This fall, I started incorporating a new question into what I asked leaders when I interviewed them:
Fast forward to the future — what does communications at work look like?
In a world where there’s so much innovation, technology and change, I wanted to know what’s next for internal, executive and external communications. As 2023 approaches, I’m bringing 15 of these responses together to predict communications trends.
What’s the future of communications look like from your perch?
Top 15 Future of Communications Predictions
🎼 Increase in Leadership Influence
📖 Focus on the Stories
📲 Take a Social Media Approach
📈 Integrate Data and Technology
📸 Personalize Work
⭐ Become Even More Mission Critical
👏 Include Employee Engagement
🧃 Prioritize Documentation
⚖️ Focus on Trust
💌 Increase Two Way Engagement
💰 Invest in Communications Leaders Early
✂️ Focus on Mindset and Skillset
📗 Create Common Language
♟️ Embrace Mix-ternal Communications
🔖 Teach Employees and Scale Operations
#1 🎼Increase in Leadership Influence
Communications will continue to play a bigger role in organizations. The need for good communicators will expand beyond the comms team. Just as messages are being decentralized and democratized through social media platforms, the ways we get information at work will be too.
Communicators are going to be spread far and wide and have to relinquish some of our control. We’re not going to be writing press releases and producing polished videos. We will rely on vulnerability, flexibility and speed in order to be effective communicators.
Additionally, different generations are using varying platforms for specific reasons and interacting with information in unique ways — that will play a pivotal role in terms of who we reach and in what ways we connect with them. -Christopher Pearsall
#2 📖 Focus on the Stories
Communications will always need to be clear and concise – fewer words, are always preferred. In the future, communications will need to be increasing relevant and personal to the audience. Today and in the future, storytelling will remain at the heart of communications.
There is no substitute for the power of stories to illuminate, explain, and excite an audience. Stories conjure emotions, which help us to identify with and remember information. A good story will be passed on… and a good story will also inspire us to share our own stories. There is nothing more powerful! -Tracey Pavlishin
#3 📲 Take a Social Media Approach
Any piece of content we absorb in our personal lives is how we should be thinking about the future of internal communications. Looking forward to the next generation of people entering the workforce, I believe that the expectation on how you receive information or content from your company should be at the same level of how you absorb it on social media.
Short burst videos, campaigns, and trends, means more communication and content creators that are unicorns. Not only should you be able to write well, you should be able to edit and create video and graphics, too! -Holly Nicola
#4 📈 Integrate Data and Technology
The future of internal communications will be about personalization — giving employees the information they need and want, when and how they want it. While the days of top down, one way communications are long over, moving to true personalization requires the thoughtful integration of data, technology and content, and balancing the need of the employee and the organization. It will fundamentally change the employee experience. -Laura McCafferty
#5 📸 Personalize Work
Communication outside of work is hyper-personalized. We are experts in learning what information is most relevant to different people and providing them with that knowledge. But in the workplace, we are still using a one-size-fits-all model. In order to create the best experience, we need to personalize work by understanding what uniquely drives and fuels our talent, and then align projects, jobs, and initiatives to those interests and senses of purpose.
Once we take those steps, we can communicate more effectively because we're able to ensure the employees who want to attend the volunteer event cleaning up the local park, know about it. The same is true for internal job openings and day-to-day project opportunities. We need to personalize work and subsequently, our communication within the workplace. -Danielle Boris
#6 ⭐ Become Even More Mission Critical
Communications leaders will continue to be brought in more and more to help make critical business decisions and will be more like trusted advisors than simply another stakeholder. Strategic, quality communication became a basic survival requirement during the pandemic, so it elevated the role of comms to such a degree that we are well beyond returning to the “old ways”.
Quality communicators will be “mission critical” for companies looking to successfully navigate change in the future. Whether it be working with CEOs to demonstrate a company’s value in a crowded market, being proactive about health and safety concerns, leading the charge to address inequities, or even just clarifying the ever-evolving ways of working for employees - communications will be at the center of it all. -Chase Warner
#7 👏 Include Employee Engagement
The field of IC is ever-changing, and that’s the beauty of it! The progress we have seen over the past few years is incredible. Moving forward, I see this field incorporating more areas of expertise - to go beyond what has always been its remit - and moving more towards employee engagement and the overall employee experience. By doing so, it will gain even more gravitas within organizations and make a greater impact. -Laura Colantuono
#8 🧃Priotize Doumentation
I’m betting on organizations prioritizing documentation that’s intended to advance the collective wisdom of the organization (not just inch work forward with our closest collaborators). Think of this as a curation layer on top of the work that’s meant to be thoughtfully produced and asynchronously consumed (digests, shipped emails, retrospectives, etc.).
We used to chide this stuff as “meta-work” but as our remote reality sets in, I think we’re all realizing how much we’re missing without the nuanced understanding of the work going on in every corner of our organizations that used to flow through osmosis in our offices. -Brie Wolfson
#9 ⚖️ Focus on Trust
In the future, I think companies will focus on trust as a foundation for thoughtful, grounded, and honest communications. Employees know when the communications they receive are authentic or not, and more companies are realizing and acting on this insight today. -Jared Taylor
#10 💌 Increase Two Way Engagement
"One of the biggest evolutions I'm seeing in internal communications is the transition from broadcast comms with some "latency," to more two-way comms that happen real time. Specifically, tools like Slack allow companies to both lead and engage with employees instantaneously.
