The Gatehouse Blog

Looking back at a decade of internal communication research

With the largest set of respondents to date, Gatehouse’s tenth anniversary edition of State of the Sector has continued to highlight and underline the trends that exist across our industry. We summarise the key standout themes here.


1. The Office 365 Effect is gaining momentum

In this year’s report, we heard how the juggernaut of Office 365 has continued to take our industry by storm, resulting in a relentless push towards using Microsoft products – whether or not we, as internal communicators, either ask or want them!

In 2017, we christened this the ‘Office 365 Effect’ and we are only seeing that continue to grow with SharePoint and Yammer dominating the intranet and social scene – to the exclusion of pretty much all other technologies. The highly anticipated

rise of Workplace by Facebook has been lacklustre and other digital platforms like Slack and Jive have similarly failed to gain ground in the past 12 months.

What’s more, this year we’re noticing correlations between Office 365 usage and other digital practices, with 56% of Office Pack users planning on improving digital channels this year versus 49% of non-users.

2. Impact measurement still isn’t a priority

Although around a third of respondents don’t believe that leaders understand the value of internal communication, we were surprised to see that internal communicators still aren’t prioritising impact measurement. The use of many measurement methods listed in the survey has decreased over the past year, and 12% of respondents say they don’t measure their communication activities in any way.

In particular, independently conducted communication audits ranked as the single most effective employee feedback channel (with nearly 70% of respondents saying it is effective or very effective); however, only a small minority of respondents (14%) have leveraged this in the past three years.

3. Less reactivity, more strategy

Disappointingly, there has been an increase over the past 12 months in the proportions of internal communicators neglecting to evaluate the impact of their communication activity (even after taking into account the influence of North American responses).

Meanwhile, listening practices have decreased, with even the emblematic employee engagement survey being used by fewer practitioners (69%, down from 76%). This is despite survey respondents recognising the effectiveness of such channels for tapping into employee views and adapting activity to their needs and preferences.

With internal communicators seemingly struggling to look back on work they’ve already done and determine how effective it was, is it
really any surprise that their outlook on the future is also limited?

Under half of respondents this year told us there is a long-term strategy for internal communication – 49%, down from 52% in 2017.

There is a silver lining, though – the proportion of people declaring developing / refreshing an IC strategy to be a key priority for the year has
increased, and now stands at 37%. Improving measurement is also seen as a more important objective – indicating that 2018 could be the year we, as a profession, shift toward a strategic, insight-led approach from a more reactive one.

In any case, 71% of internal communicators believe their team are viewed by senior leaders as trusted advisors, which is good news (although
perhaps not so much for the 30% who are not perceived in such a positive light…). It is clear that over the years the sector has continued to mature: leaders are valuing contribution and internal communicators are further edging forward, increasingly becoming trusted advisors and business partners.

4. Line managers are still the battleground

Last year we hailed improvements being made around line manager communications – but the joy was sadly short-lived. Just like every year since we started asking IC practitioners about barriers to success, line managers were seen as the single most pressing issue to overcome. 56% of respondents this year cited a lack of line manager communication skills as a challenge – up from 52%.

Yet despite the scale of the challenge, channels specifically designed to support this key audience are still limited – with most dedicated communications being sent through unengaging digital means like emails.

Communication training aimed specifically at this audience has decreased, with only one in three IC practitioners providing this (fewer than in 2016). Disappointingly, just 33% see improving this offering as a priority for 2018 – which, in our view, is insufficient given the persistence of this IC barrier.

“Just like every year since we started asking IC practitioners about barriers to success, line managers were seen as the single most pressing issue to overcome.”

5. But communicators are putting more and more chips on digital channels

In 2017, we highlighted the growing desire to use more digital channels within businesses but ended with the conclusion that digital isn’t the panacea – in fact it was underperforming in some areas. Over the course of the past 12 months, the desire for digital hasn’t subsided: practitioners are planning to increase the usage of all types of digital channel we asked about, with a particular emphasis being put on self-service media. One surprisingly popular option this year was chatbots, which 72% of respondents indicated they want to use more for internal communication and employee engagement purposes.

However, the availability of technology does not necessarily equal a successful implementation: around two thirds of respondents believe social channels are either adequate or poor, while workplace podcasts, which are the darling of our private lives, again failed to make any inroads into the channel mix and remain one of the lowest used and lowest performing channels.

Luckily, internal communicators are increasingly aware of the need to make sure existing electronic communications work for their business: improving digital channels is seen as the second biggest priority for 2018. This is encouraging, and we hope to see the perceived effectiveness of digital channels climb ahead of the State of the Sector 2019.

6. Europe and North America are following different trajectories

The results from the 2018 survey were particularly interesting in comparison to previous years in that we received a much higher response rate from other geographies, namely North America. This provided us with a great opportunity to compare the state of the internal communication and employee engagement sector in different locations across the globe.

What we found was a considerable difference between Europe and elsewhere: overall, the UK and Europe appear to give more importance to long-term IC planning. In particular, respondents from these locations were more likely to have an internal communication strategy in place, alongside other planning tools – while 31% of North American respondents admitted they had no formal planning tools, ‘just’ 20% of UK/Europe-based respondents said the same!

Equally surprising was the difference in priorities, with European respondents far more likely to view line manager communications as an area to improve in over the next 12 months, bettering leadership communications was the bigger priority for North America-based respondents.

Whilst there are still advances to be made across the globe, we are hopeful internal communicators on either side of the pond can inspire each other to drive further improvements.