Twenty minutes into the sixth episode of our wildly popular webinar series on navigating employee communications during the pandemic, Sara Messina of Mayo Clinic and Paula Angelo of The Hartford had packed more pandemic  communications advice into their opening remarks than a new jar of pickles.

A “Virtual First” Transformation

In 2019 The Hartford launched a transformation strategy, recognizing that about 45% of employees were working from home. After the pandemic hit, that percentage shot up to near 100%.  While they already had plans to do more in 2020 for their robust virtual workforce, COVID shifted their pandemic communications not just to a digital transformation, but to a virtual first strategy.  For example, and especially as employees slowly begin working from office again, instead of planning on-premise deliverables, they now design them as digital first, and then roll them out in person as needed. 

There are three significant benefits to the Virtual First approach:

  1. The speed with which you can conduct an event is much faster. There’s no travel schedule to coordinate for the executives or worries about an auditorium booking. The ramp up to a meeting is extraordinarily fast.
  2. Ease of execution for virtual events is relatively simple.
  3. Cost savings, as virtual events cost much less money.

Using an “Agile” Approach

Agile isn’t an approach only for technology projects. When COVID hit, everyone’s 2020 employee and internal communications plans got tossed out the window. While many communicators, including many of our prior panelists, are using very short-term planning, The Hartford has gone further and adopted the Agile Approach for managing their communications function.

Paula said that using Agile is a great way to enhance flexibility and reaction time in an ever-changing environment. And a recent study by McKinsey agrees. McKinsey found that teams using Agile out-performed traditional teams during the pandemic, especially in their ability to react and adapt. According to the companies surveyed by McKinsey, “almost all of their agile business units responded better than their non-agile units to the shocks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic by measures of customer satisfaction, employee engagement, or operational performance”.

If you haven’t adopted Agile, don’t worry. McKinsey says. “We believe the changes that some companies have already been making during the pandemic can give them a leg up in honing their agile practices for an uncertain future. Now they should reflect on what helped them and sustainably embed those practices for the long term.”

Don’t be Afraid to Shed Legacy Practices

In our webinar #4, back in June, Sara shared that she was already talking about potential changes to Mayo Clinic’s corporate processes in light of the changes brought on by the pandemic.

“This is the fun part! Communicators get to engineer a future state for the way we work that is agile and focused and will lead to higher engagement. We can be intentional, keeping the good things and shed the legacy practices that aren’t serving us well any more.”

She repeated her advice in this webinar by reminding us that while it’s comforting to have consistency, it’s important to not to be tentative about making permanent changes to the way things were always done. The Mayo Clinic has committed, for example, to at least 20% virtual clinical appointments for the future, in light of the success that they’ve had with this practice during the past six months. For communications, they’re looking at the many COVID-adapted practices which could be used well after the pandemic passes.

Employee Communications: This Is Our Time.

It’s been an amazing time to be in internal or employee communications. The acceleration of visibility and gravitas of the employee communications job throughout COVID has been revolutionary.  Paula mentioned that a recent pulse poll by Weber Shandwick found that employer communications are fostering greater positivity, confidence and pride in their employees.

Employee communications teams are largely responsible for that statistic, she says. “That earned goodwill [of employers by their employees] will have a lasting impression. There’s no going back.”

To continue to demonstrate this high level of value as part of the corporate leadership team, Paula advises that communicators take the learnings from the pandemic and apply it to their other communications objectives. 

“To the extent we can use [more and better] metrics to demonstrate our value, we should do so.” she says. “Sometimes we get great outputs but not great outcomes.” Taking a page from the marketing function, employee communications should be just as data-driven in managing how they create, manage and distribute communications to employees, just as marketers do to customers.  

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Approaches for the Future

By considering these four approaches, employee communications teams can leverage the lessons learned during the pandemic for success in the short- and longer-term future.

For more predictions and insights into what that future might look like, watch the second half of this webinar by clicking here.

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Employee communications teams are largely responsible for that statistic, Paula Angleo says. “That earned goodwill [of employers by their employees] will have a lasting impression. There’s no going back.”

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