How has WFH Changed our Corporate Communications?

Over the past year, we’ve been tested routinely as we worked from kitchen tables, home offices or our comfy couches, sometimes with limiting patience. Video chats, social distancing and reducing group gatherings are seemingly now part of our DNA, however vaccine rollouts and some return-to-work strategies are full steam ahead in some U.S. regions that could decrease our introversion.

This begs these questions to be answered – how has working from home changed future corporate communication dynamics? Moving forward, how should we communicate differently in corporate communications? How will our societal changes during the pandemic impact corporate initiatives?

Greg Marshall, Account Executive from Grayling NY, takes a look at these discussions surrounding communications in 2021 and shares his thoughts on what professionals in this space should prepare for post-COVID.

Working from home has a new feeling

When we’re not checking our Wi-Fi connection and solving IT problems, we’re learning to balance our work schedules with personal lives with limited exposure to traditional office environments. According to a recent Prudential survey of 2,000 American adults who’ve been able to work from home during the pandemic, an overwhelming 87% want the ability to continue doing so after the risks of the virus subside.

In 2021, new communication strategies will be major underlying factors in company culture and employee engagement in new remote and hybrid workspaces. Considering how employees like to communicate and how they like to receive information and feedback will be paramount. Implementing creative adoptions of behavioral science and personal aspects of our work environments to ensure everyone is connected will be key for better performances moving forward.

For those who worked from home for the first time in 2020, new policies across corporate offices offered a reprieve from long commutes and lost time with family. According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, only 6% of the employed worked primarily from home before the pandemic and about three-quarters of workers had never worked from home. In May 2020, over one-third of the employed worked from home due to the pandemic – a close match for pre-pandemic estimates of the share of work that could be done remotely.

We’ve seen workers move toward less expensive or more desirable locales, further from city centers or office complexes, and still showing signs that remote work is growing on people. According to a recent survey from IBM, more than 75 percent indicate they would like to continue to work remotely at least occasionally, while more than half (54%) would like this to be their primary way of working.

Telecommuting continues to be a challenge for some, particularly for parents of young children. For many younger employees that perhaps don’t have family responsibilities, cultivating relationships over Zoom, Slack or Microsoft Teams and connecting with a mentor has become more difficult working from home – something that has proven to be especially beneficial over the course of a career. Working from home is still a concept that’s a “work-in-progress” for many but becoming a mainstay in our corporate environment.  Communicating in this way will have to adapt (as it always does) and establish a new function of business that keeps us moving in the right direction.

Authenticity will lead corporate communications to success

As PR communicators, we are constantly balancing our clients, colleagues, family, friends and loved ones with different forms of communication every single day, but even for us, it gets exhausting too. Looking back to anything pre-March 2020 seems like a century ago and it’s still tough to get a grasp of where we are now. Naturally, and as is the case with many of the highly-disrupted areas of business this year, corporate leaders will now be looking to rethink the manner in which internal and external communications are approached.

To combat challenges and discover opportunities, establishing an authentic voice should be a top focus for all communications leaders right now. Whether communicating online or in person, you can see that honesty, transparency and flexibility are highly valued, which isn’t expected to change. This is especially true as we continue to experience crisis-fueled or health-related messages washing over us via email, social media or news stories.

Companies like Stanley Black & Decker has undergone some fundamental shifts in the way that information is distributed among its people. Paul Hevesy, HR Director, offered some further detail, explaining that work transformation has formed the basis of the approach. Engaging employees, sharing information, creating culture, and instilling purpose in daily objectives have become top priorities for today’s corporate environment. A digital workplace and agile work flexibility are no longer being seen as long-term business goals, but rather as immediate necessities.

“We live in a society…”

Our collective global society continues to grow each month, recovering from the biggest pandemic in over 100 years since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.  Although local movements and grass roots initiatives will always be a staple of society, it is obvious that communication and the growth of human interaction have transformed the way we see the world now.

Discussing COVID’s impact on global society, David Krieger, director of the Institute for Communication and Leadership, commented in an open forum with Pew Research, “One of the results of the pandemic is that it is finally obvious to everyone that we are global.” Kreiger continued to explain, “Closing borders and blocking flows of people and materials represents a ‘lockdown’ mentality aimed to disrupt connectivity and stop the flow of the virus, but at the cost of disrupting the economic, social and political foundations of the globally networked society.” In this perspective from Kreiger, our world’s current positions around health, government, business and culture have many different branches that connect everyone in some form or fashion, no matter the barriers or borders.

We saw an astounding impact of societal change in 2020 in many different forms from the pandemic, including culture changes and greater expectations. According to recent research from Mitto, Americans believe actions speak louder than words, as 73% say it is important that social justice-related statements they receive from brands, nonprofits, and other organizations are not only empathetic but are followed by measurable action.

Much of these expectations also include the art of communicating mindfully, authentically, and honestly in a way that is representative and inclusive of a diverse audience. Global business will continue to see inclusivity showing up in the workplace in more impactful ways to call out disparities and lack of opportunity. Look for diversity and inclusion numbers to show up on annual reports that detail company spending and donation reports that tell the story of each company’s commitment to social responsibility.

Although 2020 will be remembered for many misfortunes, it also shined a light on long overlooked issues in communications, sparked growth in society and introduced breakthrough opportunities for businesses. Organizational leaders who stayed the course with their communications investment and societal footprint are sure to leave a positive mark on our future.