In March 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic forced countless employers worldwide to send their non-essential employees home. Few organizations had a contingency plan for such a scenario, meaning the overwhelming majority of employers had to rethink their operations and communication functions on the fly. According to more than 800 employers from 45 countries surveyed in Gallagher’s 2021 State of the Sector Survey, almost every organization (95%) has learned from that experience and made changes for 2021.
Changes to organizational culture topped the list of priorities, with 43% of employers indicating they will revamp their values and behaviors in the coming year. Also, 40% expect to implement a new working way, followed by 37% that plan to leverage new information and collaboration tools.
2020 brought the importance of employee experience (EX) to the forefront. To set organizations up for success, Gallagher’s communication experts identified the best practices employers leaned into as a result, with themes such as an increased focus on employee mental health and wellbeing (70%) and D&I initiatives (55%). Additionally, as it relates to EX, 60% of employers reported having a clear strategy for purpose, culture, and vision in 2021 due to the pandemic. The data further shows that while two-thirds of organizations say EX is discussed at the C-suite level, only half of the employers have formalized what EX means to them and how to approach it. A key area of today’s EX is the digital experience, which was significantly impacted due to the global pandemic. Furthermore, the 2021 State of the Sector Survey found 1 in 4 organizations don’t have a strategy for workplace experience (including working from home) or digital and technology experience (23% and 27%, respectively) either in place or in development.
Rise of the Digital Divide
Due to COVID-19 precautions, many employers continue to limit or prohibit in-person workplace interactions among non-essential workers. For these organizations, digital channels have become the primary, if not the only, communication means. This has created a digital divide. Even though three-quarters of organizations (77%) believe digital channels make it possible to create engagement with messages, about half (55%) believe they support collaboration well. Furthermore, few organizations appear to be leveraging digital communications’ full potential as only a quarter have implemented functionalities that allow employees to select what communication they want to receive, a key consideration with 37% of organizations perceiving the volume of communication being too high.
The rise of digital communications has enabled organizations to track what their employees receive, read, watch or click, but few turn these touchpoints into actionable insights. In fact, 80% measure reach and 75% measure employee understanding of key topics, but just 2 in 5 organizations assess overall satisfaction with communications, behavior change, and business outcomes. Their rationale for not analyzing the data for actionable insights is that nearly three-quarters of organizations (73%) cite the lack of time, and half (51%) don’t have adequate technology or metrics available.
“Through conversations with internal communicators, it became clear that their workload increased in 2020, and many have taken on the work of more than one person,” said Ben Reynolds, Global Managing Director, Employee Communication Practice, Gallagher. “When we launched the survey at the start of the pandemic, 1 in 3 respondents said their HR/internal communication was lacking, 2 in 5 felt under pressure to deliver, and 1 in 5 felt considerably overworked. The data makes it clear that employers can do a better job assessing and adjusting their employee experience strategies. When done right, this can reduce operating expenses and, at the same time, improve their employees’ wellbeing.”
Crowded Channel Landscape
The survey also reveals specific tactics, including communication channels that organizations were relying on most. When asked about increased channel usage, Gallaher found limited changes in channel popularity year over year, with Microsoft products continuing to reign as most popular. However, the survey uncovered that many organizations reacted to the pandemic by rolling out new technology quickly. As a result, multiple digital channels (web calls, mobile apps, messaging apps, and collaboration platforms such as Teams, Yammer, and Zoom) flooded the employee communication space. The increase of such messaging became overwhelming, and overall engagement took a hit. According to Gallagher’s experts, 35% of employers say that increasingly tailored, hyper-personalized messages will become the norm in the next few years, meaning the importance of smart digital solutions has never been clearer when it comes to maintaining and driving engagement.
“However you may feel about it, remote working is here to stay,” said Reynolds. “Before the pandemic, employers were able to rely on a robust, holistic rewards strategy to win the war for talent. Now, they need new strategies to maintain productivity and connectedness. The data shows employers are closely monitoring new strategies and adapting enhanced digital capabilities because the return on investment is still clear: a more engaged and connected employee experience is better for the bottom line.”
Most internal communication teams have seen their budgets cut drastically and have, as a result, had to think very carefully and strategically about their spending and projected return on investment in 2021. Gallagher’s State of the Sector Survey is designed to be a tool for employers to evaluate their current employee experience by assessing their peers’ tactics to maintain connectivity, protect employee well-being, and balance budgets.
Gallagher’s 2021 State of the Sector Survey is based on data collected in October 2020 from more than 800 employers representing 34 industries across 45 countries. The report can be found here.