12 Internal Communication Trends & Challenges for 2022
— December 17th, 2021
What's in store for workplace communication in 2022 after another year dominated by the epochal fall-out from Covid-19? And how can employee comms be deployed more effectively to meet the challenges organizations face over the next 12 months?
We put these questions to a stellar line-up of communication experts: Abhinav Kumar, Callie Baumann, Shel Holtz, Tchicaya Ellis Robertson, Bill Quirke, Victoria Dew, Katie Macaulay, Elizabeth Williams, Sinéad Bell, Megan Thomas, David Grossman, and Steve Crescenzo. Enjoy the read!
Tim Vaughan — Head of Content, Poppulo
Abhinav Kumar, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer - Global Markets, Tata Consultancy Services
One of the most significant opportunities that the pandemic presented was for companies to completely redefine internal communications, assisting the wellbeing of their employees and keeping them engaged. But I feel this has been one of the most significant points of failure for the business world at large.
Last March, a Microsoft survey of 30,000 workers in 31 countries, indicated that 41% are considering leaving their employers based on their experiences during the pandemic. While this indicates a larger broad-based leadership failure, clearly the increased efforts in internal communications have not created the intended mitigating impact.
The rapid increases in attrition that many companies experienced in the latter part of 2021, continue to demonstrate this growing disengagement. I am not sure if there is a magic wand to fix this in 2022. Clearly, companies need to rethink their leadership approaches, culture building, and how they execute internal communications.
This does not mean creating even more channels and tools to overload already overburdened employees with more information, but what it needs is a genuine and empathetic understanding of what each individual employee needs at a point in time and delivering on that.
For example, as Europe reopened in Summer, one of our business leaders was advised by his HR/internal comms teams to travel and reconnect with disengaged employees in multiple cities, by doing town halls.
He chose to do something different. Instead of a town hall at every city office, when he went to meet his extended teams, he ended up doing a social activity with them instead: cycling together, taking a hike, just having drinks, etc. and this was highly appreciated and successful.
Of course, with large, distributed, and now working from home, workforces these direct actions are not always possible, so using good digital tools that inform employees without forcing them into even more screen time, could be the need for the hour. A voice-only CEO podcast instead of a CEO zoom townhall, perhaps?
How to Build a Communication Plan For a Hybrid Workplace
Callie Baumann, Vice President, Digital Workplace Experience, Humana
Work has fundamentally changed and I don’t believe we fully understand the implications just yet. What I do believe is here to stay, however, is the employee economy; work that fits around peoples’ lives versus bending/molding/forcing life around work. Because companies need to differentiate themselves and retain talent, I think we’ll continue to see a shift toward experience design to drive human-centered, people-first innovation in the workplace.
I see that coming to life in 3 key ways:
- Applying design disciplines - Humana’s workforce spans from clinicians delivering in-home care, to telephonic nurses, to corporate professionals who formerly collaborated in our offices. So there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to employee communication, technology needs, and workspaces. Just as marketers or experience designers would for external customers, doing the proper research to identify employees’ (human) needs and preferences, and then segmenting employee personas, will be critical as the way we work continues to evolve.
- Forging partnerships between internal communications, technology, facilities, and HR to architect holistic journeys - -We’ve seen the benefits of focusing on different phases of the employee journey (versus building or sourcing one-off widgets). By looking at moments that matter (i.e. onboarding, service, conferencing, etc.), you naturally begin to build a product catalogue or see ways to bundle solutions that are more holistic and meaningful to the end-user.
- Leveraging data to create a more engaged, healthy workforce - Let’s face it, while working at home and in hybrid ways is here to stay, it doesn’t mean that we’ve got it all figured out. The boundaries between work and life are blurred and burnout is a real risk. The data exhaust we’re seeing from new work patterns will be used to create personalized insights, to carve out working (and non-working) time, or to help manage calendars.
While this is our new normal, we have an opportunity to use data to create a different, more healthy, normal.
Using the intersection of experience design and technology can drive transformation. While applying these techniques inside of companies is in its infancy in many places, we believe it offers a significant strategic advantage.
Shel Holtz, Sr. Director of Internal Communications at Webcor
In the midst of the Great Resignation -- which shows no sign of abating in 2022 -- leaders will call on internal communicators to assist in the effort to retain employees, especially high performers.
Several other trends for 2022 emerge from the pressing need to retain people, including the Employee Experience and recognition.
Communicating with a Hybrid Workforce
For those communicating in organizations that will accommodate some workers' preference to work from home while requiring others to be in the office – a rethinking of communication strategy and channels will be a requirement.
