Remote work is here to stay
Here’s how to fine-tune your internal corporate communications
About the author
Alyona Yakymchuk prepared this article as part of a CIPR Professional PR Diploma assignment while studying with PR Academy
McKinsey’s global survey of 800 executives suggests that up to 38% of employees are going to continue working remotely two or more days a week in the future. This means that employers have to build a sense of community among workers on-site and at home. Internal corporate communication managers are at the foreground of finding consistent ways to connect with co-located and remote employees.
In his Exploring Internal Communications: Towards Informed Employee voice book, Kevin Ruck argues that ‘a combination of keeping employees informed and providing opportunities for employee voice are the two foundational principles for internal communication practice.’ These principles are difficult to apply in ways that meet employee expectations. And now, when many employees keep working remotely, it is attracting attention to the corporate communication, promoting a sense of belonging, and receiving informed feedback that has become even more complex.
Accomplishing these goals requires constructing effective messages and selecting an appropriate communication channel while thinking carefully about current needs and worries of your target audience.
Constructing effective messages
A study of best practices for remote teams by MTI found that 350 HR leaders and other employees named high-quality and consistent communication as the most important step taken to support their transition to remote work.
Ensuring that your communication is frequent and consistent is necessary in order to stay in touch with co-located and remote employees. And to secure the effectiveness of your message, it is trustworthiness and appeal to the needs of your audience that needs to be refined first of all.
Opting for clear and honest communication, no matter what the situation is
In his book Leadership, Brian Tracy suggests that ‘many companies and organizations fail because they don’t follow the reality principle’, being afraid to face the truth. In a time when most of us have been struggling with uncertainty and feeling of disconnection, keeping your internal corporate communication (ICC) clear, meaningful, and truthful is the only way to reduce disruptive ambiguity and confusion at a workplace. Besides, this approach implicitly conveys both the company’s support and respect to its employees. Also, when employees understand their organization’s current agenda and strategic direction, they can stay committed to it and are willing to place trust in it.
Physical distancing should not lead to emotional distancing
As Andrea Alexander, Aaron De Smet, and Mihir Mysore state in their article for McKinsey, when the workforce is virtual, leaders need to rely on inspirational rather than hierarchical forms of leadership to compensate for the reduced socioemotional cues of digital channels.
For ICC managers, the challenge of not losing emotional connection with the audience is also highly relevant. To tackle it, employing emotive language can be really fruitful as it is often more inspirational than any rational arguments. Such approach to communication was described by Richard Petty and John Cacioppo in their elaboration likelihood model as taking the peripheral route where persuasion results from a person’s association with positive or negative cues used in the communication.
Here are a few ways to follow the peripheral route in ICC.
Capturing the benefits of humor
Humor – as a positive appeal – is often left aside when it comes to ICC. When used right, it сan do more than just make people laugh but helps achieve numerous communication objectives:
- Humor can help your message stand out. Neurologically, we’re wired to notice things that are differentiated. So, what makes you laugh is often attention-grabbing.
- Humor fosters better communication and compels others to your point of view. Professors Cecily Cooper, Tony Kong, and Craig Crossley found that when leaders used humor as an interpersonal tool, their employees were happier, more willing to communicate effectively and go beyond the call of duty.
- Humor can be extremely useful in helping people cope not only during or immediately after an adverse event but also in the long run. As a result, it distracts people from focusing on negative information.
- Humor is linked to creative thinking, promoting openness to new ideas by relaxing people and making them less likely to criticize their teammates. Eventually, lack of unreasonable criticism leads to safe environment.
You don’t need to be a comedian to use humor. As Dick Costolo, who is the former CEO of Twitter, puts it: “The easiest way to have more humor at work is not to try to be funny; instead, just look for moments to laugh.”
If deployed in the right way, negative appeals can also become a powerful tool
In their research into post-traumatic growth, Lawrence G. Calhoun and Richard G. Tedeschi suggest that companies that move effectively to address trauma, grief, loss, uncertainty, and anxiety can rebound more quickly and experience stronger success.