To succeed, leaders will need to be more directly accessible to employees and engage directly with them, and organizations will need to be increasingly responsive with their communications and policies to respond to the constantly evolving needs of the business." -Diane Tate
#11 💰 Invest in Communications Leaders Early
Looking ahead, I would imagine the communications role will encompass an increasingly holistic, strategic domain. Executives today are looking to comms leaders for top-level planning and guidance around topics like core business objectives (how should those be worded and communicated?), employee experience (how do we engage and retain our team?), and business efficiency (how do we build and deploy effective processes for better productivity and collaboration?).
While these responsibilities have sometimes already existed within the communications domain, that's typically been seen at highly mature organizations and/or with very senior/tenured comms professionals. This shift is in large part due to the fact that an increase in hybrid/distributed workplaces shines a brighter light on just how essential communication is for every single business function. And in times of uncertainty (tumultuous economic market, the Great Resignation), the need is even greater. I wouldn't be surprised to see companies investing in executive roles like Chief Communications Officer, separate from CMO, more frequently and even earlier in a company's trajectory. -Emily Busse
#12 ✂️ Focus on Mindset and Skillset
Shiny gadgets and technologies come and go (I call them Comms Bling), but to set yourself up for future success, you need to focus on both your mindset and skillset. Communication professionals need to keep curious, evolve their professional development and make it their business to truly know their business.
To be a strategic communicator you need to develop outstanding relationships and networks, this is as true for us in internal communication as our external colleagues. We need to be focused on what the business needs. Our purpose in IC is to create a shared understanding and meaning so our people can align their efforts to the company’s strategy and goals.
Looking ahead, we’ll need to ensure those principles of effective communication are working hard for us and we’re equipping and inspiring our leaders and colleagues to be outstanding communicators. This doesn’t detract from what we do, it allows us to create a centre of excellence where we set standards and lead the way. We’ve shifted from content creators to curators over the past decade and I expect to see that trend continue as we equip our people to tell their stories, have two-way conversations and amplify their views and voices. -Rachel Miller
#13 📗 Create Common Language
We are in a new world with remote work and we’re interacting with each other in different ways. Collaboration tools are evolving, and the ones that emerge as the most effective will be very important. The boundaries of what community means is rapidly changing. We’re in a new phase of how connections happen and that means there are a lot of changes happening in our world.
All these barriers are falling down. It used to be that you had to have physical proximity to build community. Easier access to mass travel changed that, and then the internet took it even further.
Having a common language is a barrier right now. We haven’t quite seen that fall yet, but with AI-powered translation tools, we might see it in our lifetime. That will be a major shift. -Cynthia Horiguchi
#14 ♟️ Embrace Mix-ternal Communications
I really believe the future is mix-ternal communications. (I published a blog post on this topic for the SPI Group!) These days, in order to be a great communications professional, you have to incorporate all types of communications and audiences into your work – and, in a way, reverse-engineer the process by letting the message lead the way instead of the platforms or the audiences.
I think we’ll see the individual communications roles become more generalized, so that everyone’s doing a little bit of everything – intranet management and strategy, internal events, traditional and social media, PR, thought leadership, and more. That’s not to say there won’t be room for specialists…we need those too! But gone are the days where a communications leader can feign ignorance on social media, for example. -Morgan Baden
#15 🔖 Teach Employees and Scale Operations
My general hypothesis is that scaled communications expertise for the broader company will become the north-star outcome for internal communicators, signaling an aggressive shift away from Internal Communications as an activation function. Teach a man to fish will become the way. Here are a few of my predictions that ladder up to the above belief:
Internal communications professionals will be forced to pivot their time towards more communications competency development for all employees vs. communications delivery for a small population of senior leaders. Anyone who’s been in the function for even a week has certainly hit the delivery wall, where they have to draw a line in the sand to scope in how deep and wide they will dive into any one project or topic the business is prioritizing. We can’t craft all the deliverables that need delivering in a company, even with a team of 40 (yes, some large companies have Internal Comms teams this large). Scale is the next frontier, which leads me to my next point.
The most sophisticated internal communicators will have successfully matured the communications skills of their workforce and will then focus on implementing a self-serve, multi-directional content flywheel (and tool stack) in which employees are empowered to tell concise, high-value, multi-media stories about the business, all across teams and organizations. Translation: The newsfeed culture that claims our excited fingers and phones in our personal lives will bleed over into our professional lives; that’s a net-positive if there’s widespread alignment to business strategy, positive customer outcomes, and company values.
And finally, concision from executives and senior leaders will become (already is?) table stakes. The layers of trauma from the past two+ years have overstimulated the modern workforce, and now (and likely until further notice), there is little headspace for the unnecessary. A hot take here, but Business is inherently boring when it stands toe-to-toe with all that’s happening in the world and in people’s personal lives, so breaking the noise barrier to only provide signal will require internal communicators to always quickly help leaders answer these questions for employees: What? Why now? Why you? –Sean Langston, Jr.
What’s the future of communications look like from your perch?
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Really good read! I/we share your belief system. In this reality, IC is being promoted from a "necessary evil" (in the eyes of CEOs) to a critical area with a major impact on the employee experience and thus ROI.
The smart employers will democratize, consumerize and transform how they communicate to create an environment where people working from anywhere, frontline included, feel informed, engaged and included. Emotionally connected.
Those who won't will struggle to hire and retain the best people and will eventually stay behind.
That's, IMHO, the new IC/EX maturity curve in a nutshell