The rise of internal communications in a post-Covid world

Simon Quarendon, Group Chief Operating Officer at Selbey Anderson, shares his thoughts on internal communications during and post Covid-19. Simon has worked in communications management for over 35 years, across a range of brands and agencies. He co-founded Selbey Anderson in 2018 and has built a fast-growing group of leading creative agencies, including our very own Flagship PR.

There is not a part of our lives that the Covid-19 pandemic has not impacted, and the spotlight on how we work has become even brighter during lockdown, particularly in relation to how we connect with our employers. Teams meetings, Zoom seminars, furloughed colleagues, working in our pyjamas, balancing childcare, and seeing clients in their home environment have become everyday normalities. I wonder how these new normalities will shift as lockdown lifts and we start to return to “business as usual” – usual may be nothing like it was before.

Raconteur’s recent Times supplement on ‘Business Risk’ (17th May 2020) stated that companies are coming under increased scrutiny for what they do or don’t say. Every decision that companies take during this Covid-19 outbreak have been, and will continue to be, examined more closely than ever before.

The way that employers communicate with both employees and customers is under increased scrutiny as the world looks at, and judges, the people it does business with. Businesses that have treated their employees well during lockdown will ultimately retain and attract the best talent, as well as being looked upon favourably by current and future customers. Now, more than ever, businesses need to marry their internal and their external image if they are going to be seen as authentic and reputable brands in the post-Covid era.

So, does UK plc need to take a swift, deep look at its internal communications processes and check they are up to scratch? I think so, and here’s why: when we emerge from this period of self-isolation, we will be a changed nation. This change will probably be for the better, but nonetheless it is one that employers will need to adapt to – rapidly – if we are to keep employees engaged. Here are the top five areas I think CEOs and CMOs need to plan for in their internal communications strategies today, so they are ready when we start to emerge into the new normal.

Kindness replaces brashness

It is palpable how much nicer we are towards each other. Communities (and neighbours) are rediscovering each other. We are aware of the need to take better care of ourselves, and others; mentally, physically, and spiritually. We are a more reflective nation than before, and many of us may emerge from lockdown with a different view on life. That attitudinal shift will need to be translated into revised internal communications strategies if organisations are to remain ‘relevant’ to their employees.

Reputation over balance sheet

For many boardrooms, this period might be a “fork in the road” moment. Continuing to put employees’ interests over those of external stakeholders’, thus building a positive reputation over the long term, will win against short-term financial gain every time. Some companies have already got this call badly wrong. Some have got it astoundingly right. You know who you are.

Retribution or revenge? It will still hurt

For those companies that did shaft their suppliers, ‘let go’ of their staff, and close down their customer service departments at the first opportunity; shame on you. Britain is not a vengeful nation, but when potential candidates are given the choice between applying for a new role at your company or with your competitors, who would they choose? It’s a no brainer actually and this is the period when the rising Generation Z will take note of which brands did what. Gen Z are starting to enter the workforce now themselves, and having lived through a period of tremendous change and uncertainty, they will be more equipped to fight on issues of right versus wrong. This generation’s fight started long before the impact of Covid-19, with influencers such as Greta Thunberg inspiring millions to act against climate change. Being a generation that questions the norm and fights back will certainly translate into their choice of employer.

Employer brands come of age

It’s odd to think that we were reading about the talent war hotting up just before the lockdown. And yes, it will take a while for the economy to get going again. But demand for certain skills will outstrip supply in next to no time and at that point, potential employers will be asked; ‘What did you do during the Covid crisis?’ Woe betides those employers who stopped communicating and stopped caring. Guess what? No one is going to work for you if they can help it.

Culture is glue

Culture remains such an overused word, so let’s replace it with another one: glue. Strong organisational cultures act like glue in tough times, binding people together and not letting them go. Communications, in its broadest sense, has been the key here, and internal communications departments in particular should take a bow, although there’s still much work to be done when the lockdown ends.

If you would like to talk to us about your internal communications strategies and how to prepare for employees return to work over the months, our internal communications experts Mark Pinnes and Courtney Ellul would love to hear from you. Contact us at info@flagshipconsulting.co.uk.