AB Thinks  →  3rd July 2020

Have we pressed fast-forward on employee communication?

Danish physicist Niels Bohr is quoted as saying: “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” While I love this line, it has never prevented me from pontificating about the future of my profession, internal communication.

Back in 2014, AB was celebrating its 50th anniversary. To mark this milestone, I attempted to look fifty years into the future. What did the next five decades have in store for employee communication and business more generally?

This week I stumbled across these predictions in a blog post entitled ‘Internal communication in 2064’. Re-reading my attempt at crystal ball gazing was fascinating. I was out – by 44 years.

This global crisis has placed its foot hard on the accelerator. But will the global recession, which is sure to follow, cause retrenchment? The challenge for leaders and their communication advisers is to take advantage of the shift to more informal, immediate and human communication, which has been evident throughout this pandemic – and run with it.

Here are my predictions, written in 2014, which attempted to look fifty years into our future:

    • Many of those in middle and senior management roles in 2064 have not yet been born. They will have grown up with unpredicted access to technology. Communicating via a screen will be second nature. So much so that their identify will be defined largely by their online activity and presence. This is unlikely to change once they enter the world of work.
    • Work will be a thing you do, not a place you go. The smarter organisations will focus on the productivity of their employees rather than presenteeism. Micro-managing employees will be neither feasible nor desirable. This will give way to granting people freedom and autonomy within a framework.
    • Information will be at our fingertips. Cloud-based computing will allow employees to find, access and share information from any device, anytime and anywhere. IT security will have matured beyond erecting rigid and inflexible firewalls.
    • The walls of our organisations will be more permeable. The ability to collaborate and communicate with others inside and outside the organisation will be greatly enhanced. Knowledge and insight will trump seniority or job title.
    • The way we strike a comfortable work-life balance will be a more personal choice. Smarter organisations will grant their employees license to solve this problem for themselves rather than impose rules from above.
    • The rise of the (truly) collaborative enterprise. The clear demarcation between employees, customers, suppliers, partners, consultants and opinion influencers will have all but disappeared. Organisations will be collaborating with ever-wider interest groups to drive innovation and keep their competitive advantage.
    • Power will shift to the new kids on the economic block. What we call the ‘emerging markets’ – China, Japan, Taiwan, South America, Africa and India – will be all grown-up and dominating centres of economic activity.
    • Communications and IT will have kissed and made up. The relations between comms and IT will have evolved to support this need to collaborate. Having information buried in personal inboxes will seem archaic. The information we need to do our jobs will be available on demand.
    • The ‘always on’ nature of technology will pose challenges to our work-life balance. For many, the traditional nine-to-five working day will have disappeared. Smart organisations will be empowering their staff to make choices about when and where they work based on productivity rates not presenteeism.
    • Today’s decline in deference and trust of corporations will not have reversed. The successful organisations will use transparency and strong ethical policies to their advantage, giving both consumers and employees much needed reasons to stay loyal.
    • Leaders will be unable to hide behind a screen. In a world where everyone is talking via a screen, a premium will be placed on face-to-face communication. In this virtual world, personal encounters will be especially meaningful and important to us. Authenticity and openness will be expected.
    • More employees will be doing ‘tours of duty’. They will move between projects they find intriguing and organisations they find inspiring. Smarter organisations will understand the need for a defining and differentiating purpose that attracts and keeps the brightest and best.

Tells us about your track record with predictions – from the ‘nailed it’ and the ‘nowhere near it’. Join the conversation on Twitter: @Katie__Macaulay and @abthinks.