Webinar report: 10 questions on COVID-19 comms answered

Thu, Apr 23, '20 •

Webinar report: 10 questions on COVID-19 comms answered

On today's menu of IC topics, we offer a top-shelf conversation with Jason Anthoine from Audacity, Andrea Greenhous from Vision2Voice and our very own Jonathan Davies. Jason and Andrea's combined experience eclipses half a century, with years of dedicated work in Internal Communications. Trust us on this one, you don't want to miss it.

We're thrilled to bring to you this non-alcoholic cocktail of topics, ranging from happiness during remote work, to the future of Internal Comms after the quarantine. Best enjoyed with a beverage of your choice, because that's life as we know it now.

If you happen to prefer reading over watching the video below, you can find the full transcript of the conversation in distinctive bullet points. Skim through and get what you need in a heartbeat.

Without further ado, we bring you Jason Anthoine and Andrea Greenhous.

What's this "new normal" anyway?

How is the perception of internal comms changed and really, what’s going on? What is this new normal situation that we're all in?

Andrea: Oh, where do I start? So what we're dealing with, are the three things or three sorts of phases, or areas of focus for internal communications. The immediate one was, okay, how do we react?

What does our operation do now? In a manufacturing organization, it’s everything from how do you keep the plant going or running, and keep our people safe, now that everybody's going to work from home. So, the immediate reaction is what to do and communicating those decisions. The second one was around wellness and taking care of people, in terms of keeping them safe, keeping them healthy, COVID-19 free, that kind of thing. And then the third one, is how do we function in this new normal? How do we make sure that our people are well? Their mental health is looked after and you know, the larger wellness piece. How do we stay productive and move forward in what I've been calling sort of the homebound economy? This period that we're going through where everybody's working from home and in an isolation, only with essential services, especially here in Canada, and in most places of the world. Those are the areas that we've been focusing on. 

Jonathan: Yeah, it's a lot. I'm hearing this a lot as well, that there’s a heavy focus being put on mental health and wellbeing, making sure that employees can separate their work-life balance, even though their office is now their home. Hasn't that been particularly challenging?

Andrea: It depends on the organization. Some organizations have been able to react quickly, and especially those who have work from home capacity up in good. What's really telling is how culture plays into it all, in terms of is there a culture of trust? Is there a culture of openness?

Are there good communications systems and processes in place? Is there active and visible leadership that's trusted? And when you have those things in place, then culture is yours. Your guide to how we're going to react and how decisions are going to be made. When you're dealing with remote workers and worrying about productivity and managing all of that, if you have an organization that has a good culture to start with, it's a lot easier.

Jonathan: Jason, what about you? Because you've also been helping clients throughout the United States and maybe even worldwide, dealing with this entire situation. What have you noticed? 

Jason: First of all, thanks for having us both on here. What a great discussion. I think my experience has been similar to Andrea’s, in that there seems like there are phases, to what's happening.

I'm a big believer in the alliterations. To me, we are going through these four phases. One is just the disbelief that this is even happening. You know, we're all minding our own business, and the next thing you know, everything that we've known personally and professionally has just been turned upside down. That first phase has been this whole disbelief. and then, immediate reactions to that, both personally and professionally. Then it felt like we have gone through this grief phase, so from total disbelief to instant reactions, to that.

This grief phase, personally, I can't believe this is happening to people around me. My entire routines have all been appended professionally. You know, I miss my coworkers. I miss the safety of groups being together. So, it feels like we're still going through that grief period as we're doing all this reacting right now. To me, the next two phases, I think the next one is more of a relief phase. Like, okay, we made it through there. We've got some of the best practices about how to do that personally and professionally. We don't really know what is next and what that looks like and what any of that means, but there's some relief there in thinking thank goodness we made it through this. Whatever is next, we're going to be glad to get there. Once we do, I think that's when there will be this belief phase. You know, we're stronger together. But, we’re also strong apart. This entire crisis period, however long it might be, has demonstrated that we're all resilient. Our organizations are resilient. We can be as fluid as we need to be. While everything around us might be totally disruptive right now, that doesn't mean that we have to be personally or professionally. I think that's an opportunity for us to reground ourselves and, you know, stronger beliefs of who we are and what we can do, particularly in internal communications. Because a lot of times that role falls to us to be. You know, not just the leaders and not just the communicators, but sometimes the cheerleaders to help make sure that the organization is, and the culture and, you know, everyone, is sort of working together and pulling together.And so I think we'll play an even bigger role in this belief phase, than we have in the past, even before this crisis. And so all of that feels like an opportunity for us. you know, I've been on dozens of webinars in the last month, but then, you know, plenty prior to that. And the question was always, why don't people really value what we do as internal communicators? We would tell our leaders, and we'll tell our managers that we do everything we can, to demonstrate the ROI of what it is we do.  Now they're experiencing that. And that is a much stronger way to convince people of the value of something, rather than just constantly trying to convince them to let them come to that conclusion themselves, by having to experience that.