Comms strategies must accommodate both sets of workers, which may require new employee profiles, new sets of objectives, and greater variety in the channels we use to reach and engage with workers.
Employee wellbeing has skyrocketed into prominence during the pandemic. Companies need to do more than pay lip service to wellbeing. (That is, "We have a great Employee Assistance Program" is no longer an adequate approach to wellbeing.) The focus on mental health — which should include psychological safety —should be a particular priority as the pandemic and working from home has weighed heavily on workers
Companies that failed to listen to employee preferences and concerns before announcing their return-to-the-workplace policies have fallen under heavy criticism. Listening will play a key role in how companies retain employees. Especially with a contingent of workers in remote situations, it is more important than ever that leaders listen closely to employees.
Communicators need to identify a collection of channels and establish a matrix that helps determine which ones should be employed for each internal audience and each category of communication – and will need to be more adept at repurposing content for multiple channels.
(See the full version of Shel Holtz's contribution here)
Tchicaya Ellis Robertson, Ph.D., Talent Research Lead, Accenture
After another roller-coaster year, when we look ahead to 2022 one thing is certain: communication will remain front and center in relation to managing people at work, whether it’s in a hybrid environment or remote — wherever.
While the future of work debate rages on, whether it’s about flexibility, location, or inclusion, communications will be at the heart of it all.
I had the privilege earlier this year to add to the inclusion and belonging conversation as lead of Accenture’s Better to Belong research.
What we learned gives organizations a clear priority path to foster and nurture belonging among their people. Our research identified 10 levers that ultimately lead to belonging, with transparent and empathetic communications landing toward the top of the list.
We found that communication was one of four essential people skills, among the list of experience levers that helps to drive human potential. When tech-enabled platforms are used to build community among workers, leaders will gain the trust needed to drive change in today’s organizational climate.
Taken together, all 10 levers we identified: Empowerment, Communication, Diversity, Customer-Centricity, Skilling, Dependence, Governance, Technology, Self-Efficacy, and having a growth mindset are drivers of human potential.
And where there’s maximum human potential, there is belonging. As we arm ourselves with insights to help tackle the problems of 2022, meaningful communication must be part of the equation.
Bill Quirke, Consultant and Author
Next year internal communicators need to build on what they’ve achieved, before the sands start shifting again beneath their feet.
During the pandemic, the aspirations of internal communicators and leaders’ expediency were aligned, but that alignment will now shift. During any crisis, internal communication is recognized as important, but history shows that recognition fades as the leadership tries to move on to business as usual.
Internal communicators need to be all the more ready for the challenges that brings, because “business as usual” will be more complicated this time.
Individuals are rethinking what they want from work, and what is important to them, shifting the relationship – and the negotiating power – between employee and employer.
Organizations have an increasingly diverse range of audiences from those who can work from home to those driving the delivery vans. Global organizations have wider national cultural differences, with workforces facing very different national situations.
The pandemic showed how important a sense of cause and higher purpose is to people’s jobs. Employee activism is testing companies’ avowed values and championing their own values in the interests of social justice.
The pandemic also showed how important a sense of community is to employees – and virtual working, hybrid life at the office, or working independently from local coffee shops or shared work spaces is going to weaken traditional loyalties to an employer.
While employees contemplate joining the “great resignation”, companies may be embracing “skimpification” - clawing back missed profits from customers, increasing prices, and reducing the level of service or goods that customers receive. The possibility of mixed messages, confusion and perceived hypocrisy, is high.
Internal communicators need to get involved in helping leaders understand the changing dynamics within their organizations. They need to clarify leaders’ thinking and help them articulate what they mean, track the attitudes of all their audiences, anticipate issues, and mediate between different views and priorities,
While helping to win the war, internal communicators should prepare to win the peace.
Victoria Dew, Founder & CEO, Dewpoint Communications
Dewpoint Communications recently published our latest Insights Report: The New Rules of Employee Experience & Communications in 2022, in which we examine the latest trends, best practices and innovative approaches companies are implementing currently.
We interviewed dozens of business leaders, from diverse industries and sectors, representing different sizes, stages, and geographies, with employee numbers ranging from 10 to 175,000.
Here’s what they told us:
- Listening is the new Talking - Traditionally, companies have focused on communicating ‘to’ employees, and much less on ‘with’ them. Increased listening helps to ensure a two-way dialogue that encourages engagement, connection, co-creation, innovation, and cross-functional collaboration. Companies are getting creative in how they create these meaningful connections.
