The Future of Internal Communication: Adapting to Evolving Workplaces
Jun 27, 2023•13 minute read
The world is rapidly changing, and the way we work is changing too. Internal communication is no exception.
With an increasing number of organizations embracing flexible work hours, remote teams, and digital collaboration tools, it's vital to re-evaluate traditional communication methods and adopt new strategies to keep employees engaged, informed, and motivated.
In this blog post, we delve into the future of internal communication, examining these changes and demonstrating how companies can adapt and thrive in evolving workplaces.
Be it through conversations or the exchange of written messages, the purpose of internal communication is to ensure that all members of an organization have access to the information they need to do their jobs effectively.
And as such it has been an essential part of any workplace since, well, forever. Since the first employees were hired in the Industrial Revolution, organizations have been sending memos and notices to disseminate information.
This top-down type of communication allowed for the smooth functioning of organizations to ensure that employees were aware of changes, procedures, and policies.
But when we talk about the change, we don't only mean the medium but also the content of internal communication, and its purpose.
More than a century ago some progressive employers started to recognize the importance of employee engagement and emotional connection to their work and workplace.
Internal Communications through the Decades
For example, in the 1920s, researchers found that to optimize employee output, they must be made to feel emotionally connected to their work and workplace.
However, it was not until the 1930s that internal communication became more formalized and strategic, with the commercialization and revolution of business communication.
Businesses started to adopt internal comms strategies to inform, persuade, and motivate their employees. They used various channels and tools, such as newsletters, magazines, posters, films, radio broadcasts, and telephone calls.
For example, in 1938, IBM launched its employee magazine Think, which is still published today. In 1943, General Electric created its employee radio network GE Reports, which later evolved into a digital platform.
In the 1960s, internal communication theory was established with the publication of Douglas McGregor’s Human Side of Enterprise, which introduced two contrasting views of human motivation: Theory X and Theory Y.
Theory X assumes that employees are lazy, irresponsible, and resistant to change, and therefore need to be controlled and directed by management. Theory Y assumes that employees are self-motivated, creative, and willing to learn, and therefore need to be empowered and involved by management.
McGregor argued that Theory Y was more effective and humane than Theory X and that internal communication should reflect this approach.
In the 1970s and 1980s, internal communication became more interactive and participatory, as organizations realized the benefits of employee feedback and involvement.
They used various methods to solicit employee input and suggestions, such as surveys, focus groups, suggestion boxes, town hall meetings, and quality circles.
In the 1990s and 2000s, internal communication became more digital and diverse, as new technologies emerged and transformed the way people communicate.
Organizations adopted various digital tools and platforms to communicate with their employees, such as email, intranet, video conferencing, instant messaging, blogs, podcasts, wikis, social media, and more.
These digital technologies made it possible to reach employees quickly and easily with consistent messages across multiple locations and departments.
It also enables organizations to have more frequent two-way conversations with their employees and collect data for better decision-making - take Google as an example.
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In 2004 the tech giant launched its internal blog platform Googleplex, which allowed employees to share their opinions, ideas, and insights with each other.
And apart from technological advancements that pushed internal communication forward, a lot of socio-economic factors also had an impact.
In the past decade, internal communication has changed drastically, as the world faced unprecedented challenges and opportunities.
Some of the major factors that have shaped internal communication in this period are:
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many organizations to shift to remote or hybrid work models and challenged internal communicators to maintain employee engagement, connection, and well-being in a virtual environment.
The social justice movements raised awareness and expectations of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, and required internal communicators to foster a culture of respect, dialogue, and action.
The digital transformation accelerated the adoption and innovation of digital tools and platforms for internal communication, such as chatbots, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, and gamification.
The employee experience emerged as a holistic concept that encompasses all aspects of an employee’s journey in an organization, from recruitment to retention to development.
As we can see, the way organizations communicate internally has evolved significantly in recent years, and it is likely to continue changing over time.