Now we have leaders and managers who are having to be communicators. We don't have to drag them kicking and screaming into those roles. And some, naturally, need a little support and help. But everybody wants to try and do the right thing now. And that I think is really shining a light on the value of what we do as internal communicators in a way that is convincing. Particularly leaders and managers, the value of that, in a way that we never could. Because they don't know. They're not internal comms folks. We are, but now they've had to be, and now they know exactly what we do and the value of that.

Andrea: Yeah. 

Jonathan: I saw a post that you made on LinkedIn about this, which said you all wanted to seat at the table.

 Now you finally have it. It's just the kitchen table. But, we're going to have to deal with it. 

Jason: It can be any table, anywhere, so thank goodness.

Jonathan: Yeah. I think that this is bringing a whole new set of challenges in how we communicate to our staff because we can't just rely on offline tools anymore. A lot of it, all of it in some cases, is completely digital.

Connecting employees, or employees connecting?

Jonathan:  I'm noticing a couple of questions coming in about this. Actually, I'm going to first start off with one you already got from an anonymous attendee:

“What are some ways that everybody’s engaging their staff internally? We use Slack daily, and hold weekly webinars that are meant to bring staff together. But it seems to be losing its luster.”

All right, Jason, we had a beautiful talk about this yesterday, so I can guess what your answer is going to be. 

Jason: I think it's fantastic that an organization's using any tool that's available to them, certainly on the digital side. We’ll talk a little bit more about employees who are digitally disconnected, and how to reach them. But from a digital perspective, any tool that an organization is using right now is great. It's not like one is better than the other. If you have them all, great. If you only have two or three, that's great too. I think what we're seeing is that from an internal comms perspective, we like to have a little bit of control over these channels, and we like to have a little bit of control over the capital C communications that we're delivering down into the organization.

But the reality is that’s maybe 5% of the actual communications that are going on across an organization. The rest of that, what I call the lowercase C communication is everybody else who's collaborating, working together and doing their own webinars and their own zoom meetings, have their own Slack channels and things like that. That’s what we also need to be focused on. Yes, the capital C stuff, but also making sure that the lower c stuff is happening. Any of those channels that people are using, sometimes we want to push our messages through that. But most of the time, we want to make sure that those things are available so that everybody else can communicate through them.

Andrea: I would add to that, that, you know, why don't you ask your employees what they want in terms of what can be valuable to them at this time? Both in terms of support from their managers in a virtual environment to “what do you want to hear about”? And, I mean, I'm a big believer in storytelling, so start telling the stories about how your company is thriving and surviving or what lessons are being learned across the organization. A lot of organizations are turning outward and starting to think: “we're okay, we're going to survive, but how are we going to help the community at large?” Starting to tell some of those stories. One of the things I think the internal comms people need to do right now is a little bit of reflection. Look at the data, look at what's happened, and learned to find out, what did we learn through this? And how can we apply it going forward? I remember, this is not an internal communications example, but I think it was 25 years ago when the internet first came around, so that's how old I am.

Yeah, it was like in 98. I was in charge of the intranet. The company was going through a crisis, and I told the VP of corporate communications that we needed to put updates on the website. And when I was finally able to show him the data that people were coming to our website looking for answers. The next time we had a similar crisis. He was all over getting the information up. It’s showing your value, Learning from what's happened over the last month and a half is really, really important. 

Jonathan: I'm going to also add to that, that when it comes to the simpler ways to execute some things that people might enjoy - especially if you have a tool like Slack - one of the biggest advantages is that in digital communications, you can monitor what's happening. Sometimes tools like Slack - I call them rapid communication tools can be very fast - so that can be a challenge. The communication that's happening on those platforms are topics of interest to your employees, and topics of interest make my internal journalists go, “Oh, this is something that my employees care about”.

So, that means that's something I could create a quick video update about. It's something that someone in my company would know. For example, my CEO, or I could just write an article about developments in a business on the specific topics of discussion. Knowing that you care about what people are talking about can really be turned into topics that can make this live on a little bit more.