- Manager engagement and activation is everything - Managers were seen as being critical not only for their role in connecting with, and influencing teams and cohorts, but as a communication channel able to frame, contextualize, and localize organization-wide messaging and information. While many organizations are still wrestling with how to be more systemic in their approach to communicating with and engaging managers as both audience and influencer, there was widespread consensus that getting this piece right was critical to successful employee experience.
- Employee Communications skill sets need a radical re-think - Perhaps accelerated by ‘life-on-video-call,’ several companies we spoke to shared that they were investing heavily in internal communications resources that extended far beyond the written word. Recognizing TL;DR culture, new roles being added to EX and internal communications teams include video producers, editors, graphic designers, copywriters, and events managers. This trend highlights an increased focus on meeting employees where they are; creating compelling, relevant, 'sticky' content that requests, and does not assume the privilege of demanding, employees’ attention to corporate messaging.
Katie Macaulay, Managing Director of AB and host of The Internal Comms Podcast
Four percent of the US workforce resigned in September 2021. According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, more than 40% of the global workforce is considering leaving their employer within a year. Media pundits are calling it the Great Resignation or Big Reprioritisation, but whatever the label, attracting and retaining talent will be a priority in 2022.
This is undoubtedly a challenge for our colleagues in HR, but IC teams must play their part. Research from McKinsey suggests high attrition rates are driven by more than a dissatisfaction with compensation and benefits.
Deeper, more profound issues are at play – and always have been. I recently interviewed Professor William Kahn, who coined the term ‘employee engagement’ back in 1990. His research showed we are more likely to invest our whole self in work when we find it meaningful
Indeed, a 2018 report found nine out of ten US workers were willing to give up an average of 23 per cent of their lifetime earnings in exchange for always having a meaningful job.
So, how can IC teams help employees find meaning in their work?
- Local significance – we must demonstrate the significance of employees’ day-to-day work, showing how it contributes to a higher goal or mission.
- Self-actualization – we must showcase how our employees are expressing their true and best selves at work, how they are achieving their potential, and are trusted and empowered.
- Global purpose – we must expound on our organization’s purpose, illustrating the contribution it is making – and seeks to make – to society.
In short, your role is not to communicate the weekend closure of the office car park. Instead, it is to help employees understand why they should care, contribute, and commit.
Elizabeth Williams, President, Candler Chase Inc. and Co-Founder of the Academy of Business Communications
For some months I have had a little scrap of paper on my desk on which is written: “What you want to say is not the same thing as other people want to hear.”
As communicators, we spend a lot of our time transcribing the endless discourse of the C-suite for consumption by the mortals beyond.
But how often do we consider the dissonance between what we’re shoving into the ether and what the people consuming it are actually looking for? The technical term for that irrelevant noise is twaddle.
In 2022 we need to be the Twaddle Prevention Department. This means thinking more critically about the information we’re asked to share. And this begins with listening.
Not the theatrics that attend the dismal annual survey but actual listening to the side chatter before meetings, to the conversations in elevators, to the posts on sites such as Glassdoor.
I’m betting there is a disconnect. Leaders I work with are talking about alignment, but their employees are asking questions about the return to the office plan.
Others are clapping on about recovery, but hourly employees are nervous about whether their salaries will keep up with inflation.
Some CEOs are making noises about growth, yet customers are chattering on Instagram about sustainability.
So here are the five resolutions I’ve made for myself for next year:
- Stop the twaddle
- Produce less and mean more of it
- Challenge leaders to consider whether they are addressing the right things
- Do a better job of being the voice of employees and frontline managers
- Stop letting them call me a scribe or (heaven help me) a wordsmith and start acting like an advocate for relevance, meaning, and dialogue
Sinéad Bell, Associate Director, Corporate, and Head of Internal Communications, Hanover Communications
Keeping employees engaged and implementing (and adjusting) hybrid working models has been a huge challenge – and these struggles will continue into 2022.
Here are three key considerations for the New Year:
- Reviewing internal communications channels - In 2020, we were forced to introduce new and prioritize different channels in order to reach all our audiences. Now that we have a better understanding of the internal communications needs of our organizations in a hybrid format, and sufficient data and feedback to show how the channels are performing, we can review what should stay, what needs to change and what needs to go.
- Focusing on the long-term vision and purpose - As omicron has demonstrated, there is a still a huge level of uncertainty. While communicating policy changes and sharing updates will be essential, outside of this, we need to focus on subject matter that will reassure employees and give them confidence in the organisation’s direction of travel.
- Reflecting mindset and tone - The tone, attitude, and approach of an individual can have a huge impact on the morale of a team – and on an organization, if we’re talking about a leader.
