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Working your way out of the pandemic: Three ways COVID has forever changed internal communications

Sara Whitman and Isabel Conrad

For internal communications professionals working their way out of the pandemic, one thing is extremely clear: COVID has transformed internal communications, and there’s no going back. 

Overnight, employees had to adjust to an entirely new way of working, which in many cases led to confusion and uncertainty. Internal communications teams stepped up to keep employees aware, prepared and connected. This transition re-positioned internal communications teams at the forefront of change as they sought to create clarity out of chaos and build trust between employees and employers. 

We’ve noticed three distinct and lasting changes that have come about as a result of the pandemic, which will prove useful as we collectively grapple with the uncertain social, economic and political conditions that lie ahead. 

Internal communications adapted and extended

As offices shut down and people began working remotely, there was a gap between what people needed to know and what they were hearing. The physical distance introduced new challenges for disseminating information and connecting employees. 

Internal teams began researching and testing new methods of communications, or leaned into existing ones to keep people up to date and engaged. Many adopted more comprehensive technologies for virtual events, resource hubs, and training in an effort to better reach deskless employees. These new channels of communication were critical in keeping employees informed and engaged in a virtual space. 

The result is a new communications ecosystem for a hybrid work environment. It’s also a dynamic ecosystem, with teams and organizations showing more willingness to test and learn from different approaches. 

Employees sought more depth from their employers

During the most uncertain times, workers turned to their employers as a source of information. Companies became responsible for sharing critical, up-to-date information about health and safety in the office and at home. 

The response was resoundingly positive, and employees felt increasingly connected because of it. As social issues arose in the following months, the same expectations persisted, and employees again turned to their employers for information – this time to demand transparency and understand where employers stood on important social and human rights issues. 

As employees continued to look for deeper levels of communication, internal communications teams sought to meet those needs. To better understand how employees were feeling, there was a greater push to hear and understand the evolving sentiments of employees. Utilizing pulse surveys allowed internal communications teams to continue listening to employees in a timely manner, even when not physically together. 

Moving forward, we’re seeing more teams explicitly tailoring messages for more nuanced employee segments, driven by their varying wants and needs. 

Senior leaders embraced their humanity

The pandemic also ushered in a new era of leadership communications. There was an increase in the frequency of company meetings, town halls, blog posts, quarterly CEO updates, podcasts and videos with executives, and more. The tone and approach of the communications also changed, with leaders embracing authenticity and empathy in their outreach. Leaders stepping up and sharing authentic stories from this globally shared experience became key to employee satisfaction and engagement. These moments of authentic leadership, coupled with employee engagement opportunities, increased overall trust in the organization and in executive leaders. 

This style of leadership communication and engagement with employees will be put to the test as leaders seek to maintain these standards and expectations amid potential restructures, layoffs, and other business impacts necessary – but it’s here to stay.