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3 Top Internal Communication Trends for Frontline Workers in 2021

At the start of 2020, businesses were already grappling with the need to adapt to fast-paced market changes.

Internal communications strategies were being adapted to evolving marketplaces.

However, almost nobody was prepared for the surprise that was in store in the ensuing months.

The coronavirus took over the world in no time!

The world shut down overnight, with cities and events mirroring a dystopian fantasy.

Shelter in place, lockdown, contact tracing, flattening curve, second wave, new normal – these terms became common parlance.

It took a few months for people to adapt! Eventually, the shock subsided and acceptance set in, albeit, with masks, sanitizers and thermal scanners as the weapons of choice.

Businesses bore the brunt of the shutdown.

Internal communications – the functionality that was rather undervalued till now, started gaining prominence during the pandemic.

The pandemic induced lockdown and shift in work dynamics required businesses to communicate more extensively with their employees, stakeholders and customers.

Therefore, this crisis earned internal communications a long-delayed seat at the table.

Impact of Coronavirus on Internal Communications

With lockdowns enforced across most of Europe, India, the US and other countries, most knowledge workers quickly shifted to remote work.

However, frontline workers like nurses, construction staff, delivery executives, retail staff, and so on, did not have the option of working from home.

These workers were either on downtime or furloughed.

During this crisis, it was important to constantly reach out to staff and maintain two way communications.

Some workers were stranded in locations due to travel restrictions, others were concerned about their livelihoods and safety of their loved ones.

Irrespective of the concern, businesses had to up their comms game plan in order to streamline operations and abate fear.

This is when the importance of digital communications tools gained prominence.

The adoption of video conferencing tools like Zoom and Google Meet increased multifold.

Mobile intranet adoption also skyrocketed as internal comms teams tried to ensure company wide reach of crucial information.

Employee apps for communicating with frontline staff and deskless workers gained prominence during the COVID crisis – which is still on-going in many parts of the world.

Internal communications is instrumental in shaping a positive work environment.

However, IC managers had to pivot strategies and become crisis managers.

They had to pacify staff, address grievances and ensure that policy changes were being communicated to the entire workforce in a timely and accurate manner.

They also became fake news and myth busters.

IC teams have always known that powerful employee communications is the key to growth.

However, they have always found it challenging to convince leadership and senior management to invest in IC growth, strategy or technology.

The pandemic has put the spotlight on communications.

Businesses have realized its importance and are vigorously trying to fill gaps by investing in professionals, training and technology.

With remote work here to stay, it seems like hybrid models and digital workplaces are the way forward in a post-COVID world.

Let’s take a look at what are the expected internal communications trends in 2021.

1. Digital Transformation in the Frontline Workforce

Enrolling firstline workers into the digital workplace will continue to be a popular trend in frontline industries.

Even before COVID struck, employers were aware of the importance of equipping frontline workers with digital tools and technology.

All this while, firstline workers have been kept out of the loop of digital communications.

They were engaged through traditional communication media such as bulletin boards; paper based processes and printed newsletters.

This is fast changing, since more and more companies are allowing workers to use their smartphones in an official capacity.

Channels like email and intranets are also not practical in a scenario with majority frontline, deskless or dispersed workers.

These workers more often than not, don’t have desktop access.

Additionally, tracking and feedback based internal communications is of paramount importance.

All these parameters tend towards an increased adoption of the employee app – a mobile-first internal communications tool.

This internal communications app is a digital channel that allows for instant messaging; analytics and impact tracking; and two way communications; all from the convenience of ones’ mobile device.

Employee apps for frontline workers also have productivity tools that help streamline operations, processes and routine tasks.

“Employee apps often offer a simple and fast way to deliver news to users; almost every product in our report provides some form of communications functionality.” ~Clearbox Consulting’s Employee Apps Report V1.0.

Supporting deskless workers with digital communication tools will be a crucial step in streamlining operations in a post-COVID world.

Balancing losses sustained in 2020 will be the focus in the year ahead.

Therefore, organizations will aim at streamlining operations and increasing productivity to impact revenue growth.

As a result, priority will be given to digital tools that help managers and teams navigate operations and processes, over and above just communications.

The bottom line is that digital workplace evolution is in turbo mode.

Businesses need tools that help them reach out to workers no matter where they are.

Multi-purpose, mobile-first IC tools are the future, where workers ranging from frontline, deskless and remote, to distributed and desk workers can get on board.

2. Wellbeing and Mental Health

A mental health crisis is sweeping societies.

The theme of the 20th century was technology and that of the 21st century is mental health.

Anxiety, depression and unemployment are at an all-time high.

The COVID crisis has sparked a much needed dialogue around the issue of mental wellbeing.

This has percolated into the corporate world as well.

Going into 2021, internal communications will have to pay deliberate attention to employee well-being.

The frontline workforce will need more nurturing and they have been hit the hardest by this disaster.

Empathy is the need of the hour.

Empathy is also something that will help businesses better connect with and engage their workers.

It will help to use softer tones in company wide and team level messages.

A shift in leadership is also on the horizon.

Servant leadership styles are gaining momentum.

There is a marked shift in leader attitudes – away from the brittle, black and white mode to a more intuitive, people driven and almost humanitarian style of operation.

Internal communications too has witnessed this shift, and it will only intensify in the coming year.

Organizations are more cognizant of the impact of culture and experience on bottom lines.

Therefore, employee wellbeing will be the main concern for most internal communicators in 2021.

Communications professionals should learn to be sensitive to people’s concerns, especially during these times.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, people will most likely be picking up the pieces and rehabilitating their lives.

Being supportive will bode well for businesses in the year ahead.

Employers will need to develop awareness of issues like Diversity and Inclusion, PTSD and so on.

This will help them combat the situation more effectively, and deal with complex scenarios without being taken aback.

3. Inclusion

Inclusion, here, is not the same definition used in D&I memos.

This is about bringing deskless workers into the organizational fold.

The key is to create accessibility of information for everyone – desk, non-desk, remote and dispersed workers.

The IC strategy should include ways and means to reach out to and communicate with frontline workers.

Since these workers have different needs and unique working styles, the plan should be customized in their favour.

Providing them digital communications tools is just the tip of the iceberg.

Internal communicators should modify messages such that deskless workers feel included into the organization.

This is a subset of diversity and inclusion, and will be crucial in 2021 and after.

The pandemic and other events that occurred this year made it evident that divisiveness is still prevalent in systems and society at large.

It is also clear that people will no longer stand for prejudice.

Mass protests erupted globally in response to these racist attacks.

Businesses too cannot ignore D&I any longer and HR and IC folks have to start incorporating it into their policies and strategies.

In conclusion

It is likely that 2021 will be the year that frontline workers receive the importance and facilities that they aptly deserve.

It is high time that they are perceived on an equal footing to knowledge workers.

Whether it be through technology or policy, businesses can leave no stone unturned in catering to the needs of the empowered frontline worker!

If you’d like to know how can help you navigate internal communication and productivity within your frontline workforce, write to us at or register for a demo here!

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