“The internal communication profession faces turbulent times, and the role of IC practitioners may well be at a turning point. Caught between multiple, increasing challenges brought about by the impact of technology, the convergence and integration of communication disciplines and over-riding agendas like employee engagement and advocacy, the profession must dig deep for insights and new ways to define itself.”

The quote is from the introduction of Disrupting the Function of IC: A Global Perspective. It was the result of the work of Lise Michaud, owner and founder of the not-for-profit organisation IC Kollectif, who in 2017 gathered 30 senior communication professionals across six continents to cut across cultural differences and find the common threads that bind the internal communication profession together. And yet, the quote seems completely apt to describe the road ahead in 2021.

It’s hard to believe how fast and how much the world has changed in the last 12 months. Most of these changes have been precipitated by a raging pandemic that sadly continues to claim lives, other changes have been in the making for the last couple of years. So what are the patterns, the trends, as we look forward?

#1 – Remote Work is already the normal

Saying this is no surprise, but what is a surprise is how many organizations are trying to hedge their bets. Why make significant, permanent changes when you think this is going to be over in a few months and everything will go back to how it was? It would be enough to answer that we need to do this because our competition is, but moreover, there isn’t a path back to how things were because it was less efficiency and effective compared to what we are now capable of. There is both opportunity and challenge, but the rewards outweigh the costs.

On the opportunity front, the available talent pool has become truly global, you can hire the best talent from anywhere in the world. Supporting global clients becomes easier with a global workforce.

The challenges though are not small, and organizations will have to tackle them head on to stay focused and productive. Here are some of the challenges we see from a communication perspective:

  • Onboarding communication. Onboarding a remote employee is difficult. Communication needs to play a significant role. Do you have a series of articles that can be shared with a new employee that help them understand the company and how it presents itself? That way, he/she familiarizes with the company culture, current initiatives, and general chatter.
  • Accounting for cultural differences. Multiple languages and cultural differences will be amplified. You need to become more ethnically aware and sensitive. Something as simple as images could have different meanings in different cultures (this post lists resources of diversity that you can use in your communication free of charge – Where did the free images go? – Sparrow (sparrowapp.io))
  • A focus on the employee experience. You can no longer rely only on your office as an expression of your culture. A great digital Employee Experience (EX) is increasingly becoming a strategic priority, internal communication has an outsize influence on EX. The goal is through a great experience engage talented workers and turn them into loyal employer brand ambassadors. A great communication experience is paramount in this regard. All your employees are used to a great digital communication experience in their personal lives. That needs to be your bar, your starting point. Your communication platform needs to be at least as good as that. If you are using outdated communication platforms, 2021 is the time to upgrade them and provide your employees with a better modern experience. Companies that fail in this regard, will experience higher turnover and lower productivity than their competitors.

#2 – Crisis Management and Communication will continue to be a focus area

For years now, internal communication professionals have shouted from the rooftops how a strong internal communication is essential to the success of their organizations. The evidence has been questionable in most cases. In 2020, a virus of the type that had been talked about for about a decade, changed everything by isolating employees and forcing a disconnected workforce on most companies regardless of their size. Those that didn’t end up with a completely disconnected workforce often ended up with workforce shifts split up, breaking teams.

Organizations that hadn’t already were forced into digital transformation and hurriedly adopted new communication tools (here is looking at you – Microsoft Teams). Having strategies to reach your people with vital information is imperative. Such a change wasn’t about optimization and raising the performance bar, it was about surviving and keeping the team together.

We believe that this will remain the case in 2021 and beyond. Companies will have a mixed workforce with many employees continuing to work remotely, but in doing so, providing companies the best opportunity to hire from across the country or across the world. This is why Sparrow incorporated crisis management features into its platform in early 2020.

Internal communication has had a starring role in crisis management during 2020 and that role will continue in 2021 as we navigate to whatever next normal is ahead. Crisis management and the ability to inform or alert the right segment of your workforce is going to be needed as we move toward whatever next normal is coming.

#3 – The advent of Internal Communication focused platforms

For many years, internal communicators had platforms that mixed collaboration and communication features. Collaboration was the focus, allow your organization to collaborate, keep your workforce engaged and then leverage that engagement to communicate with them. The hope was that you had a captive audience that you could communicate to.

Unfortunately, captive audiences are hardly interested in being communicated to. In our opinion, mixing collaboration and communication features set the internal communication profession back a few decades. Marketing does not have a platform mixing marketing functionality with financial functionality, so why are we as communicators ok with subpar platforms that were never designed for us in the first place?

The market is finally seeing that Sparrow, and a handful of other platforms, truly focus on communications. They put the communicator and their team at the centre and addresses the needs from their perspective. Platforms like Sparrow are leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to allow you to segment and target better. They are raising the bar in how you can connect, meaningfully, with your people.

#4 Omnichannel will become mainstream

For many years, most organizations depended on two digital channels – email newsletters and Intranets. The harsh reality was that Intranets were hardly effective at communication (Gallup post) and email newsletters were largely ignore. The amount of effort required to add more channels was so high that the improvements were usually not worth the cost. Why? Because we were the integration engines. We were formatting and reformatting, cross-posting, sending reminders. On top of that, the conversations were fragmented by channel, your organization could be having two completely different conversations across two different channels.

We believe this is about to change. Several vendors have introduced omnichannel features, like Sparrow had from its beginning. The aim is simple, to reduce manual efforts by communications professionals in leveraging all channels (see our post about omnichannel vs multichannel). For Sparrow, this is about saving time, money, and providing ease of use. The user side of the equation is making sure that everywhere the user engages, it is treated the same. No silos, no fenced off discussions.

Looking ahead

Many would look at the situation today as having nothing but upside for internal communications, but that’s missing part of what’s happening. Let’s revisit that quote from the beginning:

“The internal communication profession faces turbulent times, and the role of IC practitioners may well be at a turning point. Caught between multiple, increasing challenges brought about by the impact of technology, the convergence and integration of communication disciplines and over-riding agendas like employee engagement and advocacy, the profession must dig deep for insights and new ways to define itself.”

This year has put a spotlight on internal communications. A lot of organizations have given more resources and more opportunity for communicators – to get the right tools, to try things that had previously been pushed aside, but that opportunity won’t last forever. The only way to transform that opportunity into a permanent change is by delivering. And we at Sparrow are here to help you do exactly that.

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If you’re looking for a platform to help make your life easier and connecting you with all of your workforce, give Sparrow a look. We’ve lived the pain, we understand the hopes, and we built a platform for communication professionals that delivers. From Intranets, to Microsoft Teams, to newsletters, and mobile, we know how important corporate communications is. Sparrow – Built for CommunicatorsBook a conversation with us today.  
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