One of the key takeaways of the past 16-months is that work from home is no longer a perk, but rather the future for many businesses. The hybrid workplace, where employees are co-located and have the ability to work remotely, is a hot topic, particularly with employees. A recent survey from SHRM revealed that 52% of respondents would like to continue to work remotely forever while 35% would accept a pay cut to work from home.
The shift to hybrid working means that companies have the opportunity to reset the workplace culture in many ways. But the tenets of pre-pandemic employee engagement have not changed. Communication continues to be the key to ensuring alignment and building company culture. Here are four recommendations we’re making to clients.
Conduct a health check for online collaboration tools
When the pandemic hit, businesses moved quickly to stand up collaboration tools that would keep employees connected and working productively. As hybrid workplaces evolve towards permanency, now is the time to assess how these tools are working and if remote workers have the right support and infrastructure for the long haul. If you don’t know how well they are working, survey employees now.
Create consistent person-to-person connections
Whether through group or individual online sessions, every remote employee should have a regular touchpoint with his/her manager. This ensures understanding of expectations and opportunities for feedback. Engagement lags when employees think their manager does not know, or care, what they do. Consistent interaction helps to build pride and performance.
Reimagine employee onboarding
The first 90 days in a new role is a pivotal time that can set up an employee for success or failure. Learning a new role while working remotely can feel isolating. Put practices in place to ensure the new employee understands the role, who to go to for support, and where to learn about the mission and culture of your workplace. Show your team personality with online Welcome party or a Hi There kit with company swag. Most importantly, give the new hire something to do and help prepare them to contribute.
Make recognition visible
The days of bringing everyone together for cake to celebrate a win or a milestone may be gone, but don’t skimp on saying thank you. Research indicates that when employees feel recognized and valued, they tend to be more satisfied, are more productive, and are more likely to engage with the rest of the team. Reevaluate your company recognition program with a lens on remote workers so that everyone knows their contributions are celebrated.
During graduation season, you can count on speakers, the profound and the superficial (I’m looking at you reality show celebs), to make a connection. Their goal is to inspire others to reflect or take action or celebrate.
As leaders and communicators, we’re also looking for a spark to lift and embolden us in our work. Here are some of our favorite quotes. Take a break from Zoom call fatigue and use them to jumpstart your storytelling and communications.
“Waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress.”
“I believe in the power of storytelling because stories open our hearts to a new place, which opens our minds, which often leads to action.”
“Be unafraid to be completely you, and accept all those other individuals you meet as they are.”
“Before dreaming about the future or making plans, you need to articulate what you already have going for you—as entrepreneurs do.”
“Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head.”
“Failure is not something to be ashamed of; it’s something to be powered by. Failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on. You got to learn to make failure your fuel.”
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
“As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.”
February is Black History Month, a time to reflect, celebrate and learn about the heritage and significant contributions of Black Americans. Although many businesses are operating in work from home settings, there are many ways to engage employees in programming and spark meaningful conversations about racial justice that extend well past February.
Educate and spark dialog. Host a conversation series with guest speakers on topics such as Black culture, trailblazers and social justice. Encourage all employees to live your corporate values by educating themselves on racial injustice. Invite Black leaders within your company to share their career stories and talk about leadership development.
Connect and engage. Establish Employee Resource Groups, employee-led organizations focused on fostering an inclusive workplace and aligning with business objectives. ERGs are a powerful tool in employee retention, engagement, and development of future leaders.
Involve employees in brand and internal storytelling. Do your communication channels, recruiting and marketing materials look as diverse as your employee population? Employees are the most credible brand ambassadors, both internally and externally. Create new ways to showcase your employees and their stories.
Start a Leadership Book Club. Use the Lean In model as a template for a Company Book Club. Select at book, and create a company-wide reading event culminating with a moderated discussion with a company leader. Looking for inspiration? Here are some amazing books:
How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson
“Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement” by John Lewis and Michael D’Orso
The NAACP offers guidelines on what brands can do for Black History Month . This includes focused recruiting efforts of diverse leaders, supporting diversity and inclusion programs within your business and engaging with local social justice organizations.
As businesses across the country begin to reopen following Covid-19, employees will need to feel safe and understand what to expect in new ways of working. While some businesses have extended telecommuting through the summer, that’s not an option for everyone. If you decide to reopen your business, here are some strategies to keep in mind.
Make Safety Visible
For employees to focus on their jobs, they must feel safe. Federal and state agencies have issued guidance on safe practices, including social distancing, frequent hand washing, and cleaning and sanitizing of workspaces. But these are mostly voluntary. Show employees that you care by communicating safety procedures at your business. Make it inescapable: posters, signage, emails, intranet pop-ups. Provide personal protective equipment at no cost to employees. Review and update your telecommuting policies. Ensure your managers practice and encourage uptake of new well-being processes.
