has often been a struggle. In fact, the investment in the internal communication function has been absurdly low; the equivalent of the cost of a chocolate bar per employee per month, according to Reba.
However, times have changed. The challenges of the last two years have put a spotlight on the vital role of internal communication. The need to communicate quickly and effectively with employees has become a pressing concern. Outdated systems and poor staff uptake have been highlighted for urgent improvement and investment. That archaic employee intranet that has been overlooked for so long is now top of the meeting agenda. It is no longer acceptable that none of the remote workers have access to updated software.
What’s the impact?
Internal communications professionals started to feel more valued in their role last year. This year, they’ve climbed even higher on the company priority list. While there has been a significant increase in the workload, IC professionals also report improved engagement with employees and a more substantial role in the leadership team. It appears the internal communication definition has been expanded and magnified to encompass a much higher-ranking significance. We can expect to see continued investment in new technologies and practical solutions over the coming year.
2. The digital transformation of the workplace
As remote working becomes more ingrained into our working lives, internal communications tools have come under urgent review. Traditional methods of internal communication such as printed newsletters, town hall meetings and conferences are no longer viable. Even the well-established channels of email and intranet are coming into question. When every communication is vital, it’s no longer acceptable to be unable to track whether it has been received. Measuring internal communications has taken on a new level of significance.
Of course, not everyone will be working remotely throughout 2022, and this brings its own issues. Some employees will be office-based, some will be working from home, and others will be on the road. But wherever they are, they need to be contactable at all times in the event of an emergency. It’s become clear that organisations need to be equipped with internal communication channels that can reach people instantly, without fail, wherever they are.
What’s the impact?
Over the last year, many companies have found that digital is the answer, and this trend is set to gather pace. They can communicate more effectively and immediately via digital channels. Whether this is real-time notifications, video conferencing or corporate social media, the key difference is the ability to instantly attract employees’ attention and reliably track the impact of the communications. We can expect to see a continued uptake of the internal communications app, a software platform that effortlessly connects all employees across the digital space.
3. The focus on the frontline worker
One of the most apparent internal communications trends to surface last year was the sudden awareness of the frontline worker. Previously overlooked, these key workers suddenly became top of the priority list. Now, when leaders are reviewing communicating with employees, the frontline worker is their number one concern. They have become a prime focus.
Who are these employees? They may be dealing with customers or patients; they may be creating the product or out on the road delivering the goods. In short, they are the people who make things happen. It has become increasingly clear that frontline workers are amongst the most important employees in the organisation. However, these people are traditionally the most underserved regarding access to technology. When it comes to effective communication in the workplace, these are the employees who have drawn the short straw.
What’s the impact?
Now that frontline workers have become a priority within the internal communications plan, we’re starting to connect better than ever before. It’s now entirely accepted that it is no longer good enough to post a memo on the intranet and hope they somehow get to hear about it. Frontline workers need access to communication tools and technology that connects with them instantly. An internal communication platform has been the solution for many organisations. The easy-to-implement employee app re-establishes channels and creates a network of team-building connections.
4. The demand for real-time information
The workplace of 2022 has become a fast-paced environment. Time is of the essence. Whereas once it was perfectly fine to fire out an email and wait for employees across the company to read it over the course of the week, this is no longer an option. It is now one of the critical internal communication best practices to ensure that messages are delivered instantly.
The directives, policies and news you need to share with staff are constantly in flux. A rule that applied on Monday may need to change on Tuesday morning. When it comes to communicating change, a delay isn’t just undesirable; it could also be dangerous. If there is a time lag in passing on crucial information, people will continue to act in a way that could end up endangering their own health and safety.
What’s the impact?
Everyone’s talking about real-time notifications, pop-up messages and instant messaging. The need for instant connection has come to the fore. An internal communications app can connect to employees via their smartphone or whichever software platform they prefer. This makes it simple to circulate real-time updates across the organisation, ensuring everyone receives the same message simultaneously. Instant messaging is becoming one of the critical types of internal communication in 2022.
5. The emphasis on mental health and wellbeing
A new awareness of mental health and workplace health issues is one of the main trends in internal communication. Employee health and wellbeing has always been on the agenda, but in truth, it’s been rather low on the list. Faced with a choice of publishing the latest sales figures or running a poll on the office mood, previously, the report would always have taken priority. However, if you’re looking to improve internal communication, wellbeing should be one of your main concerns.
In addition to the risk of the coronavirus affecting your employees, there are also numerous mental and physical health issues that can arise during this time. Isolation, stress and anxiety are very real problems and all need to be addressed with sensitivity. Mental health has been brought into sharp focus, and the savvy employer will take note of this trend. According to McKinsey, 96% of companies provided additional mental health resources in 2021. However, only one in six employees reported feeling supported. The takeaway? We need to do better.
What’s the impact?
Opening up feedback channels has never been more important. Whether you send out an extensive internal communications survey or a quick pulse poll, it’s vital to know how your employees are feeling. There is a new internal communications trend developing towards monitoring the ongoing health of the organisation and its people. Regular and scheduled check-ups are now an essential part of the internal communication process. After all, healthy and happy employees are the key to business success.
6. The need to build trust
The opening events of 2022 have plunged our trust in the government to an all-time low. But it’s not just Boris who’s letting us down. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, our confidence in the media, social media, and of course, the government is at a crisis point. The Barometer points to “an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world.”
However, businesses can take this opportunity to shine. In 2022, they have the chance to become a trusted institution in the eyes of their employees, acting in an ethical and competent manner that builds rather than destroys trust. This trust can be built in part by the internal communications role of communicating change to employees. By imparting the rapidly changing guidelines and updates in a timely, reliable manner, they are creating a bond of confidence that was previously not in play.
What’s the impact?
Never has accuracy and information quality been so important. It’s crucial that what is being sent out is not only 100% correct but also easily understood and digested by every employee. The role of internal communication is now to act as the guardian of information accuracy. By implementing technology that allows for the review and ultimate control of outgoing communications, you’ll be able to build that critical element of trust with your employee base.