In this blog, I’ll explore some of the hot topics in internal comms right now and how you can leverage them to drive change in your organization.
1. Remote-first, hybrid and return-to-office
Remote-first working poses a conundrum for internal communications. While it gives employees greater control, which can lead to better work-life balance and improved wellbeing, the absence of in-person contact can make it harder to reach and engage them through scheduled communications (e.g., company-wide town halls), and reinforce feelings of loneliness and lack of connection. In this environment, maintaining strategic alignment and empowering people managers are both critical.
Tip: More communications will be pulled by employees on demand, so focus on creative ways (short, visual content) to grab and hold their attention.
Hybrid adds even more complexity, as internal communicators need to be intentional about which communication activities should be delivered in-person, and how to get as many employees as possible to attend. It requires thinking deeply and differently about the purpose and value of offline and online communications, and ensuring employees get maximum value from each type. With some companies and teams meeting on an infrequent basis, employees need a compelling reason to attend internal comms-driven events in person.
Adoption and usage of AI is becoming widespread. Organizations are taking advantage of this technology to re-model their operations, reimagine how they deliver their products and services, and ultimately drive superior performance.
A key consideration for companies using AI is what are they using it for, why, and the implications for their people. Internal Comms should play a pivotal role in facilitating these discussions, because we bring understanding of the business strategy, cross-functional knowledge and relationships, and the voice of employees. This is a powerful combination which the profession should be leaning into.
As this report from the Institute of Internal Communications outlines, when it comes to planning, implementing, and communicating new use cases for AI inside the business, internal comms should be bringing all stakeholders together to map out the impact on the strategic narrative (if any) and employees. For example, what are your people required to understand, engage with, or do differently because of an AI initiative?
As AI becomes more pervasive, employees will need frequent communications on its ethical considerations and risks, including the impact on your organization�s carbon footprint, data privacy and security, and deepfakes. People will also have seen the headlines about AI eliminating jobs, so they will look to your leaders for information about how you intend to use AI, and any potential impact on roles.
Tip: AI is going to reshape many organizations, which means it’s going to have an impact on IC teams and their work. The more you understand about AI, the more strategic value you will add to your business. Research, talk to peers using it, play around with it, and bring the key people inside your organization together to devise a strategy that has communications at its centre.
3. The wellbeing crisis
While companies acknowledge the importance of employee wellbeing and may well have a range of interventions in place, the problem is getting worse. Burnout, chronic stress, and other work-related illnesses are growing at alarming rates globally. In the 2023 Deloitte Workplace Wellbeing Survey, 8 in 10 respondents said they are struggling with a heavy workload and stressful job.
This is a tough one for internal communicators. The profession has been at the coal face since 2020, and many practitioners are facing their own mental health battles, leading some to leave the industry, and even corporate life, behind.
The reason most wellbeing initiatives don’t work is because they don’t tackle the root causes of the problems, which are to be found in your company culture. Unless these are addressed, the issues will persist.
The good news is that internal comms can make a big difference here. For example, prioritization (or lack thereof) is a key challenge across many organizations. By creating and cultivating strategic alignment, internal communicators can help keep employees (directly, or via people managers) focused, calm, and healthy, which has many business benefits. A recent study by the University of Oxford showed that companies with higher wellbeing demonstrated a superior return on assets, generated higher profits, and commanded higher valuations.
Tip: Put your own mask on first. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Prioritize doing whatever keeps you physically, mentally, and emotionally in the best condition to perform at work. This will rub off on your colleagues. Given the vital role internal communicators play in the wellbeing of an organization’s people, your business needs you to be at your healthiest.
4. Making actual progress on inclusion
Similar to wellbeing, inclusion is a growing priority for businesses looking to change their culture and improve performance. An inclusive culture is one in which every colleague feels a sense of belonging and connection. People are valued for who they are, their unique contribution and the difference they make, and they can fully be themselves at work. They are not just listened to, but seen, heard, and their views acted upon.
