Do more with less: How internal comms is combating scope creep

It’s no secret that the role of the internal communicator has undergone a seismic rebrand over the last years. As employee engagement levels remain a hot topic at the highest levels, communications challenges in the hybrid workplace also continue to burden those responsible for effective enterprise communications. We asked leading internal comms experts for their take on why internal communicators are experiencing increased pressure, how to combat it, and whether AI could be the solution we've been waiting for.

The internal comms dilemma: more to do, less budget to do it with

It wasn’t so long ago that the role of the enterprise internal communicator was to maintain a simple intranet with static company information, send out a regular e-newsletter, and disseminate the occasional critical business update or leadership message. But today, in the post-pandemic workplace, the role of the internal communicator has snowballed.

With employee engagement now a subject of mainstream headline news, the role of the internal communicator has risen in strategic importance. Leaders are now consulting their internal comms teams for advice on how to improve and measure engagement levels. At the same time, communicating with employees is getting harder. More disparate workforces combined with growing employee expectations – including the need for instant answers, two way communications, and personalized experiences – mean that internal communicators are under pressure to transform their strategies at pace.

It was therefore no surprise that when we conducted a recent survey of enterprise communicators from large companies as part of a report investigating employee retention trends, we found that 50% of Head of Internal Comms reported that the scope of their role had significantly increased. Only 4% of respondents reported that they had experienced no changes at all. 

So, how are internal communicators responding to these challenging circumstances? What levers are they pulling on to meet growing demands? We know that budgets remain stagnant and team sizes are not growing, so what can you do to combat scope creep and excel against the odds? We asked three experts for their advice.


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As the quiet quitting trend shows no sign of letting up, how can today’s businesses build lasting, meaningful engagement across a disparate and demotivated workforce? As part of our latest research, we surveyed enterprise employee experience leaders across internal communications, HR, and IT to find out their top challenges and knowledge gaps when it comes to creating an engaged workforce, what their employees are really looking for, and how they are using innovative comms and technology to solve these challenges. Discover the winning formula for an engaged workforce.

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#1. How extensive is the scope creep problem?

According to Sonya Poonian, Digital Workplace Consulting Director at simplycommunicate, enterprise communicators from businesses of all shapes, sizes, and geographies are experiencing the impact of scope creep.

"It’s certainly a global concern, versus being industry nuanced. I’m working with clients from a range of sectors as a result of scope creep; professional services, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, facilities management to name a few. The critical point is enterprises are investing heavily in enhancing their employee experience which is underpinned by enhancing their digital internal communications. The benefits of which expand beyond solely the communications team; but now into HR, operations, leadership and ultimately enterprise wide."

Sonya Poonian - Digital Workplace Consulting Director at simplycommunicate

Drew Munn, Strategy Partner at Gallagher attests that his firm’s research also supports findings that internal comms teams across the board are suffering with increased responsibilities exacerbated by stagnant budgets.

“Gallagher’s State of the Sector report continues to show that lack of budget is a big issue for comms teams with the percentage of respondents citing it as a top concern more than doubling in the last year,” he advises. “The amount of work they’re expected to do continues to grow, with over a third of respondents not having time for all their tasks.”

Yet, despite this lack of budget and time, teams are still expecting to launch new channels - 14% of respondents, according to the report. At the same time only 7% report a growth in team size. The reality is that communicators are being asked to do lots more with the same level of budget and resource.

#2. How can internal communicators combat stagnant budgets?

With internal comms budgets failing to keep pace with the rise in responsibilities, what can internal communicators do to continue to drive employee engagement gains in tough circumstances? According to Chris Andrew, Principle Head of Caburn Hope, careful prioritization and rationalization of tasks combined with strategic timing is key to success.

"Regarding stagnant budget, we recommend finding quick wins they can capitalise on with their budget and drawing out longer-term priorities that tie in with their goal-setting season. This way, the budget holders have a clear advantage to spending the allocated budget."

Chris Andrews - Principal Head at Caburn Hope

Sonya adds to this that close collaboration with other business functions can also help to cement internal comms value and support increased budget allocations. Internal communicators have the opportunity to add value across the business, so working with other departments to facilitate and enhance their operations, as well as tracking the return, will help to develop a strong business case that demonstrates the ROI of investment.

“We ensure that we’re working closely with other core functions, such as IT and HR, who will also benefit and be able to support with budget,” she says.

#3. How can technology help internal communicators combat scope creep?

