You're looking after your work - now what about your people?

26 March 2020

So there's been a mass decamp from offices everywhere and no lack of advice on remote working, and suggestions, guidance and practical help on what to do, how to do it.

But once we are all plugged in and working 'normally', what then? Let’s not forget that we are dealing with change.  For many firms this change has been considered though not executed in the past.  Change need not/should not be knee-jerk.  Yes we have to adapt and part of the capability we have at our finger tips is that we can all change quickly, overnight when necessary.

One common thing we’re hearing is of firms scrabbling around trying to create WhatsApp groups. Quick straw poll, how many of you have WhatsApp groups on your phone to chat/share with family and friends?  I have several and these past weeks they've been lit up first with stories of disappearing loo roll and the fact that suddenly we all seem to be pasta lovers, and latterly with some cracking jokes to help keep the spirits up.

The trouble with WhatsApp is that it is an excellent tool in our personal lives – but so different in the business environment. We’re getting feedback that some staff are having a hostile reaction to being forced to set-up a WhatsApp account or to provide a personal number. Besides that it’s not the greatest idea to set up a business WhatsApp group. Who administers it? Who checks members and deletes those staff members that leave the organisation? Why are you letting business communications happen outside of the corporate directory and firewall?

As you think about the next steps, strategic thinking is still required.  Microsoft Teams, albeit an improvement on WhatsApp, is geared far more towards group/project working (the clue is in the name) and relies on unstructured messaging. That’s great for catch-up chats and real-time sharing and moving work tasks along. But it has a short lifetime, limited awareness and is essentially conversational – it’s not structured content, it doesn’t consist of targeted, long-lasting pages and articles. It’s far more a project management tool in that sense rather than a corporate comms mechanism. And if it’s just the work you want to keep going, then that’s fine – but surely now, more than ever, there’s a need to reach, connect and support your staff and keep them going to.


 How will you properly engage staff who are now working remotely all the time?  How will you ensure the fabric/culture of the firm is enhanced rather than eroded by this change? How do you minimise the inevitable sense of disassociation and social dislocation?  Communications will play a defining part, but it needs to be structured and firms will need to look to the content and messaging they are putting out over an extended period, and be able to have visibility of its impact and reach. They also need to be aware that in the same way key announcements got lost in Inboxes, they are unlikely to cut through all the endless Teams-based chat either – rich push notifications, pinned posts and a unified personal newsfeed are far more useful weapons at the corporate comms level.

It’s also about maintaining normal service as much as possible – minimising the disruption and bridging the inevitable gaps that follow a move of operating environment. For example, providing easy access to key resources they need (HR, payroll, policies and procedures); letting staff self-serve, from booking holidays and reporting issues through to eappraisals and on-demand elearning; enabling the creation of special interest groups to bring people together from across the practice, not just your immediate colleagues, and letting people connect on another more social level; and offering practical and emotional support to maintain wellbeing and evidence that duty of care.

We all know it’s time for cool heads and business as usual to help keep things going.  We all know BAU might just have changed and with the inexorable shift to large-scale remote working, we need to ensure that staff stay fully engaged with the process, with their colleagues and clients, and with the broader practice.

An engagement strategy might not be right for this minute but we’ll be around to help in the days and weeks to come, so please get in touch.


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