Frank Wolf, CSO and Co-founder of Staffbase.
Before the turmoil of 2020, a common request from employee communications professionals was the desire for “a seat at the table.” Communicators wanted more involvement in strategic management decision making and to play a greater role than that of a mere distributor of company news and information.
The unprecedented challenges presented by a global health crisis, social unrest and political precariousness provided internal communicators with this very opportunity. And for many companies, these professionals’ skills saved the day. Today, as a result, communication is likely to be high on the agendas of many CEOs.
This is an important shift. One that signifies that internal communications teams are being recognized as a key business unit that can help guide companies and employees through uncharted territory in the workplace. And there’s data to back this up. Take, for instance, the “2021 Edelman Trust Barometer,” which shows that at a global level, the most trusted source of information is communications from employers, at 61% (download required).
But that trust will quickly diminish if communicators don’t do everything possible to appease employees who are returning to work with an abundance of new expectations and anxieties. In this new environment, understanding individual employee concerns and responding to them with meaningful action is imperative. Here are three ways I believe it’s possible to do just that:
1. Make the switch from ‘message creator’ to ‘communication enabler.’
As a communications professional, to maximize your impact, it’s not a bad idea to start thinking about broadening your traditional role of “message creator” into more of a “communication enabler.” It’s a priority for communicators to make sure, now more than ever, that the right messages are coming from the right people, whether they are line managers, the CEO, internal influencers or other trusted sources. Communicators are best positioned to identify and empower these people with the ability to share specifically relevant news and gather feedback, ideally making effective communication everyone’s business.
2. Find a way to generate authentic feedback.
Whether through pulse surveys, one-on-one conversations, digital channels or other means, encourage the kind of honest feedback that can provide an accurate picture of the common anxieties affecting different employee personas. Not only will this help your organization address important employee concerns, but it will also generate useful input for finding and shaping the right tone for future messages. Even more, it will provide knowledge that can inform the strategic direction of your organization, while also demonstrating to senior executives that you can contribute to its success.
For instance, any successful internal communications strategy will need to take into account a major shift in how a company’s employees want to work. A recent Harvard Business School Online survey found that the majority of employees (81%) either prefer a hybrid schedule or don’t want to return to the office at all. In fact, 27% of employees would like to work remotely full-time, while 61% would prefer to work remotely two or three days a week.
Whatever the case may be, employees are facing unique challenges that organizations won’t be able to successfully address without first identifying exactly what they are. Are employees worried about job security? Are they afraid of the risks of commuting on public transportation? Do they have concerns about the health of their families or loved ones? Communicators know which channels are best for discovering the issues that concern their company’s people and affect their ability to do their work.
3. Get your communications channels in order.
In the recent past, a great deal of inter-office communication happened in digital collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams. There was simply no alternative. But that hasn’t proven to be a long-term solution for highly effective communications. First of all, not every employee has access. And for those who do, important information is easily lost in a sea of less-than-relevant messages.
Examining your communication channels, both digital and analog, will tell you which ones are, in fact, delivering information in the way you intended. As a first step, a communications audit will help you to get a sense of where your communication channels are most effective and where you might need some help.
The “new world of work” isn’t just a cliché. It’s here to stay. Before Covid-19, the purpose of internal communications was to deliver a company’s overarching business strategy, objectives and initiatives by effectively communicating what matters to a workforce and why. Those objectives remain as critical as ever. But what matters even more in our post-pandemic world of work is that our communication is thoughtful, meaningful, transparent and not always all about business. Effective employee communications will empower your people, both in their jobs and their lives, and help them to feel more secure about a return to work, no matter what form it takes.