2020 was a defining moment for any internal communications function. Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, reported seeing two years’ worth of digital transformation in just two months. What should internal communication leaders be building their strategies around in 2021? H+K’s People + Purpose practice shares their view.

  1. Purpose is more important than ever

The crisis of 2020 has taught organisations the unyielding importance of purpose to employees and consumers. According to McKinsey, 72% of employees say their company’s purpose should receive more weight than profit.

  1. Strong virtual leadership required to steady the ship

Deloitte found virtual distance can lower leader trust by 83%. In practice, a strategy to help leaders and managers build trust should focus on support with regular communication, relating on a personal level, being clear on objectives and outcomes; and prioritising a listening approach.

The importance can’t be stressed enough – a Gallup poll of more than 1 million workers found that “the number one reason people leave their role is due to their manager.”

  1. Diversity, equality, and inclusion as the bedrock of culture and performance

Employees with a strong sense of belonging report a 56% higher level of overall job performanceAccording to PWC, 76% of employees say that diversity is a stated value or priority area in their organisation. But saying so isn’t enough. According to McKinsey, ethnically diverse companies ​will outperform the market by 35%. The Investment groups Blackrock, Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Federated Hermes have just announced they will oust directors failing to tackle diversity issues. PepsiCo has pledged to add 100 black associates to its executive ranks and increase its black manager population by 30%.

  1. Sustainability action is a consumer and employee expectation

Unilever revealed that 33% of people now buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. This opens up opportunities worth US$12 trillion and 80 million jobs by 2030. Translating your sustainability strategy so employees understand, deliver, and advocate it, will all be key in 2021 and beyond. As reported by the Institute of Internal Communication, messages shared by employees go 561% further than the same message shared on a brand-owned channel. (Nielson)

  1. With profound wellbeing impacts, COVID-19 has also enabled us to reimagine the employee experience

Best in class means ensuring efforts are tailored to sub-groups. For example, support for working mothers and tackling systemic inequality.  McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2020 report found that US mothers were more likely to spend an extra 3-4 hours a day on housework and childcare during the pandemic. While black women were less likely than women or men of other races to feel supported by their line manager. L’Oréal has incorporated workers’ holistic wellbeing into the design of work itself through learning platforms. More radically, Microsoft in Japan trialled a four-day working week – resulting in a 40% increase in productivity. Facebook, Twitter, and Shopify are just some of the companies who have announced they will allow employees (who meet key criteria) to continue to work from home permanently.

  1. Employee data will help shape your agile employee engagement strategy

McKinsey found that people analytics can drive a 25% rise in business productivity and 50% decrease in attrition rates. ING recently combined mobile technology and data with a 20% increase in employee satisfaction and 30% in manager satisfaction.

  1. The pivotal role of digital technologies in supporting businesses with their post-pandemic recovery

In the Gartner 2020 Digital Workplace Survey, 68% of respondents agreed that C-level execs are more focused on the digital workplace since COVID-19.  45% of businesses see AI tools like chatbots as a future element of their internal communications strategy. Approach with strategic caution. E&Y found one in five job seekers fear losing their jobs to AI. Businesses must put in place training programmes to quell employee concerns.

  1. That’s why identifying and addressing your digital skills gap is vital for long-term survival

 McKinsey Global Survey reported 87% of executives were either experiencing skills gaps in their workforce or expected them within a few years. Amazon is spending $700 million over the next six years to help retrain and upskill a third of its US workforce to adapt to an economy increasingly disrupted by automation and new technology.

In summary, the world of work has irrevocably changed. Internal communicators have a strategic role in ensuring that radical approaches are realised for a sustainable, equitable future. To summarise:

  1. Ensure they support executives in understanding the stresses and strains of pandemic life
  2. Support leaders and managers in understanding and enabling the cultural, digital, and working transformations that are possible, and desired from this shared experience.
  3. The best places of work will come from ensuring the views and needs of employees and managers are built into change, not decided, and delivered top-down.