As many businesses prepare a return to the office, a new wave of internal communications is approaching. Are you ready to bring people together again, not just physically but emotionally too?.
How are your colleagues feeling as working-life changes once more? How are you feeling about it?
As a sporadic remote worker of seven years, the lockdown challenges of working from home have not been too taxing for me. Admittedly, I enjoy the office environment at Target very much – creative conversation with colleagues, the chance to socialise and to muse over the news of the day. As human beings we can thrive through engagement with others, as we absorb and share energies. There is something invigorating about positive face-to-face contact and the throwing around of ideas and thoughts, especially in my world of PR and communications.
Home working requires a certain discipline, and for some the lockdown may have been difficult not having been present in the office environment that they are used to. Extroverts, particularly, will have found it tough not being with colleagues. Introverts, on the other hand, may well have flourished. It can all be dependent upon your home working circumstances and environment, of course.
Information and inspiration
As lockdown rules are eased, there is a wealth of information for colleagues to absorb right now, and much of it is practical and fact-based. There will be legalities and HR issues to consider, alongside medical and personal circumstances. In all reality, the return to the office environment is not going to be ‘one size fits all’, and for some this may not even happen just yet, so ‘the return’ is certainly going to require some flexibility and fluidity, within government, HR and work guidelines.
Information overload can be problematic, so try to keep messaging short, visual where possible, and brief, signposting people towards more detailed information if necessary. People will need clarity and consistency on these practical protocols.
But there’s need for two-way communication too, that involves and inspires confidence. Perhaps colleagues have ideas that work for them and they can inspire others to begin to change or adapt to the situation? Invite, listen to, and consider how to act upon people’s suggestions – they’ll know their own work routines better than anyone.
Much of internal communications, regardless of the situation, is about engaging with colleagues and staff to make sure they feel invested, heard and informed – even more so with the post-lockdown return to work. There’s likely to be a certain amount of stress and anxiety with the re-opening of workspaces for many employees and the process for this return will need to be communicated carefully and sensitively. As communications professionals, Target would always advise mapping out a strategy and plan, so that you can be confident of covering all bases while focusing attention where the business most requires it.
Adapting and supporting
Among your teams, each person will have had a different lockdown experience – some may have been furloughed and others may have continued working; some will still be home-schooling; some may be supporting family members who are clinically vulnerable. There will be a degree of sharing of lockdown highs and lows, and each person will return to work with a different energy.
Some staff will need their excitement and commitment to the work environment reignited and there may be ‘buddies’ or key players in the team who can help and support them through this. For everyone the return to work will be a learning experience and, as it was during the transition when we entered lockdown, everyone will find their own way of adapting.
Staff wellbeing will be paramount and if internal communications is done effectively it can alleviate some concerns, allow staff to have a voice, and provide a channel for answers to be discovered. Everyone from the CEO down will have a chance to reflect and reconnect with each other and, ultimately, move forward with staff and the business’s goals at the forefront.
Revamping your internal communications
Internal communications can be a great support network for staff if approached in the right way. It can unite, offer focus, and create a genuine sense of goal sharing.
In many cases, the biggest criticism from employees is that they say they ‘didn’t know’ what was happening. Keeping staff informed and involved at this time is paramount, and that’s why it may well be just the time to focus on and revamp your internal communications.
Everyone responds to communications differently and staff are sometimes the hardest audience to convince. With everyone’s circumstances being different, it is vital that all internal communications options are covered. Now is the time to really focus on what you’re saying to staff (be relevant/what do you want to achieve), how you’re saying it (tone of voice), by what medium (so many choices), and think about how they are receiving this information (connecting with your audience).
“Leadership is the ability to facilitate movement in the needed direction and have people feel good about it,” writes three-time New York Times bestselling author, Tom Smith. Leaders often focus their energy on that first part. But making people feel good about it? That’s the tricky part.
An internal communications strategy, plan and campaign that aims to unite, involve and motivate staff can truly help cultivate engagement, happiness, and purpose in the workplace. And, right now, staff are going to need all the support they can get to help the business survive; after all, an organisation’s people can be its greatest asset.
Water cooler moments
Finally, let’s not forget those all-important water cooler moments where staff just want to hang out and chat for a few moments. Give a little leeway as people meet again. This is going to be an old form of human interaction and communication restyled with a ‘more-than-a-metre apart’ approach. But these reconnections and chances to share each other’s tales of what happened and how they are moving on from it are a fundamentally important part of internal communications, because this is where inter-departmental friendships are made. Where support networks are formed. Where togetherness flourishes. And, sometimes, this is where the great ideas happen.