It’s 2021, and our workforces don’t look like they used to. Thanks to technology tools, globalization, and the impacts of COVID, internal communicators face a lot of new challenges. Internal communications success means happy, effective, productive employees that positively contribute to the employee experience; while doing it wrong can leave employees confused, unproductive, and disconnected from company initiatives.
In this post we dive into what internal communication means today, and give you the best practices and definitions you need to drive successful change in your organization.
Internal communication trends for 2021
Let’s examine the two main factors impacting internal communications. One is the effect of technological change, and the other is the move towards a hybrid workforce. Both trends have far-reaching implications and may radically alter the workplace as we know it; at the same time, they also have the potential to render internal communications teams indispensable to achieving high levels of productivity and efficiency.
Impact of technology in the workplace
When you stop and think about it, the sheer amount of technology affecting workplaces around the world is truly staggering. According to The World Economic Fund’s The Future of Jobs Report, 85% of organizations are expanding into new technologies, including:
- Cloud technology
- Artificial intelligence (AI)
- Big data analytics
With these emerging tools, companies will become more efficient, expand their markets, and compete in a world increasingly populated by digital natives.
It’s estimated that 133 million new jobs may be generated from the adoption of robotics and algorithms—at the same time, 75 million jobs may be displaced. To maintain balance during this period of change and transition, communications leaders must form a comprehensive workforce strategy. The right approach and leadership team will help employees and companies thrive.
Now is the time to focus on the employee experience.
The success of any company initiative depends on whether employees can (and want to) meet strategic organizational objectives. This is especially true during an accelerated digital transformation. If most employees feel disconnected from the business and don’t understand why decisions are being made, the organization’s program is likely to fail. Ultimately, good internal communications support the kind of employee engagement that drives desired business outcomes. Strong internal communications provide a major strategic advantage.
Impact of freelance and gig economy workers
Advancements in technology have also given rise to freelance and gig-economy workers. For internal communicators, it’s critical to understand how to reach a growing dispersed workforce, including the overlooked deskless or frontline employees that make up 80% of the global workforce. If employees aren’t getting relevant information, they may not understand or even know about company-wide business goals.
To engage these employees effectively, internal communications need to reach them on their terms. Frontline workers and contract employees have unique concerns, stresses, and factors that keep them motivated to perform at high levels. A strong, cohesive workforce communications program cannot be an afterthought. Also, internal communicators cannot rely on standard or legacy methods of reaching freelance, frontline, and gig-economy workers and expect ideal results. Communications leaders must explore new options for communication (including mobile tools and apps) fully integrate their communications initiatives to proactively shape the future of work and invest in human capital management—this is the way they can become communicators of change.
What is internal communication in 2021
Let’s step back and define internal communications.
Internal communications is keeping employees connected and informed, and creating a shared understanding of company goals, values, and guidelines. Internal communications is critical for keeping employees up-to-date on a company’s latest initiatives, establishing a voice of authority and trust to combat rumors, and facilitating streamlined, clear communications among different departments.
Note that being a great internal communicator isn’t strictly about one-way communication or sending broadcasts from an executive level through the lower tiers of the company. On the contrary, great internal communicators also give a voice to and engage with workers on the ground level.
What is internal communications strategy in business communication?
Business communication is best described as the information shared (both internally and externally) by a company, about the company. This could take the form of an all-hands meeting, messages sent via an employee-engagement app, emails, intranet messages, digital or printed signage, or printed materials.
Internal communications is critical to business communication. Internal communicators forge the following unique, key links among the following elements:
- The employee experience
- Company-wide business goals
- Changes related to digital transformation
- Any new initiatives, executive hires, programs, or projects
Business communications align business goals and objectives with every employee. Without a robust internal communications program, your business goals may fail.
What is internal communication
What’s the best way to define internal communications today? And how do internal communicators describe their jobs?
Wikipedia has a pretty good starter definition:
Internal communications (IC) is the function responsible for effective communications among participants within an organization. The scope of the function varies by organization and practitioner, from producing and delivering messages and campaigns on behalf of management, to facilitating two-way dialogue and developing the communication skills of the organization’s participants.
And what do actual practitioners say about their chosen profession? We asked some of the best internal communicators we know to define internal communications, and here’s what they told us.
