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04 February 2021

2021 Internal Communications Trends Report

Human communication in a hybrid world: creating Sequel’s 2021 Trends Report for Internal Communications, HR and IT


How do you make predictions in a time of great change? We sat down for a Teams chat with Paul Jones, our Head of Insight, to find out more about the thinking behind our 2021 Trends Report.

Q: This is the eighth annual Trends Report for Sequel. How did this one compare to previous versions?

A: Well, we started out last autumn thinking that it was going to be a big, big challenge. Making predictions is a tricky thing at the best of times, but in the middle of a global pandemic? No chance. Things were changing so quickly that we had to take a different approach this time around. But surprisingly I think that actually made things much easier.

Q: How so?

A: We had to accept early on that we couldn’t predict what was going to happen in a few weeks’ time, never mind in the whole of 2021. So instead we decided to look back at the lessons we’d learned since the pandemic had started. Which topics had risen to the surface – things that had probably already been there, but had become even more important? And which of those did we think might continue to be important the following year? Essentially, how had the dials changed?

Q: So how did that change your thinking?

A: It opened the floodgates, really. Suddenly from worrying about whether we’d have anything new to say – because, let’s face it, we’d all been talking about homeworking and similar subjects for months by then – we found that we had to whittle down about 15 proposed topics into a more manageable 10.

And then when it came to writing, again we had to edit down our drafts because we found there was so much to say. Sometimes you don’t realise until you start writing just how much you’ve picked up from client conversations, webinars, Sequel research and day-to-day client projects. There’s a lot to filter, but that’s part of the fun.

Q: Where did the ‘human communication in a hybrid world’ theme come from?

A: It felt like a natural fit, as it blended a few ideas that we’d been talking about. And Becky, our Insight & Content Manager, had mentioned a phrase she’d seen of ‘being physically distant, but socially close’.

In some ways we’ve never been closer to friends, family and colleagues because we can pick up our phones and Zoom / Skype / Facetime / Teams / whatever to our heart’s content.

But it’s so easy to just launch some digital tools within your business and think that’s it, job done. You have to support the right kind of collaborative, social and authentic culture to really make them work – and that’s where the human element comes in. Digital is a great enabler, but we think it’s crucial that organisations keep a close eye on strengthening that human connection.

Q: In the report there are sections on topics like digital transformation, wellbeing and active listening. Which do you think is the core chapter, the one that brings it all together?

A: Definitely the first chapter about hybrid working. We realised early on in the process that everything flows from this conversation about what the future of ‘the office’ looks like. So many of our clients are talking about setting up a hybrid approach, where people have the option to split their week across different locations (indeed some of them have been working this way for a while already).

Of course this is about finding the best of both worlds – so during the week you can get the benefits of being in a social and collaborative space; as well as the benefits of homeworking.

Q: And that’s going to mean businesses have to adapt pretty quickly, right?

A: Absolutely… but look at how quickly they were able to move last spring. Organisations that had been thinking about launching collaborative tools like Teams were able to make decisions really fast!

There will have to be cultural changes from leaders, managers and employees to make the most of this new way of working though. For instance, it won’t work if ‘presenteeism’ is a factor, so managers need guidance on what’s expected.

It’s also going to be really important that employees have choice because, as we’ve found in the last year, homeworking is not for everyone.

Q: What does this change mean for communications?

A: I’m sure there will be some things that are surprising and that IC teams need to react to in real time, but for the most part I think we’ll see similar challenges to the last 12 months. How do you reach people who are spread across multiple locations? How do you maintain your corporate culture? And what does this mean for learning and development? Which, handily, are some of the topics in our 2021 Trends Report!

To request your copy of Sequel’s 2021 Trends Report, click here.

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