A virtual trust fall:Keeping trust at the heart of your internal comms strategy

22 July 2021

As we move into a new phase of hybrid working environments, we must keep our internal communications healthy and strong to maintain mutual trust and ensure the wellbeing of every employee and ultimately the organisation.  

The weekly company update that once got half-hearted glance gained significance in the pandemic when internal communications became vital for organisations to navigate their way through the volatile pandemic landscape.  The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that employer media was considered the most believable in the past year, and business became the only trusted institution over government, media and NGOs. As we hash out hybrid working plans and increasingly integrate technology to our processes, it’s time to do an internal comms health check to build on that positive foundation of trust and open communication.    

 Transparency incites trust – be clear and present 

The less time you leave people guessing the better. Our imaginations can make monsters out of shadows, and silence – especially in this tense climate – can be easily filled with misinformation. Regardless of an organisations’ path through the pandemic, the underlying anxiety in employees over job security permeates society globally (Edelman Trust Barometer). Keep people informed of what’s going on, and what is expected of them as the ever-changing government guidelines will have implications for people’s routines and behaviours. Be a reliable source of information to cut through the stress-inducing media noise.  

 Communication is a two-way street – listen!  

Building trust and productive communication channels means recognising the needs and concerns of your people. Create opportunities for people to give feedback with pulse surveys, one-to-ones with key people or random population samples, or create anonymous feedback hubs for example. Returning to work will be difficult for many, and the numbers certainly show an overall reluctance to return work as shown in the work put out by Jisc at the ISE Student Recruitment Conference 2021. So be transparent about what is happening and why, listen to people and actually take action or refine your strategy with this valuable employee insight. 
Empowering key communication agents 

Strong internal communication means more than just a reliable bulletin or a weekly roundup. It means empowering key information conduits – line managers, the CEO, other trusted internal ambassadors – and giving them the information they need to be effective communicators. That may be granting them access to the primary messaging channels, it may be giving them a toolkit that structures their information in a concise and consistent way, or it could be working with them to identify their stakeholders’ needs and the key information points that should be shared. 

 Straight from the source – consolidating channels and consistent messaging   

 This is important at every level. Review your current communication channels and, if possible, check the data to see how much engagement your communications have received. Analytical insights are a powerful tool that will save you time and money as they enable you to make informed decisions when streamlining processes. Hybrid working introduces a plethora of communication channels which can lead to crossed wires. Clarify what platforms are used for what, and how they work together – it may seem obvious, but we all have different virtual habits and assumptions lead to confusion which results in a loss of trust.  

 The virtual trust fall 

 Misinformation, disinformation, confusion and chaos have ruled the media landscape throughout the pandemic. Trust in all information in the UK is at a record low, so people are turning to their employers for stability and honesty (Edelman Trust Barometer).  We need to be there to catch them and that requires a robust internal communication strategy.   

 Multigenerational expert Lindsey Pollak gave a great paper at the ISE Conference in which she spoke about the importance of asking.  She gave the example of a team WFH. The senior team leader was frustrated by people leaning on direct messaging rather than hashing it out over a quick call and not calling her back. When why they weren’t calling back, the team responded they didn’t want to disturb her as they were sure she was very busy. Good intentions all around, but the lack of communication disrupted productivity and fostered a tense environment.  

So key communicators – remember to ask! 

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