Jason: So, you have a lot of these internal tools. Slack, Salesforce chatter and Yammer, Teams and whatever it might be. What's interesting, and what I've done before is: your external comms team is probably using some sort of sentiment analysis tool on external conversations, that are happening among consumers or whoever your customers might be.

They attach that to all of those online platforms and forums. You can take that same technology. Run an API between it and your internal channels, and do the same type of sentiment analysis. So if you would like to know what are all the conversations that are going on across all of the Slack channels, or on Salesforce chatter, or on Yammer, you can apply that same platform sentiment analysis to those internal conversations and then get a nice little word cloud of everything that everybody's talking about. It’s a way to see what's happening and adjust your own comms plans around what is obviously important to everyone else who's having conversations across the company.

Clean, cleaner, cleanest information flows

Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. We just received a question that I think is tailor-made for one of the things that I always hear you say, Andrea. A question from Adriana, from Brazil:

“There’s too much information coming from everywhere. So how do we filter out what we send to our employees without over-communicating, crowding the inbox and maybe losing focus on what's really important?”

Andrea: Well, that's always a really hard one to answer because it's the most common problem that we have. It's really about understanding what the purpose of that communication is. One of the things we do a lot of is strategy. And strategy is all about choices. Choices about where you're going, what you want your culture to be like. It’s being very selective on what you communicate and making sure that it has the right context. The right narrative that fits in with the bigger picture that you're trying to promote. Honestly, you need to edit and be selective in terms of what you’re communicating. 

Jason: Yeah. The dynamic has shifted. Back in the good old days when we were all sitting around in the office, you kind of had a compact, nice environment where you could pretty much ensure that all day long, most of the messaging and notifications that people are getting are from you, and from inside the company. Now, people are working from home. Not only are they getting all of your notifications, but they're getting all of their other social media notifications, and they've got their kids, their dogs, their spouses and partners, roommates, and everybody else running around. And so there's a constant distraction. Even more so now than there was prior to this. They're in an environment where it feels like home, but I'm having to do work. And so they're constantly struggling between, “oh, I just got 50 Facebook notifications versus, Hey, I need to pay attention to my work Slack.”. I think that makes it even more important to Andrea's point, to focus tightly, very tightly on what you're saying.

Make it as short as possible. With as much truth and facts as possible. Do that as often as you need to. You know, it's different for each organization. It’s different for each industry. Speak plainly and speak often is typically what employees want to hear. When they complain that, Oh, there's too much going on, it's usually cause it's too long and it's not relevant.

Andrea: I've seen a lot of questions around: “how often should we be communicating? Should it be every day?” And there are studies around that. Edelman's been doing some polling and one of the stats is almost 50% of people want to hear from their employer every day, but that's not going to be applicable in all organizations. So it's really what's working for you. At the same time, you can’t over-communicate. It has to be relevant and to the point, and support people. I remember somebody saying to me, I can't remember who it was, but they said: internal communications needs to support what people are doing because they have a job to do.

So what you want to be doing is supporting their work, not distracting them from it. 

Jonathan: Yeah. I think that's very true. When it comes to the volume of communication that's happening, knowing that, especially now, internal communicators are very far from the only ones that I send visible communications within the organization. I think that our job and our challenge right now is also source checking. I'm going to quote Evan, with whom we just had the podcast, where he said that misinformation is spreading almost faster than the COVID-19 virus. And I think that's really true. we need to be careful about who's saying what and do they have the right credibility.

To state those things, can we help them fact check? Can we assist them? Not in a controlling way, but in an empowering way. And I think that that's a really big challenge right now, specifically when we're communicating around developments we've covered. Maybe less so in others.

Andrea: Yeah, I mean, we're not health experts. Internal comms people aren't health experts. So we want to have to point them to the factual information that exists, that's produced by health experts. And then to me, our job is to provide context and to provide the story that's happening inside the organization.

What are we doing? What are the rules? What are the policies? What's happening? Where are we going? How are we going to manage? I mean, a lot of people are wondering, okay, how's this gonna affect our revenue? But one of the points I wanted to bring up is, I think it's been particularly important for leaders to get out in front of this, and that's one of the things that I've been helping companies do is supporting leaders. Those leaders who are a little bit shy and may not be great communicators are really understanding that they have to step up, and communicate and be active and visible, show empathy, provide regular updates, and they’re doing with them. But their kids on their lap and with the dogs in the background and just showing that they're human too, and that's, that's so important. 

