At the end of last year, I asked my community across LinkedIn and Twitter what they thought the trends were going to be for business and communications in 2021.
I asked people from across the globe and I also reached out to my contacts in the USA to find out what their specific views were. Some things didn’t surprise me, but some of the big topics from 2020 were missing. So, I’m wondering where the action is going to be taken. Are we are thinking long-term or short-term when it comes to business in 2021?
There were four themes that stood out when I asked people globally:
- Listening – the key element for communication that’s strategic, relevant and authentic
- Wellbeing and community – even more pertinent as we continue to work remotely in challenging and uncertain conditions
- Hybrid working – a shift to working partially on-location will mean we’ll need to ensure we have the right skills and approaches to communication to embrace working this way
- AI automation – we need to understand its impact on processes, people and the benefits within the workplace, as well as upskilling in this area.
When I asked people in the USA, they had five areas of consideration:
- Diversity and inclusion – how to fully integrate this agenda into an organisation’s strategy and avoid receding because other matters are in focus
- Legal policies that are impacted by changes in where and how people work – updating documents and benefits – the legal side of the changes to working environment
- The need for reassurance – particularly where jobs are uncertain, the future is ambiguous, and teams are working at home
- Communicating with people who are now remote – how to maintain communication, collaboration and productivity when working as a remote team
- Organisational purpose – since purpose is an important driver for employees and customers alike, organisations will need to clearly communicate, and be accountable for, their purpose.
One of the most detailed responses came from Frank Dias, Internal Communications Director at AXA XL, who shared a series of tweets with his predictions:
- Employee Life-cycle – A disciplined focus on true, authentic engagement & comms that’s relevant with the aim to genuinely connect and care.
- Work Smarter – Help senior leaders, managers & colleagues, bridge and understand the hybrid ways of working (behaviours and etiquette) both in isolation and in collaboration (remotely and in-person with purpose when in an office space, from meetings to around the water cooler). I actually think locations need to matter. Being remote or in an office needs to be thought out to be focused on improving collaboration with the aim of improving productivity & performance
- The Wellbeing Experience – Linked with the employee life-cycle, map out everything around the engagement touch-points with greater care, relevancy, purpose, support, investment, led by leaders focused on the individuals, the business and clients.
- Growth & Resilience – Focused around the learning and development of employees that’s reassessed on the modern and future skills needed to be productive and be successful. Make it mandatory and fun.
- Connection of Voice – Consistent and meaningful opportunities to voice and be part of conversations that matter aimed to tackle innovation, challenges and improvements to better the business, accountable with action.
- A Culture of Inclusion – Understand your business populations’ ‘make-up’ and the different voices, to then do everything in your power to be a better ally by actively bringing everyone along on the journey to be a better business, because it’s the right thing to do.
- An Active Society-Focused Purpose – A reconnection to being more meaningful as a business and helping employees to understand and play their part in working towards a better society that supports one another.
Frank’s feedback covers a lot of areas, but it encompasses the things I was expecting to see more consistently.
The division between those who work in an office and those who work on the frontline in any capacity is also predicted to cause challenges, both in the UK and USA. The change in work patterns, the perceived luxury of working from home – these potential imbalances (as they are seen) are expected to cause polarisation across organisations, more so than the usual divide between operations, sales and the head office functions.
When I shared the four general themes in December, people asked why diversity and inclusion wasn’t there – but honestly, it was only mentioned a couple of times. For a year when race, belonging and justice was a topic across the world, the fact that it was not mentioned as a trend for communication and businesses worries me. How has there been so much conversation about something that leads to so little action?
Sustainability was also left out of the predictions. Yet, in my conversations with various groups of students studying PR and communications throughout 2020, so many of them are looking at it as a topic; both generally and in relation to fashion. Now, this might be language – when some people talk about purpose, they include sustainability in there. However, is this term too broad for a year that needs serious focus to help organisations move forward?
Becoming more specific
I’ve already blogged about the impact of hybrid working and what’s needed to upskill teams and individuals to enable success. For me, all these trends require us to change our behaviour. And what we need to do, is get specific. Some respondents talked about the need to set goals and plans for the quarter, not the year. This is absolutely normal in times of such ambiguity; it is right, but it has to be specific. If you’re changing the business model to work your way out of the pandemic, then behaviour and ways of working all need to shift with it.
Listening was the number one trend people mentioned. It is easy to say. But with listening must come action and all of that requires a change in how we do things today. We also need to get specific about wellness and community. What does that mean in the organisation? What does it look like? What does it feel like?
So, I urge you to look at the trends for the year and be mindful of the differences that exist across the world. I only spoke to people in the USA and those around Europe and the differences were clear. If you have employees in different countries, their needs will be different.
This must be about connection, relationships and the experience of work. It’s about being human and continuing to lead with empathy in all that we do. I do believe these trends are accurate, but we need to get specific about what we really mean by them and how things will change. Importantly, we need to make sure we are equipping people with the skills and time to develop and change in line with the changes in the world.