Future of internal communications 2021+: 6 key takeaways

We recently hosted a live event that took a deep dive into internal communications for this year and beyond. Thanks to COVID-19 accelerating the strategic importance of internal comms, the landscape as we once knew it has changed forever. With this in mind, we bought together a panel of experts from around the globe to discuss how to best navigate the new, unpredictable landscape, and leverage new and upcoming opportunities to take 2021 by storm. Here are the 6 main highlights you should know.

Employee using digital workplace internal communications tools to communicate with her team

The future is bright, but the road is long

Now more than ever, businesses are leaning upon their internal communications teams to help them plan and strategize how to best traverse this new world of working. To understand the changing nature of enterprise communications, Matthew Boyd, Unily’s product evangelist, bought together three experts in IC to speak on the topic of the future of internal comms, and to share their thoughts and advice as to how IC leaders can build a futureproof strategy in order to best benefit the business for the long-term.

Through the insights shared by Kerry Christopher - VP of Internal Communications at Cardinal Health, Jennifer Sproul - Chief Executive at Institute of Internal Communications, and Ben Reynolds - Managing Director at Gallagher’s Employee Experience & Communication practice, we learned what challenges and opportunities lay ahead for internal communicators seeking to have a real impact in their organization.

6 key takeaways for internal comms

The hour-long webinar was packed full of interesting insights and information from the panel as to what internal comms should be focusing on for this year and beyond. Covering everything from digital tools to culture, we’ve pulled out six highlights from the pool of knowledge shared on the day.


#1. The future of internal communications is positive

2020 was a year of change for all, and internal communicators should feel a sense of pride and achievement in terms of what was accomplished in the past year. Now, it’s time to seize the momentum and demonstrate to business leaders just how IC can benefit the business.

"Last year provided a whole new context for how we operate and communicate, but the principles and skills we’ve evolutionized over the years still exist – it’s the context that’s been thrown into a new light. We should be embracing the new opportunities and show the value of what we do."

Jennifer Sproul - IoIC

"Leadership hasn’t been able to connect into IC before, and can now see the impact. Now is the time to seize the opportunity that is there for us. The influence has never been greater. Internal communicators’ impact over the past year wasn’t just about getting messages out – we kept businesses open, collaborative, kept furloughed workers connected, helped remote workers. The opportunity that stands is to think about the true impact IC can have on organizational performance."

Ben Reynolds - Gallagher

#2. Invest in the right digital tools

There’s no doubt that technology has been the lynchpin of internal comms over the past year, but it’s important to invest in the right infrastructure for your business. Having digital tools is more than just having a video conferencing platform – you need to think about how to truly connect your employees and ensure they feel valued and seen.

"Digital tools are the glue keeping us together at the moment. Technology has enabled us to come together in new ways, and I’m hopeful this will continue to be a change. Through our own technology platform at Cardinal Health, we’ve continued to have really good dialogue and conversations. On a monthly basis we do ‘Let’s Chat’ sessions with leaders, where employees submit questions and the highest voted are answered. Technology is changing the game for all of us – you’ve got to stay ahead of it and stay creative with how you use it."

Kerry Christopher - Cardinal Health

#3. Be authentic in your tone

Communication has only increased in importance over the past year, but the way we speak with each other in a business sense has changed. Ironically, thanks to video conferencing tools we’ve been able to break down barriers in communication and become more intimate and empathetic with each other, literally seeing into each other’s houses and merging the lines between work and home-life. Because of this, it’s important to make sure the tone leaders now address employees has altered accommodatingly.

"The biggest change over the past year has been the change in tone. Digital is a fantastic enabler, but as with any system, it’s only as good as the fabric and culture that you breathe within it. Behavior and tone of voice change takes time, effort, and persistence. Learn the importance of how you say something, rather than what you’re saying. You need to be aware. You need to think about channel overload. What do people want? Where do people go? Listen to where your people are at. Coach leaders to speak with authenticity and tonality. Hear every voice."

Jennifer Sproul - IoIC

#4. Plan your digital strategy

Technology helped to ease the quick transition to remote working, acting as a bridge to keep everyone connected and online. Now, for internal communicators looking to plan ahead, knowing how to maximize on these digital tools is a must.

"According to our 2021 State of the Sector Report, only one-third of respondents had an idea of what their digital strategy would be. I’d advise them to identify their employee demographic, think about what it will look like, and look at how you can use your digital channels to make sure you are hitting the right messaging and formats at the right time. The pandemic has only accelerated what was going to inevitably happen, we need to embrace it and move forwards with it, and our job is to maximize it."

Ben Reynolds - Gallagher

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#5. Demonstrate your impact to leaders

Now that the light has been shone on the importance of IC, it’s important to demonstrate the impact and value it brings to both the organization and employees. Business leaders are listening, and it’s necessary that IC teams speak up and showcase just how significant they are.

"Understanding the business and the challenges leadership face is critical to the work we do. Partner with the leaders and be a part of their team. Sit in on their meetings and listen. Understand the context. Our job is to take the complicated things in the business and help employees understand them in a simple way. Show you can get results through the work you do. Earn the trust of the leaders and show them what is possible."

Kerry Christopher - Cardinal Health

#6. Culture is important: give your employees a voice

Company culture is another area that has gained a lot more traction and importance over the past year. It’s no easy feat to ensure a healthy and positive culture when teams are so remote. This is where IC can help. IC can bridge the gaps between employees and leadership teams, giving everyone a voice and helping to mould the culture to something that suits everyone in the organization.

"Internal communications isn’t all one-way, a lot of it is two-way. If you can bring employee voice into leadership before we go out with comms, it will be more relevant, authentic and will show elements of empathy. It’s about trying to be the ear of leadership and to let them know everything that’s going on – it may not always be what they want to say at the time, but we need to use the influence we’ve gained in 2020."

Ben Reynolds - Gallagher

"Talking about culture can be dangerous if it’s not backed up by behaviors. Our job is to make sure this happens and call it out when it doesn’t. A culture change requires behavioral change, it’s not something we can just talk our way out of."

Kerry Christopher - Cardinal Health

"Culture is complex: there’s culture and there’s cultures. There’s organizational culture and then there’s team culture. Listening is important. Our job is to understand the culture that those at the top want to create, and then encourage the people to emulate the behavior and the culture, making sure we embed that within our communication, the way we speak, and the language we use. Alongside that, we need to collaborate more as doing things in siloed teams is never going to achieve these things. We need to give support for training, infrastructure, conferencing, and tools. Culture is behavioral and IC can do a lot to support it, but we can’t create it."

Jennifer Sproul - IoIC

Stay tuned for part two

Due to the popular demand for this webinar, Kerry, Jennifer, Ben and Matthew will be back in April to answer some more of your IC-related questions. Stay tuned for more information as to how you can register.

You can watch the full Future of Internal Comms 2021+ webinar on-demand, here: 


Future of internal communications 2021+

COVID-19 has accelerated the strategic importance of internal comms as businesses strive to manage huge change shifts and keep employees engaged. Watch our webinar to navigate the new, unpredictable landscape and leverage new opportunities.

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