Voice Live

Today is Voice Live – the event where internal communications professionals come to talk. Our own Tom Abbott is presenting his thoughts about our industry’s future… here’s a sneak peek.

It’s getting to that time of year where there are lots of attempts to predict the trends we’ll be seeing in the next 12 months. Today, I’m presenting my views at the Institute of Internal Communication’s (IoIC) Voice Live on how we can expect agencies to change over a slightly longer timescale – up to 10 years. So, rather than what to expect for 2020, here are some thoughts on what we might experience over the next decade.

In ten years, both my children will be either moving into higher or further education, or starting their first jobs. They’ll be getting to grips with career choices and workplaces that may look and feel very different to the ones we see today. And that will inevitably affect internal communications, as I’ll explain at Voice Live.

The future workplace?

Earlier this year, Gartner made six predictions about the world of work they’ll be entering:

  • Organisations will shift to smaller, flexible teams in response to fluctuating workloads, shrinking timelines and intense flurries of information exchange and co-ordination
  • Constant upskilling and digital dexterity – employees will need to constantly refresh the way they work
  • Workplaces will be hybrids – a blend of physical and digital experiences that cross organisational and geographical boundaries
  • Smart machines will be our co-workers
  • Purpose and passion will be even more important motivators – not just the pay packet
  • Work-life balance will no longer be enough – employees will strive to emphasise life over work

The impact on agencies

So what does this mean for the way communicators work and how agencies support clients? We’re already seeing many shifts in the capabilities, services and propositions demanded, so how might these play out over the coming years?

We can expect the move of internal communications from a largely arts or humanities-based discipline to one that embraces science. Behavioural science, data scientists, psychology, neurology, network analysts, and biologists will start to be seen alongside writers, designers and the more traditional agency roles

We already help clients understand and bring to life their organisational purpose, values, culture and required behavior. But we can expect the drive to connect these with an individual’s own sense of identity to become more central to how we work with clients. And that will shape communications and engagement strategy and tactics – especially as teams become more flexible, dynamic and less physically co-located.

Getting closer through more integration

Agencies and communicators will need to get even closer to business operations, not just communications. Agencies will need to develop both an understanding of the wider demands of clients’ businesses, but also be able to help communicators operate as integral business units. This also reflects the movement towards a more scientific, logical, data-driven approach to internal communications.

Just as you’re accessing this part of Voice Live without physically being there, digital, digital, digital will be the mantra. And this means agencies building capability to support a truly digital workplace, with AI a reality, and data at the heart. This doesn’t mean fancier intranets and social networks, but digital business as what companies fundamentally are. I once heard a BT futurologist declare: “We haven’t yet begun to dream of the way our children will interface with technology and the world”. So agility and flexibility – curiosity and an open mind – are probably more important than betting the mortgage on the latest productivity suite from Microsoft or Google.

What won’t change?

But there are things that won’t change in the face of this transformation. In the waves of tech and new ways of working, storytelling remains paramount. If we ever lose sight of this, we’re dead in the water. Stories, emotionally driven and powerful, will remain at the heart of good engagement and communications.

Good design, well executed, will still matter. And communications will still need to be personal – equipping leaders to lead, managers to manage, and retaining the value of face-to-face communications, even if delivered over a video feed or through a virtual avatar.

So this isn’t about communicators or agencies replacing capability or skills. It’s about evolving our offer to reflect the changing nature of work and the changing needs of employees, but staying true to the things we value today as core to great employee communications and engagement.

You’ll note I haven’t said much about channels. Of course, new shiny things will emerge and fall in or out of fashion or favour. That’s fine. Just keep a critical head and don’t lose sight of the fundamentals – great content, great stories, and personal communications that are open, honest and timely.

So, plenty to talk about at Voice Live today, but I’ll leave the last word to my daughter. After spending a day with me at work and being asked what she thought, she replied: “It was fine, but I think I prefer school. There’s less meetings and it’s a lot more fun.” And can’t we all dream of a future like that?

For help with the future of internal communications in your organisation, get in touch.