By James Bradley, director at Churchill
The workplace for many is now unrecognisable from the traditional 9-5 office routine. The work-life balance has become ever more blurred by an unprecedented shift to remote working, exacerbated by the additional pressures brought on by a global pandemic.
Those with families, for example, are having to juggle managing a household as well as their workload – an even bigger challenge when children were learning from home. Others are finding that they feel more productive when shifting their working hours to earlier in the morning or later at night. Flexible hours and remote working are here to stay – provided the right tools are in place to support it.
The shift to remote working
Prior to this year’s coronavirus outbreak, a proportion of the UK workforce was working remotely, but nowhere near the numbers we are seeing now, and nowhere near as many days. It was far more common for individuals to work once a week from home. But in March this all changed, and with it, how businesses coped changed too.
The immediate challenges for businesses was the continued day-to-day operation, which involved some quick fixes and ad hoc training sessions on how to use video conferencing software. Looking back, organisations should be proud about how quickly they managed to adapt without any planning or preparation time.
But that short-term plan must be built into a long-term communications strategy to ensure that businesses are able to stay in touch with staff and operate effectively. With it looking unlikely that the traditional office will have full occupancy for some time, an effective comms strategy is needed to promote company culture and keep employees engaged.
How do you create an inclusive team spirit when no one is in the office? How do you ensure that you’re not wasting your staff’s time with endless video meetings? Equally, how do you ensure that people don’t miss out on important information when they are not in the same room as you?
The ‘make do and mend’ mantra is no longer suitable, or indeed acceptable, for a company wishing to support its workforce and its business. A round-robin email or a quick phone call might get across a quick update or act as an opportunity for a manager to check in with their team members, but more time waiting on replies or trying to find an open time for a team video call will undoubtedly lead to inefficiencies.
Equally, for businesses claiming to offer wellbeing policies, a team call once a week might leave individuals feeling isolated from the team or the wider company. Before the pandemic, those working from home were often reluctant to do so because of a fear of missing out on conversations and decisions taken in the physical office. Now, if your entire workforce is remote, that issue has grown exponentially. Communications support is so important for the mental wellbeing of this new remote workforce.
The benefits of a digital communications platform
At Churchill, we have a lot of remote and site-based employees due to the nature of our work. As a support services provider that deals with teams working across the country and on varying shift patterns, we felt prepared for communicating during the pandemic because we were already having to work in this way. The main difference between the start of the year and now is that face-to-face meetings have become far less frequent.
Our digital platform Mo:dus has been invaluable for us to communicate messages with employees, either individually or company-wide, even before the pandemic arrived. It’s also an app, which ensures that staff can receive important notifications immediately. In fact, this year 63 per cent of the 1.93 million Mo:dus interactions from my colleagues have been via mobile devices.
Communication is a two-way street. We didn’t want this to become a tool to simply push out information to our staff; they are able to quickly contact their colleagues and line manager, as well as other key staff, such as HR or IT.
We felt it was important to build in other functions such as access to payslips and holiday requests too. Having everything in one place means the workforce doesn’t have to switch from app to app, from desktop to mobile, to keep up.
We know that it has enabled us to be more agile, particularly when government guidance is changing all the time. We need to be able to adapt quickly with minimum disruption to the business.
The ultimate goal is to make life easier for our employees so that they can spend the more time on tasks that add the most value, and have the optimum work-life balance.
A digital platform should be flexible enough to allow for personal connections to grow and flourish. If staff working remotely are feeling disengaged – perhaps with some of those who may have returned to the office – then they will not be as happy or productive. There will naturally be a social disconnect between home-workers and groups of people working from an office.
Face-to-face will never be adequately replaced by video calls or online connectivity, so it’s important to develop a social element to your communications strategy to retain your team bond. Enabling discussions or events unrelated to work, from a quiz to a one-on-one chat to see if your colleague is ok, should be placed in the same bracket as business-related meetings.
Utilising a digital platform can have added benefits – particularly in a fast-moving environment. Thanks to the foundations already in place, we were able to launch a coronavirus symptom tracker within weeks of the lockdown. Given many of our staff working on different sites formed working bubbles, an ability to track this ourselves was a priority.
It enabled employees to record any symptoms on a daily basis, ensuring the health and safety of themselves, their colleagues and anyone else they came into contact with. We enabled push notifications to remind staff to record their symptoms daily, and when applicable, we sent automated isolation messages and real-time alerts.
Each of these functions not only saves valuable time – imagine if a requirement for a team to isolate was delayed by slow symptom tracking – but allows for staff to focus on what’s important for them, both professionally and personally.
Organisations have a duty to keep their staff safe if they are required to work on site, and it’s equally critical to look after your workforce’s mental wellbeing during a stressful time.
Business communications has changed irrevocably
It’s easy to get comfortable with a new form of working, but thinking that your business communications strategy is perfect can be complacent and will inevitably lead to failure. Engage with your workforce to find out what is working for them, or what they feel could be improved upon. It’s fine to experiment with new ideas; it’s encouraged. Your remote workforce are the ones to benefit from this support, so gather feedback and don’t be afraid to dispose of an element if it isn’t working.
Communications for a business has changed as we know it; for many, it won’t return to its previous incarnation. So be bold, understand what your teams need, and invest properly in support functions which allow them to succeed.