Internal communications has long been looked at within the world of comms as a ‘nice to have’ rather than ‘need to have’ function.
With digital transformation and more focus on employees as brand ambassadors, this has slowly been changing over recent years. Fast-forward to today, three plus months into the Covid-19 pandemic where large swathes of us are now forced to work from home, internal communications has taken centre stage in the comms world.
Even as lockdowns begin to ease and some of us make our way back into the office, it’s likely that most of us will remain working remote for some time yet. This presents a new challenge for businesses as they must navigate the changing landscape and effectively communicate to employees now and moving forward.
To better get a handle on this challenge and the long-term changes businesses envisage, we spoke to some of our trusted freelance members who are experts in internal communications for their advice and insights.
Sarah Howe is an independent advisor working with international corporates on both external and internal communications. Currently she is leading an internal change and transformation program for an international energy firm.
“I’ve always had a passion for simple, clear and relevant communications, but more than that, communicating in a way that touches the recipient as a human being; respectful words that really mean something to the person and help them. Never has this approach been more needed than now and fortunately we are seeing some incredibly powerful communications, steeped in empathy. For example, Arne Sorenson’s CEO video message to Marriott International employees and the Airbnb memo from CEO Brian Chesky.
I truly hope that this focus on the human element, of communicating respectfully person-to-person, whatever someone’s title or position, and however “corporate” the environment they operate in, will remain at the core of our profession. As communicators, we are often responsible for creating meaning and reassurance out of complex and chaotic situations. This is a great responsibility. I predict that if we stay on this path, with a staunch commitment to communicating with clarity, empathy and meaning, and pushing back firmly when some colleagues may want to return to previous “corporate-speak” habits, we will all benefit as people and organisations from the positive lessons we can learn from the pandemic. We are all human beings and the safety and health of people must remain at the centre of all decision making. Everything follows on from that.”
Alexandra Marshall at Spot the Gap is a senior communications and engagement consultant working with B2C clients in entertainment and sport.
“The crisis has really brought home the importance of valuing your people, as well as the need for compassionate leadership. Employers who have demonstrated positive, supportive and adaptable ways of working and transparent communications will be rewarded with higher employee retention rates and will find it easier to attract new talent.”
Connections and Trust
Louise Harris is an internal communications and engagement specialist who has worked with organisations such as ASOS and Unilever on both local and global projects.
“Internal communications has always been vital to a company’s success, but few have walked the talk, usually relying on posters and emails.
However, this will no longer be an option. In our new reality, we need to be careful, creative and consistent with the way we communicate internally. We need to put our employees first, understand who they are, their reality, their challenges and motivations before getting too deep in creating new channels and content.
Our role isn’t to create and push, but to learn, facilitate, motivate and inspire connections:
- A foolproof channel strategy that everyone knows – you can’t risk your people not knowing where or how to access the right information at a time when they need it.
- Always being open and transparent. Without as much body language and social cues in virtual meetings, don’t leave interpretation to chance – be clear, simple and honest with your messages.
- More doesn’t mean more awareness and understanding. Many of us are struggling with priorities at home and at work In a way we have never before. Help your people prioritise what they need to know, should know, and what it would be nice for them to know.”
Flexibility and Open, Honest Communications
Simon Monger works with large global and multinational organisations on change, internal communications and engagement. He is currently working with a global retailer.
“We’ve seen an acceleration in organisations like never before in response to the pandemic. Things that would previously have taken months, if not years, to implement have been done in days. There’s a new sense of pace and experimentation which we should fight to retain. Entrepreneurial businesses will benefit most as we adopt an ‘ask for forgiveness, not permission’ approach.
When it comes to internal communication, we find that we have a seat at that much-coveted C-suite table. But that’s not because of the pandemic. It’s because we’re demonstrating value. If we keep doing that, the seat will remain. There will likely be an increased demand for digital communications as we adjust to new ways of working. Face-to-face interaction will be reduced and it’s unlikely we’ll see a return to large conferences or town halls any time soon. But that means when we do have face-to-face time, it has the potential to be more impactful and valued. I hope that the more authentic communications we’ve been seeing from senior leaders and execs remains. Honesty and empathy are not only for the hard times.
So we’ll see changes, for sure. I don’t think it will be a radical sea change; rather, a shift towards more flexibility, more open and honest communication, and more creativity and pace in delivering change. But people are people, so we’ll see some of those old behaviours and working practices return, too. It’s up to us to take the learnings of lockdown and make sure we don’t lose sight of the positive changes.”
If you are a freelancer working in Internal Communications or a business looking for support, please do get in touch with the team here at The Work Crowd, we would be delighted to discuss how our network can provide support.