How the Hybrid Workplace will Affect Internal Communication

With the hybrid workplace becoming the norm, it’s more important than ever to have an effective and engaging communications strategy. More people are working from home more often, so employees and managers have had to adopt new methods of connecting and communicating. Here are some of the major ways that the hybrid workplace is affecting internal communications in the near future:

1. Internal Communications Elevated

It’s been a longtime struggle to convince the c-suite that the internal communications role is as crucial to success as any other business operation. Investment and inclusion have often been elusive, but 2020 changed that. The rapid move to a remote and hybrid workforce put internal comms in the spotlight.

Suddenly, IC professionals have a seat at the table, being included in business strategy, and receiving long-requested budgets for staff, technology and training. But it’s not all celebration – with this more visible role workloads have skyrocketed, and accountability is at the forefront (more on that later).

Internal comms is increasingly strategizing not only with executives, but also with IT, HR and front-line managers. Everyone has recognized that they are all targeting the same audiences, and that their messages can blend, overlap and reinforce each other. These teams are now working together to coordinate, prioritize and plan messaging campaigns and calendars to the great benefit of employees who used to get separate, sometimes conflicting, communications.

2. Focus on Employee Experience

Employee experience is the journey an employee has with the organization from onboarding through retirement, and it encompasses the workplace, relationships and wellbeing. HR has been focusing on the employee experience for a few years now, but recently internal communications teams are taking up the reigns.

The hybrid workplace offers a new employee experience. It’s increasingly remote and increasingly digital, which presents both challenges and opportunities. A positive employee experience demands constant care. It’s as much about culture as it is day-to-day tasks. It should be organic, holistic and carry over into every interaction and communication.

Effective internal communication and a good employee experience lets everyone – whether in the office or out – to fully participate, develop and succeed.

3. Mobile-first Communications

Millennials and Gen Z account for a little over a third of today’s workforce. These workers are extremely tech-savvy and mobile-dependent. Communicators who want to reach and engage them will need to adopt mobile tech solutions that match their habits and preferences.

Many organizations have either launched or expanded their digital communications in 2020, deploying enterprise messaging apps like Teams, as well as collaboration apps, chat bots and other mobile-friendly tools. Intranets were redesigned to be responsive, everyone got a crash course in videoconferencing etiquette, and internal comms expanded the number of channels it had to manage.

Moving forward, those channels need to be streamlined, optimized and fully adopted by the hybrid workforce. It’s no longer enough to post the same message you’d put in an email on your intranet, digital signage or messaging app. For one thing, information has to be organized and searchable.

It’s estimated that employees spend on average 2.5 hours a day searching for the information they need. That wasted time doesn’t just stifle productivity, it frustrates employees and decreases their trust, interest and engagement with communications.

4. Technology Adoption

With the rapid deployment of mobile-first and work-from-home technologies, a lot of organizations and employees have been operating in crisis mode. Now that the hybrid workplace is a certainty, it’s time to invest in fully adopting those tools.

The first step will be streamlining and consolidating. Organizations will land on a single platform or the fewest number of apps to serve their goals. In many cases, people have had up to a dozen different digital communication tools their trying to learn, use and maintain. Companies need to find what works and downsize to that. It’s guaranteed that apps will expand their features in the future, so successful adoption of the current version is essential so that rolling out updates goes smoothly.

Technology budgets will start to include services to train employees on new tech and tools – not just the buttons and features, but best practices, policies and how they can ask questions and provide feedback. Communicators will need to lead in adopting new technologies to effectively support rolling it out to the organization at large.

An essential component of effective communications for a remote workforce is delivering content how, where and when they want it. Messaging will need to be tailored to the audience and the channel. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.

5. More Visual Communication

Visual communication goes hand-in-hand with digital. As communicators adopt more mobile and online channels, visuals will grow in importance.

People notice and engage with visuals more than they do with text. Intranets, messaging apps, digital signs and other digital channels are designed with visual communications in mind. Internal comms will be focusing more on delivering attention-getting photos, infographics, videos and other visual content. Audio will also gain popularity with more internal podcasts and video streams.

With YouTube the second most popular search engine in the world, video will be more relevant than ever. Everyone has a camera in their pocket and audiences are familiar with, and receptive to, lower production values. In fact, many employees consider informal videos to be more personal and trustworthy.

Every message should be examined to see if it can be presented visually versus text. If something requires lengthy copy, design a visual hook or summary and let people link out to the text. Better yet, tell a story with a staggered campaign.

6. Focus on Employee Recognition

With fewer people coming together physically, it’s crucial to prioritize employee recognition. Communicators will need to build processes and plans for recognition into their digital channels. If they don’t already have them, organizations will need to put peer-to-peer recognition funnels in place, and create a calendar for simple things like anniversaries and birthdays.

Recognition should be on both the macro and micro level. Employees need meaningful feedback and recognition from managers, but they also crave public recognition in front of their peers. All of this helps employees feel more connected to their workmates and the organization. Be sure to call out employee achievements across channels, with a priority on the channels that the person being recognized prefers.

