Internal communication in an increasingly virtual work environment

Key findings of the study

  • Potential: The study suggests that communication professionals see digital nudging as an interesting and promising method to increase the effectiveness of communication activities. Learning about digital nudging could be useful even if the method can’t be applied by communication professionals directly.
  • Application possibilities: Most interviewees hadn’t yet implemented digital nudging themselves. But the interviewees identified the following applications as particularly promising:
    • Supporting digital transformation
    • Encouraging learning and development as well as knowledge sharing
    • Increasing compliance behavior, especially regarding cybersecurity
    • Improving employees’ health and well-being

  • Challenges:  The applicability of digital nudging depends on whether the organization uses digital platforms that allow for customization, if there is leeway regarding corporate design, and whether ethical concerns can be sufficiently addressed.



The research was conducted by Prof. Dr. Sabine Einwiller and her team at the University of Vienna. It comprised four successive phases:

  1. Literature review of academic and practitioner-oriented literature on virtual internal communication and collaboration.
  2. In-depth Interviews with 16 communication experts from different German and Austrian companies were conducted virtually in March and April 2021, approximately one year after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe. The aim was to find out about objectives, challenges and suitable communication measures in times of virtual internal communication.
  3. Semi-structured Interviews: 60 employees in Austrian or German organizations were asked how they experience the changes to virtual and flexible working and how they perceive internal communication measures in this regard.
  4. Two online surveys of 1,000 employees were conducted among people employed by Austrian or German organizations with at least 250 employees.
    - The goal of survey 1 was to investigate the perception of internal communication and its effects on an organizational level. 
    - Survey 2 addressed communication and collaboration in teams.

Sixteen internal communication experts from these organizations were interviewed in March and April 2021. 

Research background

How to transform internal communication to a virtual work environment?
This was a question often asked when discussing the results of the Communications Trend Radar 2021, a research project recently completed by the Academic Society for Management & Communication. The study describes five key trends from society, management and technology that will influence corporate communications in the near future. The virtualization of communications was one of them. 


Research team

  • Dr. Sabine Einwiller is the professor of Public Relation Research at the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna.
  • Julia Stranzl, M.A. is a research associate at the Department of Public Relations Research at the University of Vienna and a member of the Corporate Communication Research Group (CCom).
  • Daniel Wolfgruber, M.A. is a research associate in the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna
  • Jana Brockhaus, M.A. works for the Academic Society for Management & Communication as a communication manager.