Internal Communication Trends for 2021: The Five Big Changes

Stuart Sinclair - October 20, 2020

The workplace has always been a place of change and transformation. Every year brings different challenges and new ways of working. However, the events of 2020 have accelerated the rate of change like never before. The Covid-19 pandemic has created many challenges and difficulties. It has also placed the role of internal communications in the spotlight. Often side-lined and overlooked, the internal communications department is now getting some well-deserved attention.

Today’s organisations are facing a working environment of increasing complexity; the employee base is changing, remote working is becoming 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 rapidly changing world. We take a look at the trends in internal communication that will be making their mark in 2021 and how they will change the face of business as you know it.

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1. The rising prominence of the IC role

What’s changed?

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 year 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. Suddenly, outdated systems and poor staff uptake have been highlighted for urgent improvement and investment.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?

In short, internal communications professionals will start to feel more valued in their role in 2021. According to an IoIC Covid-19 Survey, 90% believe the situation will have a positive benefit on the internal communication profession. While there has been significant increase to the workload, IC professionals are also reporting improved engagement with employees and a more significant 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 improved investment in new technologies and practical solutions over the coming year.

2. The digital transformation of the workplace

What’s changed?

With the sudden switch to remote working, 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 of vital importance, 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 is working remotely 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?

Many companies are finding that digital is the answer. 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 attract employee’s attention instantly and reliably track the impact of the communications. This has seen a dramatic rise in the uptake of the internal communications app, a software platform that effortlessly connects all employees across the digital space.

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3. The inclusion of the frontline worker

What’s changed?

One of the most obvious internal communications trends to surface is the sudden awareness of the frontline worker. Previously overlooked, these key workers are now top of the priority list. Now, when leaders are reviewing communicating with employees, the frontline worker is their number one concern.

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 when it comes to 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, things have to change. It’s no longer good enough to post a memo on the intranet and hope they get to hear about it somehow. 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 increased need for real-time information

What’s changed?

Time is now 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 now always in flux. A rule that applied on Monday may need to change on Tuesday morning. When it comes to communicating change, 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?

Suddenly, 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 has the ability to connect to employees via their smartphone, or indeed whichever software platform they prefer. This makes it simple to circulate real-time updates across the organisation, ensuring everyone receives the same message at the same time. Instant messaging is becoming one of the key types of internal communication in 2021.

5. The greater focus on employee wellbeing

What’s changed?

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. Research from CIPR has shown that two in three employees now feel more burned-out than before the pandemic. In addition, it’s also important to assess whether remote workers are working in a safe environment.

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.

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