2020 has been a particularly challenging year for internal communications and HR professionals. As organizations sought to overcome the unprecedented challenges brought on by a global pandemic, the leaders responsible for communicating with and caring for the people behind the company’s operations were given the seemingly insurmountable task of keeping everyone connected.
Clear communication, teamwork, and transparency have never been more important to your company’s success than they are at this very moment in time.
What Is Internal Communication?
At its core, internal communication refers to how people in an organization share information with each other. Traditional forms of employee communication in frontline industries like hospitality, manufacturing, construction, and retail include top-down, one-way communication channels like bulletin boards.
But relying on paper-based, top-down communication methods just simply doesn’t work well if you’re trying to reach frontline workers (who make up 80% of the global workforce). Issues around traceability, delivery confirmation, and message comprehension are rampant with these traditional communication channels for frontline employees.
It’s also impossible to accurately measure how many employees stopped and read that flier you posted on the company bulletin board two weeks ago. At the same time, it can be challenging to ensure that employees who speak other languages are understanding the company messaging you’re putting out.
Most importantly, traditional communication methods like bullet boards, paystub memos, and company newsletters don’t allow you to listen to your frontline employees. Open feedback loops lead to stronger products, teams, and better customer service.
The challenges around running a business during COVID-19 have accelerated the digital revolution that was already happening in the internal communications field. Frontline workers who were often left out of corporate communications are now being given mobile-friendly solutions.
This digitization of the non-desk workforce will also play a key role in helping businesses recover and rebuild after COVID-19.
With that in mind, here are our top five internal communications trends for frontline industries that will play a key role in 2021.
1) Business Communication Trends: Empower Frontline Employees Through Digital Enablement
Empowering frontline employees with the tools, technologies, and resources they need to be more efficient will continue to gain momentum, especially for businesses trying to rebuild their operations after COVID-19.
A recent report titled, “The New Decision Makers” by Harvard Business Review, reveals how businesses can leverage mobile technology to empower their frontline employees. According to their survey findings:
- 85% of respondents say that their organization will be more successful when their frontline employees are empowered to make decisions in the moment
- 86% said that frontline employees need better technology-enabled insights in order to make these important decisions
- 72% said that productivity increased when they empowered their frontline employees
“Frontline employees have become the new user base for digital tools.”– HBR, “The New Decision Makers”
These findings show that empowering frontline workers through digital enablement is a pivotal step towards building a high-performing organizational culture.
Here are some benefits we’ve seen in our own customers after digitally enabling their frontline teams with Beekeeper:
- Reduced coordination time for frontline managers (we’ve seen this drop by as much as 99% through the use of Beekeeper). One customer has said, “I can make 50 phone calls and not get the same result that I can in just 35 seconds on the platform.”
- 91% improvement in frontline team performance
- As much as $50,000 saved in reduced printing costs
2) Increased Demand for Operational Communication
The need for operational communication is growing. If you haven’t read our blog series on the Frontline Future of Work, check out part two on the rise of operational communication here.
According to the latest Gartner market guide on employee communications applications,
“Operational communications is an emerging domain within the ECA market. Whereas the focus of organizational communications is on enterprise-wide scenarios and is typically more broadcast-oriented (with some levels of feedback and peer interaction), operational communications is more laterally focused within a certain related span of business activities and involves more group and peer-to-peer interaction.”– Gartner, “Market Guide for Employee Communication Applications”
Operational communication typically focuses on the following areas:
- Work management
- Logistical coordination and workflow
- Work-related policies and procedures
- Mentoring and professional development
- Knowledge sharing
Benefits of operational communication:
There are countless benefits behind transitioning from top-down internal communication to two-way, operational communication. Here are just a few of them.
- Reduce friction between employees, processes, and systems
- Streamline business agility
- Improve safety
- Get detailed feedback directly from your frontline employees that can improve your organizational processes
3) Communication Industry Trends: Leaders Who Champion a Digital Organization
As executive teams work overtime to increase revenue, reduce costs, and offset any losses incurred in 2020, improving efficiency will be a primary goal of internal communicators in 2021.
In addition to streamlining business operations and building more efficient supply chains, business leaders must also balance operational goals against an equally significant organizational need: shaping and driving the voice and mission of the company.
In 2021, leaders will be more proactive about using digital tools to connect their organizations and align workers to that mission.
According to the “KPMG 2020 CEO Outlook: COVID-19 Special Edition,” 77% of CEOs say they will expand their digital communication tool chest for greater communication and collaboration.
As remote work continues to rise and teams grow more dispersed, leaders need to be direct and transparent in their communication to keep their workforce aligned and engaged. They also need two-way communication tools for greater visibility of their entire organization.
As companies navigate this new normal we find ourselves in, and job security becomes a growing concern for frontline workers, digital communication tools can help leaders:
- Connect and align everyone, from on-site frontline workers to remote teams
- Digitally empower workers (which can boost productivity by 72%).
- Maintain a cohesive culture
- Boost employee morale and engagement which in turn can reduce turnover
- Streamline processes and save time creating leaner, more efficient operations across the organization
4) Corporate Communication Trends: AI in Internal Comms
When we think of AI in the workplace, futuristic visions of high tech robots and self-aware, smart machines often come to mind. But there are opportunities to leverage AI to automate internal communication for operational efficiency.
Using AI in workplace communication can come in many forms:
- Chatbots, a market estimated to reach $9.4 billion by 2024
- Streamline repetitive HR processes, like onboarding
- Virtual assistants
- Data collection through workforce app usage
- Internal communication campaigns
Some internal communication professionals are now using AI to track sentiment analysis across the organization to better understand their employee engagement levels. This allows them to conduct a more accurate measurement of the impact of their internal communications and, with time, allows them to even predict the engagement of employees based on trend analysis.
5) Complete Digital Transformation for a Fully Connected Workforce
The view of digital transformation has changed. A year ago, it was a good business strategy in order to remain competitive. Today, companies need digital tools in order to remain competitive and survive during an unpredictable scenario like the one we’ve experienced in 2020.
In 2021, companies across all industries will fast-track their digital transformation. From internal communications to operational processes, technology will create greater efficiency, leaner operations, increase collaboration and productivity, and build resilience.
The Four Tiers of Digital Transformation
If companies have learned one thing this past year, it’s the importance of digital communication tools. The companies that had an easier time navigating the COVID-19 crisis used digital communication tools to swiftly pivot to new operating models.
Many of these companies were able to:
- Have constant, real-time communication with employees for evolving updates
- Limit disruptions to workflows even with unstable supply chains
- Maintain customer relations and keep close-to-normal output
- Retain their workforce
No matter how they approach it, we can expect to see companies will prioritize their digital transformation in 2021.
Here at Beekeeper, we’ve identified a four-tiered approach to digital transformation:
Putting 2020 behind us and looking forward to 2021, we can expect to see these trends in communication continue in the coming years. As the rise of the frontline worker and the pivotal role they played in keeping society functioning during a global pandemic continues to unfold, businesses will continue to be laser-focused on equipping these workers with the tools they need to be successful.
We will surely see the digitization of the frontline workforce and the increased emphasis on operational efficiency continue their acceleration as companies recover and rebuild in the year 2021.