Companies committed to employee communications want the best for their teams as well as their customers, the planet and investors. Covid has shown the advantage for businesses, people and the environment of working from home or remotely from the office. Yet the office is not dead. New hybrid work models are emerging. In this blog, we consider how companies can implement effective employee communications strategies in this hybrid business model.
According to the CIPD, 40% of employers say they expect more than half their workforce to work regularly from home after the pandemic has ended. Regularly, but not exclusively. Other research highlights the benefits of coming together as teams in an office environment.
On the other hand, the communications challenges are not completely new. Many businesses have always had remote workers – those site employees who very rarely come into the office. I remember creating a safety campaign for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which had to be delivered to remote teams along a 56-mile building site without laptops and mobile phones. At a PR conference earlier this year, I heard Naomi Jones from Suez speak powerfully about how they kept remote workers involved and engaged when jobs had to be done in person on site rather than from the dining room during lockdown.
So much of this is an adaptation of what communicators do all the time.
It’s a truism that employee communications is everyone’s responsibility. However, leaders set the tone, mould the culture of an organisation so this blog highlights some of the strategic communications priorities for leaders. We don’t pretend this is a definitive guide – just a few key themes to integrate into your hybrid working model.
Ensure all staff feel equally valued
We often hear that all workers need to feel connected. That’s true, but even more all workers need to feel equally VALUED and INFLUENTIAL whether they work at home, in the office, on the shop floor or from the nearest café with decent wi-fi.
And they need to feel valued not just by you in management but by their peers who work in different conditions. That can be a difficult balancing act, especially where some employees have to commute to an office or other workplace while others regularly work from home. Again though, you will have experience of dealing with this: if you’re a manufacturer, think of how your factory workers viewed the sales reps ‘jollying’ around the country in their company cars! You’ve dealt with that, so you can deal with the new stresses between teams and individuals.
It’s important to avoid all the ‘Noises Off’. It’s your business, you are setting the agenda. Make it clear that no one outside the business, whether they are Rishi Sunak, David Solomon or anyone else, is going to influence what works best for you and your staff.
Be explicit about performance expectations
You will need to establish new norms about how people perform and communicate these clearly, providing plenty of space for feedback and adjustment. This includes what is acceptable conduct. For example, if staff are expected to wear a shirt and tie in the office, it may not be acceptable to regularly pitch up to meetings remotely clad in T-shirt and shorts. Policies will depend on your organisation and culture, just ensure they are fair and clear.
Invest in the tech your staff need to do the job
If your people are to be effective, employers must ensure they have all they need – computer, mobile, stationery, ergonomic desk and chair, good internet connection, strong Cloud storage, cyber-security, etc. The basics of will be augmented by special features based on the needs of your business. This investment reduces employee frustration and brings a greater degree of commitment.
Further than that, employers may also want to consider the distractions and problems which working remotely can bring. This gift guide from Wired shows some of the useful employee gadgets you may not have thought of.
Create good team dynamics
One counter-intuitive factor where meetings are concerned is that the best results occur when everyone in the meeting is an individual – so you don’t have a conference room filled with part of a team and a few individuals linking in via computer.
Do the whole thing online, with each team member logging is themselves. That way you avoid side conversations between people in the room cutting of those not there.
Help people schedule their days to alleviate stress using asynchronous tools like Slack and the chat function in Microsoft Teams.
Develop informal channels outside meetings
Two-way employee communications are vital to ensure remote employees don’t feel cut off. Do make sure that both in-office and on-Zoom employees get the chance to express themselves and are listened to in your meetings.
And what about those happy chance one-to-one conversations you get in the office? You can’t bump into the boss in the corridor and grab 30 seconds of clarity when you’re sat in your bedroom staring at an Excel spreadsheet.
Again, this isn’t a completely new phenomenon. Leaders can be remote if they are simply stuck behind the office door. As Agnes Kunkel, host of the podcast ‘The World Beyond Covid 19’ says, “It’s not the distance between the leader and the employee, but it is the attitude of the leader.”
Informal chats are vital – leaders can open up a window in their diaries every day or week for staff to call them with any needs, gripes, ideas, frustrations – just the sorts of things you’d get to grips with over the coffee machine normally.
It’s also a good idea to allow for more social time before and after meetings – help colleagues catch up with one another and
Include remote workers in the perks
Baby showers, birthdays, sales successes – whatever you celebrate as a team, do it with your remote colleagues too. And if you have a staff canteen or lay on great food for team meetings, supply your remote workers with an equivalent. Just Eat, Deliveroo and many other food delivery operators can help.
Hybrid working is not business as usual. Morale is fragile. People are still struggling to find their feet after the pandemic, so it’s vital we keep communicating success. Congratulations are more important than ever when people may be feeling unsure of themselves.
Whether it’s a phone call, an unexpected visit from the boss to say ‘thanks’, good news on the intranet, celebrating one another in meetings, just keep highlighting success.
Employee communications is just the start
There is far more to creating a new business model than employee communications and the CIPD has a great guide to hybrid working which goes into this in depth.
Indeed, communication might be too limiting a concept. Businesses should be nurturing a community. One of the major societal changes of recent years has been the loss of place as the defining factor in our community life – the network has replaced the neighbourhood. Wherever your staff are working, they are part of your community.
For a similar reason I dislike the term ‘remote working’. Remote implies cut-off, hard to reach, aloof. That’s not what we want in our teams or our leaders. It’s why I prefer ‘anywhere working’.
Hybrid model internal communications place a greater strain on the leadership team, but, ultimately the gains for people, planet and profit could be vast.
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