Post-Covid Corporate Communication will be H2H: “Human2Human”

Fiona Passantino
7 min readDec 17, 2020

Abstract

What is Post-Covid communication? Our challenges are bigger: our stories more complex, our audiences global and disparate and in need of connection. We need authentic listening, not top-down broadcasting. We need the ability to shape communication from the ground up in real-time with visible impact. We need authenticity and empathy without being belittled or bullied. Searingly effective communication with no room for interpretation, wrapped a warm tortilla of humor and humanity. Our very lives depend it on it.

This article pulls on a strand of a University of Amsterdam study testing the effectiveness of animation in workplace communication, told as an animated story: https://youtu.be/SH7QzlPfyb8

The Conversation

Think back to a rainy afternoon deep in conversation with a friend, coffee gone cold, beer gone flat. The interplay of speaking, listening, responding, adjusting, allowing the conversation to inhabit new places. Each exchange added to the general pool of wisdom, created layers of empathy, deeper understanding and the willingness to change a previously held point of view. Great conversation is a living thing; constantly adapting and evolving.

This is Human to Human (H2H) communication, and it’s what we do best. Why, then, is corporate communication a largely one-way, top-down managerial broadcast? Uncaring about how the message lands, deaf to its reply, closed to other points of view?

A circular loop, shown with arrows: “communicate”, then “listen”… repeat! This is the basis of conversation.
The Communicate-Listen two-step. Illustration by Fiona Passantino, 2020.

Winter 2020. Much of the world remains locked in battle with Covid-19’s heartbreaking Second Wave. Numbers of cases and deaths spiral upwards as new measures tighten in country after country[1]. The ticker at 1,663,094 million deaths worldwide[2].

This wave finds us already exhausted and hits where it hurts us most: during the holidays, cutting through Diwali, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, New Year’s, our social rituals are all equally cancelled or digitized[3]. We work from home without offices, gyms, cafes, schools or bars. Social media transmits vital safety information, health workers plead for us to distance. Somewhere in the distance, a vaccine, or three, is on the way.

We see a sharp rise in mental health challenges as a result of our disconnection, exhaustion and loneliness, resulting in depression, drug and alcohol use, stress disorders, aggression and even suicide[4]. We’re anxious, sad, sleepless and on edge. When we do leave our homes, masks hide the smiles of strangers, augmenting our disconnection[5].

We need the facts, urgently. But equally, we crave connection. The causal human exchanges that reach beyond the walls of our homes and Zoom screens. Chats with baristas, fruit vendors, bartenders, teachers and colleagues. The informal banter with the humans we don’t already know gives us the feeling that we occupy space in the world.

The distance between us: two figures in masks separated by dotted lines, 1,5 meters apart. Illustration by Fiona Passantino,
The distance between us. Illustration by Fiona Passantino, 2020.

The World

Eventually we will emerge from our lockdowns and take our places in the world again in conference rooms, canteens and cafes. The new 24/7 live-digital landscape might be different. Our communication, a many-headed Hydra augmented with visuals, animation, video, mobile and global, with a whirlwind of confusing new emotions to inhale and exhale.

Post-Covid communication will reflect this new world. The one-way broadcast will be replaced by an exchange of ideas and information, amplifying the voices of those on the ground. Listening, processing, adjusting and reacting. More like a good chat in a bar between friends.

The stories will be complex, and our audience will be global: multinational, multicultural, multiethnic. We will be communicating our re-entry in the world, vaccine rollout, digital transformation, onboarding, mergers and bankruptcies. The rise of Artificial Intelligence, new privacy regulations, the Brexit and other looming changes, and we will need to inform our customers, our employees, our partners, our suppliers, the new guy, our interns, and former and future customers.

Our offices are now every place world with a decent wifi connection. We are more culturally and internationally diverse than before[6], which means a wide range of language skills, educational and professional backgrounds, cultures, religions, genders and multiple intelligences[7]. With no physical offices, our HR teams are no longer bound by country to meet the needs to fast-rising, fast-falling enterprises. English is our default language, already used by most multinational companies worldwide[8] with nearly 80% of all global business communication conducted by non-native speakers[9]. Effective H2H communication is more challenging, and at the same time, more essential[10]. The key to connecting across these boundaries lies in our humanity, our common values and needs.

Feelings matter

Who cares if an employee emotionally connects and identifies with their company? We should be lucky to have jobs at all right now. But as we rejoin our other humans in our Covid-free futures and gather again in bars and cafes, we will return to being downtime Brand Ambassadors, speaking about events in the world and how the companies we work for play their part — big pharma, big data, big shipping or HR — as part of the global story. Emotionally engaged employees tell this in their own words, simply and coherently. The stories of disengaged employees can backfire spectacularly. Shade is authentic and much more fun to listen to. It travels faster, at digital light speed, and further; everywhere[11].

