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How UK organisations quickly adapted to communicating during lockdown demonstrates internal communication’s resilience, agility and innovation as a profession. It also shows the fundamental significance of our value in engaging audiences. IoIC President, Suzanne Peck, shares the eight key points and lessons from a newly published Government report.

Suzanne Portrait Print 1In April, the IoIC was one of five professional industry bodies invited to form a special advisory panel with the Government Communication Service (GCS). As one unified voice representing the communications sector, the panel’s advice and insight helped to help shape the Government’s Covid-19 communication activities.

Now the report from the GCS has been published, pulling together key themes, thought leadership and experiences that demonstrates the critical nature of our work in listening and engaging with internal and external stakeholders.

In his foreword, Alex Aitken, Executive Director for Government Communications says the pandemic has: “displayed the fundamental significance of our profession in responding to crises, with communication being a central and fundamental pillar of the national response, and communication professionals demonstrating their value in helping leaders engage with internal and external audiences.”

The report documents the huge changes in how organisations have communicated during lockdown, telling the story of a profession demonstrating resilience, agility and innovation as well as lessons for professionals working in marketing and communications.

It has identified eight distinct areas of opportunity for professional communications:


1. The shift to the virtual communication team

  • The crisis accelerated shifts that were already underway to support remote working within organisations
  • The health and wellbeing for homeworkers away from the office and physically isolated from colleagues was a priority for organisations
  • Hybrid models combining home and office working are likely to provide organisations and their employees with flexibility in the future

2. Communication as a strategic management and leadership function

  • Communication has been a critical management priority for organisations throughout the crisis. Internal communicators led on employee engagement, supporting the relationship between employees and management. Employees were a particularly complex stakeholder group during lockdown and the furlough scheme and home working meant that internal communicators had to adapt their channel approaches.
  • Communication teams have supported leaders in listening, planning and engaging with internal and external stakeholders. Organisational leaders did recognise that they would be defined by the crisis, and sought out communication teams to support a strong and frequent drumbeat of two-way communication with both internal and external audiences.
  • Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) is likely to be a major issue on the corporate agenda for the next decade. The crisis has led to a significant rise in social capital. Companies that have invested in their local communities during the crisis continue to benefit from a reputational dividend.

3. The communication hub

  • Organisations created cross-functional hub teams to lead the crisis communication effort, enabling them to respond quickly and effectively
  • Agile management techniques, originating from the software development industry were used to manage teams
  • Owned media platforms, typically websites, sat at the heart of an organisation’s communication effort

4. Inside out communication

  • The COVID-19 crisis has had a humanising effect on internal communication within organisations. The changes that we have seen to the nature and approach of internal communication during the crisis are unlikely to ever be reversed.
  • Organisations reported a significant increase in employee engagement during the crisis as virtual connections replaced physical
  • Some organisations, keen to ensure that they engaged all employees, took the unusual step of sharing internal messages via external channels

5. The shift to digital media accelerates

  • Audiences for mainstream media brands grew during lockdown as the ongoing shift to digital continues
  • Consumers turned to the internet to seek out new ways to keep connected, informed and entertained
  • Social media, messaging and video services saw significant growth in subscriptions and usage

Putting together these trends and the impact on the media landscape we can see that the crisis has accelerated the move to digital - in internal and external communication. But there are some deeper lessons, which show that people generally want authentic stories from people they trust rather than contrived marketing; basic information rather than spin or justification and clarity, not complexity.


6. Multi-agency working and the power of networks

  • Informal partnerships and networks were established in the fight against COVID-19
  • Relationships maximised information gathering and amplified the reach of communication
  • The multi-agency approach, engaging a broad section of society, is a powerful legacy of the crisis

7. Achieving best practice communication equality

  • Communication teams tackled communication equality by making content available in different formats and languages
  • Special campaigns were developed to reach groups that might otherwise not pay attention to the lockdown messaging
  • Activity during the COVID-19 crisis has helped establish best practice and set a new standard for communication equality. We need to see a more diverse leadership, more inclusive working practices and celebration of different experiences and heritages.

In time this will make us stronger and better able to address the communication challenges of modern Britain, but for the moment it is a problem the report has identified and where urgent work is required


8. Dealing with disinformation and misinformation

  • Disinformation was a critical issue during the COVID-19 crisis. The Government created a rapid response unit to work with social media platforms to tackle the issue
  • Tech companies removed harmful content and ensured that public health campaigns were promoted through reliable sources
  • Proactive campaigns sought to address disinformation through data, insight, content and channels.

You can read the full COVID-19 Communications Advisory Panel report here.


People powered
Jennifer Sproul, Chief Executive, Institute of Internal Communication, represented IoIC on the panel and contributed a chapter to the report. Here’s her summary:

As we navigate into a new work future, the near-term will be filled with ambiguity and challenge. Conversation and inclusive communication will help us unpack these challenges and reframe them as opportunities. Internal communication is the linchpin by which organisations will survive and thrive. An organisation that communicates well internally will achieve greater productivity, innovation, brand reputation and resilience. Best practice internal communication is going to be key to UK economic recovery.

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