It’s March 15th, 2021, one year after the global lockdown – the economy and society are still on their journeys back to normal as we knew it in 2019. Despite isolated regional outbreaks in recent months, which have been well controlled and quickly contained, hope is growing. The reason: a vaccine against the dangerous COVID-19 virus is on the horizon and is slowly rebounding the economy.
Social life, however, is not the only thing that has changed; companies have also transitioned into the new everyday life. This is characterized by strict hygienic measures, as well as alternating-shift and group systems on the production line and in the office to ensure that the prescribed distancing rules are observed. However, the everyday working life of many people is still defined by working from home, which has become increasingly important since the onset of the crisis, and today it is hard to imagine life without it. Internal communicators have also faced major challenges in recent months and have had to adapt quickly. Awareness was raised, among other things, of the wishes and needs of both workers on the production line and technical staff, as well as middle management: everyone agrees that they want to see the rules concerning hygiene and conduct implemented in a binding and practical manner, coupled with transparent communication during and after the crisis.
Middle management strives for transparent communication
But how does one succeed in responding to the needs and wishes of employees, especially when it comes to working from home? The first step was a thorough assessment of the situation in order to capture the mood of the workforce. It quickly became clear: a generalization does not make sense, since each employee perceived and managed the crisis differently, depending on their own opinions and experiences.
Internal expectations of oneself and external expectations of superiors and the company often differed greatly and were dependent on the personality type of the employee. While some needed particularly clear goals and tasks, others enjoyed their freedom and worked largely independently. Especially extroverted people working from home were faced with the challenge of a lack of personal exchange and networking with colleagues. By contrast, more reserved employees often found it difficult to deal with the situation openly and to articulate their own problems clearly. Job-related issues, in particular, characterized the uncertainty among employees:
“Which channel do I use to communicate with my team and with customers?”
“When, how long, and how often do we communicate with each other, and what do we do in the event of technical difficulties?”
“Will I keep my job, or will my team be dissolved?”
“What is the long-term outlook and how long will the working from home situation last?”
“What rules concerning hygiene and conduct do I have to adhere to at work in the future?”
However, it was not only personal factors that played a decisive role during the crisis, but organizational and technical factors as well. In addition to time management and self-management, many employees faced the challenges of childcare and home schooling. But factors such as a stable internet connection and the necessary technical equipment also determined whether and how well the virtual collaboration worked.
Digital, better distributed, more flexible – new processes lead to more productivity
Even middle management in many companies has been forced to rethink due to the Corona crisis – rigid rules and processes were suddenly relaxed, and new forms of work and tools were introduced. It also became clear that flat hierarchies, increased self-organization, and a revised meeting culture have a positive effect on employee productivity, and that work can be much more digital, distributed, and flexible than initially thought. Many employees were working from home, using a wide array of tools for video conferencing and digital collaboration, and only attending meetings that were absolutely necessary. According to the management technique, management by objectives, from that point on, the focus was no longer on the time spent but on the result of the work.
These questions, as well as the personal, organizational, and technical challenges faced by employees and management, were and are the subject of Internal Communications. Here, it is still necessary to offer answers, solutions, and room for discussion. This is the only way to counteract uncertainties, to consider the needs of employees and management, and to maintain a high level of motivation in the long term.
“The goal is to maintain a high level of motivation at all times.”
It quickly became clear to internal communicators that a central platform was needed to communicate with all employees. Thanks to an Intranet and a suitable app, which can also be used on private mobile devices, employees receive regular updates and information on the current situation. Special attention is paid to posts from middle management about organizational changes. Using blog posts, social walls, and commentary functions, employees can communicate with each other, their superiors, and management, and ask questions via specially created feedback channels.
In great demand: Contributions of middle management to organizational changes
In addition to various, sometimes time-delayed possibilities to interact, live communication independent of location was and is particularly important in order to address the questions, concerns, or even fears of the workforce and to provide answers. Video conferences and digital office hours with colleagues, superiors, and management are ideal for this, true to the motto: “My virtual door is always open”.
This review shows what has happened in recent months – we “returned” to a new normal, had to adapt to new circumstances, and fundamentally revised the concept of Internal Communications in companies. Even today, in 2021, our everyday working life is characterized by working from home, virtual collaboration, and strict rules about hygiene in the workplace. The organizational requirements of middle management have also significantly adapted, meaning that work today is much more digital and flexible. Internal Communications experienced an enormous increase in importance and is still more important today than ever before – it ensures transparency, security, and a high degree of employee satisfaction.