Beyond COVID 19: Is it too early to think beyond the current crisis?
For internal communicators around the world, it is already clear that the COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) epidemic is driving a fundamental shift toward remote working, and therefore toward organizations that are increasingly dependent on virtual as opposed to physical infrastructure. More to the point, the opportunity is emerging for internal communication not only to be seen as a function providing virtual infrastructure but as the key to its effective and value-additive use. But that’s an opportunity that will require initiative and strategic thought to take advantage of, beyond the fire-fighting embedded in a typical major crisis.
The coronavirus crisis is unlikely to cause a revolution for organizations. But in enabling the idea that organizations making use of a virtual infrastructure need to see it as a strategic as well as a technical asset, this crisis can catalyze a much needed evolution.
Before 2020, hesitation about investing in internal communication and the tools that allow it to work was common, be it for organization-wide communication or for more operational team and individual communication tasks. Still, the belief persisted that things could be best done face to face by line managers, and a fair sense that employees would make do with makeshift tools and platforms even as they came to rely on commercial-grade tools like LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram in their private lives. And even among organizations that did invest in modern communication platforms, a lack of awareness and agility in using them to actively support business objectives was not unusual.
The shift toward remote working during the coronavirus crisis is exposing a stark gap between enterprises that offer easy connectivity along with accessible and interactive corporate messaging, and those who insist on “doing things the old fashioned way” and hesitate to invest in technology or make cultural adjustments. Combining easier remote working with more accessible corporate messaging is also seen as helping to keep people productive and focused on current priorities.
The added value of new communication tools and added organizational respect during a time of crisis will be helpful to internal communication. However, it is imperative that we as communicators use this crisis, to the extent we can, to build the business case for the right technology and for the role of internal communication as a whole. That means following the numbers and coming up with measures and metrics that reflect the contribution internal comms is making from commercial, operational and organizational perspectives.
To be fair, elements of this crisis challenge the positioning of IC as a strategic value driver. IC’s newfound importance is seen as infrastructural. If things become more difficult from a health perspective for some months, IC activities will intensify in focus on crisis management and public health issues rather than more strategic business topics. But if a business case is documented, IC professionals will be well positioned to emerge from the crisis with the tools they need and with the capability to make a strategic difference to the recovery.
As for companies that hesitated, once they recognize the high value and comparatively minor costs of operating a competitive IC function, embracing modern IC tools and professional communication involvement will likely happen rapidly.
The main thing: IC professionals need to keep an eye out both for opportunities to make a difference during and after this crisis, and to demonstrate their value at this particularly crucial time. At the risk of being crass, I will state the matter frankly: this is not the time to let a crisis go to waste.
Mike Klein is Netherlands-based and is Principal at Changing The Terms (www.changingtheterms.com). He is past chair of IABC EMENA and one of the most active bloggers and speakers on the global internal communication scene. He will lead a panel on Changing the Shape of Internal Communications at the Global Communication Summit: see the programme for more details.