Returning to Work: The Role of Internal Communication

Stuart Sinclair - September 3, 2020

As the country slowly emerges from lockdown, offices are beginning to re-open their doors. Remote workers are going back to their desks, albeit in a very different environment from the one they left earlier in the year. So what does this mean for internal communications? How can you can ensure that your internal communications strategy meets the complex requirements of the new normal?

It is clear that the role of internal communication is more crucial than ever before. A survey by the Institute of Internal Communications revealed that two-thirds of workers believe leadership will be relying on internal communications for guidance in the aftermath of the pandemic. While this is a testing time for everyone, there is a suggestion that it could be blessing in disguise for internal comms teams. The research shows that 90% assert that Covid-19 will end up having a positive impact on the profession.

The coming months will be a busy time for internal communication teams. Their primary focus will be to re-engage the workforce and help them confidently navigate the new processes and procedures of the office environment. Communicating with employees has never been more important, and more challenging. In this blog, we take a look at the new internal communication roles and responsibilities, and how these can be simply integrated into your existing internal communications plan.

Issues to Address:

When it’s time to re-open the doors, a definitive strategy is required. You’ll need highly effective internal communication in order to introduce the new normality to employees and ensure their safety, whilst impacting the business as little as possible in the process.

1. New rules and safety procedures

Your top priority will be the health and safety of your employees. As an employer, you have a duty of care over your workforce and need to ensure every effort is made to safeguard your workers’ well-being.

A key role of role of internal communication in an organisation is to pass on the new rules and safety procedures required by law. Employees will expect the strictest measures to be implemented; sufficient spacing, one-way systems, deep cleans, staggered start times and the closure of social spaces. The benefits of good internal communication really come to the fore when you need to communicate such crucial information.

2. New working processes

It’s not only the office environment that will be affected by the new regulations in place. Interactions between both colleagues and clients will need to adhere to the guidelines, with social distancing making a dramatic difference to standard working processes.

Every job function will be affected differently by the new regulations, and it is the role of internal communication in an organization to clearly explain every new process. For example, salespeople who would historically spend a lot of time travelling and meeting clients face-to-face will have to scale back their physical interactions and implement virtual meetings as the new normality. Communicating change is a complex and challenging task.

3. Managing and communicating with remote workers

Some remote workers will be returning to the office, others will continue to work remotely until measures have eased further. The management of these employees is crucial to ensure productivity is not lost through misunderstandings and lack of engagement.

A recent survey carried out by Salesforce revealed that many employees have developed a taste for working from home. The lack of commute and increased family time has been seen as a bonus by many workers; 41% appreciated the increased flexibility and 39% enjoyed the opportunity to work remotely. With this in mind, it is essential that your employee communication is sensitive to the possible resistance that may come with a return to the office.

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New Role of Internal Communication: The 5 R’s

With these game-changing issues in mind, it quickly becomes clear that the internal communications role needs to adapt and adjust to the new reality. Below, we explain the role of communication in business organization and how it will have to modify its objectives. Here are the five R’s that will need to take place within your internal communication strategy.

#1 Restore communications

Time Magazine has labelled the business reaction to the pandemic as “the world’s largest working from home experiment”. Certainly, the speed at which organisations mobilised their workforce from office to home was extraordinary. However, the result is now a dispersed workforce with both in-house and remote working employees. And this is a difficult position for the internal communications department to find itself in.

The aim should now be to fully restore communications across the entire company, ensuring that every single employee is kept in the loop. Whether employees are back in the office or still working from home, the internal communication best practices need to be upheld and maintained. Your internal communication channels need to be working flawlessly, whatever your employees’ working situation.

Our advice: An internal communication app will seamlessly deliver communications company-wide. It allows employees to use their favourite hardware or software platform, thereby eliminating possible barriers.

#2 Re-establish mission & values

During a crisis situation, the company message will have been submerged under emergency advice and instructions. Communication in a crisis is a critical task that breaks many general rules and best practices. However, the time has now come to remind your employees of the core purpose and aims of your business. Without these key objectives in the forefront of your workers’ minds, there is a risk that the company veers off track during the recovery period.

As employees transition back into the workplace, now is the time to reconnect them to the values that set you apart from your competition. There are many internal communication ideas to convey your company mission from building social spaces for colleagues to connect, to launching social impact initiatives to bring employees together.

Our advice: Your aim is to introduce a shared purpose for everyone to engage in, structured around the company’s values and principles.

#3 Reinstate leadership focus

Employees have been separated from their teams, and therefore disconnected from management direction. However, in times of uncertainty, employees look to leadership to find the path forward. When the company faces unique challenges, the stakeholder’s role in internal business communication comes to the fore.

Leadership should be taking the lead in both internal and external communications. Now is the time to create designated pathways for senior leaders to check-in with employees, address the workforce and explain the strategy for the months ahead. Consider using various types of internal communication, from video messaging to virtual town halls and group conversations.

Our advice: Offer a dedicated company news feed, placing the spotlight on leaders and their vision for the future. An internal communications platform includes built-in News Modules that make this simple to implement.

#4 Rebuild confidence

Change is a stressful experience for the majority of employees. Gartner research reveals that as the number of tensions increases, so do the stress levels of the workforce. When there are more than five changes to cope with, 67% report feeling highly stressed. High stress levels result in reduced performance, so it is crucial to rebuild confidence after a time of excessive change.

One of the best ways to restore confidence is through recognition and reward. Many employees will have gone above and beyond their daily duties in response to the challenge of the pandemic and the role of internal communication is to openly recognise this. Celebrating success and saying a public thank you to hard-working employees is an example of internal communication that has a dramatic effect on engagement levels.

Our advice: Create a positive culture of recognition and appreciation, including social tools such as likes and comments to allow everyone to participate.

#5 Reopen feedback channels

Remote working may have reduced opportunities for employees to be seen and heard. Now is the time to open up those feedback channels and ensure everyone is empowered to speak up. There will be a range of concerns and questions surrounding the return to work; some employees will be thrilled to be back; others may be anxious and uneasy. It is internal communications role to make sure everyone gets heard.

One of the common internal communication mistakes is the failure to implement a two-way feedback channel. It is vital to keep your finger on the pulse of how your workforce is feeling, with regular and scheduled check-ups. Whether you use simple polls, an internal communication survey, or social spaces where employees can comment and connect, these two-way channels are now more important than ever.

Our advice: An internal communications app will allow you to effortlessly monitor engagement levels and understand how your employees are reacting to the current situation.

The past few months have taught us many lessons, and one of them is just how resilient and flexible businesses and their employees can be when put to the test. In this new reality, the role of internal communication is to re-engage and connect with your workforce as effectively as possible. By implementing these five objectives, you will be best placed to take full advantage of the new state of affairs and move your business forward successfully.

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