Top Internal Communication Trends 2024: What the Experts Think
— December 12th, 2023
What's in store for employee communications and IC professionals in 2024? Another year of uncertainty? Of course. But a key part of the role of the comms professional is to anticipate what's coming down the tracks and to prepare their organization's leadership accordingly.
We asked IC experts worldwide to look ahead to 2024, and here's what they had to say. — Tim Vaughan, Editorial Director, Poppulo
Marc Wright, Founder, simplycommunicate
The more the future brings change the more it takes us back to where we started. As T S Eliot's famous line goes: "In my end is my beginning."
New technology in communication such as hyper-personalization, ChatGPT, Generative AI will change the landscape of IC.
— We will no longer fuss about channel management: AI will get the message to the target person at the right time on the device or platform that suits their habits.
— We will no longer be the style or language police: the algorithms will hold sway—no matter how barbaric the result.
— We will no longer develop elaborate IC strategies but instead will be glued to the analytics as we note which bits of spaghetti stay stuck to the wall.
Our job will return to what it was when the first employee newsletter was published: getting the attention of colleagues to matters that are important to the organization: making the boring interesting, turning what is crucial to the organization into what is appealing for me.
And that means creating little moments that cut through the noise:
- A story created on the frontline that amplifies and resonates with the mission from the Boardroom.
- A picture that is original, or funny, or challenging that encapsulates the essence of a campaign.
- A video that though shot on a phone with a budget of zero gets a thousand more plays than the polished one you commissioned from the agency.
As artificial intelligence frees us from the formulaic drudgery of planning, delivery,and measurement, our job as the creative intelligence is to be original, bold, and noticeable. Maybe that has always been our role—we just forgot.
In our ends are our beginnings.
AI-Powered Communication: A Guide for Internal Comms Teams
Rebecca Gallagher, VP, Internal Communications & Engagement, 2U
Looking back at the last year and ahead to 2024, the biggest challenge for leaders and communication teams is losing employees’ trust. Trust is hard to build and can be lost in an instant, especially with the changing return-to-office policies, layoffs, and decreased transparency during tough times.
Companies have faced this before, but today is different. Teams are more spread out, and we can't rely on the energy of everyone being together in a room or office building. And perhaps more importantly, employees feel much more empowered to drive their own agenda.
Great communication teams can use this chance to show how a strategic multi-channel communication plan can improve company culture and rebuild trust in leaders.
We need to encourage leaders to be empathetic and genuine, focusing on these three areas:
Listening: Communication isn't just about sending messages. It should include listening to employees and having two-way conversations. Be open to employee feedback and clear about what actions will be taken.
Connection to purpose: Research shows that 70% of employees define their individual sense of purpose by their work. To regain trust and engagement, it's crucial to help employees understand why their work matters, not only to the company, but to the world.
Connection to each other: A recent report found that most workers value good relationships with colleagues more than a 10% pay raise. Hybrid and remote work makes real connection challenging. Effective communications teams will identify ways to bridge this gap and deepen employees' connections with leaders, their work, and each other.
Joe Salmon, Director Communication Business Partnerships, Iron Mountain
It’s been an unsettled and bumpy few years, where we’ve seen the rise of Internal and Corporate Communication teams stepping up and supporting employees and organizations to navigate through major people-impacting changes.
2024 looks set to be more of the same, with potentially a shift up through the gears, with more challenges, change, and uncertainty ahead.
Which means for another year running Communications Professionals will play a critical role and need to be on top of their game. These are just a few of my top internal comms trends and challenges to watch for in 2024.
More with less: In the main, comms teams are experiencing fewer resources, and smaller budgets. This is not new and has been a trend for a while. However, with the current financial climate and slow economic growth as a backdrop, we can expect a shift to doing fewer things better. AI will help us to do this.
Crisis and change communications: The number of local and global incidents taking place continues to rise. Employees (partners, vendors, and customers) expect business leaders to have and share their point of view. Developing and sharing the narrative and building trust with audiences will be a muscle Comms Pros flex often during 2024.
Finger on the pulse:
We will need to find more ways to capture in-the-moment feedback to guide our thinking and approach for better business outcomes.
Nicole Bearne, Founder, The Comms Exchange; former Head of Internal Communications, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team
In the wake of the deepfake controversies and ‘AI Bias’ headlines of 2023, Merriam-Webster has aptly declared 'authentic' as the word of the year. As we enter the Age of AI, the lines between genuine and generated content are becoming blurred, often with unsettling consequences. Influential figures, including Taylor Swift and Elon Musk, are now publicly calling for a return to authenticity.
This sentiment is echoed in a further erosion of trust in media and government, with the Edelman Trust Barometer 2023 positioning business as the only institution now perceived as competent and ethical.
As we approach 2024, Internal Communication will have a significant role to play in preserving employee trust by nurturing authentic human interaction in our increasingly digital workplaces.
