Covid-19 has not only been an unforeseen catalyst of the digital transformation as established in our latest blog entry, but also triggered a fundamental change in corporate communications in general.
The new circumstances of everyday working life, the different situation of countries and regions and the ever-changing measures caused by the pandemic forced companies to significantly increase communication with their employees and customers in recent months.
Communicating fast & frequent
According to a report of the VMA Group from August 2020, almost nine out of ten or 86% of communications professionals focused their attention on internal communications during the first lockdown phase, addressing the challenges of employee sickness and concerns over safety, job security, financial welfare and the new way of working.
What began as keeping everyone up to date on new procedures and precautionary measures and securing the day-to-day flow of work quickly extended to finding innovative ways of providing employees with technical as well as emotional support and to strengthening relationships with clients or customers and partners.
Setting up the (digital) Toolbox
For many companies this also implied that they had to review their current communication channels and potentially introduce new tools to their portfolio, both internally and externally. First and foremost, video conferencing became a must. Not only to improve team collaboration and replace face-to-face meetings with stakeholders, but also to conduct interviews and provide training and webinars.
In addition, the number of active users on business communication platforms such as Microsoft Teams, doubled to 75 million between March and April this year, according to The Wall Street Journal. The combination of video and audio calls or conferences with chat and the ability to exchange files seemed to be the answer to the needs of many companies. Communication or even over-communication has proven itself once again to be key in a crisis, especially in the initial phase, when most procedures had to be adjusted.
Introducing Virtual Coffee Breaks
Since a majority of office workers worked from home, teams operated from multiple locations and social distancing in place, the missing factors became immediately apparent: the two-minute chat in front of the coffee machine, the short ride together in the lift and overhearing a conversation between a colleague and a customer.
Companies quickly learned to introduce virtual coffee breaks or town halls where colleagues were explicitly encouraged to share personal experiences or informal matters. To reduce the stress of the new situation and general uncertainty, and also to ensure colleagues are still helping and looking out for each other, team and company leaders tried to promote more individualised communication between team members, where not every message and every call has to be business-related.
Staying in touch with the customer
The new procedures and set up, obviously, also had to be communicated to customers. As face-to-face meetings were put on hold worldwide, customer relations were reduced to conversations by video call, emails or telephone.
Despite the adjustment of the format, the unique situation of the Covid-19 pandemic enabled client relationship managers and their customers to focus on a common interest. The diluted line between professional and private life aside, it allowed a greater understanding of each other’s personal and business background and needs and thus generally provided an opportunity to meet on an eye-level and strengthen the relationship.
When communicating with employees and clients, customers and partners, communication professionals had to deal with a whole range of sensitive issues such as cutbacks and redundancies, contract changes etc. A challenge that emphasised the importance of empathy and honesty in all messaging related to the crisis as well as of the appropriate communication channels used in these cases.
As with many learning in Covid-19 times, experts are certain that corporate communications are going to be changed for good.
With the widespread introduction of smart working, teams will have to communicate in new (digital) ways with each other as well as companies with their employees, customers and partners. Combined with savings in travel costs and time and increased productivity when working remotely and meeting online, this is likely to lead to a better use of digital technology within communications, but also to a greater number of online events and webinars in the near future.
Today more than ever, companies need to put their communication tools through their paces and adapt their messaging to be much more empathetic, honest and transparent. To be prepared for whatever the future may hold.