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Podcast: How to communicate hybrid working

Are you responsible for communicating working patterns inside your organisation?

It feels too early to say post-pandemic planning!

Do you need to make any changes to your Comms channels due to home workers?

Are your stakeholders asking you for Comms advice and guidance relating to hybrid working?

If so, I’ve got you covered.

This 13th episode of the Candid Comms podcast is packed with practical ideas and inspirational advice, to help internal communicators thrive in their role.

You can find the Candid Comms podcast on your favourite player including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean.

How to communicate hybrid working Rachel Miller

It covers:

  • What hybrid working is
  • What different working patterns mean for internal communication
  • My CLEAR model: Clarifying, Listening, Evaluating, Articulating and Reviewing
  • What other companies are doing
  • How to communicate hybrid working successfully.

Do let me know what you think of this episode and don’t forget to rate, review and follow, so other Comms pros can benefit too.

New All Things IC Online Masterclass

My latest Online Masterclass has just gone live to support internal communicators with all things hybrid working related.

The internal communicator’s guide to hybrid working has 55 lessons and is packed with bespoke videos, workbooks, text lessons, surveys and quizzes.

See the website to discover the curriculum, what you can expect from the course and to sign up today.

The launch price is £499 and my podcast listeners can save 10% by using the code candidcomms at the checkout.

Testimonial from Melisa Kakas

Testimonial from Chantel Dixon

What is the podcast?

The Candid Comms podcast launched in January 2021. It’s weekly show designed to connect internal communication professionals to the latest advice and guidance.

Previous episodes:

Thank you to my Producer Debbie West of Seren Creative. You can listen to Candid Comms via this page or online.

You can find the Candid Comms podcast on your favourite player including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean.

Transcript of this week’s episode

Welcome to the Candid Comms podcast. If you are looking for practical and inspirational ideas to help you thrive in internal communication, you’re in the right place. I’m your host, international communication consultant, trainer and mentor, Rachel Miller.

I’ll share my experience with you so you can increase your skills, knowledge and confidence on all things internal communication related.

Hello, and welcome to the show. In today’s episode, you and I are focusing on all things hybrid working related, and as ever, you will leave with one thing to know, one thing to do and one thing to think about. Are you ready? Let’s get started.

Oh my goodness, where to start. This topic of hybrid working is absolutely everywhere right now, as I record this in April 2021, before we dive in, let’s bust that jargon. What on earth is hybrid working? Pre-pandemic, when we talked about hybrid, it typically meant a combination, a thing made by combining two different elements.

Hybrid - by Rachel Miller

So one of the most common uses of the word hybrid has been in cars where we talk about having hybrid cars. Nowadays, hybrid has taken on a life of its own and it’s the word that we’re using to describe the new ways of working. So I wonder whether these phrases are familiar to you.

Are you working on campaigns right now, Comms friends, which are around the future of work? The new office, our new normal, which sets my teeth on edge as a phrase or flexible work in perhaps, any or all of these combinations of words are being used as phrases to describe what is happening next.

I had my All Things IC Inner Circle Mastermind yesterday. This is my membership for senior directors of internal communication or heads of internal communication and it’s a small group. It’s a membership and yesterday we had our two-hour Mastermind together, which we do every single month.

The topic of choice, unsurprisingly, was hybrid working. Through this episode, I want to share some advice and guidance with you to help you understand who else is doing what when it comes to communicating this way of working.

As I’m recording this, people are planning for a return to the workplace. Now, note I didn’t say, “A return to work.” The semantics here are really important. Be really mindful around the language that you use.

This is what we need to know: how are you communicating what is happening?

It’s not accurate to say the return to work because everybody has been working, particularly, if ordinarily people work in an office space, but they’ve had to work from home because of their relevant government guidance in their own country, then it’s not accurate to say that we’re doing a return to work; we’re returning to a place of work.

Quite a few people have got themselves into hot water, and I’m not going to get political ever on this podcast, but it’s important, the language that you use. Now, thinking about this hybrid situation, you may find all sorts of different scenarios inside your organisation. I mapped out some scenarios at the end of 2020 when I was hired by a Telco to give a keynote talk for some of their clients and some of their leaders.

We were talking about the future of work and imagining this point in time, actually. We were thinking ahead to within the next six months and we were looking at, what does this look like? What are the scenarios?

I mapped them out and I came up with all sorts. It isn’t just a combination of two things, which is what our hybrid means. There were scenarios where you could have employees who are working two or three days a week at home. And then the rest of the time in the office, or you could have employees working 100% or 50% or 10% of the time at home, or maybe, you have frontline workers where they can never work at home and they never have worked at home.

Maybe they’re driving trains, or they’re in retail environments, or they’re on hospital wards and it is not appropriate and they cannot work from home or, maybe you have employees who’ve been furloughed, or maybe you have shift workers or maybe have people on long-term sick or maternity leave.