The new normal is going to be confusing for a while. That’s why it’s so important that the business leadership is aligned, communicates proactively, and walks the talk. Train front-line managers on new working practices and talk about what you expect from them. The manager who doesn’t comply will be very easy to identify. Ensure there are two-way communication channels so that employees can surface issues and obtain rapid responses. Use pulse surveys to identify issues that are creating concerns. Now is the time to be visible, encouraging, and also transparent about the business challenges and what how employees can help.
Support Mental Health
Six months ago most people could not imagine daily life during a global pandemic. Unfortunately, now we all can. Your employees may have experienced the virus themselves, lost a loved one, know a friend or family member who is unemployed, or struggled with isolation or family issues. Now is the time for empathy. Show it in your leadership communications and encourage managers and supervisors to do the same. Emphasize the availability of counseling benefits or Employee Assistance Programs. Make it easy to ask for help.
There is not one prevailing roadmap through these challenging times, but employees want to hear from you. Communicate and manage sensitively. Be human.
By now, some of us have been working from home, sheltering in place for six weeks and it’s not clear when we’ll return to work as we experienced it before. Unprecedented is too small a word to use to describe the toll: 2.7 million coronavirus cases globally and 26 million Americans have filed jobless claims.
Now more than ever, communications from company leadership is key to building trust and maintaining focus. In many businesses, leaders are working around the clock to determine a path forward. Proactively communicating with employees must be part of that strategy. Here are some practical tips to keep your team members connected and focused.
1. Start with Compassion
Many of your employees have been affected by the virus. Whether impacted personally by illness, caring for family or friends, supervising home schooling, or taking care of children, everyone is dealing with something. Be concerned about employees’ and health and safety. Direct them to Employee Assistance Programs and other company-sponsored benefits. Provide a sincere thank you to everyone keeping things moving for the business and your customers. Be human and sincere.
2. Be Clear about the Way Forward
Things are bad everywhere and everyone knows it. Communicate the steps being taken to preserve the health of your business. Identify the biggest challenges and what the leadership team is doing to address them. Be positive about what is working well. Ask everyone to encourage and support colleagues and customers, in ways big and small. Show pride and share stories of how your people support the community and each other.
3. Empower Two-Way Communication
People consume information in different ways, so use all the channels available to your business. Resources like blogs, email, video, and the company intranet are effective, but also provide a way to collect and encourage feedback from team members. Make it easy to access. Ask for ideas on redeploying resources, increasing efficiency, and creatively solve problems. When employees feel heard, they perform well.
4. Lean on Line Managers
This is the time for your line managers to shine. While online town halls and video conferencing from leaders are essential to provide clarity, the most credible source is the manager. Prepare managers with talking points so the message is clear and consistent.
A recent conversation with a smart, successful corporate leader has me still shaking my head. He was reflecting on the lack of urgency and so-so performance of some of their teams. “They just don’t get it,” he said. “I don’t know how we can get through to them.” It doesn’t take the investigative powers of Sherlock Holmes to identify a disconnect between the business strategy and employee performance. The failure here is not on the part of the employees, it’s the communications strategy. Sustained communications remind everyone of what you’re trying to achieve together. Here are three frequent internal communication fails and how to fix them:
No consistent communications Without communications, employees create their own narrative. No matter what channel works best for your business, choose a communications timetable and stick to it. Ad hoc doesn’t work. The message doesn’t need to be long, or over-produced. Sometimes an update, or a checklist or outlook for the next 30 days is enough. When weeks and months go by without a message from the leader, don’t expect employees to think things are OK.
No clarity on the big picture According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 44 hours per week, or 8.8 hours per day. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was focused on the same goals? A survey by Weber Shandwick found that only four in 10 employees can describe what their employer does and only 37% know the company’s goals. Ugh! Leaders must be relentless in connecting people to purpose by clearly communicating the company purpose, mission and goals. Just when you’re sick of talking about it, you’re reaching someone for the first time.
Relying on email as your go-to channel We’ve been talking about the death of email as an effective internal communications tool forever, but the dominance of millennials in the workplace should finally do it in. Every generation has a communication preference and the future is digital. If you’re relying on email to communicate with employees, you’ve got a problem. Add other channels to your communications mix and consider cloud-based products like Slack, GSuite or Microsoft teams.
When iTunes debuted 18 years ago, it was a radical concept. Don’t buy the whole album; pay 99 cents for
the one song you like. Get a thousand songs in your pocket!
Apple made the announcement this month that it would move to
three individual dedicated apps for music, podcasts and TV. Users can maintain
their iTunes libraries and choose to subscribe to Apple Music. Pundits agreed
it was the right move, even though it’s the end of an era.
