Internal communication in an increasingly virtual work environment

Key findings of the study

  • Challenges: Achieving the key goals of internal communication such as commitment, engagement, and participation is harder in a virtual work environment with reduced personal contact. To address and include everyone, employees’ specific needs and concerns need to be identified and new formats for employees working on- and off-site have to be developed.
     
  • Objectives: To foster commitment, engagement, and participation in a virtual work environment, creativity and some new approaches are required: The bond between employees and the company can be strengthened through appreciative messages and virtual events. Interactive communication platforms where employees can share, like and comment can help to stimulate participation while creating a sense of togetherness.
     
  • Risks: A virtual working world creates more flexibility, but increasingly blurs the boundaries between work and leisure. This entails the risk of an “always-on” mindset, which can trigger technostress. New ideas are also needed to minimize the risk of a two-class society in which employees without a computer workstation are less well integrated in communication.
     
  • Future: The survey findings show that most employees prefer hybrid work, thus the future will most likely be characterized by much more virtuality. To support concepts such as working partly from home and partly on-site, it’s important to listen to employees’ concerns and to empower them to become effective communicators themselves and trying out new formats.

 

Methodology

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.