How to connect your people

How are you connecting your employees during this time of COVID-19? I ran a poll on Twitter asking what you would like me to write about on my All Things IC blog and you said connecting your people.

I’m going to explore that topic here, share examples with you and provide a dose of reality. This is a long read, grab a cuppa.

Thank you for all your feedback to my recent 10-minute video tea break video focused on leadership communication and to the Comms practitioners who have sent me questions for my upcoming Ask Me Anything video.

This is the poll I ran…

What does it mean to connect people?

If I think about connecting people, there are multiple ways to connect them including:

  • Physically – bringing people together in person (or virtually at the moment)
  • Emotionally – people feeling part of something e.g. your team, culture or organisation.

In my recent interview with Katie Macaulay on The Internal Comms Podcast, we discussed this in more detail.

In his popular book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote:

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

I think this mindset is a crucial one to have, particularly for our leaders. I recorded a video the other day about leadership communication, particularly during this pandemic.

We need to encourage them to be endlessly curious about our employees, provide reassurance and show an active interest in them, even if this doesn’t come naturally to them.

You can connect your people by being truly interested in them. Examples I’ve seen include starting meetings with a five minute checking in time where people share how they’re doing, informal virtual post-work drinks, co-worker photo threads, with employees sharing pics of their housemates, pets or children.

I encourage you to think about promoting the mental health support you have in place, whether that’s your Employee Assistance Programme, mental health first aiders network or share resources from sites like the Mental Health Foundation.

A dose of reality

I wasn’t sure whether to write the following few paragraphs. But if you’ve read my blog at any point over the past 11 years, you’ll know I’m here to reflect the world as I see it. I don’t publish what I should write, but I write honestly, from the heart and to share advice and guidance to help other Comms practitioners.

There are a lot of very upbeat articles online about connecting employees and I want to offer a dose of reality. Realism even.

I can’t remember where I saw this first, but I’ve seen it multiple times since online:

You’re not working from home. You’re at home during a crisis trying to work.”

It’s tough. Bloody tough right now. Everyone is experiencing change, for many it’s psychological change which has the potential to resonate for a long time.

This article, shared via Alive With Ideas on Twitter recently, struck a chord with me, particularly this image:

How are you doing? How are you really doing? If you feel like your energy is low, you’re not able to concentrate or function as you usually do, know you are not alone.

How are Comms practitioners doing?

The Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC), has just published the results of their recent COVID-19 survey. You can see the whole thing via their website.  It reveals IC practitioners are experiencing a significant increase to their workload and capacity, leaders are looking to you more for guidance and there’s improved engagement with employees.

Sound familiar?

Almost 500 internal communication professionals completed IoIC’s COVID-19 survey between 28 March and 10 April 2020. IoIC state on their website: “Overwhelmingly, these practitioners say their response to the crisis is likely to benefit their long-term credibility, with 90% believing the situation will have a “very positive” (32%) or “positive” (58%) impact on the IC profession.”

I’ve been speaking with Comms teams via Consultation Calls almost daily and helping them figure out what to do. Internal Communication practitioners are exhausted, they’re being called on to help frontline and key workers connect with leaders and leaders to connect with their peers and everyone in the organisation.

In terms of messaging, according to the IoIC survey, the most popular topics have been: remote working and business continuity (89%), public health information (64%) and driving positivity in uncertain times (61%).

You can read more about the survey via the IoIC website..

We always do this, it’s what we’re great at. It’s why I love working in this field as you can see the tangible benefits of effective internal communication and internal communications.

But right now? It’s exhausting. It’s overwhelming. Everyone is running on empty. And we don’t know how long this will last.

We do it because we love it. For years we’ve been helping our companies and stakeholders understand why communication is critical to the success of our companies,

We’ve been helping employees understand how their work contributes to the company’s overall purpose. We’ve drawn out their stories, amplified their voices and championed peer-to-peer communication.

The pace of communication to connect your people

Due to COVID-19, I’ve seen Comms practitioners creating new channels in record time, writing twice daily intranet updates, sharing new video guidance to encourage leaders to show up and check in with their people by creating their own videos and hosting virtual Town Halls, rolling out values campaigns, updating and creating working from home policies, communicating technology deliveries to home and running employee surveys and audits.

