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The five biggest trends in business communication and what it means for leaders today

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By: Jenni Field- business communications strategist, founder of Redefining Communications and author of Influential Internal Communication.

It’s a well-known phenomenon that a crisis will always escalate an existing trend. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw some key communication issues that were already bubbling away, rise to the top of the agenda for organisations. In this article business communications expert, Jenni Field, shares insights into the communication trends leaders need to address in 2021:

ESG – the initialism everyone is talking about
ESG is the new CSR; it’s what everyone is talking about when it comes to sustainability. It stands for environment, social and governance and while it’s been around for many years, 2021 is the year it’s becoming a real focus. According to McKinsey there are five ways ESG links to cash flow and all of these require support from communication teams:

facilitating top-line growth

reducing costs

minimising regulatory and legal interventions

increasing employee productivity, and

optimising investment and capital expenditures.

Workplace technology has to get smarter
Technology in the workplace is changing. Microsoft Office 365 has boomed in recent years with many organisations using SharePoint. In 2020 Microsoft Viva was announced – a suite of tools to help people across organisations to work together anywhere. While working in different locations isn’t new, the technology to make us efficient has been lagging. We’re expecting to see this development continue as more organisations invest in technology to support employees.

The need to be more human
The pandemic has been a great leveller and with it has come a sharp focus on being human at work. International events have shone a light on the inequalities that remain in society, and this has naturally become part of the business agenda. The need to lead with empathy, understand individual needs and make time for each other is something that has been urgently needed for years. The focus on internal communication in line with this has never been higher.

Misinformation and fake news
We are more polarised than ever before. This is partly due to the number of people we can interact with thanks to social media. And it’s also because we can find information to support our views more easily; algorithms feed us a stream of content that supports our thinking, which leads to a real difficulty in taking a balanced viewpoint. This brings with it a risk of misinformation and “fake news”. For organisations this is a risk internally and externally. Whether you’re a public company or a private one, verifying and making sure you validate any claim is so important.

Inclusive and accessible communication
We have become used to working behind a screen, but we haven’t always made sure that the content and information we share is accessible. With around 80% of videos watched without sound, and the emergence of audio-only channels like Clubhouse, it’s important we add subtitles to content and use a variety of channels. Not everyone can hear you and not everyone can see you – we must ensure communication tools and channels are available for all stakeholders.

What do these five trends mean and how do we need to change the way we work and communicate?
As a priority, we need to invest in skills across our organisations. For communication professionals this means developing skills to support leaders and teams. More importantly, we need to make sure line managers are equipped with the communication skills to engage their teams effectively.

There is a lot of content out there about ESG, so if this is something that isn’t on your agenda, it needs to be. We’ll see it become the core of an organisation’s activity and it will need to be part of the employee journey from recruitment. We know people are increasingly interested in organisational purpose and the environment and this is driving recruitment decisions too.

I talked above about Microsoft and Office 365, but technology is bigger than just this. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation in the workplace will begin to have a place and without immediate investment in some of the basics to support the changing work environment, teams will be left behind. Now is the time to be working through these questions as leadership teams determine what’s possible with technology and AI across internal processes too.

Finally, we need to help people understand how their communication style impacts others. If we want to have managers and teams that lead with empathy, we must make sure they know what this means, and the role communication plays in building and maintaining relationships at work. Psychological safety is a term that has been used a lot in the last year; ensuring people feel heard and have a sense of belonging is important for retention and growth. Relationships and communication are fundamental to that success.

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