According to Jason Anthoine, managing founder of Audacity: “You’re a business leader who happens to lead communications.” Internal communications is the force behind today’s leading organizations and its trusted advisor.
Another leader, Chuck Gose, strategic advisor at Firstup and host of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails podcast, says, “Internal communications is the facilitation, creation, operation, and elevation of conversation and communication inside an organization.”
Sonia Fiorenza, who leads Strategic Advisory Services and develops communications and engagement strategies for Firstup, has more than 20 years of experience in corporate communications at Fortune 500 companies across the financial services, biotechnology, and retail industries. In her blog series, Sonia Speaks, she writes:
In today’s decentralized media environment, it’s clear that presiding over any organization’s internal communications strategy requires some serious leadership skills just to get the job done… By cultivating a deep focus on outcomes, collaborating across the organization, helping leaders become successful communicators, and ensuring communications efforts are measurable, communications professionals can prove themselves indispensable leaders within their organizations.
What is the purpose of internal communications?
The employee experience is at the center of every company initiative. That’s what makes communication within an organization so important.
Employees need to feel connected to the company—it’s decisions, initiatives, programs, departments, and executive messages. These connections are imperative to help employees understand why executives are making decisions and implementing changes. When they understand what’s driving those decisions and changes, they’re more likely to be receptive and engaged.
Internal communications also fosters transparency within an organization.
Most organizations are comprised of different departments and units, which means they need help from internal communications to work together in a coordinated manner. Internal communications can help everyone commit to and stay focused on the same goals. In doing so, they can also help foster a strong sense of camaraderie and engagement among employees.
A research study published by Gallup found that among U.S. workers surveyed, a mere 27% said they strongly believe in their employers’ values. So it is critical for internal communications to help employees better understand company culture, and foster feelings of connection to the company’s brand. Employees who believe strongly in the company’s brand are not only more likely to be productive, but also more likely to promote how happy and satisfied they are with their employer. This can have enormously beneficial effects for recruitment and hiring, and keep turnover low—all without any investment in marketing.
How can your internal communications strategy be improved in the workplace?
We recently spoke with leading communicators from Dow, Extreme Network, American Cancer Society, Love’s Travel Stops, and Newell Brands in our ebook, Communications Leaders of Change 2019. Their journeys to improve the employee experience and achieve their digital initiatives, revealed some important lessons and insight on internal communications initiatives.
Internal communication goals
Like any other communications leader, you must set your goals and KPIs when you start a project. This step is critical to your success. Then, choose the right channels and vehicles for your initiatives. This will help you determine what can and can’t be measured via that channel.
Also, today’s internal communications pros don’t launch new programs or content without first mapping goals and developing a strategy to measure success with data and metrics.
If you’re new to the goals/data/metrics trifecta, you’re not alone. 19% of communicators do not track metrics for their communications strategy, while only 22% are confident they were tracking the right metrics that would help them improve their content.
Fistup has many customer stories showing how you can identify the right approach to reach the right groups of employees, with the right content, at the right time and place. Your data-driven internal communications strategy should also include a plan to measure your success so you can prove your value to the executive team and gain insights to help you build future IC campaigns.
Internal communication strategies
When was the last time you re-evaluated your current internal communications strategy?
The best internal communications leaders continually reassess their strategies so they’re sure they are engaging and connecting with their workforce. Your company’s goals and strategic objectives may have changed, or there may be a new change initiative in the works. And it is your job to make sure that the employee experience is always optimized.
Internal communication tools
Lots of tools are available to help internal communicators deliver messages more effectively and efficiently, and track analytics and data on engagement. Your goal is to connect and engage employees at work. But attention spans are short, digital distractions abound, and the workforce is becoming more distributed. And if you can’t measure your communications, you don’t know how it’s impacting your business.
In our eBook, How to Secure Funding for a Workforce Communications Platform, we revealed that there are approximately one internal communicator for every 10,000 employees. With such small teams and resources, IC pros need to choose the best tools to streamline their work and make their processes more efficient, so they can spend more time on strategy and measuring content performance.
To truly engage your employees, you need the right internal communication tools, which may include a combination of tools for apps, software, platforms, and email.
Internal communications apps
We love our smartphones in our daily lives. They offer convenience and help us stay informed and connected. So why come to work and use old technology? Many organizations, especially those with deskless or frontline employees, are turning to internal communication apps to address this issue.