Authenticity is manifested in our relationships with others, grounded in a sense of belonging, mutual trust, and respect. However, with the shift towards remote or hybrid working, digital communication, and fewer face-to-face social opportunities, the traditional rules of human interaction have changed.
Qualtrics’ report on consumer experience trends for 2024 highlights this loss of human connection as a significant concern. A survey by Ivanti reveals that 40% of remote workers now feel lonely (Daily Telegraph May 2023), rising to 63% for Gen Z employees entering the workforce. This has implications for well-being, employee turnover, and productivity.
Looking ahead, internal communicators will need to focus on developing tools and channels that bridge the gap between employees, particularly in hybrid or remote work settings.
This will involve fostering honest, two-way communication and creating opportunities for genuine social bonding. By prioritizing human connection, internal communicators will play a pivotal role in shaping a more authentic future for the world of work.
Anuja Kale-Agarwal, National Communications Director, PwC, Canada
Here are my top 3 trends that define how communicators can create impactful and thoughtful communications in 2024. I call them "My three As":
1. Agility, adaptability and all things AI: The world is changing at an unprecedented pace. As a communicator, it is a test of how agile you are and how connected you are with your leaders.
How quickly you respond will determine the level of trust and credibility you build with your stakeholders. Whether responding to a crisis or an evolving geo-political situation, remember your audience is tuned in to every move. Tone and authenticity matter.
We live in a world of instant news, viral content, and online activism. What you share internally can go external and quickly unravel. This is also true for AI-driven tools and platforms like ChatGPT and Copilot.
Prepare to embrace their transformative capabilities as more individuals and organizations use them. It will impact the work you do.
2. (Diminishing) Attention Spans: We are facing an engagement crisis. Average engagement is down to 36%, and 13% of your workforce is disengaged, causing an active spread of negativity. (Source: Gallup)
Today, most people are skimming content. We are inundated with excessive information, and it is a challenge to create messages that stick and resonate. Keeping it short, relevant, and having a compelling “What’s in it for me” helps it land. Using different channels is also key to getting your message across – for example, with more people coming back to work in-person, some engagement can be driven through in-person events and connections.
3. Analytics and Insights: Measuring performance, such as readership and viewership, can be crucial drivers of content creation. It’s important to know how your efforts are landing and if your content is working or not, so you can course-correct.
Measuring and tracking engagement is important! Data shows companies with the highest employee engagement rates are 21% more profitable. In today’s uncertain and divisive times, communicators can create powerful, inclusive, and measurable narratives that connect people and build communities.
Understanding that your audience's online behavior is exactly like your own is the first step in the right direction.
Megan Thomas, Founder, Buzz Communications
If the last few years are anything to go by, 2024 is bound to bring more upheaval. No doubt Artificial Intelligence will continue to dominate conversations.
The good news is human-centered attributes like trust, ethics, and empathy are being more widely recognized as business critical. Professional Communicators are well-placed to lead the charge.
Here are my top four predictions.
1. Crisis Management: Be Ready for Anything!
The stakes of poor crisis communication are very high—impacting vulnerable people and causing reputational and financial losses for the organization.
We must be ready to respond quickly, honestly, and empathetically to any number of serious issues—environmental, political, social, technological, and behavioral.
2. Trust and Ethics: Be the Voice of Stakeholders
Trust will make or break organizations, and ethical leadership will be the differentiator. Stakeholders are demanding greater transparency and accountability, with the consequence of bad or thoughtless behavior increasingly harder to recover from.
Employee voices are becoming louder—they have power and access to platforms that can’t be ignored. Professional Communicators can anticipate reactions and help close the gap between what leaders say and what they do.
3. Commoditized Content: Focus on Quality, not Quantity
With generative AI making content creation easier for everyone, attention spans will get even more stretched to the limit. Understanding nuance and distinguishing fake from real will become near impossible.
Great care must be taken to think about what information audiences need—if something requires too much thought or complexity, it will get put aside. In the unmanageable torrent of noise, we simply must make space for critical analysis and thoughtful, impactful, and ethical content creation.
4. AI Hype is Real: Sharpen our Skills
AI brings a great opportunity to be more strategic, creative, and productive. Those who don’t embrace it will get left behind, and so we must carve out time to build our AI literacy—the risks and the benefits.
AI will reduce the burden of time-consuming tactics and compel Professional Communicators to sharpen our value proposition. I think that’s incredibly liberating and exciting!
How to Help Your Leadership Team Become Better Communicators
Shaun Randol, Mister Editorial
Union successes in 2023 at spotlight-grabbing companies like Amazon, Starbucks, UPS, and the Big Three auto companies will fan the flames of unionization across the United States next year.
Communication professionals at companies large and small should not sit on the sidelines. Preparing communications strategies to counter potential unionization efforts will secure your seat at the table, should you hear the calls for a union vote.
