Internal comms trends set to shape 2023

With every new year comes new challenges, as well as new opportunities to recalibrate agendas. Strategizing for 2023 will be particularly important for communications leaders, given that 83% of them report growing influence among the C-suite. Now that the spotlight is on internal communications, what are the trends that teams must keep top of mind to turn 2023 into their most successful year yet?

The state of internal communications in 2023

It seems the last years have catapulted the internal comms function into the limelight and spurred a period of maturity growth that’s been welcomed by practitioners. 2022 saw this momentum continue, with employee engagement dominating conversations at the highest levels. The spotlight stayed on internal comms as leaders turned to their expertise to reimagine engagement and alignment in a hybrid workplace.

As businesses strive to navigate unprecedented levels of economic, social, and geopolitical complexity in 2023, executives across the C-suite will be looking to internal communicators to keep the workforce informed and engaged. Internal communications teams are finding that the power is in their hands, with 75% of chief comms leaders reporting that their influence is greater than other function heads at their organization.

Jennifer Sigler, director analyst in the Gartner Marketing & Communications practice, highlights the pivotal role that internal communicators now play. “With workers experiencing the fallout from COVID-19 and then the Great Resignation back-to-back, the emphasis on employee communications has grown dramatically,” she explains. “Getting that communication right is more critical than ever.”

2023 will be a pivotal moment for internal communications professionals, as the current employee experience is in crisis at many organizations. Only 13% of employees are fully satisfied with their work experience, and Gallup predicts that nearly 50% of the US workforce is at risk of becoming quiet quitters due to low engagement levels. Given that productivity is also falling at the fastest rate in four decades, businesses are now in a race against the clock to improve employee experience, and in turn, output levels. Consequently, internal communicators should recognize that the initiatives they launch to boost engagement and connectivity have never been more important.

"The focus on internal comms being important has stood the test. They have been the positive champions that have held and kept morale high, as well as coordinating all things for their organizations. Leadership has started to truly listen to internal communicators, now viewing internal comms as being experts and advisors. IC has a seat at the leadership table, and this has matured the function. It’s a positive thing. Internal communicators are sharing the challenges they have seen and are showing execs how they can partner with them to make a positive impact, and make the strategy understood by the employees – which is still the number one challenge."

Margie Dolch - Implementation Consulatant at Unily
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What are the biggest internal comms trends for 2023?

For internal communicators to keep up the momentum of 2022, 2023 needs to be about experimentation and pushing the boundaries of IC. By focusing on these seven trends, internal communicators can keep ahead of the curve and continue to innovate the employee experience in the year ahead.

#1. Back to basics: alignment over engagement

No longer just a term used by industry insiders, employee engagement is now the subject of mainstream news. But, as we move into the new year, it's time to ask whether the overwhelming focus on engagement is still serving us? What do we mean by engagement? Is engagement a natural precursor to productivity or are we missing a vital piece of the puzzle?

We predict that 2023 will be the year that employee alignment comes into focus. As workforces become more dispersed and new hires continue to bed into the company, the question of whether employees understand and feel connected to the company mission, vision and values is an important one.

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According to Gartner, 76% of HR leaders report that hybrid work has challenged employees’ connection to organizational culture. Meanwhile Gallup found that employees connection to the mission or purpose has declined significantly since 2021 leading engagement levels to drop to just 15% worldwide.

Instead of tracking how engaged employees are, internal communicators should be asking 'does the workforce understand how they contribute to the company's success?' Being happy at work and being productive at work are two different things, and we think the difference will become more apparent as the year plays out.

"I would always put employee alignment above employee engagement because if your employees aren’t aligned with the mission, vision, and purpose of the organization and how they contribute, then what is the point? If you don’t know what your role is in the organization and how you contribute to the success of the organization, then what is the point of doing an employee engagement survey?"

Advita Patel - Managing Director at CommsRebel

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#2. Doing more with less

In the face of economic downturn, functions across the business will be asked to do more with less over the coming year. Internal communicators will not be immune to budget pressures, with 45% of chief comms officers reporting that they expect their budgets to either remain the same as the year prior or to decline. Despite gaining more strategic influence and overseeing a broader scope of responsibilities, communicators are unlikely to see resource increase in 2023.

To exceed expectations while keeping costs in check, leaders will need to make strategic decisions about the deliverables they will prioritize and the investments that will generate the greatest impact. The most successful internal communicators will be selective about the initiatives they choose to undertake, ensuring that every project aligns with their organization's overarching goals. 

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Alongside more strategic prioritization and planning, internal communicators will begin to lean into automation and AI to increase efficiency. Emerging technologies like ChatGPT and automation capabilities coming into the intranet space present opportunities to streamline workload and increase the impact of comms efforts. Continuing to experiment with these new technologies and finding ways to embed automatable processes into the flow of work will be critical as internal communicators seek to deliver big impact with small teams.