We asked our internal comms experts whether new technology innovations could help internal communicators to win the battle against scope creep. With intranet AI and automation capabilities promising to help internal comms teams do more with less, is technology the answer to overcoming the scope creep problem?

According to Drew, Gallagher clients are turning to automation to work ‘smarter’. But working out what needs automating is proving challenging – Drew says that to get it right, teams need to review their workload and begin to build the business case for automation. “This is a vital first step to define ‘what’ needs automating,” he suggests.

For Sonya, she believes that the simplycommunicate is already seeing AI in its predictive form supporting leaders to combat scope creep.

“It’s able to use data and intelligently to automate employee journeys such as onboarding which helps people functions.” she says.

But it’s generative AI that stands to create the biggest step change for internal comms leaders:

"Generative AI is taking this to the next level for communicators in removing the time-consuming tasks and allowing them to focus on high value strategic areas. It’s not only going to be a critical mechanism for combating scope creep, but a critical mechanism for them to work."

Sonya Poonian - Digital Workplace Consulting Director at simplycommunicate

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Thinking about where Generative AI will deliver the most impact, Sonya suggests:

  • Creating new content: creating new, unique outputs across a range of forms, such as text, video, and audio
  • Research: using Generative AI for research to support the creation of content, articles, and blogs, reducing the time required for ideation.
  • Personalizing the employee experience: creating content tailored to a specific audience based on their individual set of needs.
  • Improving efficiency: accelerating tasks, such as analyzing a document, writing newsletters, or editing video.

Drew agrees that Generative AI presents the most opportunity for increasing efficiency in internal comms, saying it’s, “definitely one of (if not the) most important part of the AI revolution when it comes to taking pain away from comms teams.” However, he is careful to point out that we must think critically about how we implement generative AI effectively:

"If it’s [GenAI] going to move the needle on improving our reactivity without increasing spend, then we first need to make sure we’re not taking a step back in the experience we’re delivering by relying on it. Just because we ‘can’ write 10 quite good blog posts in the time it would have taken us to write one well-worded email doesn’t mean we ‘should’."

Drew Munn - Strategy Partner at Gallagher
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#4. What can we do to accelerate our adoption of AI and automation to combat scope creep faster? And how can we do it responsibly?

If the introduction of AI and automation capabilities is the proposed solution to the scope creep challenge, what are the first steps we should be taking today? And how can we ensure we’re implementing AI strategically and using it to improve engagement rather than damage it?

For Sonya, strategic change management and adoption programs are, “core to safely and successfully unlocking the benefits.”

"Much of the narrative around the application of AI is focused on the technology, but just as we see with our clients and EXP implementations today, the real benefit to AI’s potential is only unlocked when AI tools are fully embedded into processes and adopted by people."

Sonya Poonian - Digital Workplace Consulting Director at simplycommunicate

All the experts agreed that the impending AI revolution changes the process of communicating and therefore the skills communicators need to possess.

“Ultimately, for comms leaders they’re going to be developing a new relationship with technology (which is needed) which focuses on humans plus AI,” says Sonya.

That means communicators are going to need to continue to develop on existing digital skills and partner with IT to fill knowledge gaps and work together to embrace opportunities to embed AI in the employee experience.

"There will be a need for tech-savvy, forward-thinking leadership in IC teams and the wider organisation. Successful AI implementation requires leaders who understand its potential and can effectively guide its integration into existing processes rather than making processes more complex which can happen with new digital products and tools."

Chris Andrew - Principle Head at Caburn Hope

Although AI stands to solve issues surrounding scope creep, Chris believes that informed leaders will be crucial to pushing back against resistance to AI, which may come from skepticism about the benefits or reluctance to commit budget in the face of economic pressures. He recommends a phased implementation of AI capabilities combined with a reaffirmation of the position of internal comms leaders as a strategic business function.

“There’s a connection between budget cuts, unclear remits, and increased workloads and a workforce’s resistance to AI. AI may be perceived as an additional burden rather than a solution in these scenarios. A gradual integration approach can help companies to keep up with AI's rapid development and overcome resistance to new technology.” 

Find out more about how Unily is pioneering AI for internal communicators

There is little doubt that the internal comms industry is crying out for a solution to scope creep. AI and automation capabilities promise to deliver, but internal communicators must lead the call to embrace strategic adoption.

To find out more about how an AI-powered intranet could help you do more with less, get started with a free demo of our market-leading platform, and find out how enterprise communicators from the world’s largest enterprises are already leaning into AI to solve their challenges.

Get started. Get your free demo.

Find out more about how Unily is pioneering AI for internal communicators

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