Humanizing top management  

Jonathan: Yeah, and actually, I have a beautiful follow-up question to that. I love how somehow, everything we're talking about connects to the questions that are being asked.

Thank you for being a wonderful audience. We have the question that came in from Tyna, who said 

“Top management is usually reluctant to take part in these fast chat discussions.”

I think specifically this would mean, you know, engaging with employees there. she says that

“smaller groups use chats, but top management is a bit scared of doing this.”

How do you feel about that? Have you encountered this before?

Andrea: I know that the studies show that when your top management is involved on those channels, then you're going to get people using them. And when they're open and honest and authentic on those channels, people are gonna follow the example.

Jason: We see that all the time in internal comms, long before these fires came along. You know, leaders being reluctant to do those types of things. I don't think it's because they don't understand the value of it. I think it's just because they're scared and nervous about the technology. And so, a lot of times the default is okay if we give them the content, then they can do that and, and feel good about trying to do it. But really what we have to do is give them the confidence. You know, help them understand how to use these channels and help them figure out the best way to do that.

Because you know, they're nervous because they don't want to look silly or stupid. That's fine. That's part of our job. To coach them, educate them, and help them be better communicators. Not always to be the communicators for them, but to help them be better communicators. And some of that is helping them get comfortable with whatever new technology tool they're trying to use now.

Andrea:  One organization I was working with, what they did was, they were introducing Teams and all of a sudden everybody was on it, because they had to be. What they did was they interviewed the CEO on Teams and just filmed it. And it was honest and raw. And it worked.

With another CEO who was actually a really good communicator, he was having virtual chats with people. But what I suggested is when you're communicating, tell them, this is what I'm hearing from people. Show that you're listening. Show that you're caring, show that there’s a two-way conversation going on.

Jason: Yeah. I worked with one CEO when we were trying to launch a new employee mobile app in the organization. And he was very reluctant, and you know, somewhat skeptical of it. The more I talked to him about it, the more I realized it was just the technology piece that he was nervous about. And so his daughter was a freshman in college. I reached out to her and I said, hey, can you spend a little bit of time with your dad helping him understand what this even means, and how it works and what liking means and commenting, and all that type of stuff. And she did that, and literally the next day he's like, “this is the greatest thing we’ve ever introduced" 

And so, it was the fear of that technology, and the fear of the unknown and not wanting to look silly. You know, a lot of us just do all this stuff all the time, and we think it's second nature. But for some people, it is not. That doesn't mean they're stupid. It just means they don't know yet. So let's teach them.

Jonathan: Yeah, I went through a similar thing when I still did internal comms, and this was actually in a tech company, with a very intelligent, very charismatic CEO. But he always wanted a lot of prep time, particularly, this was his thing. He liked to be very prepared for the things that he did. And, I think the main thing that I noticed with him is just that, you need to help them see it as: it's not a barrier to doing something, it’s not an extra task. CEOs in particular, but also top levels of management are incredibly busy. If we look at the situation that's happening right now, even more so, because I feel from what I've seen in the environment, is that people feel even more pressured to prove their value in a company. Which also means that the idea that they're doing something wrong is much scarier. So we need to help them understand that that barrier is not very high. I’m a big believer of what's in it for them factor. So what's, what's going to help them? How are they going to be helped out of this?

And they're going to be seen more in the company. And that's only a good thing, especially if they're worried about their value right now.

Jason:  If we'd asked the CEO two months ago to shoot a video from their sofa, in their living room, they would've laughed us out of the office.

And now that's become common. And to me, that's a good thing, because now they've been humanized and they're not just the CEO, and they're up on some pedestal. We don't even really know that much about them outside of their job. But now we get a peek inside their lives. And you know what? They got a dog that runs around. You know what? There's a laundry basket over there. They’re people just like we are. And it kinda helps humanize it. We'll make them feel, not just be figureheads. They’re just normal humans wanting the rest of us. They just happened to be in leadership roles.

Andrea: Yeah. This conversation makes me think of something that I realized the other day. Because our work has changed in the way we're working, and how we're working, I’ve got a lot of experience in change management. And one of the things that we're seeing like I heard from someone who’s part of a pizza organization chain of restaurants. She was saying that they keep communicating to the delivery people what the rules are, but they don't follow them. And I said, well, have you asked them why they haven't? Whether it's using new technology or a new process for putting a pizza at the front door. There's some, there could be some barrier of some kind that's blocking them from doing it. So ask them, find out, what is slowing you down? Or, what's stopping you? Is it awkward? Or what is it? And then, fix it, instead of continuing to communicate the same thing. You're not going to get anywhere unless you really understand what those barriers are.

