Strong connections: communications in a crisis
Communication is crucial for connection and this has never been more true than in the current environment, according to employee engagement firm Reward Gateway. Inflexion was delighted to host a webinar with the firm, a former portfolio company, about amending communications in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“It was the steepest learning curve of my career,” says Catrin Lewis, Head of Global Engagement and Internal Communications at Reward Gateway, talking about March 2020. With a global staff of 420, coronavirus was affecting different offices at different stages, from Australia to the US and from the UK to Portugal and Bulgaria.
The firm maintained its extant communication schedule – which had a different team member owning a message each day – but put the leadership team front and centre and started using video. “Now every communication is focused on Covid-19.” ‘Mission Monday’ remained focused on reflecting on the previous week to make the one ahead a success, though now the leadership team collaborate on the Friday before to discuss how the week had been and to agree consistent messaging. ‘Feel Good Friday’ was still intended to be about People – however now there was a focus across all these meetings on Covid-19 and with a united leadership voice.
Though working from home can feel unstructured, it needn’t mean connection breaks down. “We still want social cohesion, and a bit of shared structure helps people feel more together. We added It’s OK to Play, encouraging employees to share different activities.” This includes Games on Mondays, Cookery on Tuesdays, Quizzes on Wednesdays, Desert Island Discs on Thursdays and online yoga on Fridays.
Throughout the Covid-19 crisis it is crucial to remember the emotional side of staff. Engagement is, after all, about feeling a connection to a company’s mission and part of something. Which can be harder when the team is siloed owing to social distancing. “I want to make sure I’m facilitating connection between people,” Catrin says. To that end the company has set up a number of measures to help keep the team connected (see box).
Overall, Catrin’s steep learning curve has generated some valuable lessons. “It’s largely about maintaining daily connection for both online and offline staff. You also need to define the principles that will guide your comms strategy. A united leadership team equates to stronger support for your people, and it’s not just about business-to-employee but creating employee-to-employee conversation.” To ensure all of this flows, management need to listen to feedback, plan their consistent messaging, and then act on tasks.
Her concluding remarks give us hope and wonder in equal measure: the firm has started a Back to Work program. “Because what about when we can go back into work together? We need to think about that adjustment.”
There are, Catrin explains, three key objectives for emergency risk communications. These are safety and welfare of all employees, ensuring business continuity and preventing further escalation. These should remain the paramount focus throughout all communications. “There is a lot of noise out there, so if content causes you any doubt, refer to these objectives to guide you as to whether your words are wise or waffle. It is important to ensure your communications are timely and relevant.”
Maintaining connectivity when working virtually
- Virtual drop-in sessions where people can ‘come in’ if they want to chat.
- Pick up the phone and call people to keep your ear to the ground on how people are doing. You could be the first person that someone speaks to.
- Buddy systems can help keep up with people in other teams. Reward Gateway uses Donut-time to facilitate.
- Lunchtime connects can be a fun way to be social and share where you work.
- Informal stand-ups that focus on project and task work can replace regular face-to-face meetings.
- Network for parents helping working parents to share best practice