As an integrated communications agency, we provide internal communications counsel to many of our clients. While we game out different communications challenges and scenarios, going on month 10 of social distancing, work from home and other necessary precautions was not one we predicted.
I’ve read my fair share of articles on how to keep office culture alive – from Zoom happy hours and virtual trivia, to increased flexibility and extra time off (and Stratacomm is doing that). But like organizations everywhere, we are working to stave off fatigue and maintain a sense of positive company culture.
There are still things communications professionals can do to help organizations fight the general malaise many of us are feeling, especially as we head into the winter months.
- Validate. The fastest way to shut someone down is to invalidate their emotions. While we tend to focus on the positive attributes that come with a work from home environment – warm PJs and slippers on a snowy morning comes to mind – it’s also important to let people yearn for the things they miss. On your next virtual meeting with your team, don’t shy away from asking, “What’s one thing you miss about life before COVID-19?” This is a time to share challenges, not fix them – so resist the natural tendency to problem solve.
- Mix it up. Are you responsible for drafting and sending a weekly newsletter? For content, include different voices and perspectives instead of following the same formula. Spotlights, tips and quotes are all easy ways to involve others within the organization. If you lead staff meetings, the novelty of being on video has long worn off. Try to engage others to lead or contribute, bring in new elements (a round robin sharing a good thing a colleague did, a pet show-and-tell, or ask everyone to use a Parisian coffee shop backdrop – anything to break up the monotony) and be honest and transparent. Not everything will be a hit, and that’s ok. The goal is to increase engagement which always leads to a stronger culture.
- Go old school. Everything can be done digitally these days, especially communications. Instead of emailing, try sending something hardcopy. Maybe it’s a simple postcard with important upcoming dates and deadlines, or a handy list of who to contact within the organization for tech support or billing questions. It could even be just a short note telling employees you appreciate them. In the same vein, a one-on-one phone call instead of a video call is refreshing. The key is taking the effort to hand write and mail something or picking up the phone – it shows an extra layer of care and letting staff know they are worth the extra time.
While we can’t predict when our office life will return to pre-COVID activities, we can help protect and nurture our culture within this new environment. While these suggestions were written with the pandemic as a backdrop, these ideas are relevant regardless if we are face-to-face everyday or working from home or in a hybrid situation.
Sharon Hegarty is a senior vice president and senior partner, working comfortably from her home office in Michigan.