Internal Communication

COVID-19 will change internal communication forever. Let’s discuss.

I know that you’ve been so busy just trying to get through the day that you haven’t had a chance to think about the future.

But the future is coming—in a few weeks (or months), we’ll have made it past the worst of the crisis. Of course, what comes next will also be challenging (because, 2020). Here’s the good news: We have the opportunity to transform internal communication based on what we’ve been able to accomplish so far.

And most of us have accomplished a lot. We’ve kept employees informed as developments occur. We’ve figured out how to communicate (Hello, Zoom?) in new ways. We’ve supported leaders to provide direction, focus, and moral support.

In fact, we’ve made such great strides—in using internal communication to support the organization and engage employees—that we now need to maintain the momentum.

How? Here are five ways to permanently transform communication:

1. Put employees at the center of communication

As someone who has long promoted the idea that communication needs to be employee-centric, I’m heartened by how, over the past few months, organizations have focused on meeting people’s needs.

The media attention has been on employees working from home, but smart organizations have worked hard to communicate with people in every situation: on the manufacturing line, in distribution centers, on trucks and in essential retail stores.

The future will look like this: All the communication we provide is designed to meet employees’ needs. That means channels are convenient and accessible. Employees get the content they need. And everyone can participate.

2. Keep content current

Speaking of content, for a long time internal communication required that content be homogenized—drafted, edited, checked, approved, checked again, approved by someone else, polished and perfectly packaged. But nobody has time for that during the COVID-19 crisis. We need to get information out right now, so we dispense with that “OK, boomer” nervousness.

As a result, the content we’ve provided to employees has been more current and relevant than ever. And now employees want even more.

The future? We leave “Corporate Speak” and packaged content in the rear-view mirror. And provide content that’s fresh, unique and useful.

3. Support senior leaders’ brave new role

Every crisis—especially a major crisis—puts a bright spotlight on leaders. The question is always whether leaders will rise to the challenge of putting out the day-to-day fires while inspiring their people to do what’s needed to help the organization survive.

I’m heartened by how many leaders demonstrated the right stuff during this crisis. In fact, leaders of organizations were, in many cases, more effective than politicians.

Going forward, leaders need to continue to share the vision and provide direction. But the COVID-19 crisis demonstrated how much employees need leaders to:

  • Be human. Employees want the unvarnished, accessible version of leaders, not the guy wearing the fancy suit.

  • Express appreciation (A simple thank you can do so much.) and recognize achievements

  • Provide the straight story but also emphasize the positive; how we’re making progress

Here’s my future-state advice to leaders: keep communicating with as much visibility and emotion.

4. Facilitate participation

The traditional role of internal communication has been to create content. And, while content is still important, a new role has emerged that’s even more important in today’s world: to facilitate employees’ ability to communicate with each other.

After all, “communicate” is a verb, which brings to mind a team sport—everyone participating in the process. There are so many ways we can set employees up to communicate; for example:

  • Rethink town halls and other leader forums to reduce the amount of time spent presenting information and increase opportunities for asking questions and sharing ideas.

  • Encourage employees to share photos, videos, tweets and thoughts.

  • Activate your internal social media channel. In many organizations, platforms like YammerChatter or BlogIn have been underutilized. This is the time to promote usage and help senior leaders model the behavior (see #3).

The implication for your future role? You’ll spend a lot more time facilitating communication, less time managing internal stakeholders.

5. Create community

Here’s one profound lesson from the crisis: We’re in this together. And organizations that have been most successful have worked to create a strong sense of community.

All of the advice I’ve shared helps build community:

  • Putting employees first, so they understand the organization’s mission and their role in fulfilling that mission (#1)

  • Providing useful, relevant content that helps employees learn about each other and do their jobs (#2)

  • Giving leaders what they need to be inspirational and supportive (#3)

  • Helping employees connect with each other (#4)

Welcome to the future, where employees feel connected and supported.

This may seem like a lot to accomplish, but I agree with Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff and Chicago mayor, who wrote:

"Never let a serious crisis go to waste... it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." 

In my headline, I laid out a premise: COVID-19 will change internal communication forever. Do you agree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

About the author
Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis & Company, the award-winning employee communication firm that for 30 years has helped leading companies – such as Johnson & Johnson, Motorola Solutions, Nestle, Roche, and Rogers Communications – increase employee engagement.

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