The Gatehouse Blog

Covid-19 Crisis Comms Webinar – Question and Answer

Below are a series of questions and answers taken from the webinars we ran around the response to our Covid-19 crisis comms poll. The poll asked communicators to share with us the challenges they were facing during the crisis. Off the back of the poll we produced an infographic which you can view here. We also recorded one of the webinars which you can watch back here.

The report states that 94% of respondents want to develop a deeper ‘connection’ with employees. Is this based on overall engagement or purely on the availability of open channel/communication with their line managers and/or leaders?

Overall engagement, though it’s obviously intricately linked to the channels of communication – in fact, 91% say the policies and actions we have adopted in this crisis (e.g. working from home) will have a long-term impact on interpersonal relationships and collaboration practices, with a clear impact on the sense of connection and trust people have with their employer, their comms team, and each other.

What methods are people using to collect and share feedback from their employees?

This wasn’t covered in the specific context of the covid poll, but we have lots of data on this in our State of the Sector 2020. What we have seen with this poll is that collecting and sharing employee feedback is less of a priority for organisations now than prior to the start of the crisis, hence usage of some channels will have decreased from when we conducted the State of the Sector research.

Do you have insight in the report on personal concerns of IC professionals about possible role reductions across the IC function? And how that may be affecting people’s resilience?

Only 5% believe that a long-term impact will be restructuring the IC function, which echoes findings that comms professionals are feeling quite confident overall, and valued by their employer. Time will tell, but generally speaking IC functions seem to be powering on effectively and are recognised by their employer for doing so. Though they’re still not at the stage where they’re heavily involved in business decisions, our belief is that most employers acknowledge that internal communications have a key role to play in keeping people across the organisation informed, engaged and aligned to the business strategy throughout the crisis.

Do you think the nature of different industries changes the priorities for IC teams? For example healthy and safety is one of the main topics for key workers and obviously the pandemic has meant that this is even more of a focus for those IC teams – what have respondents said on this?

Absolutely. We don’t have much data on this from this particular poll, as it was a short one, however our audits show than even in non-crisis times, the topics which are important from one organisation to the next differ. Organisations where there is more of a risk to employees, for instance construction, waste management, etc, place a higher emphasis on health and safety than banking and insurance.

Did Zoom feature on list of channels?

No, the focus was on digital ‘hubs’ in the survey, however our experience running community calls in the past few weeks has shown that Zoom is another popular channel, which is typically used either in addition to or in place of Microsoft Teams.

What prospects do you see for interim / freelance IC practitioners?

We predict the demand for interim IC professionals to rise during the next 3 months as organisations plan the return to some sort of office life. Re-engaging and re-onboarding employees into the office environment, change programmes such as organisational restructures, and digital transformation activity will all be high priorities. In addition, IR35 regulation being delayed until at least April 2021 should have a positive effect on the day rate interim market particularly.

How will companies address big events traditionally core to engagement e.g. management / sales conferences and strategic engagement events?

Companies will look to use technology better. Budgets for some of these types of events will be reduced. When these events do go ahead, we’d expect to see lot more pre and post engagement happening.

On post-crisis planning: how can we motivate employees through IC activities? Many colleagues see the essential work of key workers, we face a challenge in helping office-based workers make their work seem meaningful and of societal value.

Find great stories in your organisation, find the people that are doing good and stories on how your business is adding to society. These can be divided into 3 areas; Colleagues, Community and Clients also; if you can link the day job to the contribution the firm is making to a wider economy that also helps.

One of the issues in the MENA region is the providing toolkits that are budget-friendly, especially for companies that have had their financial budgets cut – What are some non-traditional ideas of presenting toolkits/guidance to such organisations/IC individuals?

Videos seem to be a big hit now, rather than decks to share and use in team meetings. Videos are easy to use, when the content is delivered well and supported with written supporting material it can work really well.

I’d like to know the mobile messaging apps that respondents indicated as effective/popular in the survey?

The specific apps weren’t featured in this particular research, but the two most prominent that we’ve seen in the context of audits are SMS (mainly used in teams or in the context or organisation-wide ’emergency alerts’) and Whatsapp (frequently adopted unofficially by teams to begin with, however organisations are attempting to appropriate the channel for themselves – similar to news organisations, some are sending out news updates on one-way conversations, currently we’re seeing some of our clients considering the use of Whatsapp to keep furloughed employees who wish to continue receiving some information up-to-date…)

I’m curious to know if mental health specifically factored into the data – I saw the point about content focused on health and well-being, was mental health part of that?

Mental health is the most important facet of all – 92% of those who are promoting wellbeing are specifically undertaking actions to promote mental health.

What do you recommend IC professionals do about the perennial problem of leadership making decisions and not giving IC enough advance notice?

Get closer, demonstrate the value of IC to the leaders during this time of crisis. More importantly, think like them and get on the same page. That way when they ask you to do something, you’ve already played the scenario out.

I’m wondering if the wellbeing topic is the only focus that companies are communicating (maybe I missed something). What about numbers, strategy for the future, impact of the crisis in the industry/company? Shouldn’t this be an opportunity to be more transparent?

Wellbeing is currently the number one priority for organisations to communicate, however it is closely followed by the long-term impact of the crisis on the organisation and its people. This differs from the start of the COVID-19 crisis, when the top 2 topics which were communicated were, communicating the impact of governmental decisions on our organisation and employees, and communicating any updates to your policies. The topics are ever-changing as the crisis unfolds, but currently we’re seeing a stronger emphasis on supporting employees’ wellbeing in difficult times and helping them to plan for the future by talking about long-term impacts on the organisation.

How would you persuade senior leadership that line managers need to be involved more?

The State of the Sector 2020 showed that around 19 in 20 communicators think line managers are ‘very’ visible in their organisations – which proves the influence line managers can exert. What’s more, benchmarking data from the audits we conduct for our clients show that, in many organisations, line manager communications such as team meetings are among the top three ‘preferred’ and ‘most useful’ channels for retrieving organisational information. These statistics should help to prove the potential line managers have as communications champions. That said, to truly persuade senior leaders to invest more into line managers, specific data from inside your organisations, preferably linked to tangible metrics like productivity levels, absenteeism, retention, may prove more meaningful. We’d also advise incorporating some storytelling into the strategy to elevate line managers (as well as to elevate the IC team’s standing) – success stories can be extremely powerful.

How transparent should a company be about what it’s going through? Should it be positive to a degree, rather than totally focused on negative?

Transparency is important but it has to be at the right point in time. It’s more about explaining the decisions rather than the decisions themselves. Employees are people and people need hope, so you should find areas where there is hope and bring those stories to life.

Any advice to reengage employees after a sort of “back to work”?

Consult, listen and consult again. Reconnect people with the organisational purpose and give them space to feel themselves back to work.