Internal communications managers have really come into their own this year. Forget whatever they had planned for 2020 – this year has been about developing consistent and engaging messaging to explain the impact of the pandemic, often at a moment’s notice with an almost immediate turnaround. At the same time, internal communications managers must paint the picture of what the future will look like for anxious employees, while they themselves are just figuring it out.
On October 28th, we invited a panel of industry experts to discuss how to re-engage internal audiences and prepare employees to be ready for the post-pandemic future. Joining us to share their insights were Paulina Osiecka, Change Management Leader at EY, Prarthna Thakore, Head of Internal Communications at ISG, Megan Dold, Head of Communications UK & EMEA at the Financial Times, and Tabitha Aldrich, VP Marketing Communications at OneWeb.
Read on for their insider advice on executing internal change management communications in post-pandemic planning.
Be authentic and vulnerable
Over the course of this year, employees have understandably been dealing with anxiety, fear and confusion. A key part of internal communications is recognising the mood within your company, and adapting your comms to reflect this. There’s a certain power in employees seeing that leaders are feeling the same way as them and dealing with similar work-from-home challenges – after all, CEOs aren’t superheroes. Our experts agreed on the need for authenticity and vulnerability in internal messaging during challenging times.
For Thakore, it’s about being able to react right away to the changing situation. “We used to do really slick videos that we’d bring a full corporate team into, but now it’s about recording the CEO [whenever there’s a big change] and getting that out instantly,” she explains. “It’s about speed and frequency of messaging, and making sure that the message is human, rather than too corporate.”
Osiecka and Dold agree. “Leaders should speak from a vulnerable place,” says Osiecka. “It’s good to show a human side, admit uncertainty, and appear on a selfie camera within Teams wearing casual clothes, not a suit and tie. It builds trust.” Dold shares an anecdote from a Zoom meeting with an editor at the Financial Times, whose 8 year old son appeared in the background to grab some ice cream. “He couldn’t care less that his mom was in a town hall with 2000 people!” says Dold. “That is what people needed to see: a normal person. She’s at the top of the senior management team, but she’s dealing with the same things we’re dealing with. It shows that we’re all in the same boat.”
Good internal communications are a two-way street. Feedback and employee input is vital to ensure your messaging is hitting the mark, and employee concerns are dealt with efficiently. With so much changing on a daily basis, it can be a challenge to collect and collate regular feedback, especially as employees’ moods and emotions will change with the circumstances.
“Communicating is also listening,” Osiecka points out. “We need to focus less on broadcasting, and facilitate more conversations about what’s happening, opening up to two-way engagement.” At the Financial Times, Dold explains that they carry out quarterly surveys asking the same questions, so they can gauge how people are feeling over time. “Based on our last survey, morale has taken a dip,” she explains. “We’ve definitely gone from the baking phase to ‘how are we going to get through this over the next 6 months, and the dark period of winter’. We also encourage people to give feedback to their managers and team leaders.”
ISG adopts a similar approach. “We send out line manager briefing packs, including reminders on what managers need to know and do, and also points for discussion,” says Thakore. “Those questions for discussion are meant to facilitate two-way comms.” It’s always important to know what companies could do better – and what employees feel they’re doing well. At ISG, for example, staff appreciated the inclusion of non-pandemic related updates. “We were still winning and completing projects, and we wanted people to remember who we are as a business beyond lockdown,” explains Thakore.
Inject some fun into your internal communications
When morale is low, injecting creativity into your internal communications is a surefire way of cheering up your employees. Although we might be limited to working and connecting from home, there are still plenty of ways to engage your employees.
Take ISG as an example. “We recently launched a week-long Move for Charity initiative,” shares Thakore. “Costs were very low, and we had people moving throughout the week: swimming, running, cycling and fundraising for it. We had so many employees participating, and there was so much energy, because people liked having a purpose beyond work.” This initiative wasn’t limited to ISG’s UK branch – they took it worldwide, engaging employees across the globe. Bringing everyone within your company together, even if they’re sitting on different sides of the planet, can work wonders for boosting employee morale. “Try to find an initiative that will engage people, and focus on their mental health, wellbeing and activity levels,” recommends Thakore.
At OneWeb, it’s about spreading positivity through focusing on the wins. “Celebrating every positive moment is crucial,” says Aldrich. “A documentary aired that featured part of our business, so we had a virtual cinema night with popcorn that we sent to our people. We want to go back to the core issues that people really care about.”
At the Financial Times, Dold and her colleagues realised that due to working at home, employees were losing track of what others were working on, and what was going on across the business. “We wanted to give people a chance to be recognised by their peers for their work, so every 2 weeks, we have a lightning talk session where people can present a great project they’re working on.”
Consider the things your employees might be missing out on, and think of ways to bring them to life virtually. Part of boosting employee morale is working out what people would like to do differently, and then adapting accordingly. In the case of the Financial Times, it was about employees receiving recognition for their work, and feeling frustrated about the lack of breaks between meetings. “One thing we’re thinking about is a peer-to-peer recognition scheme that we can roll out really quickly, and that doesn’t require any money,” says Dold. “We also know that people are really tired of meetings without breaks, so we’re rolling out best practice principles like having a no meeting day once a week, or no meetings on Fridays, and ensuring meetings last 50 minutes so everyone can have a 10 minute break in between.”
Best practices going forward
As we move forward into a new year, it’s an opportune time to consider your internal communications best practices, and how you’re planning to move forward in 2021. Osiecka recommends taking some time to consider your company’s willingness to change, and whether there are any obstacles in the business operationally. “We need to engage with employees at different levels of seniority so we get real feedback from real people,” she advises. “When you have an internal comms strategy, deliver a small part of it, test it, see if it works, and then move on. This allows us to see what’s happening in the stakeholder landscape, and identify where alignment is missing. It’s a constant, two-way process, because everything is happening a lot faster than usual. Invite co-creation!”
“Focus on understanding who your audiences are, and being able to reach them quickly through different channels of communication,” says Aldrich. “People ask really smart questions, so give them time to ask them, and find a way to be comfortable with ‘we don’t know the answers yet.’ Help people to co-create the next era of your company.” Dold agrees with this collaborative approach. “How can you give people a chance to get involved in what the future of the company looks like?” she asks.
For Thakore, it’s about putting out content that really speaks to the audience. “We lead with a ‘what’s in it for me?’ content strategy,” she says. “What we often did before is send out corporate-wide mass comms, but what we saw from the data during the pandemic is that engagement really increased when there was content that resonated with people. The big focus for us will be around looking at different audiences and creating content on channels they want to consume content on. People are consuming news internally and externally the same way, and we need to make sure that our comms work for people: authentic human connection.”
If you’re looking for creative ways to re-engage your internal audience, get in touch with us today.