Effective internal communications is therefore central to building inclusive cultures because it helps to connect your people to a shared purpose, creates clarity on strategy, and provides platforms for open, two-way comms across the organization.
However, while most companies understand the importance of inclusion and the business value it delivers, making tangible, sustainable progress has been slow. Organizations who have failed to build inclusive cultures typically do the listening, but don’t follow through with actions. In a recent McKinsey report, while 70% of respondents said their organization had aspirations on inclusion, only 47% felt they had the infrastructure to achieve them.
To move beyond words, leaders need to identify the high-impact opportunities to make progress in their organizations, and put in place a long-term strategy to deliver. Internal communicators have a fantastic opportunity to help shape such a strategy, as we have data on employee engagement, can advise leaders on the behaviors, systems, and symbols that most influence inclusion (for example, language), and create plans to communicate activities and, most importantly, progress.
Tip: The language you use in your communications reveals whether your organization has an inclusive mindset or not. Agree Tone of Voice guidelines around the language you will and will not use, and ensure your leaders understand them.
5. It’s all about employee experience
Employee experience is not a buzzword. More and more organizations are seeking to make transformative improvements in this area – indeed, it’s been one of the top priorities for forward-thinking and joined-up HR and communications teams for a while.
But what exactly does employee experience mean?
Employee experience is such a broad topic, because ‘experience’ is such an all-encompassing word.
As Gallup defines it, “The employee experience is the journey an employee takes with your organization. It includes all the interactions an employee has with your organization before, during and after their tenure.”
Internal communications, usually in conjunction with HR and IT, can help clarify what it means for your organization, why it’s important, and the key areas you’re going to focus on (because you won’t be able to do it all at once). A helpful way to do this is to identify the key moments in your employee lifecycle you want to address, and review any feedback you have from employees on them.
For example, onboarding is a common complaint. New joiners frequently feel that they don’t receive adequate information about the company when they start, and are instead dropped in at the deep end. Internal comms can help orientate employees to the company strategy early by creating a set of materials that people managers can share with their new team members. That way, alignment is built from the outset and these employees are quicker to add value and more likely to stay with the company.
Tip: Work together with HR and IT to co-create a well-rounded employee experience strategy. Convene focus groups with employees to road test your strategy before implementing, and involve your people in how it gets delivered.
6. Taking a stand
There are mounting expectations on businesses these days to speak out on political, societal, and economic issues. And these pressures, whether from shareholders, employees, or local communities, show no signs of relenting. According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, societal leadership is now a requirement, with 60% of employees wanting their CEO to speak out on controversial issues they care about, and 80% expecting them to be a part of their company’s conversations around public policy and societal impact.
This puts internal communicators in a tight spot. They need to demonstrate that their organization is in touch with events, understands the impact of its operations, and wants to engage with stakeholders. However, the list of issues seemingly requiring comment expands daily, with each new request further distracting often scarce IC resources away from what they should be focused on – helping employees understand and deliver on the business strategy.
- Data is your friend. Ask your people what issues matter most to them and why. You can send surveys, host listening sessions, and dedicate All-Hands meetings to discuss them. Whatever the issues are, use these insights to inform your strategy
- Align with your external communications team. Based on your respective data sets, knowledge, and experience, agree the core issues and/or criteria that your business should speak out on. Also, define your ways of working together when an issue does break
- Agree this integrated external/internal strategy with your senior leaders, so everyone understands what issues your company will speak on, why (connected to your company strategy), and your key messages for various audiences. Having this strategic alignment will provide clarity, enable you to be proactive in your communications, and show your employees that you value their input
Harnessing hot topics in internal comms
There’s never a dull moment for internal communicators, and right now the spotlight is on the profession like never before.
These six hot topics in internal comms are evidence that this is the time for people in the industry to claim their rightful place at the heart of shaping fundamental changes to how businesses operate and communicate with their people. Exciting times ahead!