The pandemic and teleworking have forced many companies to rethink their internal communication. Gamified experiences, podcasts and training manuals for working in this environment are some of the ideas for reinforcing a sense of belonging and keeping employees engaged.

In internal communication strategies, storytelling helps to connect with employees by capturing their emotions.

Photo: In internal communication strategies, storytelling helps to connect with employees by capturing their emotions. CreditPexels | Pixabay.

By José Manuel Blanco

A far cry from coffee machines or the menu in the restaurant next to the office, from the colleague who arrived each day with a smile or the one who brought home-made sweets to share, thousands of employees have now been teleworking for more than a year and have lost their daily contact with colleagues, where it was easier to communicate corporate news or strengthen ties. It may well be that in the near future many will return to sharing an office. Regardless of whether this happens or not, a good digital internal communication strategy helps to strengthen the business and its employees' sense of belonging.

Storytelling in internal communication

The stories we have been retelling for millennia, whether around the campfire, in a book or in a television series, seek to engage with our emotions in order to captivate us. This is why, today, investing in storytelling is also a way of connecting a company with its employees, especially in times when internal communication is becoming a "strategic" pillar in companies' digital transformation as a result of the pandemic, according to the Association of Public Relations and Communication Consultancy Firms (Adecec). "New business strategies require employees' habits and behaviours to be transformed", explains the association, which points out: "It is essential to define a change management strategy based, on the one hand, on a story that connects people with the company and its business objectives and, on the other, on the adoption of digital culture".

Adecec highlights how "creative conceptualisation, storytelling, audiovisual formats and, of course, digital tools such as apps or chatbots, which favour connection and interaction", bring emotions to the surface. Podcasts, which have been so successful in recent months, have also made their way into internal communication. American Airlines has a programme in which it discusses its corporate decisions, which was born out of employees' requests to know more about them.

The editor-in-chief of the MIT Technology Review in Spanish and project leader of Communication and Content at Opinno, Marta del Amo, explains: "One of the secrets of storytelling is to tell a story that entertains or that emotionally connects with a person; in other words, that they feel identified with or interested in the information".

This view is supported by the Content Marketing Institute in a report on content strategy and management based on data from January and February 2020 (before the pandemic): the professionals interviewed highlighted the "ability to connect with values, interests and pain points" as the main factor in a successful content strategy.

With employees stuck in one location due to the pandemic, companies have to rely on digital internal communication to answer questions and increase a sense of belonging.

Photo: With employees stuck in one location due to the pandemic, companies have to rely on digital internal communication to answer questions and increase a sense of belonging. CreditSusanna Marsiglia | Unsplash.

What digital internal communication should look like

Del Amo explains that the best approach to an internal communication strategy based on storytelling is for the content to be as easy as possible to consume, "because companies must bear in mind that employees' main focus is to do their job". For this reason, "it must be integrated into the rhythm of their work without being overwhelming, without generating stress or any kind of effort". Thus, "if it's a video, make it short; if it's an infographic, make it very visual; if it's a press release, make it based on very brief key words".

Aside from formats, it is also important to create a contingency plan for unforeseen events. For Del Amo, defining a strategy is important "both in terms of communication ideas and in terms of forms and channels before such crises arise, so that departments can respond as swiftly as possible if they occur".

If there is no contingency plan and a crisis occurs, "you should always send a very brief message, informing and advising that further information will be provided at a later date". In addition, you should always provide a point of contact for the employee, "so that they know who to turn to in the event of doubts or concerns".

Communication as a nexus of the pandemic

Tesa Díaz, the Director of Communications and Institutional Relations of the Nueva Pescanova Group, believes that in internal communications "storytelling must be accompanied by storydoing", in other words, words must be backed up with facts. Del Amo explains that "in negative situations, such as the pandemic, it is important to speak transparently and honestly in order to instil confidence, even if the situation is bad".

Communications consultant at Opinno, Alba Casilda, has seen first-hand the importance of internal communications actions during the pandemic. She recently conducted interviews with senior executives of large Spanish companies, who explained to her that during lockdown, they increased their communication with employees by sending weekly or near-daily e-mails to inform them of new developments and to help them stay connected with each other.

For some of these companies, they faced the challenge of transforming their internal communication during the first few weeks of lockdown. " Often it relied on informal dialogues within the office. They even used to have your typical more extroverted employee in charge of socialising. But now they are looking for new ways to connect with their employees," Casilda explains.

Against this backdrop, traditional intranets where communication is one-way are no longer useful: according to Casilda, some managers report that the more traditional corporate information networks "are obsolete and almost nobody consults them". It is other types of digital portals that could help transform internal communication.

An internal communication portal brings colleagues together. Gamification incentivises its use.

Photo: An internal communication portal brings colleagues together. Gamification incentivises its use. Creditfauxels | Pixabay.

Casilda herself is the coordinator of an internal digital communication portal for a Spanish bank. Before the pandemic, the platform specialised in innovation and technology, with content (articles, infographics, etc.) that was both informative and informal. In addition, it was a gamified portal, which encourages employee participation with comments or likes, as well as running competitions that allow employees to move up in the rankings.

However, since the pandemic began, the internal communication strategy has been focused on two types of content: maintaining the dissemination of digitalisation and generating more content on administration and management. There have been pieces on how to work with teams remotely, how to excite customers through a screen or how to network. They also explain the new COVID-19 customer habits and how to enhance personalised service through digital channels.

"It has been very important to maintain contact with employees, to convey a new way of working and to support them with the necessary tools to operate remotely," summarises Casilda, who adds that this mixed strategy has also served to "maintain motivation among employees and keep them united".

In the face of social distancing and teleworking, digital channels bring employees together, making them feel supported by their company.

Photo: In the face of social distancing and teleworking, digital channels bring employees together, making them feel supported by their company. Credit12019 | Pixabay.

Internal communication that builds a family

Del Amo concludes that internal communication only becomes more essential the larger the company is, in order for employees to remain connected to its purpose, values and objectives: "At the end of the day, a company is still a family. If you see your family regularly, you feel very connected to them, but if your family does not communicate or come together and meet with you, you will not feel connected to them at all. Stories and digital platforms are the ideal way to strengthen those special family ties when coffee machines or function rooms can't bring us together.

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