Employees who feel positive about their company’s capacity to meet a challenge results in the easier implementation of new, essential processes and policies. Business transformation — which often include mergers or reorgs that imply sacrifice — is more successful and sustainable[12].

Arriving at the good side of that coin requires universal basic understanding of events and the company’s role in them. Regular multi-way conversations that deliver facts and seed the inspiration to speak about them can both inform us and jump-start authentic engagement. Management must equally be ready to listen and show that our ideas have effect.

Our In-and-out Futures

Covid-19 was one of the first pandemics to be studied deeply using AI, broad mobile and big data, and we can see that it’s part of a pattern of increasingly frequent pandemics due to globalization, urban spread and climate change[13]. Add other impending environmental crises — extreme heat, flooding, superstorms, parasites and pollution — and Covid-19 could just be a trial run for the next big thing that sends us back underground[14].

The most widely studied pandemic in history; a guy looking at the covid virus with a magnifying glass.
The most widely studied pandemic ever. Illustration by Fiona Passantino, 2020.

Aside from necessity, there is also choice. Covid-19 has taught us that we don’t have to gather physically to participate in conferences or training events. Our new-found freedom to define our workspace and schedules may prove too sweet abandon. The cost savings of a scaled-down office and the externalization of risk cannot have gone unnoticed in the boardroom.

In short? Keep those digital offices warm and don’t throw away those Deliveroo coupons just yet.

If our companies are our tribes, our chieftains have a responsibility to pull us out of the shadows. We need authentic listening, not top-down broadcasting. We need the ability to shape communication from the ground up in real-time with visible impact. We need authenticity and empathy without being belittled or bullied. Searingly clear and concise messaging wrapped a warm tortilla of humor and humanity. Our very lives depend it on it.

Coffee gone cold; beer gone flat.

About the Author

Fiona Passantino is a professional Creative Storyteller, Visual Communication Specialist and Explainer-in-Chief, using animation and visuals to make complex ideas understandable for the average person. The 2020 study, “Not Just for Kids: Animation as a Serious Training Tool for the Workplace” is the result of her recent Business Leadership and Management Master’s from the University of Amsterdam.

Fiona lives in the Hague, the Netherlands with her family.

Sources

[1] European Commission, Timeline of EU action, accessed November 16, 2020 https://ec.europa.eu/info/live-work-travel-eu/health/coronavirus-response/timeline-eu-action_en

[2] World Health Organization, WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard, accessed December 17, 2020 https://covid19.who.int/

[3] Timeanddate.com, Holidays and Observances Around the World, accessed November 16, 2020 https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/

[4] Wan, William. “The coronavirus pandemic is pushing America into a mental health crisis”, The Washington Post. Accessed on November 16, 2020 https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/05/04/mental-health-coronavirus/, Achenbach, Joel. “Coronavirus is harming the mental health of tens of millions of people in U.S., new poll finds”, The Washington Post, accessed on November 16, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/coronavirus-is-harming-the-mental-health-of-tens-of-millions-of-people-in-us-new-poll-finds/2020/04/02/565e6744-74ee-11ea-85cb-8670579b863d_story.html

[5] Claus-Christian, Carbon “Wearing Face Masks Strongly Confuses Counterparts in Reading Emotions”, Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 11, 2020, page 2526 https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.566886

[6] Rahman, U. H. (2019). Diversity Management and the Role of Leader. Open Economics, 2(1), 30–39.

[7] Lorenzo, R. V. (2018). How diverse leadership teams boost innovation. Boston Consulting Group
Barrett, D. (2002). Change communication: using strategic employee communication to facilitate major change. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 7(4), 219–231.

[8] Gajšt, N. (2014). Business English as a lingua franca–a cross-cultural perspective of teaching English for business purposes. English Language Overseas Perspectives and Enquiries ELOPE: E 11(2), 77–87.

[9] Palmer-Silveira, J. (2019). Introducing Business Presentations to Non-Native Speakers of English: Communication Strategies and Intercultural Awareness.

[10] Barrett, D. (2002). Change communication: using strategic employee communication to facilitate major change. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 7(4), 219–231.

[11] Barrett, D. (2002). Change communication: using strategic employee communication to facilitate major change. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 7(4), 219–231.

[12] Barrett, D. (2002). Change communication: using strategic employee communication to facilitate major change. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 7(4), 219–231.

[13] Whiting (2020, March 4). Coronavirus isn’t an outlier, it’s part of our interconnected viral age. From World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/coronavirus-global-epidemics-health-pandemic-covid-19/

[14] Craven (2020, March 30). COVID-19 Briefing note: our latest perspectives on the coronavirus pandemic. From McKinsey & Company
Kennedy (2020, March 9). Covid-19: what you need to know. From Enigma: https://enigma.swiss/en/blog/covid-19-has-already-changed-the-way-we-do-business

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Fiona Passantino

Fiona Passantino is a professional Creative Storyteller, Visual Communication Specialist and Explainer-in-Chief. She lives in the Hague, the Netherlands.