Three Employee Communication and Engagement Trends for 2020

What You’ll Learn

  • How workplace communication is evolving with employee expectations
  • The value of letting employees bring their whole selves to work
  • Talent gravitates towards companies that provide a great employee experience

The new year is upon us. That means new goals. New ideas. New optimism.

And, of course, new challenges.

Robyn Hannah, Senior Director, Global Communication and PR, and Becky Graebe, Senior Director, Communication Expert, discussed what they see as three trends impacting organizations the most in the coming year at a recent webinar, “The Rising: Employee Communication Trends for 2020.”

  • The Rise of the Remote Workforce
  • The Rise of Employees as Stakeholders
  • The Rise of Employee Activism 

“As I’m traveling around the country talking to communicators and HR professionals, these are the things that I’m constantly hearing,” Graebe said. “It’s important that we’re all thinking about these, preparing, and doing our due diligence around them.”

Added Hannah: “These aren’t about making predictions, which we always hear at this time of year. It’s really about getting ahead and future-proofing your company.”

Graebe and Hannah emphasized how these trends fit into the broader idea of creating an engaging employee experience. How employees feel about the brand is even more essential because it directly impacts the people they come in contact with every day:


Here’s a closer look at their conversation.

The Rise of the Remote Workforce

The traditional workplace is evolving.

Employees expect more flexibility. A 2017 Gallup poll found that 43 percent of Americans work at least part of the time remotely. U.S. Census data released in 2018 reported 5.2 percent of workers are based entirely at home.

It’s why Forbes wrote recently: When It Comes to Employee Engagement, There’s No Place Like Home. And the Harvard Business Review asked: Is It Time to Let Employees Work from Anywhere? Many businesses clearly feel this way. Dell, for one, wants 50 percent of its employees working on a remote basis some of the time this year.

But the shift isn’t just with full-time employees. We’re witnessing a continued expansion in freelancers/contractors as 43 percent of the U.S. workforce is expected to be part of “the gig economy” this year.

“It’s a trend that we’re all seeing,” Graebe said. “Whether people are working at home, on the road, or at collaborative workspaces, they might be coming into the office only once a week. Work isn’t where you go anymore. It’s what you do. It’s a different way to think about going to work.”

Organizations should consider what their employees need to stay connected to the business and their colleagues, she said.

“You have to think about how to get the right people the right information in ways that aren’t always traditional communication channels,” Hannah added. “It needs to be delivered in a way that not only is convenient but doesn’t take them out of their normal workflow.”

The Rise of Employees as Stakeholders

In 2019, the influential Business Roundtable released a “purpose statement” signed by 181 CEOs who committed to leading their companies in ways that benefit all stakeholders, including employees and their communities.

There’s a growing understanding that businesses must be active partners in the broader societal discussion about making capitalism work for everyone – not just shareholders.

“The American dream is alive but fraying,” said Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. “Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long run.”

With that in mind, employees want greater recognition for their ideas, ability to solve problems, and positive interactions with customers, Hannah and Graebe said.

“For many decades, companies talked about creating shareholder value,” Graebe said. “The idea of intentionally talking about investment in employees is something new. The long-term play for companies is shareholders are going to earn more, too. It can’t be just lip-service, either. As communicators, we need to be advising our leaders and providing ideas on how to do that.”

Hannah cited a recent Gartner survey where CEOs said diversity and inclusion are the No. 1 talent management priorities for them. But at the same time, only 36 percent said their organizations are effective at building a diverse workforce.

“We want every employee to feel heard, safe, and empowered,” Hannah said. “We have to start thinking about our employees as one of our key stakeholders because they represent our brand.”

Added Graebe: “All of this requires a conversation with employees to find out what they need and what will make them feel fulfilled. That’s where technology can play a role because it creates a two-way conversation.”



The Rise of Employee Activism

Employees today want to work for organizations that allow them the freedom to participate in political and social issues alongside their jobs.

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 67 percent of employees expect their organizations to take action on issues – nearly as high as personal empowerment (74 percent) and job opportunity (80 percent). Also, a 2019 Weber Shandwick study found that almost four in 10 employees (38 percent) have spoken up to support or criticize their employers’ actions. Millennials are the most likely to be these “employee activists.”

“There’s no line between our work and personal lives anymore,” Hannah said. “They’re integrated. Issues important to our employees are going to surface on the job. Work mirrors what’s happening in our personal lives.”

The idea that employees want their organizations to make the world a better place can be good for business, Graebe said. After all, consumers want brands to share their values, too.

“Gone are the days when a company is measured only on the stuff it makes, and leaders say, ‘We don’t want to take a stand,’” she added. “It’s certainly the newer part of the workforce that’s driving it and expecting that as part of their work experience.”

Bring these three trends together, and you have a good idea of why the workplace is in flux at the dawn of 2020. It’s also why businesses need to be thinking hard about the best ways to communicate their mission, goals, and vision to employees in ways that create a more welcoming environment.

“No amount of free food, napping pods, or Ping-Pong tables will ever replace employees feeling whole at work,” Hannah added.

Listen to the webinar “The Rising: Employee Communication Trends for 2020” here.

Post Author

G.I. Sanders

G.I. Sanders is Senior Director, Creative Services at Dynamic Signal. He specializes in entrepreneurship, digital and social media, design, and marketing. G.I. is based in Dallas, TX with his wife and two sons. Passions include technology, startups, music, fitness and sports.