The Future of Business Communication
There has also been a noticeable shift in how businesses are talking to their teams, customers, investors and broader stakeholder community. But how much of that has been a necessary response to the crisis, and what will endure as lockdown measures are eased?
Covid-19 has enforced a huge impact on all our lives, professionally and personally, and has caused a shift in the way we communicate with each other. The pandemic has meant that internal communication is more important than ever. With working environments in a state of constant flux, keeping everyone in a company connected and informed is a considerable challenge. Furthermore, new considerations have been given to employee engagement, productivity and wellbeing, as connectivity is challenged through remote working.
Managing crisis communication externally has been another significant challenge. The fact that companies are in unfamiliar territory and there are still so many unknown factors has made this difficult. Companies operating internationally are facing more complex problems, managing multiple crisis timelines due to the variation of the spread of the disease and governmental responses.
Finding the right messages, tone of voice and timing for ‘business as usual’ communications has been a tricky balancing act for most communications teams. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, summarised the change by saying that “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”. There has also been a noticeable shift in how businesses are talking to their teams, customers, investors and broader stakeholder community. But how much of that has been a necessary response to the crisis, and what will endure as lockdown measures are eased?
1) How businesses communicate
The nature of the pandemic has forced businesses and leaders to communicate frequently and openly to employees, customers, shareholders and suppliers. This transparency has forced organisations to embrace authenticity, be more empathetic and available than they would have been ordinarily. As the situation evolves, businesses are going to need to think strategically about how they manage their communications across a variety of scenarios and channels. Maintaining regular and authentic communications will now be expected from customers and stakeholders. Planning for this should be a top priority.
2) The value of being seen as a responsible business
Consumers, regulators, MPs, government, employees and the media have all been watching how businesses have behaved throughout this crisis. This increased scrutiny will only increase the importance of corporate responsibility. Businesses will need to be able to demonstrate their impact above and beyond profit – their tax strategy, social impact, climate strategy, supply chains, employment practices will all be under the microscope from a variety of stakeholders. The need to authenticate and to be able to demonstrate a positive, helpful and responsible impact on society is all but essential.
3) Resilience, risk and crisis preparedness
Every organisation’s business continuity plans have been tested over the past few weeks and going forward more organisations will take risk planning seriously. The new reality will demand it. Every business will need to make judgement calls about acceptable levels of risk for their employees to return to work and how they operate over the next 18 months. Organisations without crisis communications plans and risk registers, regularly updated and reviewed as standard, will need to enforce this – to minimise disruption and reputational risk in the future. In the ‘new normal’ not being prepared is not an option.
4) Government will be looking for solutions
The financial impact of Covid-19 for the public purse will be felt for years to come – and the government will be looking for creative ways to plug that shortfall. Creative, bold and eye-catching policies, assuming they have minimal or even positive revenue implications, will be welcomed. Anything that can be seen to contribute to the recovery from Covid-19 or creates jobs will be listened to.
5) The return of the experts
During the 2016 Referendum, Michael Gove famously told Sky News that “people in this country have had enough of experts”. Covid-19 has turned all of that on its head, the experts are back. The Government’s entire communications message has been that our response is “led by scientists”, and in the post-Covid environment, businesses will have an opportunity to offer their expertise to government and position themselves as authorities in areas where they have specialisms. Where organisations can provide evidence-based insight or add to the public discourse they should seize those opportunities, people will be listening.
As the Pandemic continues, businesses will be desperate to revert to normality as soon as possible, but things will not go back to the status quo – markets and attitudes will have evolved. As we discover what the ‘new normal’ looks like, those that succeed will have learnt some valuable lessons from the past few weeks, not just about video calling and remote working, but fundamental shifts in how they can and should approach communications.
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