Brand culture and communications: resilience when managing a remote workforce

• 4 minute read

Everyone is in the same boat. The direction of travel is clear.

The impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak is set to have far reaching and long-lasting impacts beyond the immediate social, economic and health challenges which we are currently seeking to manage.

For many businesses, at least part of the response so far has been to pivot to fully remote working – in order to limit the potential risk of virus exposure. Meetings have been postponed or shifted into ‘virtual meeting rooms’ or conference calls, events have been cancelled and replaced with webinars, and our cultural reliance on email has seemingly shifted up yet another gear.

One of the perhaps unforeseen risks which has now begun to emerge is the extent to which the world’s digital infrastructure has the capacity to cater for this radical change in bandwidth consumption. A professional working couple may now be using a home broadband or 4G connection to make simultaneous video calls, while families faced with the prospect of school closures are now staring down the barrel of months of Netflix binge watching along with virtual classroom attendance.

But there are other challenges too, perhaps more subtle ones.

 

The WFH reality

For many, regaining that hitherto lost time of being stuck on a crowded train in the daily commute, or the thought of rolling out of bed to start the day at the desk clad in dressing gown and sipping home-brewed coffee sounds inherently attractive.

But the reality is actually very different. Working from home is in practice hard to get right, and it requires significant behavioural change as well as mental preparedness.

Amongst other factors, the importance of effective communications should not be underestimated. Teams will have to get into the habit of over-communicating – not just in order to manage workflows and assess priorities effectively without the benefit of a desk-side chat or quick huddle in a meeting room, but also to limit the potential negative impact of isolation.

"While the novelty factor of working from home will sustain many for a time, the fact remains that human beings are innately social animals and we crave contact with our friends, peers and colleagues."

In addition, businesses are facing now facing up to the challenge of maintaining company culture, purpose and brand identity while managing a disparate workforce. Brand values are to a large extent embedded through interaction with key culture carriers and so new touchpoints have to be developed to fill the void.

There are no quick fixes to this, and for many it will be an iterative process of trialling solutions, but there are some principles and techniques for all businesses to be considering:

 

  • Talk don’t chat: There are a plethora of work chat and IM tools out there, from WhatsApp to Slack, and these have played a huge role in the transformation of the workplace (for the better to a large extent).

But they also make for quiet workplaces, with people more likely to tap out a message on a keyboard than actually go and talk to someone.

When working from home, effort should be made to reverse this trend – utilising the same tools or others to have ever more conversations and get the verbal and vocal muscles working.

 

  • The art of the visual: In similar fashion, people traditionally have something of a reticence towards using video conferencing. There’s something innately uncomfortable/embarrassing to seeing ones-self on camera.

This needs to change.

When simply holding phone calls we all miss out on the subtle communications in body language, facial expressions and eye movements which are critical to real understanding and empathy.

If working under the confines of isolation, sometimes with limited company, transitioning to video calling is essential.

 

  • Frequency and variation: Importantly, much of what we all chat about in the office isn’t really anything to do with work. The concept of the ‘water-cooler’ chat is still alive and well and those social interactions we have at work are of equal importance to wellbeing as ‘real’ work conversations.

It’s critical to not lose this when working from home, as isolation can start to create real mental and emotional fatigue.

Businesses should be increasing the frequency of communications between individuals and teams – with some firms (including Infinite Global) starting to hold ‘social events’ such as Friday drinks over webcam, even follow-along virtual yoga classes.

At the same time, the challenge for management teams is to effectively motivate staff without face to face time and the ‘presenteeism’ factor of being in an office. Communication, again, is key to this, as is variety and frequency of new types of interesting work and more regular feedback or training sessions delivered virtually.

 

  • Stretching the 9-6: When working from home the day is often lengthened beyond the usual 9:00am – 6:00pm. The tendency is to login and check emails earlier because of the time saved on not commuting, or to work later with the laptop next to you as you watch a movie in the evening.

This isn’t a bad thing per se, it just means that the usual working pattern needs to be disrupted, with more frequent break periods.

With gyms closing and classes ceasing because of coronavirus, the work-from-homers should be using this added time to ensure they are maintaining a healthy and activity lifestyle – taking a mid-morning break for a run or a quick home-workout, or even heading out into the garden for some fresh air.

 

This is a challenging time for all of us and there will surely be new learnings along the way and new obstacles to overcome.

We will certainly be doing all we can as a communications consultancy to support our people and our clients as they adapt and evolve to thrive in the new environment we find ourselves in.

The benefits of technological investment have already been proven, and one of the implications of this current situation is that many businesses will realise that they can be far more nimble and efficient through better application of tech, or that they can re-imagine how teams are best resourced – from IT infrastructure to physical office space.

But, looking ahead, If there is to be any silver lining to the current crisis, it is that, as a society, we must surely emerge on the other side with a far stronger appreciation of the importance of human contact and the simple, inherent value in seeing and speaking with one another.

Tal Donahue, Account Director at Infinite Global

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