6 Important Internal Communication Trends

Simplrr recently published their research titled State of Internal Communications 2021, looking at how internal communicators see their roles post-COVID and internal communication trends. Two of the key takeaways that caught our eye are:

  • COVID-19 has helped the IC profession, with many respondents noting increased visibility and strategic relevance within their roles. 

This is an ironic but welcome change. Communication professionals have long been agitating for a “seat at the table”, with more attention from the C-suite and input into strategic planning. With the workforce spread out in home and hybrid offices, it makes sense that the communications department has become the focal point for corporate connection and messaging. You can’t rely on watercooler talk or in-person meetings and conversations as much, but you still need to nurture the employee experience (EX).

  • The pandemic is driving organizations to investment more in IC technology, with intranet technology and internal communications apps the top priorities.

Internal Communication (IC) has been moving to more tech over the past decade, and the pandemic has sped up that process. That’s good news in terms of companies recognizing the need and allocating budgets, but it also means that IC professionals have to have a plan for how to adopt and exploit these new channels. It also means that employees need to be trained and comfortable with those technologies.

Gallagher has released their study State of the Sector 2021: The definitive global survey of the internal communication and employee engagement landscape. The 45-page study presents data and insights from the survey responses of 800+ professional internal communicators from around the globe. It looks at their challenges, priorities and plans after the somewhat-jarring upheaval of 2020. We highly recommend you read the full report, but here are a few highlights and internal communication trends that stood out to us.

1. IC & Employee Experience

These stats align with the Simplrr findings about increased IC relevance and more technology investment. However, when you add employee experience (EX) into the mix, you start to see some differences.

  • 66% of IC professionals said their influence on senior leadership increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that number is closer to 54% in North America. (This may be because those relationships were already strong.)
  • 68% of respondents say employee experience is discussed at C-suite level, some with a clear mandate and others less formally. However, 20% say EX isn’t discussed at the executive level.
  • 37% have change plans in place for new information and collaboration tools. However, 27% do not have a clear strategy for handling digital experience and technology as part of EX.

As employee experience has become a major focus for organizations, IC is working closer with HR and line managers in shaping that experience. But successful EX efforts have to start at the top with the C-suite. And it’s great that companies are buying more tech, but if there’s no clear plan in place for how to deploy and onboard those new digital tools and processes, you’re setting yourself up for EX headaches.

These are just a few of the items we pulled from longer lists and insights. All of these priorities can play a part in digital signage strategies – educating and engaging employees with mission statements, omnichannel outreach, data display, experiential and interactive communications, asking employees to contribute content and, obviously, using digital channels.

When asked where attention and resources will be focused in 2021:

  • Engaging teams around purpose, strategy, values 49%
  • Developing / refreshing our internal communication strategy, framework, tone of voice 41%
  • Improving digital / social channels 40%

North America IC priorities in 2021:

  • Improving impact measurement and evaluation
  • Engaging teams around purpose, strategy, values
  • Improving digital / social channels

Biggest emerging internal communication trends for the next 2-3 years:

  • Featuring diverse voices / inclusivity 54%
  • Authenticity in messages 46%
  • Employee advocacy / user-generated content strategies 43%
  • Subscription models for communications—ability to choose how you’re communicated with 42%
  • Drive for integrated, omnichannel frameworks 33%
  • Data-driven cultures 32%
  • Experiential communications (integrating all 5 senses) 21%

3. More Short-Term Planning

Just 40% of surveyed organizations have an overarching internal communications strategy in place to cover more than one year. Although that’s up from 33% in 2020, it’s still a strikingly low number. Most organizations have a mission and objectives that span anywhere from three to five years into the future. So, why don’t they forecast their internal communications for that same time period?

In some cases, it’s because they want to remain flexible. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s the need to adapt and evolve quickly. A lot of communicators concentrate on planning campaigns and short-term messaging aims to meet immediate business needs.

For others, the priorities are less on long-term strategy than on realigning messaging to reinforce values, connectedness and wellbeing across a more dispersed workforce, along with all the technology, training and workload that entails.

4. New Delivery Channels

As part of the shift to more digital communications, organizations will have to formulate different goals and methodology for each channel, and employee feedback should drive that strategy.

  • 46% plan on greater investment in digital channels. However only 51% have channel-specific editorial calendars or a channel framework in place.
  • 31% Stronger emphasis on employee voice and feedback
  • 52% say they have no plans to let employees choose how they receive communications

Unfortunately, just under half of IC professionals lack a channel-specific plan, which will be essential to successful omnichannel communications. Also, there seems to be an internal communications trend toward putting tech systems in place, but less commitment to employee involvement and choice. Without considering employee feedback or letting them choose their preferred communications channel, adoption and satisfaction might suffer.

5. New Kinds of Content

In addition to ways to deliver communications, the content of messaging is expected to focus on more human-centered topics.

  • 70% of respondents said their organization will have an increased focus on mental health and employee wellbeing.
  • 55% will focus on diversity and inclusion.
  • 52% said they will concentrate on new ways of working, and 47% see a need for increased leadership visibility.
  • 17% say they are focusing on presenting a more authentic tone of voice.

Wellbeing and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) top every communications and HR list for 2021. With the expansion of WFH and hybrid workplaces, employees are feeling disconnected and stressed. They’re looking for reassurance and community, and they want their workplace to be respectful, caring and authentic. Leaders, IC, HR and managers can coordinate their communication strategies to address employees’ concerns and nurture a more thoughtful, balanced culture.

6. More Measurement

As communicators take advantage of their elevated influence with the C-suite, they’ll also be expected to provide more insight into the processes and success measures for their plans. At the executive level, leaders will want both quantitative and qualitative reporting to justify their expanded investment in IC.

  • When asked about measuring success, reach (measuring if people receive your message) is widely measured (50% of organizations systematically track channel reach); as is employee understanding of key topics, with 75% of organizations tracking this on a regular or semi-regular basis.
  • However, overall satisfaction with internal communication, behavior change, and business outcomes are measured far less frequently, with fewer than 1 in 4 ‘systematically’ tracking these and around 2 in 5 (40% and 43% respectively) ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ measuring these—despite the high level of importance that senior leaders place on these outcomes.
  • When asked the main challenge in measuring impact, there were two items that stood out:
    • 73% lack of time and resource (number one on the list)
    • 27% No interest from the business

It’s understandable that as IC professionals expand their influence, channels and content, their workloads are also getting heavier. Although a lot of investment has gone into technology, the same amount hasn’t gone into staff, so fewer people are having to do more.

The more surprising stat is that over a quarter of businesses don’t seem to care whether their communications are working or not. More than likely, they are seeing the product of IC efforts and looking at output instead of results. This is a mistake. If you aren’t measuring employee satisfaction, message retention and outcomes, you’re making strategic decisions based on incomplete data. At a minimum, consider doing regular surveys and start putting measurable calls to action in place.

If you can learn anything from these internal communication trends, it’s that IC is a dynamic, ever-changing field that has to constantly monitor plans and effectiveness. The most important things are to always work toward a positive employee experience, get feedback and adapt quickly.

Want to grab these stats in a handy infographic? Download it here.