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Day-to-day work life and experience of the pandemic

The Beginning

It is fair to say the role of IC has had to adapt rapidly to the unfolding events of the last six months; a situation that has shaken the core of every business up and down the country. Put simply, the world has changed and so has the landscape of business. The need of good internal communication has never been so critical in the workplace.

What is your view on all this?

Prior to C-19, my life in comms had only one mode – autopilot. But it often involved wearing many different hats. It was not long ago I joked in the office with a colleague about 'What hat I was wearing today?' For the Harry Potter fans out there, you will be familiar with the Sorting Hat. Throw a pandemic into the mix and you have what can only be described as what feels like a Tasmanian Devil whizzing into a savage storm. When the pandemic hit, it hit hard. It marked the time to step up and support the business in a way I had never done before.

But…

As the saying goes; "We're all in this together" …and we really have been. Yet the social restrictions and government advice placed upon us have left us all feeling so, so far apart.

The early days of the pandemic consisted of trying to decipher what government ['don't go to work, go to work… don't go to work'] advice meant in practice. Gathering insights, digesting, collating and communicating the daily bombardment of information took its toll, but I knew the long-term importance of staying effective in my role.

I work in the construction industry, so not only do we have office workers (who now work at home, or remotely as we refer to it), we also have people on live construction sites – where health and safety remains critical at all times. The working environment affecting these two groups of people could not be so different. To support our people, I built a Covid-19 'area' on our intranet, where people could access relevant guidance or company policies, specific to their roles. Our site personnel also needed additional support getting to site during the height of the lockdown. As you may recall, people were often stopped by the Police if they couldn't prove their reason for leaving home – so we produced travel documentation to accompany their journey, just in case they were questioned by the authorities.

Managing the content of this guidance proved difficult as it changed almost daily. I also had to provide direct support to our executive board and senior management team; helping to cascade business critical information almost as quickly as we received it. We also used a lot of video and webinar presentations wherever possible, to help create the impression we were speaking directly to our people. Cutting through noise and reducing email traffic is a daily challenge we all face as IC professionals at the best of times, but it became even more important at the height of the pandemic. Company-wide emails was therefore reserved for COVID-branded comms only. All other forms of communication were diverted to our social media channels and online meeting platforms. We thanked our blessings having recently upgraded our operating systems to Office 365, only at the back end of last year. I have no idea how we would have functioned effectively without it!

Keeping the connection alive

In times of crisis, visible leadership is crucial. Without it, rumours and gossip can spiral out of control. We recognised early on that keeping our people calm, reassured and informed would help to dispel any misinformation circulating around the business. When the crisis began, I stated the famous Maya Angelou quote in an email to my managing director "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." This quote says it all for me, which Rachel Miller reinforced in the last edition of the Voice. If people do not feel what you say, behaviours will not change. People look for authentic leadership in times of crisis (well, all the time in fact) – they want communications delivered from the heart, with meaning and purpose. If you don't listen to the heartbeat of the organisation, you won't get the trust and loyalty from your people. Curating effective content and giving the support to our leadership teams to achieve this, was crucial.

I am learning, listening and feeling

It is far too easy to switch to autopilot and go with the all-to-familiar generic communications approach when time is of the essence – but this approach never works. You need to genuinely understand how people feel by listening to and hearing what they say. Communicating to people is not just about 'telling', but rather understanding the audience, which includes their fears, experiences and personal circumstances. We have all felt and experienced the pandemic in different ways – the way we engage with advice and information is also just as personal.

The new era of internal communication needs to address what I call the 'What Works for Us' or 'WWFU' way of working – An expression I use to highlight our new way of 'hybrid working'. Whether you're at home, on site, or the local coffee shop, internal communication needs to embrace the work-life balance, whilst paying attention to the changing landscape of our personal circumstances. People are now striving to be happier in the workplace and are looking for greater flexibility – internal communication has an important role to play in supporting this transition and the 'new normal'. Appreciating What Works for Us (or you) recognises that we are all different; different in the way we respond and engage in times of crisis, and now different in the way we all individually and collectively move forward with the 'new normal'.

The coming months will be tough, both emotionally and physically. Re-energising and healing from this crisis are critical if we are going to give our best in both our working and personal lives. Internal communication has a real part to play in helping businesses 're-balance' over the coming months, and I am exited to be playing a part in helping my business achieve just that. 

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Tuesday, 18 January 2022
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