Awesome ideas to lift those (digital) spirits

Jonathan: I also see a lot of questions and a lot of answers coming into the chat. So once again, thank you guys for also answering each other's questions and giving each other's ideas. It's really cool. Madison just posted a couple of very cool suggestions on some fun activities that you can do while everybody works from home. And, related to that, I have a beautiful question coming in from Veronica. Veronica asked

“which online activities could you advise for employees to entertain them?”

So, we do flash mobs and Instagram zoom coffee or bar calls in the evening sometimes. This type of stuff. What have you seen with your clients and what would you advise them to do?

Andrea: I've seen a fashion Friday. There are lots of fun things that are happening. One of the most interesting ones though was to create a buddy system so that you had someone to chat with. It's kind of replacing the water cooler because not everybody wants to dress up, act silly or go dancing on Friday night. Some people are introverts, and some people would just really rather have an honest discussion. So, yes. Have fun. Yes, let your culture loose. But, also give people support. I liked the idea of a buddy system. So, you're paired up with somebody and it's somebody you can talk to, somebody you can vent or somebody that's got your back. And I think that's important. 

Jason: One thing I've seen, there's HR and internal comms folks, kind of monitoring some of the conversations that are happening across some of these businesses. They'll just ask a fun question around who's your favorite musician? Or who's your favorite actor, or what show do you watch? Things like that. And then, which is kind of standard, but then what they would do, there's a website called cameo.com. You can go to that website and they have a list of musicians and actors

Then, some of the names that people have just said that they really liked, where you can click and for 50 bucks, a hundred bucks, whatever it might be, get that person to record a personal video to whoever it is that it said they liked. They've gone through and sent a few of those out just randomly. Somebody said, I like Kevin from The Office, and then the next day they get an email from Kevin with a video and it says “Hey, Jason, you're doing a great job, this is fantastic. I can't wait to see what else you're going to do.”  You know, just something like that as a nice personal, fun touch. It’s not a big budget buster to do that, but it makes such a difference for morale and patting people on the back for all they're doing right now

Andrea: Yeah, the recognition piece is important. And for sure, also creating. Keeping the rituals that you thought you have as an organization. Because there’s comfort in those rituals, or creating new ones, because we're all creatures of habit and comfort. And, right now we're all out of our comfort zone. I mean, I'm even doing it with my family, because we're all out of our comfort zone. So, trying to create new rituals that'll keep us connected, is to me what’s really important. 

Jason: One thing I've also seen - we’ve spent a lot of time talking about people who are digitally connected as part of their jobs, where there's a ton of our employees who are not - and so, it's always hard to reach them on a regular day, now it's even more difficult. Typically, we default to cascades and team huddles. They can't have team huddles anymore. They can't be together like that. They're not all in the break room. They are not all in the cafeteria. And so one of the things I've seen work really well, is all of the stuff that's strained, whether it's town halls or leadership webinars or whatever they might be, is to record all of that stuff, and then just set up a private Vimeo channel, as a place to store all of that stuff, so that people who work in the organization, who can't get to the intranet, now have a way to get to that when they're at home. They want to just check-in and see what's going on in the organization, rather than missing out on all of that information. The sort of limits we have now around cascading, this is a great, easy way to take content. It's already being produced and provided by the people who probably would never see that type of stuff. 

Andrea: Yeah. I've seen it being put on the website with an ad, like their public address with a special URL and people can just access it there.

Jason: And you can password protect it, and make the IT folks comfortable that it's secure and all that. But you know, just cause you have to jump through a few hurdles doesn't mean it's not worth it. It'll mean the world to those folks. Yeah, 

Jonathan: It’s very true. I actually think that those are beautiful, simple examples that really, if they can put a smile on someone's face, then that's extremely valuable. Happeo, as a smaller organization, we're not at 20,000 employees worldwide just yet, but one of the things that we do on our own platform internally is, we post pictures of colleagues when they were babies, and then we have to guess who they were. So there was a picture of me up and I think it took about a good 16 guesses until somebody got to it.

So those are also fun little things. But the important thing to note is that they're all unique to your culture. So you can't just put something out there and think it will work. You need to have that empathy open, which as internal communicators, everybody has, to get really make those things successful.

Jason: You know, we are being featured on this webinar, but the reality is everybody who's attending this, you're the real stars. You're the one who are doing all this work out there. And so everything you're doing would be fantastic to share. And everybody on here would love to see it. 

