What we should learn (and what we should forget) regarding internal communications during the pandemic
— September 17th, 2020
A question I keep being asked is, “How can internal communications retain its position of power, following the pandemic?”
I find this question fascinating. The role and significance of effective internal communications within business has long been recognized, but internal communications professionals around the globe have truly been in the spotlight over the past seven months.
When considering the future of internal communications within your organization, it is extremely important to remember that these have been very unusual times.
There is much evidence to show that in the event of any issue or crisis there will inevitably be heightened interest and engagement in internal communications. The only difference during this global pandemic has been that the ‘crisis’ has gone on for such a long time, coupled with the fact that it has dramatically impacted organizations all over the world.
Reflecting on the handling of internal communications during the pandemic, I believe there are some key takeaways, but there are also some practices and behaviors that we should try to move away from.
What we should move away from
1. Churning out content, and having content dictated by others
Alongside the ‘business as usual’ activity, many internal communications professionals have been running themselves ragged churning out and repurposing updates from public health organizations and governments. Even if you were advising on the best channel or way to present the information, the content itself was being dictated by those outside of your organization. Simply repackaging information that is already in the public domain does nothing to help drive a business forward.
2. Having too many cooks
Many internal communications professionals found themselves to be pushing on an open door, with members of the leadership team and other internal stakeholders chomping at the bit to be involved. This meant, in many cases, there were too many cooks. This can not only cause delays in terms of production and sign off of content, but also means you run the risk of losing sight – and the quality – of the message you were trying to convey.
Internal communications should be performed by professionals who have a deep understanding of the audiences they are trying to reach, along with respect for and knowledge of the nuance of the practice. They can guide on phraseology, tone, intonation, body language, channels, and, of course, the right time to effectively communicate and land a message among their employees.
What we should keep
There are two things that we should, however, try to hold onto after this period.
1. Open, honest, and more regular content from leadership
Traditionally, those in the role of CEO have been perceived by many as providing clarity on business purpose, supported by the provision of clear strategic direction. However, during this period, they have been looked to for reassurance, stability, and even emotional support; and employees have become used to hearing from them more frequently.
I strongly believe this trend is here to stay, and that any attempt to go back to older-style leadership communications will land badly.
2. Diversification of channels and more creative content
Not surprisingly, employees have been stressed. Not only have they been bombarded with information from a number of internal and external sources, they have also had to adjust to an environment where they are either not working or are working in a very different way to what they are used to. Needless to say, internal communications professionals have had to think outside of the box in order to reach and engage employees over this period.
We will need to fight harder and be more creative in order to sustain interest and engagement once there is less focus on coronavirus and a return to more normal subject matter.
I do not deny that having the spotlight on internal communications during the pandemic has been helpful for the reputation of the industry. Hopefully, it has shown previous non-believers that employees truly are the most important audience and has highlighted the need for established and effective internal communications channels.
I believe we should demonstrate our value and contribution every day, helping to motivate and unify our staff and working with leadership to drive our organizations forward. It is essential we do not consign the handling of the coronavirus to the status of a mere case study.