Next Year Planning Tips for Comms Pros
The last 18 months have been completely unpredictable. And employees are likely divided in terms of what they want, what they’re comfortable with, and what they want from their organization. And that makes creating a 2022 budget and strategy challenging. While we can all make our best guess about what’s going to happen next, it’s hard to really know. And that’s why we reached out to several employee communication experts and thought leaders to see what they think 2022 has in store for us and their advice for how to proceed.
What are your predictions for the state of the workplace in 2022 that internal comms pros should prepare for?
Debbie West: “We’re aware that employers have responded in a range of ways to the question of whether their people should return to offices and workplaces. We know it’s likely that hybrid working will be more common, so our role as communicators must embrace the fact our colleagues could be switching from home-working to commuting on a regular basis. It’s a great time to review our channels to make sure they are working for everyone, across different locations. We should also be mindful of the way our organisation’s culture will evolve to adapt to these changes.”
Jill Christensen: “Remote work means that employees are missing out on what I call ‘ad-hoc communications’—hallway conversations, brainstorming in a conf room once a meeting has ended, things overheard in a break room or kitchen areas. Comms pros should ‘pick up the communication slack,’ so employees feel in-the-know vs. alone on an island.”
Sean Williams: “What happens if (when) COVID-19 continues to be a major issue? Be prepared for more demand for remote and other flex work. And meetings will require a very sharp lens to be sure they are essential.”
Sydney Lauro, theEMPLOYEEapp: “I think the reality is that we can’t predict what’s going to happen in the world. We can’t predict how our people are going to respond. Which is why it’s so important to have crisis plans in place and to build agility into your strategy. But what I do think is going to happen is that we are going to see more shifts in the way people work. The great resignation and the move towards more flex and hybrid working aren’t going away. The power is shifting to the employee. But it’s going to be critical to pay attention to the needs of your continually changing workforce. Understanding their challenges and coming up with solutions for frontline and deskbound workers is going to be key to retention and growth, and, ultimately, the success of our communication strategies.”
What do you think should be the top internal communication priorities next year?
Jill Christensen: “Building a two-way communication culture. In order for employees to feel engaged, they must have a voice at work and know that voice is being heard. In many firms this means that new vehicles must be created and used, as currently, one-way communication cultures are the norm.”
Sean Williams: “Help your organization and its people WIN over the virus, the competition, and the distractions. Be a solution.”
Sydney Lauro, theEMPLOYEEapp: “I think a really important thing to start is employee listening. That’s really going to help you set the right priorities for your own organization. Marketers have been using social listening for years to keep a finger on the pulse about what their target audience wants and needs. We should use that same best practice internally.”
What’s one piece of wisdom that you picked up this year that would help other communicators?
Debbie West: “The top piece of wisdom I picked up in 2021 is that it’s always important to ask questions about the effectiveness of our communications and really listen to the answers. For example, the conversations I’ve had with colleague groups through the year has made it clear to me how important line manager contact has become for people, through the uncertainties of the pandemic. This has really helped to inform what should be prioritised for the year ahead.”
Sean Williams: “Care for one another and yourself. Be kind. It has been an unreal and surreal journey the past two years, and we need empathy and understanding more than ever.”
Sydney Lauro, theEMPLOYEEapp: “You can’t please everyone. I think it’s clear that our world is often divided. We don’t always agree. Your decision to mandate masks or vaccines is going to upset someone. But what’s important is that you make a decision one way or the other. That you communicate why you’re doing what you’re doing. That you listen and have constructive conversations when there is disagreement. But ultimately, you can’t please everyone. All you can do is make sure your communication is fostering an environment of respect and psychological safety.”
What’s your top tip for putting together a next year plan?
Sean Williams: “Let’s get back to basics! Look at the business plan and determine objectives that directly impact business KPIs. Be explicit about how your tactics realize that strategy.”
Sydney Lauro, theEMPLOYEEapp: Start with an audit of your channels, messages, and audiences. And, ideally, get a sense from your audience of what they want and need. Include managers and non-managers, in the office and out in the field. These different audiences likely will want different things. Take that survey or focus group data and then look at your audit results. Sometimes we get carried away by trying to solve for everything or check every box…but our budgets (and schedules!) don’t always allow for that. So pick the few things that you can change that will make the biggest impact for the most people.
While it’s impossible to predict what 2022 will look like and the challenges it will pose to communications professionals, we can try to get ahead of what might happen. The pandemic has proven that we need to be ready with crisis plans ahead of time by predicting worst case and most likely scenarios. But we also need to step up our game from a people perspective. If your organization is focusing on an attrition issue or a culture problem, look no further than the employee experience. Are your employees feeling cared for, recognized, and valued? How are you supporting burnt out workers in the office, on the frontline, and at home? And, most importantly, have you changed your strategy to reach people regardless of where they are? For years, organizations have struggled to reach deskbound and deskless workers equally. This move to remote and hybrid work isn’t going anywhere. Now is the time to consider how we better reach and engage employees who don’t sit behind a desk or in an office all day.