Andrea: Yeah. You know, I learned from every client and every interaction that I have, it's a nut. That's how I get my knowledge. And I think it's really important to share. And the other thing I was going to say is, you know, we've all been through a month of crazy times, and it’s important for all of you to sort of give yourself a little bit of a brain break, and to step back and make sure that you take care of yourselves. That you nurture yourselves. It takes some time to read. There are lots of good reports and studies coming out now, and just give yourself a little bit of grace and time to kind of regroup, because there will be a rebound and a recovery and then you'll be busy again.

Home, the workplace of the future

Jonathan: Speaking of being busy again, the rebound and the recovery. We're also getting questions about what the situation will be like when we don't have to work from home anymore. The new normal, as we said before. I'm seeing one in chat from Ian and we've got one for today. Ian thinks that

“the organizations will be more flexible to new ways of working and build a green agenda of less driving and flying will be a factor that encourages growth in homeworking.”

Andrea: I think so. What do you think, Jason? 

Jason: Yeah, in fact, I was reading an article this morning. Gallop just put out a poll, on Tuesday. And the question was, what does next look like and how eager will people be to return to normal? All the lockdown, all the stay at home, social distancing and things like that. Should those be lifted? Only 23% of people who live in small or rural towns would return to normal activities right away. So 23% would, 77% would not. And in cities, only 15% said that they would return to normal. So even when we get the green light to go to whatever it is next, there are still going to be a lot of people who are personally reluctant, and still feel a little nervous and still feel a little, out of sorts around all of this. And that's okay. You know, we've got to allow that transition to happen gradually for everyone. Initial transition was not gradual at all. It was: everybody go home tomorrow. But coming back is going to have to be a little more gradual, I think. Like Ian said here, that's when you're going to have to start having discussions about less driving and flying. And now that we're all used to doing these types of meetings, how are we going to implement zoom inside of our organization, and how are we going to encourage people to do that and discourage people from doing the opposite of that.

And what about all the ones who were still too nervous to even come in. What are we going to do about, about those types of things? So there's a lot of challenges ahead. Yeah. 

Andrea: It's been a traumatic experience for all of us. Right. And now we have this shared. You know, some people have compared it to grief. It's been a loss, but there's also going to be a lot of fear. Organizations are going to have to continue to focus on things like trust and make sure that they provide a safe environment and they’re empathetic to people on their fears, because there will be people who are fearful of coming back. It’s interesting because it does show us how quickly we can adapt. I'm a strong environmentalist. Climate change is a big concern of mine. And in Ottawa, we have this new light rail that's been a disaster. So everyone's been stuck on this light rail.The transportation systems were terrible, and it just goes to show you that some of us could work from home and it can be okay. And we can start addressing problems like burden on transit, greenhouse gas emissions and things like that. 

Jason: Yeah. And then it brings up the other question, you know, for people, you know, who have to travel a lot for their work, our employees and sales and things like that. Including Andrea and myself, probably Jonathan as well, if we go somewhere. What happens? Are we going to have to quarantine our sales for 14 days to attend a two hour meeting, and then when we come back? Do we have to then re-quarantine ourselves for another 14 days? And what happens if we're there and something happens, if we're stuck there? You know, there's just a ton of things I think you're going to have worked out, that are just huge question marks right now.

And I know, us being internal comms folks, we want all the answers right now, as many as we can get. There aren't that many. You just have to be comfortable with, saying I don't know. But when we know we're going to share as much as we can, as often as we can. 

Andrea: Yeah. 

Communication as an integral part of the workday

Jonathan: Speaking of sharing as much as we can, Dana has a question. She asks

“now that the whole company is relying on the same distribution or communications channels that you use as a comms person, how do you avoid employee communication fatigue, play traffic cop for what goes out to company-wide?”

Should we play traffic cop for what goes out companywide?

Jason: Well, I'll tell you. A long time ago, I was running internal comms and I had a couple of people on the team. This was in a manufacturing environment, so we had a headquarter, and we had about 8,000 employees spread around the US and Mexico in manufacturing environments. I had a couple of people on the team, and every now and then they'd come running in, in the office and say, oh my gosh, so and so has so-and-so plant has a newsletter. What are we going to do about it? Nothing, we’re going to do nothing about it. You know? We want people to have their own channels. We want people to be doing their own communications. And I don't want to be publishing all the bowling scores and baby births and birthdays every month. They do, and that's important. We want them to continue to do that. So, even right now, there's the capital C stuff that we want to be responsible for and we want that to be as targeted and as short as possible right now. But all the other stuff that's going on, maybe we can help improve that. We can be a consultant to those managers and leaders who are doing that and help them be better at it. But what's being said, how and when and that should be up to them. Now, of course, that means some of those conversations might be cross-wise with some of the messaging that we're trying to put out. That's fine. We can correct that and we can clean that up. What we don't want to do is chill all of that, so that everything feels like it has to come from the top.

