Our new crazy lockdown world. Not only are we suffering from no gyms, shops, restaurants, bars and family visits, our work life is reduced to screen-based communication with limited human interaction….no high fives, hand-shakes and hugs. More importantly for me, as an NLP fanatic and practitioner, that means much of our ability to properly communicate is reduced as speaking through Zoom/Teams/Skype/Hangout/Whatsapp/Facetime just doesn’t give you the whole picture of non-verbal communication.
And if you’re anything like me, you’re REALLY missing it. I’m a Myers-Briggs ENTJ and that E (extrovert) is pretty extreme which means I get my energy from being around other people. Even for those ardent I’s (introverts) amongst us, face-to-face interaction is what gives us the essential bonds with our fellow humans. It is what helps us really connect with people, gain rapport, influence, understand and motivate each other.
In a world where half the meeting is taken up with “Can you hear me?”, “I think you’re on mute” “turn your camera on”, “can whoever’s got loads of background noise go on mute”… along with technical failures and the dangers of misconstrued messages, communicating with our teams right now and therefore maintaining our cultural connection is definitely one enormous challenge.
Add to this the problems of new starters, furloughed employees, the need to deliver difficult-to-hear and complex messages and never before have we needed to rely more on strong internal comms and engagement to maintain our connections.
Here are our thoughts on how to keep these connections strong.
Rely on your brand
As we spoke about last week in our blog Leaning on your brand to ride the storm, now is the time to rely on purpose and values. A brand is built around what sets it apart from the world so amplifying this in times of crisis to help navigate the storm makes complete sense. If a team is bought into the brand then decisions will be easier, leadership will naturally be more in sync and values will be helping drive the right behaviours.
Stay close to your team
Understanding the DNA of your brand will instinctively create a picture of how you want your teams to feel.
Pointedly asking how everyone is feeling about their situation, their motivation levels and instinctive behaviours will build a picture of what gaps there may be between how you want them to feel and how they are actually feeling.
This is best done with regular huddles, briefings and check-ins rather than in online surveys. Asking open questions will help allow for more verbal and non-verbal communication such as tone, facial expressions, and body language which although isn’t quite face-to-face is much more effective than any box-ticking online form.
Zoom is probably one of our main topics of conversation at the moment for obvious reasons however they are also leading the charge on culture (ranked 2nd in Forbes best companies for corporate culture last year) they are all about putting the customer first which is fuelled by the desire to bring happiness to their employees.
Close the gaps
Once there’s a temperature check of how everyone is feeling, an internal comms plan can be adapted to close those gaps. And don’t worry about over-communication. During this time of physical disconnect there really isn’t such a thing. With a range of personality types with different needs across the business it’s important to consider offering different mediums that appeal to different people with different preferences for receiving information; some visual, some big picture, some requiring intricate detail etc.
Today we’re fortunate enough that there are so many creative ways to stay connected. There are a range of ways to communicate using multiple channels such as briefings, webinars, videos, podcasts, infographics, check-ins, open forums and use of any existing channels such as intranet, email, slack, WhatsApp or Facebook for Business.
When using written communication there are a few things to consider which might come in useful. Firstly being paranoid about tone and language is a good thing. When spoken, the words are only 7% of how the message is received, the rest is made up with tone and body language. That’s why written communication can be misconstrued so easily, as the other 93% of the message is in the imagination of the reader. Being careful for example to use inclusive collective language (not “we would like to inform you” but rather “Let’s consider the latest information”). This helps remove any sense of “us v them” ie leaders vs everyone else.
The added challenge of furlough means teams could be feeling disconnected and even rejected. Stonegate Pub company have created an online platform specifically for their employees “to keep the Stonegate spirit alive”. They are looking ahead to the when ‘normality’ resumes and their teams will bounce back stronger and more positive.
Bring out the Leaders
Communication during a crisis is where the leadership team really needs to come into their own. The team will look to the leadership to be reassured/informed, inspired and motivated. The leaders of the business must let the team see the whites of their eyes during this time; to hear regularly from them as to how the business is coping, what measures are being taken and how they as individuals will be effective. Regardless of the message, the most important thing is to remain as authentic and trustworthy as possible. Written statements alone can be dangerous without the combination of natural open conversational communication that always invites questions and feedback and shows vulnerability and honesty.
Keep it real
During difficult times, it might be tempting to sugar coat the reality of what’s happening and many of us struggle with messages that aren’t positive. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out however that what people really want is the truth. Even if you take the most ardent dedicated company man, everyone will be listening to any communication with the same filter…”what’s in it for me” so it’s vital they get the clarity they are seeking without having to wade through the waffle and unnecessary padding.
During the last few weeks we’ve all seen people in bedrooms, being interrupted by children, cats, dogs and doorbells and actually it’s been great seeing people being their most authentic selves. It’s so much easier to gain trust without the corporate mask so even the most serious of messages can be delivered without a green screen of the company logo and a shirt and tie. After all, we all know there’s probably pyjama bottoms underneath the table anyway!
Ultimately, we are in a period of completely unchartered territory and we’re all making our own rules as we go along. We all have the power to define what we want our Covid-19 story to be… to know we’ve done everything we can to keep our businesses moving and to make our teams feel as connected, motivated and supported as they possibly can be without the bricks and mortar we’ve taken for granted for so long.
Ever the great leader, Jeff B from Amazon posted a “real” but uplifting note to employees on his Instagram. Even the platform he used makes it feel more personal; he started it with “Team Amazonians” great for team spirit and morale!
Shine the light internally
Internal comms has always been seen as the poor relation to the sexy external marketing and advertising world and the lack of clarity around who should own it (HR, Corp Comms or Marketing) has never been clear. Either way, the brands that come out of this period on top will be those who have managed to keep their teams connected by ensuring their brand shines as brightly internally as externally.