Communicators can increase employee engagement and build company culture, all from a company app. However, not all apps are the same, and you need to use a technology that is built for employee communication. This blog post, The Top 7 Frustrations With Outsourced Employee Engagement Apps outlines the pitfalls of creating your own DIY internal communication app without the right workforce communications platform on the backend.
Internal communications software
For more than a decade, companies have relied on internal communication software, like their intranets, to reach employees. But, let’s face it, most intranets are clunky and technologically out-of-date, or simply inaccessible to employees who don’t work at their desks.
Now is a perfect opportunity to rethink your internal comms strategy with a focus on real-time information and technology that can reach employees where they are, when they are ready, and with content relevant to them. And the best internal communication software is a cloud-based workforce communications platform. If you’d like to learn more, read 7 Reasons Why Your Intranet Isn’t For Internal Communications.
Internal communications platform
The best communications team use workforce communications platforms because tools with just one capability, such as email or the intranet, don’t work well alone. You need to have an integrated system and a multi-channel approach, especially if you have a change initiative.
A workforce communications platform allows you to improve internal communications in the workplace and truly reach employees where they are, on their preferred channel. You’ll also connect your strategy to your content and measure your success. Measurement will help you get executive buy-in and justify the ROI of any tool you might purchase to streamline and improve your workforce communications.
Internal communications email
Email has been a standard-bearer of workplace (and personal) communication, but managing it can be a major hassle. Using a platform like Firstup allows you to quickly customize designs, maintain distribution lists, stay on-brand, automate campaigns on any schedule you want, and optimize delivery times to each employee to reduce fatigue and ensure engagement. Powerful email metrics help to collect feedback and thus improve your strategies to drive communication.
We work with communicators from the world’s biggest companies to help them set goals, align with larger organizational objectives, garner employee feedback, and launch programs to improve the employee experience.
Increasingly, communicators are learning from marketing and studying their employees, similar to how marketers study consumers. By understanding your audience (your employees) you’ll best understand what they need to thrive. This blog post includes an easy to use template and a step-by-step process: How To Improve Employee Engagement By Studying Your Employees.
For more internal communication templates, download our guide, 7 Templates for Communications and HR Professionals.
Here are some myths about internal communicators
- 71% of employees don’t read email and other internal communications,
- 36% of employees were unhappy with the format in which most communications are delivered, and
- some employees didn’t even know where to find company information.
With statistics like this, it is no wonder there are many myths and misconceptions around internal communications myths. Read our full article, 5 Internal Communications Myths Debunked, to learn why employee-generated content is awesome and how company apps are changing the dynamics of employee communications.
History of internal communications
Internal communications date way back to the 19th century. At that time, employees wrote publications for their fellow employees. Former journalists then revised the publications before they were distributed throughout the organization. These internal communications were seen as a way to supplement the lack of interaction between a company and its employees.
One of the earliest records of internal communications is when Friedrich List, in 1834, told some factory owners to create employee newsletters. The New England Lowell Cotton Mills was the first company to publish its own magazine, which it called Lowell Offering. Other companies later joined in and the earliest forms of internal communications spread around the world.
In the 20th century, a term was given to the former journalists who revised company newsletters: industrial editors. Because of the tension from these early industrialists and their workers, these publications were primarily used to persuade fellow employees about certain topics or to disseminate propaganda throughout the organization. It was not until the mid-1990’s that employees’ viewpoints became an integral part of internal communications when more personalized communication began to rise in prominence.
How do you become an internal communicator?
There is no one way to become an internal communicator. New research found that 35% of internal communicators surveyed did not purposely plan to work in internal communications. Two common college degrees that many internal communicators earned prior to their careers were journalism and public relations.
Internal communicators are known for having excellent writing skills, with the ability to write for different channels (i.e. newsletters, websites, etc.). They also need to have good listening skills because understanding employees’ viewpoints is an essential part of the job. Creativity is also important. Some people also get into internal communications as a result of first working in external communications.
Today’s internal communications landscape
As the workplace continues to change, Firstup empowers communicators to reach every worker, from headquarters to the frontline. We’re the platform for workforce communications that integrates multiple channels to create the mission-control for communicators to transform their internal communications strategy.