riding the tailwinds in 2021

By shalini gupta, leadership communications manager, bt

February 5, 2021 

With almost a month into 2021, there seems to be a realisation that not having a normal is the new normal.

So what is the rest of 2021 going to be like? Will the work from home model sustain? Will people fall back to old ways of working? Will some COVID-19-era habits prove temporary?

I think the habits we have seen will persist well beyond the current crisis. The best practices adopted in 2020 will continue into the next year.

So what really matters now and what should we expect? Here are some thoughts from me:

Rise of digital leaders championing ‘digital first’ culture:

2020 will also be remembered as the year when technology became not just a convenience, but critical to getting work done. Perhaps the most visible example of this is just how much time we now spend on video conferences, but if we look around us, the changes are much broader.  

As CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella famously said in April last year: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”. Now 9 months down the line and into a new year, the transformation continues at a more rapid pace. Technology continues to bridge the divide created by the remote and dispersed workforce. To be fair, Covid-19 didn’t start this trend, it just accelerated it.

In a highly connected post Brexit/post Covid-19 world that will largely remain contact-less for a long time, digital transformation is now the topmost priority for leaders. This will ultimately impact business models and shape customer and employee experiences further - this will mean restructures, mergers and acquisitions and cutting costs further. But at the same time, it will create new and exciting opportunities to boost business productivity, increase flexibility for people and make the organisations stronger than ever before.

As part of shaping employee experiences, this is also an opportunity to rethink the way we communicate with our people. According to a KPMG report, 77% of leaders say they will invest in and expand their digital communication tools in 2021 for greater collaboration with their people.  

Our roles as communicators will be key in helping shape and deliver this ‘digital first’ culture. We will need impactful communication to power this transformation by creating a shared understanding of what it means to the people and the business.

Shift from share value to shared values and purpose:

As organisations have been impacted by Covid-19, the focus has shifted from creating just ‘share value’ to one that adds meaningful contributions to society. We’ll continue to see this expand beyond selling products or services, to taking a stand for what the organisations believe in and a common purpose and set of values that unite us in these times.

Communicators will play a key role in bringing people together by keeping a line of sight on the shared purpose and values across all their messaging consistently. 2021 will also see internal communication teams working more closely with external communication teams to align the outcomes of their messaging around purpose. This will go a long way in creating a sense of pride and employee advocacy – often a key differentiator in people choosing to work for a certain ‘brand’ versus just a company.

Empowering people managers:

With a 24x7 news cycle, restructures and business changes, people are feeling deflated and sceptical about the future and are looking for support and reassurance. Managers are particularly under the spotlight and are critical in helping move their people out of regression and into a recovery phase.

To do this, people managers will need to show the ability to be resilient and adapt first. But the reality is that as managers, they’re being set a very hard task to get it right in how they support their teams, when they too are experiencing new ways of working, stresses and demands.

As communicators, our role in supporting them with the right tools and resources, timely key messages to engage and inspire their teams and also upskill them to become better communicators will be an advantage that’ll be felt even more acutely in managing a distributed team.

Partnership with our friendly HR folks will never be more important in helping managers with access to the right training to support their teams, maintain their own mental health and a reminder that they haven’t been forgotten.

Belonging with DE&I:

Black Lives Matter movement opened up honest conversations about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. But in a world where “social distancing” has become the new norm, organizations are increasingly looking beyond DE&I to belonging.

Belonging is taking inclusion one step further. It is more about everyone feeling comfortable at work including a sense of feeling respected, being treated fairly and feeling connected no matter where they work from.

As I read somewhere - Diversity is a strategy; Inclusion is a goal; Belonging is a feeling.  Communication will be an important tool to create this sense of belonging and in different ways too - whether it’s helping leaders in being vulnerable and showing their real selves so others are more likely to open up about their hopes and fears, encouraging discussions on our internal channels where everyone’s views are considered and better connections and bonds are created with ‘online’ colleagues.


2020 has been a hard year for everyone. From front-line workers braving the pandemic risks to those being furloughed or laid off and struggling to pay the bills, and even those working from home suffering from loneliness or struggling with the stresses of juggling work and home-schooling. Add to that increased rates of burnout and we can expect to see the impact of the pandemic on mental health last long after we’ve got the virus under control.

So, no doubt I expect companies to step up and offer a more holistic wellbeing support focusing on mental, physical and financial wellbeing this year.

Using the internal comms channels and the right approach to messaging, as communicators, we can help keep stress levels at bay. We can empower colleagues to reach out for support and continue to keep the feedback channels open to get an insight into what our people are telling us.

Once again, this is an opportunity for communicators to partner with HR to engage with our leaders and our people about the wellbeing offerings and take a people-centred approach that takes colleague needs and concerns into consideration and build a compassionate culture.

With the unpredictability of the past year, we’ve all had to be flexible and adaptable with our internal communication plans for 2021. Resilience from the best teams in 2020 depended on agility and adaptability. Top performance in 2021 will require the same. And I remain confident that as communications professionals, we’ll continue to be the glue that’ll  bind the evolving workplace with the changing world around us and keep our people connected and engaged. This will not only play to our strengths as communicators but will also give us an opportunity to continue taking a wider role in shaping the overall employee experience.