By: Rachel Heisterkamp
The move to remote work in light of the COVID-19 pandemic was thought to be a short-term and short-lived activity – but the extra time we’ve spent in this world of safety precautions and quarantining has also shown us that working digitally has its perks. For most, remote or hybrid work models aren’t negative for productivity at all – a recent analysis from McKinsey found that more than 20% of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as from an office. And with more and more employers catching onto this trend, now is the time to rethink and reevaluate how we’re supporting this new digital work mindset. The best way to stay agile and adaptable – for employees to the C-suite – is through a strong internal communications and workplace strategy.
Creating a culture of learning, prioritizing the messaging of people managers, and evolving the digital work experience are all critical steps as we move more into the unknown.
1. Prioritize reskilling, not upskilling
Prior to the abrupt turn of COVID-19, more traditional employee career strategies were in place – focused on ladder climbing and moving your career in a linear, upward path. However, if we’ve learned anything since March 2020, it’s that adaptability often has more value than any one skill. When an entire organization needs to pivot based on the market (or the massive upheaval of a global pandemic), that shift trickles down to the individuals that keep your business running.
Creating and defining a culture of learning – rather than only focusing on the leveling-up of your workforce – helps to center the act of education as an ongoing behavior, rather than a one-time action. And supporting that growth mindset with the right content – engaging, short-form, and on-demand – can be the simple step forward your organization needs to reposition itself as a progressive company culture. When employees understand the full scope of career advancement, new certifications, or lateral options that are available, they’re more likely to invest back into the business as their professional skills mature.
2. Equip managers with a communications strategy
People managers are the first line of communication for your entire company – any significant updates, news, or changes, are often filtered in through 1:1 meetings, whether as a temperature check or a quick follow-up for feedback. And now, in a hybrid or remote environment, managers need to be more thoughtful about the how, what, and when as they touch base with their team. To add, consider the employees who are becoming first-time managers after a promotion in the last year – how will they tackle these new responsibilities, and what support will they need from the people team or executive leadership?
As your business, workplace, and employee experience continue to change in this digital environment, it’s critical that your people managers are in sync with your internal communication strategy. When you have a key message to deliver, consider building a people manager playbook filled with unique team messaging.
Examples to include in the playbook are: A follow-up email template to ensure corporate updates are understood, a conversation guide around the effect of the change on individuals, and tips for empathetic, sensitive responses to anxious direct reports. Providing these resources to your people managers at their moment of need will benefit the organization’s culture and retention.
3. Evolve your digital workplace
Your organization, like most when the pandemic hit, likely went through a rapid digital transformation in order to keep employees safe and working remotely. Now that the overnight shift is under our collective belt, it’s time to start thinking about the long-term digital workplace strategies your company wants to adopt and launch. As you think about the format and approach to your internal communications and structure, consider the new context of your employee experience: more emails and digital messages than ever before, multiple virtual meetings every day, and a whole suite of new (or newly expanded) platforms and tools to get cloud-based work done.
Simply put, this is the most digital noise your employees have ever experienced, so thinking in terms of translating in-person work experiences to a digital space may not be the matter at hand. Instead, focus on helping employees stay in their most productive workflow – and understand that this may look different across teams, individuals, locations, or job levels. Leave time for heads-down work, and deeply consider when and why a Zoom meeting should be scheduled, but don’t reach for a kitchen-sink email either. Striking the right balance with digital communications could be a make-or-break activity as your organization matures its approach to hybrid work.
The move to remote work has brought many mindset shifts. We may not be completely out of the woods when it comes to growing pains from the digital transformation, but this trajectory isn’t going anywhere. Now, we have to figure out what long-term remote or hybrid work really looks like and how it operates, and ultimately pinpoint how we can use communications and workplace strategies to define our best employee experience yet.