You may have five people in internal comms, or even if you have one. Let's say you have 5,000 employees in your organization, they're not going to give you 5,000 people and the internal comms team, so let those 5,000 people do all of that heavy lifting for you and be comfortable with that.

Andrea: Yeah, I agree.

Walking the tightrope of work-life balance

Jonathan: Then we have another question on meeting culture. 

“how do you drive a meeting culture for employees with young children at a neat time, to care for their children between those meetings? Too many virtual meetings in a day and having to stop to care for kids. it's not very empathetic.”

Jason: To me, that's no different a challenge than for those of us who are working in a global organization and might be located in a certain time zone, but then you have a ton of other employees who are in other time zones. You schedule a meeting that works for wherever it is you are and for those people, it's the middle of the night. I think in those instances if there are different meetings that need to happen, you need to take into account that people have different schedules. Now, it's not that we're working from home, it’s that we are home now, and we are trying to work. That's two totally different things. If there are times during the day when typically some people can't join, that's fine.

Set up multiple times during the day when these meetings can happen. It may take three or four meetings when you used to have one, but that's okay. I mean, that's the only way you're going to get everybody. 

Andrea: Yeah, I was doing some reading this morning, and I read that there are 10,000 books on managing people virtually. The reason for that was because it's not an easy thing to do. What you need to do is support managers and clarify expectations, clarify the kind of expectations across the board. What do we as a company expect? What you should be focusing on is helping people do their best work, and connecting with people, instead of how many meetings are you having. If meetings aren't working for people, maybe there's another way. Maybe you have one meeting, and then you do the rest collaboratively. In my company, we were a virtual team, and we use a collaboration tool that allows us to collaborate, and it doesn't matter when we're working.

So exploring new tools, supporting managers, and making sure that there are clear expectations would be how I would solve that. 

Jason: Yeah, that's a great point. You know, some people, particularly right now, if they're wanting to do their best work, that might be between, five in the morning and seven in the morning. And it might be between ten at night and midnight because that's when they have some distraction-free time. They can actually devote to thinking and innovating, and doing all of the things that they're responsible for. That's fine. And you know what? That might've been how it was long before this fires, but we kept trying to just kind of box them into an eight to five kind of job, but now they're free to do it the way they know it can be done. In the way they want to work.

Those types of behaviors, and that type of culture change and transition is exactly what we're going to need for whatever it is that’s next. Instead of focusing so much on the structure, let's focus on removing as much of that as possible so that we're getting the results that we want whenever they come. Not necessarily between eight and five. 

Andrea: Trusting that people are trying to do that. I'm a firm believer that people don't wake up in the morning and go to work to do a bad job, or stay at home and work to do a bad job. People are trying to do their best. 

Jason: Yeah. 

The well-being centered workplace

Jonathan:  We have a question that centers around some of the work you've been doing now. I'm very curious to hear this. Dariann asks

"Are you seeing any companies creating support groups to help people who are struggling with higher levels of stress at this time? If yes, can you speak to some of the set up of that.”

Andrea: That is the example where there’s a peer group or creating a buddy system. But I think a lot of companies are putting some wellness, like making sure that wellness support is available. One company that's part of my mastermind group, their HR team and their wellness group has been pumping out lots of material for people and they were a bit worried that it was too much.

I said, well, see how it lands and find out from people if it's the right material or what. But there's, there's nothing like being able to pick up the phone or jump on a call like this and just talk to someone. But there are other people with anxiety, or prone to depression, or have other things going on in their lives. They're going to need help and support. 

Jason: I know a lot of organizations typically have employee assistance programs as part of their benefits. Those are fantastic ways to refer to employees, for one-on-one type counseling. That's typically part of the benefits plan, and not usually an additional cost on top of that. The second thing I've seen that works really well, that one client was doing long before all of this - they implemented a white space Wednesday. Which means during every Wednesday, no meetings, no meetings of any kind, no webinars, no small group huddles, no nothing. It's white space. Wednesday you've got all day. To do what you normally do without any of those types of distractions. And that helps a lot with the stress. The third thing I've seen come up recently is, there have been certain situations where actual employees have been impacted by coronavirus and their family members, and other employees become aware of that. Then, they want to do something to help them. And typically organizations have like community relations funds, but legally, usually, you can only use those funds to give to certain sorts of tax-exempt organizations. So what they've done is creating an alternate fund where employees can then fund that themselves.

