The Big Reconnect
After 18 months of webinars and aspirational beach Zoom backgrounds, we brought together a group of internal communicators across industries to share stories, develop ideas and snack on popcorn. This is The Big Reconnect.
Coinciding with the No Time to Die premiere, we thought there was no better way to kick off the Big Reconnect with a Bond themed exercise. We asked everyone what Bond film title best described their working Covid experience. The most common response – and I think many can all relate to this – was Tomorrow Never Dies. Organisations and their people have had to be more resilient than ever before, solving problems on the fly and finding innovative ways to communicate and bring the whole company together during a period of crisis.
Everyone at the Big Reconnect had their own individual experience of the pandemic, but some primary themes emerged across the day that really had an impact on all of us.
Throughout the pandemic people turned to their employer for guidance and information about Covid as the government communications became, at times, confusing and unclear. This placed a huge responsibility on the shoulders of internal communicators who had to not only get the crisis comms out to the staff, but also were accountable for the accuracy of this crucial information. Being transparent and having visible leadership was absolutely crucial, and those that got their CEOs in-front of the camera earned the trust of their people.
Trust also feeds into the success of a diverse and inclusive workspace. Certainly many organisations are now using pulse surveys and encouraging employee feedback to improve diversity and inclusion. But it’s clear that a loss of trust after many rounds of ‘information gathering’ and not so many rounds of ‘action’ leads to disengagement and difficulties with retention of underrepresented groups.
Speaking of action…
Taking a stand
Black Lives Matter. Reclaim the Streets. Insulate Britain. The last 18 months has been a period of great tragedy and thrown deep-seated social issues into the spotlight. As people ask for more from their government and leaders, there is also an increased expectation for organisations to stand by them and take a public stance. Consensus at TBR was that this is a good thing. The challenge that internal communicators must overcome is the reactive nature of content dependent on news events and finding a strategy that can convey this messaging alongside other vital comms without overwhelming the information flow.
Internal comms as a force for good
Moving away from crisis comms for a moment, there was fantastic conversation about diversity and inclusion (emphasis on ‘inclusion’). Creating an inclusive workplace requires smart communication, harnessing the power of the interpersonal relationships. The line manager is an invaluable tool as they set the tone for work culture and have contact with those hard-to-reach employees like shift workers and frontline staff. It’s also vital that internal communicators review their language to ensure it is inclusive and clear for everyone.
The democratising power of tech
Embracing technology and adapting to virtual communications provided an opportunity for organisations to be brought together – everyone can have a seat at the table when there is unlimited capacity. In the past there has been a gap between full time administrative staff and casual or shift workers, but by using technology everyone could participate in work events and was informed on what was going on. Live streaming is a great example of this. A huge unveiling or premiere is no longer reserved for the VIP, the doors are opened to all employees and they can peek behind the curtain. It’s also logistically easier and cheaper to go virtual so some changes are definitely here to stay.
An opportunity for lasting change
We’ve covered some of the major challenges, but what about the good that has come about from this major disruption? As one attendee articulately put, this is the time to cash in on ditching formality. The pandemic demanded increased visibility from senior leaders, and in the process humanised them. Suddenly the name you’re used to seeing at the bottom of an email was showing you and your colleagues around their kitchen offering a face, substance and transparency to the constant flow of difficult information. Gone were the curated, auto-cued video messages with perfect lighting and a pristine outfit. Now we had real moments of honesty and directness from our leaders.
The move to hybrid working will pose a significant challenge for communicators. Already presenteeism is starting to creep back in and when people are in the office, they’re starting to forget the people who aren’t in front of them. There is a great responsibility for internal communicators to instil good communication habits in employees that ensure there is no difference between being the person in the room and the person in their living room.
18 months after the initial lockdown, we are at a crucial point. Either organisations will be reverting to pre-pandemic habits or codifying the reactive measures that were put in place. Hopefully we can keep the positive changes made in communications, hanging on to the ‘people-first’ mentality to boost inclusivity and engagement of employees through efficient use of technology and senior leadership. If we can codify out virtual connections it will also help ease us into the hybrid world, keeping good video-call habits in place to maintain an inclusive workplace.
The Big Reconnect was just that. There was palpable joy and excitement about being together, having the opportunity to bounce ideas, hash out challenges and find cathartic relief in sharing stories with people who understand the unique challenges of internal communications in a crisis. A big thank you to everyone who attended and got involved, especially the six fantastic speakers who offered their insights on the day.