7. Democratized Communications

The days of top-down communications are waning. People want the employee experience to mirror their personal styles of communicating. Things like messaging apps and social media offer everyone a place to start and participate in conversations. Internal comms teams will need to build in commenting, emojis, message boards and chat to keep employees engaged and satisfied.

Although there will always be some centralized communications coming from HQ, more content will be sourced from employees. Lateral communications between peers will also take on elevated importance in the hybrid workplace, providing connection and empowerment for remote workers.

Organizations should encourage employees to contribute to different channels directly or submit media for distribution. Be sure to publish policies and have feedback levers in place to measure employee satisfaction with the content contribution process.

8. Wellbeing Takes Center Stage

Wellbeing, both physical and mental, has been in the spotlight since the outbreak of COVID-19. However, the resulting workplace changes have had their own health effects.

A employee culture survey by Gartner found that “employees who are moderately stressed underperform those who aren’t by 5% — reducing a $1 billion top line by $32.5 million at an average company. Highly stressed employees impact revenue even more.“ Their later study found that 29% of people who worked fulltime from home reported burnout very often or always.

Information gives people a sense of security, safety and control. Effective messaging that keeps employees informed, educated, updated and engaged is key to their wellbeing. In addition, communicators can promote wellbeing values, tips and resources to support the corporate message. Tell your employees you care about their health, wellness and work/life balance.  

9. Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

According to dei.extension.org:

Diversity is the presence of differences that may include race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, language, (dis)ability, age, religious commitment, or political perspective. Populations that have been-and remain- underrepresented among practitioners in the field and marginalized in the broader society.

Equity is promoting justice, impartiality and fairness within the procedures, processes, and distribution of resources by institutions or systems. Tackling equity issues requires an understanding of the root causes of outcome disparities within our society.

Inclusion is an outcome to ensure those that are diverse actually feel and/or are welcomed. Inclusion outcomes are met when you, your institution, and your program are truly inviting to all. To the degree to which diverse individuals are able to participate fully in the decision-making processes and development opportunities within an organization or group.

Social issues cannot be ignored. Modern employees expect transparency and activism from their employer. At a minimum, they expect a workplace culture of respect and inclusion. IC professionals will have to start exploring how internal communication strategies can address these issues if they don’t already, and at a minimum, need to advertise the organization’s values and expectations for employees’ behavior toward others.

Younger generations are deeply invested in these topics. Organizations that have built a diverse, equal and inclusive place will promote those topics in the communications calendar. Those that haven’t started building DEI into the employee experience will want to start now.

10. Emphasizing Sustainability

Another topic that’s important to the modern workforce is sustainability. Modern employees don’t just want to know how they fit into their team, they want to know how their team fits into the company, and how the company fits into the local community and the world at large.

The Cone Communications Millennial Employee Study found that 64% of Millennials won’t take a job if their employee doesn’t have a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy, and 83% would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues (vs. 70% U.S. average).

study by WeSpire found that Gen-Z is “The first generation to prioritize purpose over salary. They read Mission Statements and Values documents to select where they work and want their employer’s values to match their values. They expect consistency and authenticity and will call you out, often publicly, if they don’t see it. They will leave companies they believe are hiding or putting too much spin on bad news, ignoring their negative environmental or social impacts, or that have toxic workplace cultures.”

Many organizations already have sustainability initiatives in place, and those that don’t likely will within the next few years. Whether it’s donating to carbon-neutral initiatives, volunteering and activism or a simply recycling program, internal communicators will need to include those programs in their messaging.

Internal comms can use campaigns to educate employees about what the organization is doing, but also how they can help. It’s always better to provide specific action that motivates employees rather than vague jargon. The goal for companies who are serious about CSR is buy-in and participation, not just greenwashing.

11. Data-Driven Communications

Methods to deliver realtime data will continue to gain traction. In the hybrid workplace, it’s crucial to keep everyone on the same page since they aren’t working alongside one another. Publishing metrics and KPIs ensures that each employee knows the goal and how much progress they’ve made at any given time. It also gives more weight to your communications and provides transparency.

We’re used to having information at our fingertips, so internal communications have to be just as timely. Integrating existing data sources like dashboards and data visualizations into communication channels can offer up information at a glance without staff having to create messages from scratch.

Timely collection and analysis of IC performance data will be vital to successful employee engagement. It’s not enough to just measure how many messages were sent, or even how many were received. That’s just measuring reach. Teams need to measure employee understanding and satisfaction, as well as behavior change and business outcomes. As organizations employ more apps and digital channels, each one will need to be measured and monitored regularly for quick adjustments to strategy.

And now that communication pros have the c-suite’s ear, executives will be looking for solid analytics and employee feedback about campaigns. The higher the investment in internal communications, the more accountability IC has for measurable results for both employee engagement and employee experience.

Want a summary of these hybrid workplace trends? Download our handy infographic.