Internal Communication in the Post-COVID Era. How and why do companies bridge the gap?
Internal communication has now entered a new era – the post-COVID era. More empathy, shorter distance, new forms of interaction. It seems that the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the process of moving towards a more open organizational culture. What does it mean, where does it come from, and how do companies implement new ways of engaging employees?
There are many challenges in the area of internal communication in the post-COVID era: employee engagement, more difficult conditions of project cooperation, imprecise information flow or a sense of isolation – and most of us experience them. These challenges were also witnessed by the creators of the impressive Beijing National Aquatics Center – the main arena for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The 31,000 square meter swimming-pool with a capacity of 17,000 spectators was designed by the team, which worked largely in a remote mode – and almost 15 years ago, without the use of communication tools that we have now.
So do today's communication specialists have it easier? New technologies do not automatically solve problems. They can support us in doing so. However, in the face of challenges, a change of approach is crucial.
Effective Communication towards Innovation
Well organized communication in remote mode can have an extraordinary effect. But if poorly prepared and improperly conducted, it can even lead to a 83% drop in trust or 80% drop in satisfaction, as Karen Lojeski and Richard Reilly of the Stevens Institute of Technology noted in their article The Role of Virtual Distance in Innovation and Success.
Another key statistic on this issue shows in the article Workspaces That Move People, where Ben Waber, Jennifer Magnolfi and Greg Lindsay from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that as much as 79% of innovations can be produced through loose face-to-face integration and often accidental collisions in the office. Meal sharing or meetings in a relaxation room – this is where unscheduled consultations or mini-brainstorms take place.
In the era of remote working, such a situation is almost impossible. All the more crucial is to arrange internal communication in such a way as to take care of business needs and maintain a high level of satisfaction among employees.
Don’t Fall Asleep on Emotional Intelligence
But how to perform it? In face to face communication we obtain a lot of information by interpreting non-verbal signals. Thanks to the knowledge of body language, we are able to read the context more easily and deduce the intention of the interlocutor. In case of remote communication, we are faced with a difficult task – it is not easy to create a precise brief or provide quick project consultations. However, this is not the biggest challenge for today's managers. The EQ & Remote Managers report prepared by Sike Insights shows that in remote team management, it is most difficult for managers to maintain relations with employees and understand what emotions they feel while working.
In this new reality, the ability to build relationships through the use of non-standard forms of communication as well as the ability to read the emotions of others with the mediation of new technologies are becoming increasingly important. Developed emotional intelligence or empathy may be even more important than before.
This means the need for greater precision in formulating expectations and balancing the frequency of interaction. General advice on remote communication include:
- Faster response to the information needs expressed by employees,
- More personalized manager-employee communication,
- Structured feedback,
- Fixed, routine 1-on-1s and team meetings.
Have you ever felt tired after a video conference? This is Zoom Fatigue!
Videoconferencing makes it very difficult to communicate, and it is difficult to imagine cooperation without it nowadays. It turns out that the participants of e-meetings feel physical and mental strain: inexplicable fatigue or overloading with social contacts combined with isolation. It took several months for Stanford University researchers to investigate the causes of the syndrome, which we know today as Zoom Fatigue.
The leader of the research team, Jeremy Bailenson, points out, among other things, that when we talk through a webcam, for an unnaturally long periods of time, we can see the face of the interlocutor from a close distance. Our brains register this situation as a threat. Moreover, when we talk to more people, our brain has to analyze a couple of different faces and rooms which, from neurological point of view, gives us the feeling that we are then in many rooms at once, and this requires energy.
There exists a social expectation that during a video conference we are required to constantly observe the interlocutors – this is considered an expression of respect. In traditional project meetings we usually do not lock eyes with other people all the time. Also then, we have a slightly less need for self-control. Our need to control how every face expression is interpreted grows online because of the small window in the right corner showing our face.
Videoconferencing can make you more uncomfortable, and thus indirectly increase your dissatisfaction with the quality of cooperation, the way the project is conducted or the overall work satisfaction.
What can be the solution? Leaving the webcam on for the speaker alone, limiting the number of videoconferences to a minimum, switching off notifications from other applications, taking appropriate breaks or using Zoom and Teams for meetings that are not strictly connected with professional life.
Reduce Distance and Build Commitment
Although this heavily depends on the specifics of each organization, companies have never felt the need to create ties between people through virtual means as much as they do today. A bonding trip or an end-of-the-year event? Employees may have great memories of these concepts. However, nowadays there is a need to fill in a gap that was previously covered by casual conversations – they were what gave employees the feeling of bonds creation.
Providing conditions for such talks is now the task of communication departments, and within official channels. In addition to that, companies are now responsible for initiating and moderating discussions or exchanging views on issues that are not fully related to work. How to do that though?
Live interviews with directors within the framework of Q&A sessions, virtual talent shows, applications randomly pairing employees and encouraging them to talk about specific topics, common yoga in front of cameras, calendars collecting interesting events shared with employees, e-celebrations of promotions, awards and successes, e-cafes, e-teas, e-dinners, and the list goes on.
When we look at these examples, we will see that the COVID-19 pandemic can accelerate the trend that has been talked about for years. Companies are modifying internal communication in the direction of greater openness, distance shortening, and directness boosting. They are introducing new forms of contact in order to involve employees and encourage them to actively share their interests, needs and opinions. Soon, this shall become a standard – if it isn’t already.
Senior Employer Branding Consultant at Grupa Komunikacja+
Communications professional with strong background in copywriting and expertise in employer branding strategies designing and implementing. Has been active in the field of communication since 2012. Delivers high standard communication services to corporate clients from business services, IT, retail and manufacturing sectors. In his portfolio you can find clients such as: 3M, Jeronimo Martins, Electrolux, Nokia, Citi, Billennium, Gigaset. In the past, a cultural journalist and radio announcer.
Employer Branding Consultant at Grupa Komunikacja+
Employer Branding specialist during his Master’s in Communication Management and Image Communication. He is passionate about photography & videography, very intrigued by brands and their stories’ development, and is in love with the ever-growing gaming industry and how it has engaged people even more in recent years.