Clients of mine have also been overhauling their image libraries as their usual photos of employees don’t show them working from home.

What has the pace been like for you so far?

The IoIC survey reveals 61% of Comms practitioners have been issuing daily COVID-19 messages, including 2.5% issuing hourly. I’ve never know a situation change so quickly and need such speedy approvals and turnaround.

Trying to keep employees feeling part of something and connected to our organisations when their capacity to get dressed, juggle caring responsibilities, worry about their health and that of loved ones, parents and neighbours weighs heavily daily.

Here’s the truth. Comms practitioners also feel that way. To then have to be in a super visible role and be that glue, that golden thread in the company that soothes, nurtures and guides leaves you feeling raw, exposed and vulnerable.

The struggle to maintain a sense of normality in the cadence (rhythm) of our communication by sharing what’s familiar, whilst making sure we’re taking the necessary extraordinary steps to connect our people to each other…. The guilt you feel in complaining about it when you’re aware you’re not on the frontline in hospitals, donning a mask and full Personal Protective Equipment.

I know. I hear you. I see you. I know how hard you’re working.

But I know you can do it.

This is what we do. This is what we’re good at.

Everyone has a seat at the table. If you’re working from home, it may well be your kitchen table or even an ironing board, but from it we can help our organisations and people connect with each other.

This isn’t easy. But if not now, when? If not you, who?

I read a LinkedIn article by Liam FitzPatrick and Sue Dewhurst this week which stated: “When you are in crisis, you live intensely in the now. Tomorrow’s plans just have to wait – what’s the point of preparing for a future that may never come or turn up looking anything like you expected? The past is gone and soon irrelevant.”

That really resonated with me.

A lot of the work I’ve been doing over the past few weeks and months with practitioners is helping practitioners pause the intensity of their jobs for the duration of our conversation. Together we take a step back, analyse and reflect. We look at what’s working, what can be improved and make decisions together to benefit employees and companies.

If you have been furloughed, there are a number of options available online including this website from Ellwood Atfield where you can volunteer your skills.

This article has been very popular on my blog over the past week: How to communicate redundancies.

How are you connecting with employees?

What changes are you making to your channels mix right now?

Further reading: Download my free Channels Matrix. If you’ve not mapped out your channels before, you need to do it today. Where are the gaps?

Some of my clients have been revising their Channels Matrix for COVID-19, pausing some channels, increasing others or creating new ones. You need to have clarity over what to use when. Don’t forget to include shadow comms (channels not owned by you but relied on by employees).

Further reading: How to use messaging in the workplace.

What are Comms practitioners doing?

I keep being asked for examples as internal communication practitioners are looking to gather evidence to inform their internal conversations.

So I’ve collated what I’ve heard here to help you.

What’s missing? If you have a story to share, please do get in touch and let me know. You’re also welcome to comment or find me on Twitter @AllthingsIC.

What I’m seeing happening in organisations right now:

  • Senior leaders stopping by to say hello in virtual team meetings
  • Traditional methods of communication continuing being used e.g. posters for frontline workers
  • Companies rolling out platforms like Teams and Workplace within extremely tight timescales
  • Leaders hosting Ask Me Anything sessions
  • New weekly round-up emails to collate information in one place
  • Virtual fitness classes for employees to dial to or watch when suits
  • Trying to balance COVID-19 with business as (un)unusual
  • Planning to host long service and recognition awards virtually
  • Leaders calling their team members via phone as they are getting video-fatigue
  • Comms teams continuing to audit and survey their workforce.

Here are some examples I’ve seen online of how companies are using various techniques to connect their people.


What are you doing in your company to connect your people?

I hope you found those helpful, perhaps to spark some ideas to try. What are you doing in your company to connect your people?

If you have a story to share, do check out my guest article guides and feel free to get in touch. I have a guest post coming up for you tomorrow I think you’ll like.

Further reading about COVID-19 via All Things IC

How I can support you

Don’t forget I can support you via Consultation Calls. So if you would like to know more about crisis communication or run an idea or challenge you’re facing past me, book time for you and I to work together.

I offer a range of options from 30 minutes to half-day sessions. My popular Power Hours are also available.

Thank you for stopping by, I hope this week goes well for you.


Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 19 April 2020.


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