How to Adapt to the Future of Internal Communication
Internal communication is not only a function, but also a discipline, a skill, and a mindset that can make a difference in the success and sustainability of any organization.
And in order to stay ahead of the curve, internal communicators need to be able to keep up with the ever-changing needs and demands of their organization and their employees.
The Challenges Internal Communication Might Face in the Next Decade
Looking into the future, companies may face several challenges that can fundamentally shape how they deliver their message.
1. Increasingly global and distributed workforce
This is not something new, but the trend of companies having more employees spread across different countries and continents is likely to continue. This will put more pressure on internal communication teams to craft messages that can resonate with all their employees, no matter where they are located.
As technology evolves and employee expectations change, internal communicators need to update their communication channels and formats to ensure they are relevant, effective, and engaging for their audience.
For example, they may need to use more video, audio, social media, or mobile-friendly tools to reach and connect with remote or hybrid workers.
3. Increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion
Businesses are increasingly realizing that D&I is more than just an HR issue, but something that impacts company culture.
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As the workforce becomes more diverse and dispersed, internal communicators need to ensure that their communication is inclusive, equitable, and accessible for all employees.
They may need to use inclusive language and visuals, provide translations or captions, address different communication styles and preferences, and avoid information gaps or silos.
4. Increased information overload
A genuine concern about internal communication is that by trying to stay on top of trends and be proactive, and add more and more channels to their strategy, companies will end up overwhelming their employees with information.
And yes, that’s already the case in a lot of companies. Information overload is one of the leading causes of burnout and the more channels and mediums you add, the more likely it is that some of your employees will drown in a sea of emails, notifications, and resources.
The key to avoiding this is to carefully select which channels are best for delivering each message. Use segmentation, personalization, prioritization, or filtering techniques to deliver the right information to the right people at the right time.
Dealing with this in the upcoming years will not be an easy task, but a necessary one if companies want to keep their employees motivated and informed about the right things.
5. Employees demanding flexibility
As employees seek more autonomy and choice over how, when, and where they work, internal communicators need to ensure that their communication is adaptable, responsive, and collaborative for their audience.
They may need to communicate the expectations and guidelines for remote or hybrid work, provide feedback and coaching, and leverage digital tools and platforms to facilitate communication and coordination.
This requires a shift in how internal communicators measure success, as well as investing in the right tools and technology to facilitate collaboration and communication.
6. Barriers to Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing
Internal communicators need to leverage all available resources to break down those walls and ensure that employees have access to the information they need when they need it.
This includes providing easy-to-access digital communication channels, knowledge repositories, and other collaborative tools that allow employees to access the information they need in a timely and efficient manner.
Additionally, internal communicators need to ensure that their message is delivered in a way that is accessible to all employees, regardless of what language they speak or the level of expertise they possess.
By doing so, organizations can create an inclusive environment where every employee has the opportunity to contribute their ideas and participate in the company's success.
Finally, companies should strive to build a team-oriented culture where all employees feel motivated and supported to reach their goals. This includes regularly communicating with teams about their progress, successes, and challenges they may be facing. By doing so, organizations can foster an environment of collaboration that encourages communication between different departments while still maintaining the company’s core.
7. Measuring and Evaluating Communication
This is also something that has been circulating for a while now, as one of the main things that will help organizations become effective, but the implementation has been lacking.
A lot of companies, even though they are investing in modern channels, are still relying on communication to flow on its own without any sort of check or structure. This could lead to an overwhelming amount of information being shared, with no clear understanding of how it’s being used or benefiting the organization.
Therefore, companies should look into implementing tools and systems that can monitor and measure communication efforts, such as collecting feedback from employees on their experience with different channels, tracking response times for customer queries, and gathering data for analytics.
Internal communication is changing, and we can expect even more significant evolutions and challenges in the future.
Companies that can integrate modern communication strategies, emphasize communication, and recognize the power of collaboration, will be well-positioned to succeed in a rapidly changing business landscape.
By embracing these modern trends, companies can create more productive and connected workplaces that appeal to the next generation of talent.