In this guest post, Piers Nutbrown, internal communications channel manager, predicts 5 key changes coming to internal communications and employee engagement.

What’s to come in internal comms?

By Piers Nutbrown, Internal Communications Channel Manager at Collinson

Whatever the finer details of the future of internal communications, the shift to the employee is enduring and the onus is on us to hold their attention.

In his 1888 book Glimpses of the Future (Suggestions as to the Drift of Things), David Goodman Croly supposed that one day, novels “…would all be reproduced pictorially” so “the reader’s conception of the characters would necessarily be much more vivid”. Good comms practice in any day and age.

Croly’s hunches – he also envisaged the audio book and some notable geopolitical trends – have proved more prescient than other hot tips taxidermied in time. Back to the Future had hoverboards. Your grandparents had the football pools. Nostradamus, maligned for his ambiguity, at least stuck his neck out in predicting the whole world would end. And Donald Fagen, in his song IGY, recalled the pioneers who, flush with post-war optimism, had proclaimed that “ninety minutes from New York to Paris” would soon be a viable flight time. How quaint it all seems now.

Foretelling the future of internal comms is probably just as futile, but it’s simply too tempting to resist pre-empting. Purely in the name of science, you understand.

Days are numbered for the intranet as we know it

Chances are you’ve worked with someone who yearns for the days when fax machines were a futuristic part of the office furniture. They’ll wistfully relive the paper mountains, the chain-smoking at desks – a smoke alarm salesperson’s dream – and even the ritual photocopying of body parts at the annual Christmas party.

We’ll soon think of intranets this way. Even now the idea of relying on a single central information resource feels outdated, in this age of integrated suites of tools that are accessible through a handy dashboard. Your people need a digital workplace, rather than an expensive and sporadically-maintained top-down site with clunky navigation, especially when they’re longing to say…

…Goodbye to broadcast, hello to conversation

By the year 2030, companies will have a better understanding of what constitutes genuine employee engagement. Instead of lumbering themselves with a word-heavy website for people to either visit or risk missing out, they’ll meet their audience half-way and offer breezier, media-rich platforms to share their views, news, successes, best practice and, yes, even their pet pics.

This switch to a self-posting set-up means changing remits for internal comms folk, who will spend more time enabling and empowering people to tell their own stories. As channel custodians they’ll still produce content, but also report on usage and trends, deliver training, implement new features, concoct campaigns, advise experts, educate leaders, and (even) more.

A busy role then, and one that will be duly valued in our internal comms utopia, as companies grasp how it can help create a culture that keeps people connected, motivated and, ultimately, in their employment.

Email will become obsolete… but perhaps not quite yet

And more’s the pity, because sending emails already seems a passé way to pass on news. They rain down from all angles, take ages to read, aren’t media rich and worst of all, they just seem to be talking at you. Less engaging, more enraging: as if there wasn’t enough stress in the modern workplace.

Don’t just take it from the manifold stats reporting the number of minutes spent dousing inbox fires daily, or the emails that remain unopened or are instantly deleted. In the future all companies, shamed by years of inflicted scattergun misery, will finally put their people first and use email comms sparingly – if at all – so they can get on with their jobs.

Leaders will be open, accountable, and write their own stuff

Hmm. Something’s not right about those messages you’ve been seeing from your leaders, and you’ve finally worked it out. They don’t quite ring true and you’re pretty sure their authors don’t actually talk like that. It all seems contrived and a little less human, almost as if they’ve been penned by a proxy.

If your leaders are too busy to communicate meaningfully with you, you’re too busy to absorb their ghostwritten words. Your time is as precious as theirs, so barriers will have to be broken if they’re serious about earning your attention.

They also forget that peer-to-peer content garners great reactions. Rather than demanding your people care about it, why not illustrate how the new company strategy will help everyone achieve their goals in a human, relatable way? Want to report on engagement survey results? Recording a short video, using transparent and accountable messaging and leaving out the jargon, will prove more palatable than that 24-page PDF you sent round last time, and less labour-intensive too.

As company hierarchies continue to flatten, credible leaders of the future will hand the podium to their people, encourage stirring storytelling, and be prepared to be challenged for the sake of an open, mature and healthy culture.

Information. Will. Be. Bitesize.

Employees’ expectations of their workplace channels have changed. Personal habits have long since bled into the professional and let’s face it, we’re all using our own engaging apps and devices throughout the day. These are by now so pervasive that evolution is bound to be affected: it’s only a matter of time before the NHS prescribes mandatory melatonin injections and our touchscreen-tormented thumbs eventually grow their own thumbs.

And attention spans could continue to shrink, because we’re all just a product of our time after all, so video will increasingly be the format of choice. Social media posts with video already have 48 per cent more views and by 2022 videos will make up more than 82 per cent of all consumer internet traffic. That trend is mirrored on internal channels and the drop-off rate is decreasing all the time.

Organisations will need to up the ante by offering creative, digestible and visually appetising content in ways people can swallow and share, especially when serving up dry or technical topics. Stuffy management-speak and alphabet soup will be off the menu and blogs like this, which leave you needing matchsticks for your eyes, will deservedly remain untouched.

And therein lies the painfully inevitable twist: most of this supposed palmistry is not only already happening, but fast becoming standard – not even best – practice. You probably predicted as much yourself, didn’t you? If only we’d all listened to Croly from the start.

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