The list is endless. You will have various combinations of employees. Don’t forget people who’ve joined your organisation over the past 12 months. You may find you need to re-onboard them or onboard them for the first time because if you are opening up your office spaces, it might be that they’ve never been there at all. So then, you need to re-introduce them to the organisation and introduce them to the place of work.

Back in 2015, I featured an article on my All Things IC blog and I featured Steven Murgatroyd, who is a communicator here in the UK. We wrote about the fact that work is a thing you do, not a place you go, and that’s never been truer for right now.

The place that people have been going to do their jobs has been all sorts of various scenarios from working from ironing boards and working on their dining room tables. We have just had to adapt and evolve our approach to what the of work means. But for right now, what we need to know is what we’re communicating next.

So I’ve created a model for you that I’m going to walk you through and you’ll be able to find it via the show notes, so allthingsic.com/podcast, and I’m calling it my CLEAR model because this is definitely the time for clear communication.

CLEAR model- Rachel Miller

CLEAR model by Rachel Miller.

So let me walk you through it. It stands for clarifying, listening, evaluating, articulated and reviewing.

Clarifying
Clarifying is setting out what is happening. What’s the plan? What’s the thinking? What’s the rationale or the purpose behind the next step for our organisation and for our colleagues? So what your facts?

If you listened to episode nine of the Candid Comms podcast, which was all around communicating change, you will know that I’m a fan of using a model, which is my known knowns and my known unknowns. You can totally use this here.

So we are trying to get our heads around what’s happening. Are we having two or three days in the week? Are we having all remote? Are we having a mixture? Map it all out. What are known knowns and what are our known unknowns?

We are clarifying what is going on. We want to be really clear so our people, our colleagues, our leaders know what is happening.

Listening
The second point is listening and this is always important, but right now, it’s important to be tuned in to the feedback. That’s things like rumours. That’s things like concerns that employees have, so what I’m looking for here is good, effective two way channels in place.

You need to be actively listening. So what is top of mind for your employees? What are they concerned about when they’re thinking about this hybrid model or future of work or whatever you’re calling this next step for your organisation, what’s their feeling? What’s their morale? What’s the temperature in your organisation?

You can test this in a variety of ways. You could have an eyes and ears group or employee forum that you’re tapped into. It could be your informal network. If you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while through season one, you will know I believe it’s our business to know our business as internal communicators and this really comes into its own for this listening part of this model.

Evaluating
The third part is evaluating, so it’s measurement and that’s smack bang in the middle of this model because there’s no point waiting till the end. You have to know in real time what’s working and you have to know in real time, what’s not working and I do mean measurement here.

So we’re checking for understanding. We’re looking at the rationale that we’ve communicated, the points that we’ve tried to clarify through our key messaging. Do they make sense for our people? Do they understand what’s happening? What are the barriers? What are the blockers that are getting in our way?

It could be something really tactical and tangible like if you’ve never had hot desking, for example, and now you’re moving back into your office space and you’re having to be socially distanced and you’re having to make it COVID secure and therefore, your employees have to book desks, for example.

Do they know how to do that? Is that process really clear? Is that working? If it’s not, why not? What’s getting in the way? Is it a systems thing? Is it a process thing? Is it that we’ve made it way too complicated?

So evaluating now, measuring now, is super important.

Articulating
The fourth part of this CLEAR model is articulating and articulating is about confirmation or communication. It’s what can we confirm? So there are lots of moving parts at the moment. I’m helping quite a few of my clients wrote comms plans around the return to the office space or this new hybrid way of working and what we’re looking for is confirmation.

Sometimes, I call that certainty. So what we’re looking for here is our known knowns. We talked about that earlier from the Change Comms episode back in episode nine. So we’re articulating and we’re setting out what’s going on. We’re making it really, really clear. We’re confirming what the plans are. We’re making it known what the plans are.

Some organisations are doing phases and I think this is really smart.

So they’re communicating, “We’re in phase one and it means X, Y, Z. Then we’ll move into phase two and it will mean X, Y, Z.” I find that employees look for certainty. They look for milestones. They look to understand what’s this journey that we’re on and what are the points along the way?

Hybrid working phases

Extract from Rachel’s new hybrid working Online Masterclass re: phases.

Confirming key milestones is helpful to guide people through change because that’s what this is. Call it what you like. What it is, is communicating change. If you haven’t listened to the episode nine of how to communicate change, I do encourage you to listen to it.

Reviewing
Then we move into the final part of that CLEAR model, which is reviewing. That’s checking that we’re still on track, so particularly, we’ve mapped out those key milestones. Are we hitting them? Are we operating and communicating in a timely manner? So I hope that’s useful. That’s clarifying, listening, evaluating, articulating and reviewing. I`ll share that via the show notes for you. Use that as a model to walk you through this change, to walk you through. As a comms plan on a page, if nothing else, if you can’t answer those questions, that page will carry on being blank, so use that.

Do let me know how you get on. You can Tweet me @AllThingsIC, or do send me a message via allthingsic.com.

