The Ins and Outs of Internal Communications In a Post-COVID WorldIt’s no surprise that the role of the communicator has been elevated pretty significantly in the past 18 months.

I’ve personally never had more clients and new business prospects ask me about internal and crisis communications—in an effort to finally, finally bring them to the forefront of the organization. 

If 2020 taught us anything, it was that everyone, not just Millennials and Gen Z but everyone, reexamined the brands we buy from, the technology we support, the companies we invest in, and where we want to work.

And now, as organizations are beginning to communicate the “new normal” for their employees, the difference in morale and culture and engagement comes down to internal communications. 

Many business leaders learned last year that just sending an email wasn’t enough.

It had to be messaged correctly and it had to relay empathy.

Yet, even with that very close in their rearview mirrors, they’re making mistakes in communicating the back-to-work plans.

Where Should Internal Communications “Live”?

Historically, organizations have prioritized communications around external audiences.

After all, they’re the ones who drive revenue.

So employees have almost exclusively been an afterthought and still, to this day, is something that the HR or People team manages.

Which is fine—the HR function SHOULD focus on employees, but (and I’m preaching to the choir here) there is an art to communicating what HR is doing—both perceived good and bad decisions—that an HR professional isn’t equipped to handle.

And, in the last 18 months or so, many organizations have either started or doubled down on their internal communications.

We saw many more virtual town halls, working with the executive team on how to deliver information, building employee resource groups, making a marked improvement on DE&I—and doing it all via the same tactics we would externally.

There are now videos, podcasts, AMAs, open office hours, mental health days, and more—all aimed at trying to keep employees informed while maintaining or building an engaged culture.

But not everyone is doing it well.

My best friend from high school works for a gigantic conglomeration that is screwing up their internal communications royally.

And I’m probably being nice about it.

Every email they send makes me want to call their CEO and yell, “Whyyyyyyyyyy???” in his ear.

In fact, I always say to my friend, “Is your communications team even consulted before this stuff goes out?” His answer is always, “Doubt it.”

And don’t get me started on the frequently asked questions or the town hall discussions they’re having.

I’d venture to guess 90% of their workforce is up in arms about how they’re handling things, which isn’t going to end well in an employee’s market.

One message they sent said, “Get your kids and dogs ready! You’re coming back to the office next week, no ifs, ands, or buts about it!”

You can tell they were trying to be playful about it, but it was sent before school was out for the summer—during a time when many parents were still managing virtual learning and didn’t have a plan for summer because most camps weren’t yet (and still aren’t) open.

If I worked there, I’d have to quit because there was no way, even with more than a week’s notice, I could be back in the office full-time.

They ended up backing down from that and revising the statement to after Labor Day, but talk about not knowing your audience. Lordy!

Fun Employee Engagement Ideas

Google, which has nearly 150,000 employees (that number will be significant in a minute), created the opportunity for team members who play instruments to create their own orchestra to help staffers stay connected.

Unless you work for an organization in the arts or one that has 150,000 employees, this idea probably won’t work, but it is a very fun one to consider.

They created sheet music and had nearly every instrument possible.

So freaking cool!

We have a client that wanted to do team-building exercises once a week via Zoom.

So we helped them launch activities such as AirBNB experiences and virtual wine tastings to learning how to make a fancy cheese board and playing card games.

That client has decided to stay fully remote so we’ll continue those things, but move them to monthly versus weekly. 

Coca-Cola held virtual BBQs, movie watching, meditation classes, and more.

Another client uses Donut on Slack and it pairs employees with one another for a 30-minute Zoom coffee.

The company sends drinks and snacks once a month to all employees and they are to use that during their donut calls.

They also have company-branded mugs and water bottles.

I don’t have insider knowledge about this, but I did see that HubSpot began to designate one week a year that the office is closed for employees to recharge and focus on their mental health.

For customer service issues, they rotate people in that department so everyone gets a turn to be off and customers are still taken care of.

And yet another client is doing a summerlong exercise competition.

They have 150 employees about a little more than half volunteered to participate.

We divided them into teams, based on the activities they wanted to do (running, cycling, swimming), and crafted prizes based on goals.

We were careful to make it fair; for instance, cycling 100 miles is akin to running a marathon so we matched activities up that way.

Every week, people track their mileage and enter into a home-grown app.

Prizes are awarded weekly and monthly…and there will be medal opportunities at the end of the summer.

The Foundation of Your Internal Communications Program

It’s been so much fun to craft these kinds of virtual programs with clients—and then see the success they have because employees are all in.

Of course, games, activities, and team-building exercises are only one part of the equation.

The actual communication of decisions—both good and bad—is more important to have done well.

It’s the foundation of an internal communications program.

Once your foundation is built, you can add on some of these other fun ideas, in the office or not.

And now the million-dollar question is whether internal communications will continue to grow in importance, even when it’s not a crisis response. 

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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