September has traditionally been the month that businesses get back to normal with teams back at full capacity following summer vacations and parents refocusing their energies on work as the kids head back to school. However, this September is a little different. Many organizations are adjusting to an entirely new normal as offices reopen and people adapt to hybrid working. This is where intranet software can help facilitate a smooth and seamless transition following months of working remotely.
While many will be excited to return to the workplace and get back to productive in-person interactions where nobody has to be reminded that they’re on mute, the transition will need to be carefully managed. The upheaval that employees have experienced during the pandemic has undoubtedly cost organizations in terms of productivity and engagement. While there have been countless reports of a remote work productivity boost, data collected by Gallup suggests that employee engagement fluctuated dramatically throughout the pandemic with disengagement affecting over half of employees across the US in September 2020.
The great return to the workplace could result in further upheaval that impacts employee engagement and productivity. While research from Accenture shows 83% of workers prefer a hybrid model, employers need to ensure that transitioning to this model is managed effectively. This is where internal comms teams play a vital role. Using powerful tools such as internal communications software, they can communicate more effectively to help people overcome the many potential return-to-work challenges.
Why internal communications matter more than ever
Internal communications and HR professionals have been the unsung heroes keeping entire workforces in the loop and up to speed as organizations adapted to dispersed remote working during the pandemic. This has been no mean feat considering the heightened levels of anxiety and uncertainty caused by the crisis. Those that have leveraged internal communications software will have had a far easier job of nurturing a close community feel within their workforce, maintaining employee satisfaction and encouraging collaboration. Now internal communicators and HR professionals face a fresh set of challenges.
Employees have spent the best part of two years working from home and returning after such a lengthy hiatus comes with many potential issues. While hybrid working allows people to adjust back to the office environment without thrusting them back into the workplace full time, if they do not feel supported, clear on what’s expected of them, or that their expectations are not met, the company culture that internal comms teams and HR departments have spent the last few months working so hard to protect can be put at risk.
Hybrid challenges communications teams need to consider
While switching to hybrid working may feel like a step closer to normality, there are numerous issues for corporate communications teams and HR professionals to consider. For example, in most global regions a certain level of restrictions will remain in place within offices and these will need to be clearly communicated to people before they return. Not only will this help to manage their expectations, it will also provide reassurance that necessary measures are in place to protect them from the lingering Covid threat.
Some individuals may feel anxious about returning to a busy office environment, particularly those who have had to shield during the pandemic. Others may not be feeling as enthused as their co-workers about returning, having become used to working in their home surroundings over the last few months.
Returning to altered or unfamiliar environments could also present new challenges. Many organizations have used remote working as an opportunity to reduce overheads by cutting back on real estate. This means some workers may have to acclimatize to unfamiliar new premises or a more compact workspace than the one they knew before the pandemic.
New hires should also be a key consideration. Some new hires may be remote only and it’s important to ensure they don’t feel excluded or out of the loop when the rest of the organization returns to the office. Office-based new hires may have already spent some time working for the organization from home. These individuals will naturally find it harder adapting to their new work environment than colleagues who have been with the business longer and are already familiar with the workspace.
The fact is, the return to work can impact different people in many different ways. For internal communicators and HR professionals, communicating effectively will be essential to facilitating a successful return to the office where everybody feels comfortable and well informed.
Tips to help internal communicators support hybrid working
1) Implement a phased plan
You don’t want to overwhelm your people by hitting them with a surge of information to digest as they resume office life. Breaking your internal comms plan into phases will make it easier for employees to take in information and it will make the process easier to manage and measure.
The phases of the comms plan should follow any stages the organization is implementing in its return-to-work strategy. These phases might include a period during which only specific teams or personnel are allowed to return, followed by those who feel comfortable returning being permitted to do so, and finally a phase when all personnel are expected to be on site on certain days or for a specified number of days each week.
Each phase should have its own communication objectives so it’s important to consider the information people need to know at each stage. This should include what information should be shared upfront and what information can be held back and filtered out to employees during each phase so they don’t become overwhelmed.
2) Collaborate with department heads
Heads of departments such as facilities management, IT and HR are all worthy stakeholders when it comes to developing a hybrid working communications plan. Internal communicators should work closely with these department heads to build a comprehensive communications strategy that doesn’t miss out key pieces of information.
Working with the HR department will help to ensure clear guidelines are agreed on, communicated and made easily available to personnel. The facilities management team will be able to share important details of the workplace’s phased opening and the protocols and procedures employees may need to follow as they adapt to the new hybrid way of working.
The IT team can help to ensure you have the right tools in place to manage, deploy and measure communications that utilize all available channels such as email, SMS, push notifications, digital signage and your intranet software’s homepage feed to reach every employee.
3) Gauge how your employees are adapting
Gauging how your employees are feeling and what they expect from the organization to help them adjust back to office life will be essential to helping them adapt to hybrid working. This can be achieved using polls, surveys and questionnaires which can be easily set up, deployed and analyzed using the right internal communications platform.
Employees should be encouraged to respond to these regularly at each phase to help measure how the transition to hybrid is going and how well the internal communications strategy is working.
A recent McKinsey survey found a third of workers experienced a negative impact on their mental health after returning to the office. Keeping tabs on employee mental health should be an essential consideration in your internal comms plan. Regular mental health checks undertaken through polls, surveys and questionnaires can allow internal communications teams to understand how individuals are faring and introduce necessary measures to help reduce stress and anxiety.
4) Tailor your messaging to different audiences
Being able to tailor communications to different groups of workers is a great way to facilitate a smoother return. For example, messaging can be adapted for those who have been identified as more anxious through intranet polls. Customized messaging strands should be deployed for people who are coping in different ways and this is where a multichannel intranet can be very beneficial.
The ability to execute communications to different groups across different channels means vital messaging can reach people through the most effective means depending on the nature of their role or their preferred way of working. For example, ‘offline’ employees who aren’t necessarily sat at a desk all day and may not have constant access to a computer or smartphone can be reached through digital signage. Those that are regularly away from their desk but do have access to a smartphone or tablet can be reached through SMS or push notifications.
The rebirth of internal comms
The reopening of offices and adoption of hybrid working is not just a triumphant return to stability for organizations around the world. It is also an opportunity to redefine the role of internal communications. The unsung heroes working in internal communications can finally shake off the negative image of being the mouthpiece for the leadership team and demonstrate the true value of the role. They can do this by engaging every person at all levels of the hierarchy and making sure everyone has a voice and feels heard.
In turn, this can improve job satisfaction, engagement and productivity across the business. Intranet software is the crucial tool that comms teams need to support this and a solution that enables multichannel messaging will ensure that the impact of every carefully constructed piece of messaging will be spread wide and far.