How COVID-19 is blurring the line between internal and external communications

As employee-centric corporate narratives become critical amid the coronavirus crisis, communicators find that internal messages are becoming relevant to external stakeholders.

How COVID-19 is blurring the line between internal and external communications

Friday May 08, 2020,

4 min Read


The ravages of coronavirus have taken a heavy toll on the social, economic, and cultural fabric of the globe. The corporate world is also witnessing a dramatic transformation as the familiar vectors of vision, mission, purpose, and achievement are unravelled and discarded by the pandemic to give way to new ones.

With work from home becoming an imperative amid a lockdown that, under current circumstances, can become a long-term arrangement, corporate organisations are increasingly relying on communications as a fundamental tool and an enabler that can prepare them for the future where the concept of “normal”, for all extents and purposes, will be redefined.

Communicators, on their part, are building their plans on the foundation of agility. They are quick to realise that in a charged environment driven by elevated awareness, short fuses, and heightened emotions, the age-old distinction between internal and external communications is dissolving fast. And successful leaders are aligning their communication campaigns with the call of the day.

Sine Qua Non

In a recent session of the Creative Sandbox, an online platform hosted by Weber Shandwick, where communication leaders share their learnings, a party of industry veterans acknowledged that they are prompted to design new modes of communication engagements where people-centric measures and activities are finding resonance and relevance in the external world.

The approach, however, differs depending on each company’s situation. For instance, Atipriya Sarawat, Director Brand, Communication and Social Responsibility, Fiserv, a leading payments and fintech company, was part of business continuity planning with leadership teams to decide the messages. She reiterated that the biggest challenge, under the current circumstances, was to find positive things that will make employees collaborate, engage, and feel connected.

She outlined the need to build in a drumbeat of ‘business as usual’ communication where possible. The overwhelming dominance of COVID-19 in all kind of communications made her realise that it is may be time to trace people’s focus back on business-as-usual narratives. And by doing so, she said, the organisation was able to design a different approach that was able to instill hope by reassuring its people.

They found renewed purpose from seeing the organisation steadfastly living up to its established culture, even in the middle of turmoil.

Mou Chakravorty, Manager, Marketing, Brand and Communications, Deloitte India, on the other hand was clear in establishing that, for her, at the moment, the whole narrative was about the pandemic and its ramifications on the workforce. She underlined the need to involve the family where appropriate and how that can create comfort. 

Keeping employees and other stakeholders engaged and at ease, requires companies to think about integrating the entire family into the communication fabric.

Mou’s simple logic that, at a time when isolation is taking hold of people’s spirits, familial involvement helps ease anxiety and inspire togetherness, makes complete sense as well.

Companies change tack

Companies are also mindful of the fact that whatever they do or adopt, COVID-19 will echo in all decisions.

For Ritesh Mehta, AVP – Corporate Communications, State Bank of India, “what SBI does, the banking community follows”. Therefore, there is an added responsibility of keeping the brand relevant for employees and industry peers alike. This requires extensive outreach. And that is why Ritesh is putting emphasis on social and digital media as the communication channel of choice for all current engagements.

DSP Investment Managers is harnessing the power of technology for communications at this time. From press meets to employee wellness programs, Arun Rajendran, Head Corporate Communications, DSP Investment Managers, and his team are relying on technology to make engagements seamless, efficient and, when necessary, real time.

At the same time, Namrata Datt, Director, Brand, Marketing & Communication, EY highlighted that amid COVID-19, marketers and communications need to be more astute as they must drive greater impact and visibility with reduced budgets and investments. “This calls for more innovative approaches, particularly leveraging technology and digital more effectively,” she added.

A new ethos

That said, it is unassailable that the pandemic is reconditioning social outlook and organisations, as an enabler of the society and a part of the citizenry, are changing their work ethics to become more mindful, accommodating and compassionate.

Pooja Sabharwal, Head Communications, PayPal India, shared that her organisation was using communications to listen to their employees, understand their requirements, and subsequently modify their practices to create an empathetic work culture. If this view is to be evaluated in the current scheme of things, this could well emerge as the underlying ethos of future communications, both within and without.

Edited by Teja Lele

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)