Engagement automation

#3. The rise of the employee journey mindset

Last year we saw the rise of the 'marketing mindset', characterized by a move to 'treat employees like customers' with the same grade of communication and digital experience. In 2023 we will see this evolve further, with internal communicators beginning to adopt a journey mindset akin to the tried-and-tested customer journey framework employed by marketers to nurture customer engagement. Just as marketers rely on customer journey mapping to identify make or break experiences in the customer lifecycle, enterprises will begin to apply the same formula to the employee experience. Already comms technology is mapping to this need with several leading enterprise SaaS providers releasing functionality to support journey thinking. 

With enterprises set to refocus recruitment efforts on retention - two thirds of HR leaders report they will prioritize retention over acquisition in 2023 - forward-thinking internal communicators will be considering how they can add value to important touchpoint across the employee lifecycle. Getting this right will require a cross-functional approach, where teams work collaboratively to define, design and map out key employee journeys. By leaning into automation, internal communicators will be able to deliver low-touch, high-impact strategies that drive engagement through repeatable comms experiences. 

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#4. Experimenting with multi-faceted EX teams

Internal communicators have long been considered the primary custodian of employee engagement, but in 2023 we will see things start to shift. With employee engagement levels under the spotlight, functions throughout the business will be asked to play their part in optimizing the employee experience. HR and IC will continue to reign supreme as the EX power couple, but the most high performance teams will include stakeholders from IT, finance, middle management, and office managers. By bringing together expertize from different areas of the business, multi-faceted EX teams will be well placed to launch integrated initiatives that consider all elements of the employee experience. 2023 should be the year you come your business together to create multi-disciplinary squads with a joint mission of levelling up the end to end employee experience.

#5. Less talking, more listening

Over the last years internal communicators have demonstrated their value as mediators between executive decision makers and the employees they serve. Alongside communicating change, ICs have played a crucial role in monitoring the impact of new policies on employee sentiment and advising leaders on employees' changing needs.

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Throughout 2023 the focus on listening will continue, and savvy internal communicators will be prepared to double-down on listening efforts to identify emerging trends. While annual employee engagement surveys remain important, internal communicators should consider more focused, regular and ad-hoc listening activities designed to illicit specific insights that will support the business in refining their engagement strategies in real time. Pulse surveys, focus groups, and keen analysis of intranet metrics will give internal communicators the insights they need to continue to advise leaders on how to optimize the employee experience to increase engagement and retention.

employee engagement pulse survey

#6. The rise of the IC influencer

As employee engagement themes continue to dominate the headlines, internal communicators are well placed to increase their influence not just within their organisation but on a global stage. In the era of the influencer, now is the time for internal communicators to raise their voice and own their stake in the conversation.

IC professionals should consider building their personal brands by contributing to discussions on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. Weighing in on popular threads, joining virtual communities, and attending and speaking at industry events will help internal communicators to grow their networks at the same time as signalling the growth of their profession. By coming together to share challenges and best practices, the IC community can continue to fuel recognition of the value of their function within the business, helping to mitigate looming budget cuts and grow skillsets in an ever evolving landscape.

For those seeking inspiration, we recommend tuning into the Calm Edged Rebels podcast hosted by three trailblazing IC influencers already making waves in this space.

"Expect to see internal communicators that have been able to listen to all shapes and sizes of the organization share some of their learnings on platforms like LinkedIn through blogs, vlogs, and even podcasts. Those that have invested early in building their network and becoming influential to business leaders will reap the rewards of that in 2023. If you're a business leader and you're not tuned into this kind of content, you'll be left behind."

Kaz Hassan - Employee Experience & Future of Work Industry Lead at Unily

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#7. Closing the IC skills gap

The final trend we expect to gain traction over the coming year is a growing focus on upskilling and expanding knowledge. As internal communicators continue to rise the ranks and strengthen their foothold at the leadership table, practitioners will need to come equipped with the skills to analyze and interpret data in the context of broader organizational goals. Building business acumen and brushing up on financial literacy will allow internal communicators to contribute to strategic discussions with confidence and make compelling cases for investment.

Completing professional qualifications such as IoIC’s internal comms diplomas, CIPR's IC accreditations, or taking advantage of free training with platforms like LinkedIn Learning, will help IC's broaden their skillset and formalize existing knowledge to meet the demand for higher standards of knowledge and practice in internal communication.

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Shake up your internal comms strategy in 2023

Staying ahead of emerging trends will help internal communicators to navigate the challenges of the coming year. But, without the right technology to underpin strategies, efforts are likely to fall short. To find out how Unily helps the world's largest enterprises to transform internal communications and solve common employee engagement challenges with a world-class employee experience platform, get started with a free demo today. 

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