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Top 10 Internal Communications Lessons from the First COVID-19 Shutdown

8 minute read


The ‘new normal’ is here, and it’s not what we had hoped for. Things are not predictable, guaranteed, or really ‘normal’ at all. During the first wave of the pandemic, we had to adjust quickly, redefine the way we communicate, and fix problems overnight. 

Huge changes took place across organizations and industries, with some leaders realizing for the first time that the digitization of internal communications is non-negotiable

The result? 

Many businesses handled the first wave successfully and thrived, while others struggled to keep their workforce informed.

In this post, we’re sharing 10 lessons learned from the first wave of the pandemic and how internal communications shape the future of the post-COVID workplace.

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What we’ve learned about leaders and management teams:

1. Leadership visibility engages better

The larger the organization, the rarer it is for leadership to be visible and stay connected with the workforce. Until recently, this was mainly a task for upper management. 

However, the crisis showed that leaders play a key role in building trust and aligning the workforce during uncertain times.

A leader who shows up and communicates honestly, and with authenticity helps employees get through tough times, adapts faster, and fosters a healthier workplace in the long term.

2. Proactiveness and turn-key crisis plans are essential

If we learned one thing from the pandemic, that is how a late reaction can negatively impact the business and employee morale.

Successful business continuity requires agility and innovation that help management adapt easily to new circumstances and make quick decisions that can be instantly communicated to the workforce.


And that’s where a digital internal communications strategy comes into play.

3. Transparency and open communication make work more meaningful 

Misinformation, silos, and lack of centralized communication channels make employees lose that sense of shared purpose they are so driven by. Oftentimes, they are very disengaged, and they don’t even know what the organization stands for.

And those people will not be as productive since they don’t realize how their own work contributes to the company’s vision and success.

Successful comms leaders promote centralized, open, and authentic internal communications that make people feel that they come first and not last. Employees are always informed about the latest updates, company rules, and working policies, and they are happy to share successes and give feedback when they are asked to.

What we’ve learned about employees:

4. Safety and well-being are a priority

One of the key learnings of this crisis is that people are looking to feel safe and sound. Work-life balance is disrupted like never before, and the future is uncertain. 

Leaders and managers realized they have to offer constant support and open communication channels with regular updates and resources that help employees cope with stress and anxiety during hard times.

Well-being initiatives are another big trend that organizations have started to take more seriously. Regular check-ins, online polls, and dedicated groups for mental health and well being are increasingly popular methods.

5. Messages must be relevant, personal, and real-time

The time where the old-fashioned communication systems did the job is long gone. 

People everywhere are looking for fast, relevant, and personalized information that solves issues and provides clarity on the spot. That said, employee communications have to be nothing less than that. 

Fast, targeted messages delivered to the right employee at the right time ensures that the workforce stays connected through a shared centralized network. 

Successful organizations offer their employees a social media experience with internal communications customized to their specific needs.

6. Feeling heard and recognized makes all the difference

"Treating employees benevolently shouldn't be viewed as an added cost that cuts into profits, but as a powerful energizer that can grow the enterprise into something far greater than one leader could envision."

This quote from Harold Schultz - founder and former CEO of Starbucks, still stands very strong, and many organizations have realized that employees are the backbone of their business.

Performing temperature checks and asking employees how they feel might seem small, but its effect is unmatched. Real-time polls and online surveys are a great way to identify issues before they become problems and make your workforce feel heard.

On the same note, regular reward, support, and employee recognition have turned out to be some of the most accessible and convenient ways to keep your company afloat through challenging times.

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What we’ve learned about business continuity and company culture:

7. Employee communication is the #1 priority 

How you manage and treat employees during challenging times is one of the key factors determining how your company is positioned on the market. 

This crisis forced leaders and communication professionals to rethink how they manage their employees and whether employees are their top priority.

The post-COVID workplace is an employee-centric one where open and clear communication is key for connecting, staying up-to-date, and exchanging information.

8. Miscommunication impacts businesses in unimaginable ways 

The COVID-19 pandemic not only disrupted people’s daily lives but also changed the way we think. Uncertainty has replaced plans about work, traveling, and personal life. However, uncertainty is not as bad as is the spread of misinformation.

Leaders learned that employees seek safety and consistency above everything and don't want to be left in the dark, no matter the situation. On the contrary, they want to be informed first about critical matters.

To build a circle of trust, reduce employee turnover, and increase retention, you have to create and support an authentic social dialogue that helps employees connect truthfully and honestly.

9. Centralized channels work better

 The crisis was an eye-opener for businesses with complex communication ecosystems. In moments where information needs to be delivered in real-time, many different communication channels can confuse employees and decrease productivity.

The need to streamline employee communication through one channel that's easy to access, use, and find the right information became more than obvious to employers in the last 10 months.

10. Employee productivity is everyone's responsibility

The days when only managers were responsible for employee productivity are long gone. 

The new trend shows that departments like HR, Crisis Comms, Leadership, IT, and Management are all great drivers of not only productivity but also engagement in large organizations.

That said, internal communications and crisis management teams are also here to stay. Their goal is to deliver timely and relevant company updates to the right people, identify crisis soon, and collaborate closely with the other teams to handle the situation.


The next generation of employee communications is already here. Business leaders and communication experts are changing how they communicate with their employees to help them reach their full potential and ensure business continuity. 

An effective internal communication strategy is a prerequisite to succeed in the new digitized workplace where proactivity and instant information delivery is considered a given.

If you found this article useful, you might want to check our QA Guide about Internal Communications during and after crisis or our Infographic about How retail leaders cracked the challenges of COVID-19 and sent performance through the roof.

Rita is a Product and Marketing Copywriter at Speakap. She has a proven track record of success driving results for SaaS companies and continually enriches our content channels with her wide range of expertise.

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