If you think you’re immune to the issue because you don’t work at a Fortune 500 company, think again. This year, employees at Bandcamp, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (Chicago), Webasto Roof Systems (Plymouth Township, Michigan), and all 17 dancers at the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar (North Hollywood, California) voted to unionize.
Comms pros at small companies should apply best practices gleaned from their big company colleagues in the trenches. Though the chances of a union drive happening at your company are small, they are not nil.
With U.S. unemployment at 4% and increasing employee discontent, the unions have momentum. Despite unions representing just over 10% of workers, their influence is gaining media attention, especially with a pro-union president seeking re-election.
To be sure, the share of American workers in a union hovers just above 10%, a number that hasn’t budged since 2015. And labor actions (strikes) are a drop in the bucket of an overall labor market of 160 million workers.
Comms pros can take several steps to prepare. The strategy is much too involved to cover here, but should include the formation of a rapid response team and proactive communications that can be tailored and quickly deployed to address collective bargaining, risks of strikes, and the potential impact of a union on the business.
As with any crisis comms effort, it’s better to be over-prepared than be caught flat-footed.
Jennifer Thomas, Head of Internal Communications, Data & Analytics, London Stock Exchange Group
Internal communication continues to operate in a dynamic landscape where professionals find themselves at the nexus of opportunities and challenges.
The ever-present focus on the impact of employee engagement and culture underscores the pivotal role that communicators play within organizations. Senior leadership needs our input and strategies now more than ever to shape and influence organizational direction.
But it’s not without challenge. Evolving global tensions—geo-political and societal—are increasingly on the minds of employees, whether directly or indirectly impacted.
What role should organizations play in responding to global events? Simultaneously, how should organizations balance this with the imperative to foster a genuinely diverse and inclusive culture? All of this becomes more pronounced in a world marked by increasing divisions.
Internal communication professionals must innovate strategies that not only address these challenges but proactively contribute to the organizational environment in a way that is resilient, responsive, and reflective of the diverse tapestry of the environment it operates in.
Seizing these opportunities and leaning into the challenges, will enable IC professionals to fulfill their role as effective guardians of people, culture, and engagement.
And they can do so in a way that aligns with the pulse of the organization, while remaining nimble enough to flex where needed.
I am a big fan of Artificial Intelligence. I use AI daily in one way or another, but I am fearful. Not about the Terminator-style scenario—although that does bother me.
My fear is that there is one giant assumption that people are making when discussing AI: that it will free us up from our routine, mundane tasks to spend more time being people first.
Why are we making this sweeping assumption? Fair enough if an organization already has a people first culture. But if it's the opposite, an organization that doesn’t value its people, AI could lead to a very bleak road of redundancies, or as they are so often and euphemistically called, "efficiencies".
Are we going to be in danger of training anti-human behaviors (especially around communications) when AI is supposed to make us more human? AI replying to emails and summarising meetings, for example. Someone will have taken time to draft an email, but we won’t take the time to read it and reply with a human touch?
People will be sharing insights and emotions in meetings; but we won’t be actively listening/connecting with them? To me, this seems like an acceleration of dehumanizing the workplace and society at an alarming rate. Whilst there are so many upsides to AI, we will have to be conscious and careful about mitigating the very real dangers and downsides.
Once again, I think organizations that ensure they are creating people-first cultures that value connection and instill a sense of belonging will stand out like a shining light in this rapidly changing world of ours.
Keith Berman, Director, Corporate Communications, Resmed
While the pandemic created opportunity and exposure for the great value internal communicators deliver, the high tide may be receding. Companies are again looking to cut costs and do more with less, and IC may fall victim— either by restructuring or through personnel/resource reductions.
Some big reasons for this include the rise in visibility of AI (“why do we need copywriters? Can’t we run everything through ChatGPT?”) and the fact that communications is a somewhat “mushy” discipline in that it can be hard to quantify the impact of our work since we usually can’t directly tie actions to a communication we distributed.
A couple of ways to combat this:
1. Play nice with AI, but don’t let it replace you. Programs like ChatGPT can provide a good starting point, but shouldn’t be the be-all-end-all of communications. While it might give you some new ideas, communicators still need to keep a hand on the helm to ensure the content is relevant, holds to tone and brand guidelines, ladders up to corporate strategy, and embodies (or specifically connects with) the company’s values and mission. We should also check that ChatGPT didn’t “hallucinate.”
We know communication is a deliberate art; everything in a message is meant to be said in a particular way. ChatGPT doesn’t know that. That’s the distinction we can use to show value.
2. Find ways to tie communications to impact. Ask questions in your employee-engagement surveys like “Do you feel informed about company initiatives/strategies?” and “Do you feel connected to/like you’re contributing to our company’s mission?”
Embed opportunities for employees to react directly to communications, like a click-to-submit thumbs-up/down graphic with an option to provide comments at the bottom of messages.
These provide avenues for employees to show engagement in ways that directly connect to communications’ impact.