Virtual stakeholder dialogues

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 study was directed and conducted by Daniel Ziegele, Hannah Kurtze and Ansgar Zerfass at Leipzig University. As part of the project, an extensive literature review and numerous interviews were conducted:

  1. Literature review of both academic literature and practitioner manuals on the topics of stakeholder dialogues and virtualization.
     
  2. Expert interviews: A qualitative empirical study was designed to identify communicators’ experiences with virtual stakeholder dialogues, the challenges, and what requirements result from them. Two major groups of experts were interviewed:
    – companies and organizations who conduct stakeholder dialogues and 
    – consultancies who support companies in this field.

Thirty-nine interviews with experts in the field of stakeholder dialogue from thirty-five German corporations, consultancies, and service providers were conducted between April and May 2021.

Research background

Is it possible to conduct stakeholder dialogues virtually? 
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

  • Ansgar Zerfass is Professor and Chair in Strategic Communication at the Institute of Communication and Media Studies at the Leipzig University.
     
  • Daniel Ziegele, M.A., is a research associate at the chair for Strategic Communication at the Leipzig University. 
     
  • Hannah Kurtze, B.A., is a research associate at the chair for Strategic Communication at the Leipzig University.