Creating sustainable futures for internal communicators

What will the future bring for internal communicators?

The latest findings in the report ‘Creating sustainable future for internal communicators’ by the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) helps the profession look at key opportunities and risks over the next five years.

The report focuses on four pillars of opportunity: technology, people, sustainability and employment.

It highlights how we must adapt and think differently when working with our internal stakeholders.

All Things IC Communication Consultant Dan Holden looks at some of the headline findings and what we, as internal communicators, need to consider for our continued professional development.

New report on the future for internal communicators featuring the report cover.

Over the last three years, many of us have experienced change on levels we’ve never seen before, both in the workplace and society.

Keeping up with these changes can be hard and I welcome this report that helps internal communicators focus on their future IC strategies.

Technology

Introducing additional tools and applications isn’t new for us as communicators. Reflecting on my career, I think every year has seen significant technological advances and learnings from failures.

The change from Twitter to X comes to mind, showing the risk of relying on one channel and how changes to the platform can almost overnight impact its effectiveness within your channels matrix.

Whilst technology can bring fear and worry, there are opportunities to develop our internal communication approach. Creating a shared understanding of new concepts and tools and providing governance and guidelines on the correct use of technology is needed.

I agree with the opportunity highlighted in the report about how colleagues adopt new technology and that ‘internal communication has a primary role, creating environments where colleagues feel safe to voice concerns.’ This should apply beyond technology changes, helping create an inclusive culture throughout the organisation.

We shouldn’t be afraid to explore how new technology can help us. Continually upskilling and expanding our knowledge doesn’t mean we must become experts in everything.

Knowing what’s available and the opportunities and risks of new tools, such as ChatGPT and artificial intelligence (AI), can help us stay ahead and not feel left behind.

“It’s vital business leaders understand that while it’s increasingly easy to generate communication and content using digital technology, this form of communication rarely packs an emotional punch.”

People

It wasn’t surprising to see trust featured as an area of focus for employers to support retention. Employees are more likely to change organisations that align with their values and beliefs, not just pay.

With more organisations using a hybrid working model, the lessons we identified during the pandemic need to carry on into our internal communication strategies.

There is still work to be done around diversity, inclusion and wellbeing. I’ve shared previously about the impact of wellbeing within our own profession, but seeing the latest research highlight ‘46% of surveyed workers are experiencing mental health difficulties’ tells us we still have work to do in supporting our organisations. I’ll include some links at the end of this article to help.

I’m encouraged to read about personalised information flows and that ‘strategy is effectively communicated in a way that reaches all internal stakeholders during their employment lifecycle’.

Employees often want more relevant and personalised content. This doesn’t necessarily mean replacing ‘Dear all’ with ‘Dear Dan’, but bringing relevant intranet articles or online communities forward so employees see the content more suited for their interest and role.

EDI Basics image with CIPR logo and circle of colours

Sustainability

‘Approaching sustainability as a journey rather than a destination’ sums up a pragmatic way of thinking about sustainability. With each step forward we take in caring for our environment, we’ll continually learn and identify better ways of looking after our environment.

The IoIC report takes us beyond the environment, highlighting five types of sustainability. These can be helpful for internal communicators to work with stakeholders to identify the key activities happening within their organisations, rather than trying to fit every initiative under the generalised sustainability banner.

Table from the IoIC Sustainable future report outlining the five types of sustainability and their definitions as included within the report

My key takeaway is that with more employees making a personal effort to reduce their environmental impact, they’re looking at organisations to take a greater lead.

We are far beyond having recycle bins in the office, promoting cycle-to-work schemes and asking employees to turn their monitors off at night. With more employees working from home, organisations need to think differently.

How can they support their employees to identify renewable energy sources or step up their wellbeing approach beyond tick boxing?

As communicators, we shouldn’t shy away from asking our leadership teams what their sustainability agenda is.

The principles we use at All Things IC for change communication, such as consistency, certainty and clarity, can be used equally for sustainability communications. Helping employees see what the organisation is doing around sustainability and how they can contribute and embed new sustainability practices.

Carbon literacy is something I’ve seen more communicators undertake as part of their continuing professional development. It’s an initiative to promote awareness of carbon dioxide’s impact on everyday life.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) North West Group have an online event, ‘Love Our Planet,’, on Wednesday, 14 February 2024, to help PR professionals communicate environmental changes.

They also have spaces on the ‘Carbon Literacy for Communicators’ training on Monday, 13 May, and Friday, 24 May 2024, with discounts available for CIPR and PRCA members.

Employment

The report highlights upcoming risks, including skill shortages and ageing populations. The speed at which organisations have needed to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic will need to continue. Employee’s expectations of how they want to work have changed, and if organisations don’t adapt, they’ll fail to attract talent.

A risk that resonates with me is where ‘employers who fail to build communication strategies that reach all potential contributors, regardless of employment type, miss an opportunity to build brand reputation, loyalty, trust, goodwill and more.’. We saw in the IoIC report ‘Should I stay or should I go’ that pay is no longer the key driver on why people change jobs.

There is an interesting opportunity where internal communication will work increasingly closer with colleagues in Human Resources on alumni groups and communicating with individuals such as contractors who previously might not have been in the remit of the IC team.

Summary

Thank you to the IoIC for commissioning this report. It has some useful insights to help you create your next internal communication strategy.

Whilst it was a little disappointing to read that ‘misunderstanding, assumption and misalignment is still rife in many organisations’, we have the opportunity as a profession to reduce this.

You can download a copy of the full report.

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First published on the All Things IC blog 2 February 2024
Post author: Dan Holden

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