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Here We Come 2021: Communications Tips for the New Year

By Kylie McMullan and Julia Smith, Finch Media

Many of us are ready to say good riddance to 2020, and have begun shifting our thoughts and hopes to 2021 – and the potential return for normalcy. As wonderful as that will be, it will come with challenges both operationally and communicatively for organizations. As expert communicators, we wanted to share some of our thoughts on what organizations should be planning for in 2021:

Vaccine Roll-Out: As the vaccine roll-out spreads across North America, organizations will have to delve into the complicated and delicate topic around employee vaccination policies and face tough choices around what to implement as they seek to return-to-normal. Also, as the roll-out progresses, organizations will need to consider if they will have different requirements for customers and employees who haven’t received the vaccine yet versus those who have. For example, can vaccinated employees return to the workplace sooner than others or start traveling again? Will they still be required to wear a mask or social distance? With a gradual roll-out, employers will need to ensure their communications planning is ready to deal with the new challenges that will come from communicating new and evolving policies and a partially vaccinated workforce.

Transitioning from Remote Working: As we begin to achieve herd immunity for COVID-19, companies that moved to a remote-working model will also need to consider if they want to continue working remotely or not and how to facilitate any shift. Furthermore, having seen that it is possible to work-from-home, many employees may push for more flexibility or work-from-home options post-COVID. This is especially true as comfort levels with commutes, crowds, and gatherings in buildings may have altered throughout the pandemic. Anticipating that working from home, or the challenges that go along with it, won’t disappear anytime soon, some companies have even hired for a new position – head of remote work.

Diversity and Inclusion: Companies will need to continue to look at all areas of their business to ensure that they are promoting and embracing diversity, equity and inclusion. A report by Mercer Canada found that 70% of Canadian business leaders have said that their focus on diversity increased in 2020, following the death of George Floyd. The public continues to push for authenticity, not lip service. And there is a growing trend of consumers calling out companies that don’t walk the talk. Note: this goes beyond hiring practices and employee handbooks, and extends to marketing activities (including influencers and company advocates), suppliers, and business partners. In Karima-Catherine Goundiam’s article on black entrepreneurship she notes that only 39% of Canadian companies surveyed in 2016 by the Canadian Center for Diversity & Inclusion (CCDI) had diversity initiatives for suppliers and procurement.

Internal Communications: While the first three points have everything to do with internal communications, we wanted to call it out separately, because we see so much opportunity here. In addition to enhancing company culture and employee engagement, savvy organizations will continue to use internal communications as a tool to turn employees into authentic advocates. Employees who are treated well and communicated with effectively can be an organization’s most compelling brand ambassadors.

We’re all hopeful that 2021 will be a better year than 2020. By planning communications strategies strategically and building in adaptability and flexibility, organizations can set themselves up for success and all the promise that the new year has to offer.

Kylie McMullan is the principal of Finch Media and is a communications strategy expert who has worked on a number of issues and recalls across a number of industries including healthcare and consumer packaged goods.
Julia Smith is the Managing Director at Finch Media, an internal communications expert with extensive crisis work, including work around the Ebola crisis in 2014.