The Elevation of Internal Comms in a Post-Corona World
The Corona virus has boosted internal comms, once the poor sister of organizational communications, to mission-critical status.
There aren’t many positives we can take out of the pandemic, but it has forced organizations to confront the idea of working from home, catalyzing a process of examination that might otherwise have taken years. I suspect that many organizations will be pleasantly surprised at just how flexible, effective, and economical working from home can be. While it’s certainly different for larger companies to have their employees sequestered in their homes, many are finding they’re getting the job done under less than ideal circumstances. This realization could be a game-changer. I’m not sure I’d want to be in the commercial real estate business in 2020.
But if working from home is here to stay, there are important questions to address.
How do you sustain a common work culture and engender a sense of mission among employees when they’re not coming into the office every day? After all, a common workspace has been a key contributor in creating and nurturing a common culture.
Well, it calls for a shift in emphasis. A focus on internal communications becomes very important. Employees are principal assets, and in this post-Corona world, many of them will not be riding the elevators in your building every day. They need extra care and attention to bridge the physical distance that now separates them, literally and figuratively, from the company. In short, the move to having employees scattered rather than all together elevates the importance of effective internal communications. And it all begins with strategy, not Zoom. Don’t get me wrong, platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are essential tools for bringing disparate employees together. The ability to see colleagues when interacting with them is important, but these platforms are tactics, not strategies. But where to start?
It’s hard to develop an effective internal communications strategy without first having a solid grasp on the current state of internal comms. So, step one should be a comprehensive audit of current internal communications programs in the context of best practices, the approaches of similar organizations, and the post-Corona world. Among other elements, the audit will entail interviews with key players in the organization and with internal comms staff at similar organizations.
Step two is to re-engineer your internal communications program to tackle the challenge of a workforce that’s no longer in the office fulltime. Setting goals, segmenting key internal audiences, and understanding positioning and messaging, determining vehicles and frequency of communications, will all by important. As part of the strategy, tactics like using Zoom or Teams will likely emerge, along with the need for regular, even prescribed video contact with homebound staff. But let the strategy drive the tactics, not the reverse.
Finally, leadership is required to make this transition work. The organization’s senior echelon must take, and be seen to take, a strong interest in internal communications—which, in general, has not historically been the case. That will send a critical signal that in this new era, internal comms is important to the future of the organization.
We have counseled organizations on internal communications for twenty-five years now and have recently completed just such an audit and strategy for the University of Toronto. The pandemic places these internal comms efforts in a much more critical context.
The Corona virus has changed the world and the workplace. Responding effectively is part of protecting and promoting the long-term interests of the organization. It’s also an opportunity to be seized and a chance to build competitive advantage. Extraordinary times. Extraordinary measures.