Five observations – communicators coping through COVID


The question I get asked the most these days is: “What do you notice about how communicators have been affected by COVID?”

Here are five main observations I’ve gleaned from conversations with communicators (via our consulting, coaching and webinars) over the summer:

1. Gaining New Executive Access

Let’s start with the good news.

I am hearing many encouraging stories about communicators who have achieved new levels of access to senior executives who have come to rely on their communicators as invaluable allies in navigating the choppy waters of the COVID crisis.

In organizations in which senior executives may have tended to exclude communications (either consciously, or more often unconsciously) from the senior decision-making table, communicators are now appropriately invited earlier and more consistently to provide guidance on everything from employee communications to change management and reputation management.

As the saying goes, it’s important that we don’t let the opportunity of a good crisis go to waste – and we all know this one’s been a doozie.  I’m hopeful it will bring about a sustained shift in the internal positioning of communications among many organizations.

2. Building Capabilities in Technology

Communicators are charting a new course in the proactive and innovative use of technology as part of their practice. Whether it’s exploring mobile communication platforms, implementing Slack or instituting digital collaboration tools, we are now at the vanguard of new technology solutions to help drive corporate performance.

For many, this is a refreshing break from a long-standing experience of having communications priorities (like Intranets or apps) stuck at the bottom of the barrel of priorities for corporate IT.

3. Moving to Agile

COVID has turned many communications shops upside down. Former priorities such as events management and conferences have been replaced with new demands for digital outreach and engagement. We are re-imagining our business and the value we contribute in real-time. From what I’m seeing, it’s a process that comes with a lot of destabilization and uncertainty (particularly in terms of expectations, role definition and reporting structures).

The teams we see doing the best in these chaotic circumstances are those that are leaning into agile practices. These include techniques such as:

  • Daily team-huddles
  • 30-day sprints
  • Planning using canvas techniques including 30-60-90 day action plans

Also vital are conversations (in some cases long overdue) about what teams are going to stop doing. This is a healthy exercise in “pruning the business” and creating a bit of breathing room for teams to have the time and mental space to tackle new projects and priorities.

Our training and coaching practice has been increasingly focused on exploring agile change techniques to support communications teams. Many of our clients are also using this imposed “reset” phase to dust-off important but non-urgent projects such as governance charters and workflows.

4. Creating Community

By nature, communicators are hard-wired for connection, creativity and community. The quarantine has hit many of us hard because our go-to, in-person sources of inspiration, perspective and insight have been taken away.

Happily, we are a resourceful bunch, and I’ve been impressed to see communicators create their own communities to get the support and peer learning they need. These pop up in everything from collaborative enterprises, communities of practice, book clubs and informal meet-ups.

Our recent AMA session had a distinct “group therapy” and “group hug” feeling about it – a palpable sense that communicators are craving informal, unplugged opportunities to have a conversation, feel heard and get practical ideas for support. I have no doubt that as we move into the next season of the pandemic we’ll find a new crop of such forums in which communicators come together in shared purpose and community.

5. Re-Thinking Priorities

One of the many fascinating dimensions of the pandemic is the blurring of the personal and the public spheres. While COVID has certainly affected us all professionally, it is clearly also sparking lots of personal reflections about priorities, commitments and values.

The COVID crisis has prompted many communicators we work with to take stock of their careers and consider making changes. For some, this has meant early retirement or “down-shifting” in order to have more time to spend with family. Others are pursuing new passion projects or setting their sights on career trajectories that provide more purpose, fulfilment or stability.

I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be feeling the ripple effects of COVID for some time to come – and part of the legacy of the pandemic may be a renewed sense of intention and agency among a professional community which so often has felt disempowered.

Are there other things you’ve observed among your communications community? I’d love to hear about them.

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