The company can match it if they want to. That fund can be used to distribute to employees themselves who have been impacted by this. So you keep the sanctity of the legal structure of your CSR stuff, but you create another type of fund that you can dip into when employees want to help fellow employees who are going through this.

Andrea: I think you need to equip managers too and make sure that managers are just checking in with people. Like, how are you doing? Are you okay? Is there anything I can do to help you? Maybe creating a meeting in a box to support managers to be able to do that.

Have that conversation once a week or every day. I do it with my friends now, and my sister, like, how are you doing? Are you okay? Some people will just open up and the flood gates will come, you know? 

Jason: Yeah. I think in that instance, we kind of put our HR hats on and just think, okay, if somebody opens up, maybe they do need some help and give them some different avenues for where to get that.

I think a lot of managers, supervisors, and leaders, to a certain extent, default to what are you doing. Instead of how are you doing? so it started out with how are you doing? And then get to the what. But don't start it out with a what are you doing? We all know what we're supposed to be doing. Most important right now is how are you doing.

Andrea: Yeah. I'm a big advocate of listening, so making sure that employee's voices are heard, and that you're demonstrating that you're hearing their concerns, and  that you’re doing something about it. Not just having a suggestion box in the corner.

It's important that you're actively listening, that you create the psychological safety so people will open up, and ask those hard questions is super important. 

Jason: One thing we've done in the past is along those very same lines. HR is like,  don't over-survey people. Nobody has time for that.

So we were like, what can we do? What we wanted to do is just some regular pulse checking. What we ended up doing was building a little widget on their home page of the intranet, and it was just a slider that says: “how are you feeling today?”. On the one end it’s terrible, and on the other end, it’s great. They can slide it to decide how they're feeling, and when they do, and hit submit, that creates this beautiful orb around what the mood is in the organization at that particular moment. It's an easy, easy way to judge how people are feeling. Not whether they're engaged, not whether they're doing their job. It's not meant to measure that. It’s meant to measure the mood of the organization at that moment. And that can give you some real insight into if people are really stressed, or they feel a little more comfortable and where the organization falls. 

The future of Internal Comms

Jonathan: Awesome. We are almost out of time. Maybe we should just organize another one. We will see about this. Please. we will keep you all up to date. I'm going to end with a question that was asked before the event even started. Sanskriti. She reached out to me and asked me to press this question upon you. So, it's actually very broad and I think it ties into everything that we spoke of.

“Now that everything here has happened, what do you think the future of internal communication holds for us?”

Andrea: Do you want to try that one first? 

Jason: I mean, there's a myriad of things. To me, the most important thing is that it doesn't feel like we're going to have to keep answering the question about the value that we provide to the organization. Now it is totally and readily apparent. The value that we provide to the organization, both the capital C stuff we do and the lower case C stuff that we make sure is happening. Because none of that would be going on right now if it wasn't for internal communications. Leaning on our managers, leaders, our IT teams, our operations teams, HR and all of our partners to make sure all of that is happening.

To me, the most exciting thing to come out of this is a true understanding of the value of internal communications. Whether we're in the middle of a crisis or it was just a normal, regular day. 

Andrea: I agree. Like this webinar is appropriately named “The rise of internal communications”, and I believe that.

It's really clear now what the role is, and how we can help. I'm excited frankly about that. I think we'll have leaders who are more open to suggestions, who are more apt to listen to us. And we'll have employees who are thankful that we're here to help.

Jonathan: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. I think that the future of internal columns will be bright. I think that we will have more of an understanding that our contribution to an organization is indirect, not necessarily direct. That's not a bad thing. There just needs to be an understanding of what we need to be better at articulating this. I think that now we're much more visible, so that's easier to do. I think that we will be more structured in the future as well. 

I can already hint that we're doing something exciting around that for which we've also received help from, Jason and Andrea. So, stay tuned. I want to thank everybody for joining us. our audience has been absolutely wonderful. Thank you for giving each other tips. 

Thank you all so much. Goodbye.

Andrea: Bye everyone. 

Jason: Bye.

Author:

Kevin Barrera

Date:

Thu, Apr 23, '20

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