David Honigmann, Ana Mendy, and Joe Spratt, in their article for McKinsey, suggest that the emotional impact of the coronavirus pandemic should be a topic of discussion in the workplace – ’while conversations about the emotional toll of the pandemic may seem uncomfortable or unnecessary, they help strengthen ties with employees, who appreciate openness.’
To introduce such topics via ICC, the rhetorical narrative is convenient. As ‘the essence of the rhetorical approach is a fundamental concern for the opinions, values, and emotions of employees,’ says Mike Churchman in Principled Persuasion in Employee Communication. If the rational aim of organizational rhetoric is to present arguments clearly and effectively, its emotional aim is to encourage higher empathy levels throughout the workforce.
Selecting an appropriate channel
Once a message is defined, selection of an appropriate channel is needed to ensure effective communication.
The challenge for corporate communication managers is to get the right message across as most of our communication is written. On the one hand, there is enough time for a communication manager to prepare a compelling message and for the receivers of the message to process information and compose responses after some reflection; on the other hand – it is harder to develop trust, express attitudes, and build a two-way communication. To tackle these challenges in a time of remote working, an internal social media strategy is needed.
An internal social media platform can be more engaging and inspire greater participation than regular e-mail communications.
Written communication will be more engaging if employees can comment on it, ask and receive questions openly. This makes them feel heard rather than out of the loop because of working remotely.
Daily personal communications on the platform should also be encouraged as they make working relationships stronger, which can lead to overall positive environment and a growing sense of belonging.
Another thing to consider is that the theory of reasoned action, developed by Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen, suggests that individuals carry out a complicated process of evaluating a communication message, weighing up different influences. The recipient of an organizational message will consider, for example, the opinions of colleagues they respect. This means that if the corporate communication message is supported on the social media platform by trusted individuals (not necessarily formal leaders), it has a better chance to be accepted by others.
When announcing important news or discussing sensitive work-related issues, face-to-face is preferred, followed by videoconferencing
Media richness theory helps us understand the need to match the “richness” of the message with the capabilities of the medium. For example, face-to-face interactions create opportunities for rich, informal interactions and emotional connection. However, when face-to-face communication is impossible, video conferencing is the next best choice. Compared with written communication, company video conference provides the ability for participants to show understanding, anticipate responses, provide nonverbal information, and express attitudes.
I will close by saying that the first step in fine-tuning your internal corporate communications is being open to attempting something new. Try and see what works best for your organization. And while doing that, don’t forget to regularly ask employees on-site and at home what might help them stay informed, connected, and feel socially supported – the most valuable insights may come from this activity.
Andrea Alexander, Aaron De Smet, and Mihir Mysore. 2020. Reimagining the postpandemic workforce [Accessed: 20 February 2021]
Brian Tracy. 2014. Leadership (The Brian Tracy Success Library). AMACOM.
David Honigmann, Ana Mendy, and Joe Spratt. 2020. Communications get personal: How leaders can engage employees during a return to work. [Accessed: 27 February 2021]
History of Theory of Reasoned Action. [Accessed: 6 March 2021]
Matt Abrahams. 2020. Think Fast, Talk Smart podcast episode Make ’Em Laugh: How Humor Can Be the Secret Weapon in Your Communication. [Accessed: 27 February 2021]
Media richness theory. [Accessed: 6 March 2021]
Mike Churchman. 2015. Principled Persuasion in Employee Communication. Routledge.
Ruck, Kevin. 2015. Exploring Internal Communication: Towards Informed Employee Voice. Vol. Third edition, Routledge.
Susan Lund, Wan-Lae Cheng, André Dua, Aaron De Smet, Olivia Robinson, and Saurabh Sanghvi. 2020. What 800 executives envision for the postpandemic workforce. [Accessed: 20 February 2021]