Think about your business communications: what channels or practices do you need to put
the brakes on?
Sometimes we stick with a communications process or channel
because it’s comfortable. It’s worked in
the past. It’s a no brainer to produce
it. But it takes a bit of courage to
realize that what worked before isn’t working now or is not sustainable in the
future. Change can be unsettling, but
it’s also troubling to find out your newsletter or intranet or CEO blog is
ineffective because it has no audience.
If you’re like us, you’re always looking for ways to get your message across in a new, unique, and interesting way. One communication channel that you might not have considered is video. Video is fast becoming the preferred channel for internal audiences because it’s the way we all consume information. Some news outlets have moved exclusively to video content and most include a video with any written content they publish. Today’s workforce has become accustomed to learning and acquiring information through video content.
Many of your colleagues are visual learners and video content helps simplify complex information and drives engagement when you communicate your message. Think about it. Which is more appealing– an email memo from the CEO or a quick 3-5 minute video where he or she speaks directly to your employees?
Research shows that people remember more of what they see and hear than what they read. Video grabs your attention and is more engaging than plain text. Seizing and retaining your audience’s attention is crucial. When you have their attention, they’ll retain the message.
Here are some options to consider when implementing videos into your Internal Communications strategy:
Online training videos or tutorials
Monthly or quarterly updates from your leaders
Announcement videos for new programs or initiatives
Recognition videos for company milestones or exemplary achievements
Employee interviews and testimonials
Videos of companywide events, such a community service day or group activity
Now you might be thinking, “I’m not a technical person” or “That would be too difficult to implement,” but it really isn’t. New technology has simplified video creation, editing and sharing to the point where anyone can do it.
Keep your videos short with a clear message. There are really no limits or restrictions to how you incorporate video content into your company’s communication plan. Think outside the box and see what ideas you can come up with.
Looking forward to some time off this summer? While you’re relaxing at the beach or enjoying an early start to the weekend with Summer Fridays, make time to sharpen your skills. Each of these books listed below will help you become a more effective communicator and leader.
Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace and the Will to Change, Jennifer Brown
This book could not be more timely. Every successful business must ensure that all employees experience a welcoming work environment where they can perform at their best and are challenged to grow. Jennifer shares best practices and business cases that inclusion is an opportunity to make your business better. Share the book with peers at your business and start a conversation.
Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy
You may know Amy from her viral TED Talk where she contends that adopting a power pose, like Wonder Woman, can actually make feel more confident. Her book expands on this premise with practical tips for anyone who has to pitch themselves or their ideas. If you think of a witty retort after the moment passes, this book is for you.
Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Great Presentations, Nancy Duarte
Raise your hand if you’ve sat through presentations that include 50+ slides. For years I wrapped this book up as a holiday gift to clients, hoping they would read it and realize you don’t have to put paragraphs on slides. Nancy Duarte has carved out a unique niche as a presentation expert. If that doesn’t seem very exciting, consider that within corporations, presentations are the most used channel for delivering information. This book will help you strategize the story, content, and flow to impact and influence your audience.
Sell with a Story, Paul Smith
We can all agree that storytelling is a powerful communications tool. But it takes practice to create stories that instruct, inspire and ignite action. Smith provides fascinating examples on you can take even the most technical, data-driven content and fashion a memorable story.
We recently prepared a presentation for a client that had more than 100 slides…for a one hour meeting. Do the math: If you calculate time for introductions and leave even five minutes at the end for questions, that’s a pace of two slides per minute during the presentation. A blistering pace.
Then consider the content on the slides: lots of words, tables, and occasional graphics. Typeface size was 18 to 28 point. You get the picture. The intent was to hammer home thousands of ideas and facts. The client could not be swayed. They needed every one of these slides to deliver a successful presentation. They just wanted us to “make it pretty.”
I wish I could say we used our magical powers of persuasion to enlighten them to use a strategically messaged, visually compelling presentation. Didn’t happen. I did wonder what it was like in the room for the audience… and the presenter. I imagine they were both exhausted when it was over.
Presenters often start with a bunch of slides and try to cram them into a narrative—and it shows. The most effective presentations look simple because they were planned that way.
When your objective is to communicate, educate or influence, the most important work starts with the result in mind:
What is the point you’re trying to make or what must the audience learn?
Why is it important to the audience?
What story can you use to bring the material to life?
What do you want them to do with the information?
Every presentation should tell a story or take the audience on a journey. This applies even if you’re sharing quarterly returns (some of the most important stories). Once you identify your objective, develop the slides that are clear and compelling. Be concise. Use as little text as possible. Because you don’t want them to be reading your slides, you want them to be listening to you.
Then practice, practice, practice. The more comfortable you are with the information, the less you’ll need to rely on slides. Your audience will be grateful.