How to adapt your internal comms efforts to the hybrid workplace

By Samantha McCabe
May 4, 2021
7 min read

The coronavirus pandemic changed a lot of things about how we live. Among the shifts was a massive impact on our conception of the modern workplace.

It no longer feels as necessary to have a packed conference room to discuss a new expansion or walk down the hall to chat to your colleague about a new project. That’s not to say that office spaces are gone for good—but 2020 was a year when employees embraced flexibility and individuality in their work choices more than ever. The proof: Microsoft recently published its 2021 Work Trend Index Annual Report, and to the surprise of pretty much no one, this year’s theme is “hybrid work.”

As the report asks in its title, “The Next Great Disruption is Hybrid Work — Are We Ready?” Well, are you? If you’re still feeling a bit unsure about how the rise of hybrid work will affect your internal comms best practices, we have you covered with the key insights we pulled from the report and our very own tips for success in 2021.

The “new normal” is the hybrid workplace—what does that mean?

In most cases, the term “hybrid work” refers to a mix of at-home and in-office work. That might mean some employees will return to the workplace and others will continue to work from home, a staggered schedule where everyone has some days in the office, or communal office space meant to be used solely for group meetings and brainstorming sessions.

So what do we know about the current state of things and how employees feel as we transition to the hybrid workplace? Here are some of the stats from theMicrosoft report that stood out the most to us:

  • 73% of employees want flexible remote work options to stay, BUT 67% of employees want more in-person work or collaboration post-pandemic.
  • Gen Z, women, frontline workers, and those new to their careers reported struggling the most over the past year—and they think that their employers, bosses, and leaders are out of touch with their day-to-day realities.
  • What Microsoft calls the “digital intensity” of workers’ days has increased. Teams users are spending 2.5 times more hours in meetings in February 2021 than they were in February 2020, and sending 45% more chats per week than this time last year.
  • Though the virtual workplace is creating more siloed departments, coworkers leaned on each other in new ways to get through the last year and many workplace interactions became more authentic as a result.

There are some concerning overarching trends here: burnout is high, and connectivity is low for many. But all the changes at play present a great opportunity for internal communicators to step up and shine.

Diverse employees having a hybrid meeting in an office boardroom

How should you adapt your internal comms to hybrid work?

Microsoft spotlighted their five key tips as we all try to chart the way forward. Let’s list them here, and then discuss how internal communicators can play a role in implementing them:

1.     Create a plan to empower people for extreme flexibility

Empowering people to thrive at work is a central part of the internal communicator’s role—which is why it’s actually IC Thrive’s mission statement! Microsoft recommends that workplaces create a forward-thinking plan that incorporates policy, physical space, and technology in its specifications. For internal communicators, having a seat at the table when these discussions are taking place will make all the difference when it comes time to communicate them. That’s why it’s key to have a concrete mandate that has your leadership team’s support.

And for this plan to truly resonate with employees, it needs to come from them. To help the leadership team identify what employees want to see from the new plan, seek out employee feedback regularly and thoughtfully.

Which hybrid working option do employees prefer? Do they want to retain their offices, or their desks? Do they want to work completely from home? Do they want flexible hours to allow for things like childcare as well? Which platforms do they prefer to conduct digital work on? You should be diligently asking your employees all these questions and more as you build your report to take to leadership.

2.    Invest in space and technology to bridge the physical and digital worlds

A shift in work style will likely mean a shift in space. At IC Thrive, for example, we just switched to a new office space with fewer desks but more communal space for collaborative meetings and teamwork (its waterfront view doesn’t hurt, either!).

That extends to the digital world, too. A meaningful approach to internal comms is hard to achieve without purposeful technology to help you get there. Looking into options like our own internal comms software, Reach, might be the place to start. Reach can help you get your messaging out there, gather feedback, and create a general sense of community and belonging among your employees. Our technology pages will guide you through how Reach will organize your efforts, engage your employees, and measure your successes. You can even book a quick, no-pressure demo and try it out.

Not ready yet? A channel audit can be a good starting point to check whether you’re reaching your employees the right way, whether they’re at home or at the office. We have a handy tool to help you break it down.

3.    Combat digital exhaustion from the top

As the Microsoft report emphasizes, even though some employees are returning to work, “digital exhaustion is areal and unsustainable threat.” For the internal communicator, that means making careful decisions about which messaging is absolutely necessary—and for whom. Making sure you are implementing proper audience segmentation and timing practices to reach the right people at the right time is key to respecting your employees’ boundaries and preventing virtual burnout. The last thing you want is for employees to sigh as they receive yet another message at 8 p.m. on a Thursday evening.

And bring the leadership team into your internal comms efforts so they can have a hand in communicating that digital exhaustion is being taken seriously—that might look like personalized messaging, town halls, and more.

4.    Prioritize rebuilding social capital and culture

With the loss of in-person events, it’s harder than ever to establish your company culture and organization’s unique personality. Re-emphasize your motto and values and provide a forum where employees can refer back to them, such as your company intranet. Internal communicators can help create community authentically, too, by coming up with creative ways to connect and seeking feedback and ideas from staff. We have you covered with more ideas on creating community on our blog.

Leaders will need to adopt a “human-first approach,” by reflecting on the actions they have already taken and establishing a strong foundation to make sustained remote work and hybrid working environments an ongoing success. More on that in our blog on the topic.

5.    Rethink employee experience to compete for the best and most diverse talent

This intertwines with the point above. Employees don’t choose a workplace solely to make money and then go home(or, these days, log off). They expect a positive, growth-oriented, and community-minded experience while they’re at work, too.

Part of this means rethinking what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to your workplace in 2021, both in who you hire and how you support them once they’re at work. For the internal communicator, assessing the accessibility of your messaging and adopting an inclusive communication style can make all the difference. We have a tool to help you check for implicit bias and a content accessibility checklist to help out.

Our workplace environments are shifting, but internal comms can step up to the plate

As the Microsoft report concludes, “If we embrace extreme flexibility, follow data insights, and continue listening closely to employee needs, together we can create a better future of work for everyone.” It’s possible to transition to this new reality without putting too much strain on employees—and employers. Keeping an ear to the ground and staying informed is the first place to start for internal communicators hoping to help ease the transition.

If you’re looking to start from the ground up as you re-evaluate the value you bring as an internal communicator, we have an internal comms assessment that will help you identify your weak spots.

Here’s to a better year ahead!

By Samantha McCabe