Last week I attended a conference with the Institute of Internal Communications. Of course, we talked about Covid and the profound impact it’s had on the nature of comms. For one, the conference was virtual. Working from home means that your internal comms is more important than ever, as every interaction you have with you colleagues or manager now fall under the comms remit.
Sense of community
The sense of community we have in our workplaces is built on chat, impromptu conversations, and the familiarity of having our co-workers in sight. You could always tell if your colleague was having a difficult day by their body language and facial expression, and drop by their desk for a chat and a catch-up. If that colleague is working from home, problems can go unnoticed. Now that most of us are working from home at least some of the time, it can be a lot harder to manage your team.
Informal internal comms
Cue internal comms. Since we’re not seeing our colleagues in person, internal comms has had to absorb those informal management roles, such as chat, jokes, checkups, and casual one-to-ones. In the good old days, comms was a more formal medium of keeping your team up to date with company news, whereas wellbeing and pastoral care was conducted in person, with a more human touch. The move to working from home has blocked this latter route, leaving comms to incorporate all this pastoral care role. This means that internal comms has had to adopt that “human touch” that’s now missing from our working lives.
What does this mean in practice?
Change of tone needed
First of all, the tone needs to change. While there’s still a place for formal emails, your new forms of internal comms should reflect the impersonal nature of conversations that they’re replacing. Platforms such as Slack are stepping in to replace that “water-cooler” chit-chat and allow colleagues to talk about things other than work. Similarly, Zoom offers a substitute for face-to-face interaction with their video calls.
Since lockdown, the phenomenon of “Zoom-fatigue” is a real issue, with a lot of office workers dealing with back-to-back Zoom meetings. It’s important that managers also schedule fun, informal Zoom meetings. Perhaps a quiz or a debate, something to get the team talking to each other about something other than work, even if it’s for thirty minutes a day.
Ultimately, with employees’ wellbeing out of sight, it shouldn’t be out of mind. Managers need to ensure that their internal comms are covering the face-to-face pastoral care that we’re all missing out on through the lockdown.
With the new English lockdown, this is an issue that will continue and come even more important to face up to.
The main focus that I took away from the event was that we all need to look after our mental wellbeing as well as our health. Speak to your friends, colleagues and managers. Don’t be afraid to tell them that ‘You are not ok!’