The past 20 months have been emotionally draining and we're not out of the woods yet but, as internal communications and leaders, we need to ensure we strike a balance between optimism and realism.
Managers need to continue to have regular check-ins and make sure employees have somewhere to take their views, concerns, and feedback.
Internal communications was thrust into the spotlight last year. So long as we continue to demonstrate the value of our work and the pivotal role it plays in the success of the organizations we work for, this pandemic may well have changed the perception of our practice forever.
Megan Thomas, Communication and Change Leader, President IABC NSW
The last two years have shown just how vital the role of Communication is during times of crisis. To build on this momentum we need to show we understand the complex, competing issues impacting business – and use communication as a strategic lever to navigate through. Here are some thoughts on some of the biggest themes for 2022.
- Maintaining a strong organizational culture and a sense of belonging among employees. This is considerably more complex than it used to be and where Communicators can show their value by creating opportunities for meaningful connection.
- Having a voice on broader societal issues and championing these causes both internally and externally. This is now an expectation of employees, particularly younger generations.
- Ensuring alignment between organizational action and its purpose. A large number of people have lost trust in big institutions, so it's essential that actions match words.
- Equipping leaders to support the physical and mental health needs of their teams. Encouraging them to continue to show empathy, vulnerability and to connect as human beings.
- Dealing with misinformation and content moderation on communication platforms. Being accountable for content quality at the same time as deep listening and ensuring people have opportunities to have their voices heard.
- Getting on top of big themes like Diversity and Inclusion, ESG, and Data. These should already be a key focus but will become even more crucial over the next year and beyond.
Remember to show your value by crafting clear, SMART objectives and measuring your outcomes against them.
David Grossman, Founder & CEO, The Grossman Group
As difficult as these past two years have been for many companies, there have been some very critical lessons learned for leaders and communicators.
That came through loud and clear through interviews I conducted with more than 30 leaders from top companies for my new book, Heart First: Lasting Leading Lessons from a year that Changed Everything.
To a person, leaders shared that the pandemic helped them take effective employee communication far more seriously. Going forward, I expect leaders and communicators to bring more of their human side to employee communication and work to connect on a more personal level with their teams.
This means more personal storytelling, a lot more listening to employee wants and needs, and communication that is planned and well thought through.
In the future, I believe success is going to be defined by how well leaders talk openly about what’s happening, communicate more regularly, and provide the context to make information more relevant.
In essence, communication needs to be far less of a rote activity, with leaders more clearly sharing why they’re heading in a certain direction.
They will also need to more directly answer the questions all employees ask at one point or another: why should I care, or what’s in it for me?
At the same time, I believe communicators will need to fight even more aggressively for the resources and budgets that this work deserves. In many cases, this message has already been received, especially with the “Great Resignation” of employees having captured employers’ attention.
Yet despite all the concerning trends, there will always be the temptation for some leaders to outsource or diminish communications.
Communicators can’t let that happen and must continue making the case for communication as a critical strategic lever for the success of the overall business.
How to build a Communications Plan for a hybrid workplace
Steve Crescenzo, CEO Crescenzo Communications
I did a lot of things during the Covid Quarantine.
First, I drank too much and got super fat. But, I also worked a lot. My company did five full communication audits—talking to and surveying hundreds of employees, managers, and senior executives.
And the research was very clear on one thing: “Corporate” Communication, as we have always known it, is dead. The stiff, formal, top-down communication style simply doesn’t work with today’s employees. They tune it out.
The good news is, executives realize this. I interviewed more than 50 senior executives during the audits—including CEOs, VPs of Finance, HR, Legal, Marketing, and IT. Check out some of the representative quotes from these folks:
- “We’ve definitely become less formal in our communications. It would be hard to go back.”
- “I think the new intranet should not look like a corporate intranet . . . At all.”
- “We need to have more fun while being professional. More conversational. More human.”
- “We need less of the long corporate stuff, more shorter pieces, more graphics, more visuals, more multimedia.”
- “We need communications to me more timely, and more relevant.”
- “People are embracing technology for the first time, let’s take advantage of it. I may start a video blog.” (CEO)
- “I think the days of just pushing information out to employees is over. They want to participate.”
Which is all fine and good. BUT . . . our executives need help making this happen. They need coaching on the new, more informal communication style; they need help mastering new formats (velfies, executive video selfie blogs, are becoming popular, for example); they need editors who can help them write in a more conversational style; they need help creating less dense PowerPoints, and more concise e-mails with less jargon; they need to adapt to shorter, more interactive Town Halls.
This is all new to them. And they need help.
In short, they need us. And it’s an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.