The next thing that we need to know is a source of truth and there’s two things I’m going to share with you. Not just one thing under know today. You need to have a source of truth for this change, whether that’s your line managers or whether that’s your intranet.

There are so many moving parts, so I encourage you to be really clear and really intentional around where do our employees go to get credible, accurate, reliable information to help them do their jobs, make decisions, book their shifts, but their desks, have the right personal protective equipment?

Whatever it looks like. Where is that source of truth or who is that source of truth and make sure that you communicate that.

The second thing for us to focus on today is do. So what do we need to do? I’ve been doing some research in terms of who else is doing what, because I know that we like to compare in the world of internal comms. So I’ve got some examples to share with you in terms of what other companies are doing.

So for example, Nationwide, here in the UK, has told its employees that they can work from anywhere. British Airways has got a work-from-home plan.

FTSE 100 firms have multiple, flexible working plans in place. Google has announced it’s partially reopening its offices. Goldman Sachs, on the other hand, is preparing for its employees to return to its London office; whereas, PWC have said they’re heading to the office two to three days a week. All of the links to the articles, which focus on all of those different companies can be found in the show notes (below).

List of companies and what they’re doing:

  • PwC are heading to the office two to three days a week. Source: CityAM.
  • Nationwide has told employees to work from anywhere. Source: BBC
  • British Airways has a work from home plan. Source: BBC
  • BP has told office staff to work from home two days a week. Source: Guardian.
  • FTSE100 firms have flexible working plans in place. Source: Evening Standard
  • Google is partially reopening offices. Source: CNBC.
  • Goldman Sachs prepares for staff to return to the London office. Source: Guardian.
  • Grant Thornton says most UK staff want to stay away from the office. Source: Financial Times.

The reason I think this is helpful and it’s something to do is to be aware of what other people are doing because it’s helpful to swap notes. It’s helpful to have a benchmark in terms of what decisions are other people making?

Part of our role as being trusted advisers to our leaders and that’s a topic that I covered back in episode three of season one about how to work successfully with our leaders. Part of that is demonstrating that we’re aware of what other companies are doing.

So if you’re having conversations with stakeholders and they’re asking, “Well, what are other people doing? What are other people communicating?” I’ve got you covered.

Do check out those links and you can discover who’s doing what and what they’re saying to employees. There’s lots of quotes from CEOs in those articles. We’re going to take a short break and when we come back, I will share something for you to think about.

What happens inside is reflected outside

In the final part of today’s episode, we are going to be focusing on what you need to think about. I’m going to share a quote with you. It’s if you’ve been listening to the Candid Comms episodes, you will have heard me say at the very end of each show and it is this phrase, “What happens inside is reflected outside.” This is a phrase that I had created as a beautiful piece of artwork back in 2018 by an artist called Lisa Kirkbride.

This phrase for me is so important because I apply it to organisations. When I’m analyzing an organisation, I believe if you have a toxic culture, it will seep out.

Conversely, if you have a positive culture, it will seep out. What happens inside is reflected outside. I also have a second meaning for that phrase, which is about mental health and wellbeing. And that’s the focus of our final part of this conversation on hybrid working and the future of work.

We need to be mindful of where our employees are at. If it’s true that what happens inside is reflected outside, how well are we equipping our employees to feel comfortable having conversations, putting their hands up and asking for help?

How well are we equipping our leaders and our people managers to have really good, quality conversations with their employees, where they’re checking in, not checking up on them?

Something that I’ve observed over the past year or so has been that shift with leaders and line managers, where it has to trust their employees more. If one of their measures of success for their team has been about being able to physically see them, sat at their desks, for example, that’s gone.

Something that I’m observing at the moment and conversations I’m having with clients and Comms friends around leaders is are we making sure that we are not only empowering them to make decisions, but we’re equipping them too?

Let me give you an example.

Imagine in your organisation, you know you’re moving from phase one of this hybrid work into phase two, for example, and phase two is about making decisions about where your employees are going to work. Maybe the tactic you use is that you say to line managers, “It is up to you to make the right decision, both from what the business requires from your team and your own team and how they need to work or how they want to work.”

So we’re empowering line managers, but are we equipping them? Are we giving them advice and guidance, talking points, FAQ documents? Where are they going as a source of truth that we talked about earlier?Where are they going to get credible, accurate, reliable information to help them make those informed decisions? Do our leaders know how to spot any warning signs for their employees from a mental health and wellbeing perspective?

Where do our leaders go, if they’re stuck, if they’ve been told by the powers above that they need to make sure decisions? Comms friends, what if you have a leader or two who decide that the right thing for the business is for their teams to be in your place of work four or five days a week.

However, for the employees, there’s a tension there where, actually, it doesn’t feel like the right thing for them to do. The other thing to be aware of are the feelings that employees are having right now. From a wellbeing perspective, there’s a real sense of isolation.

Source: The Times

Be mindful of your employees who’ve joined your organisation over the past 12 months. Maybe there’s some fear there. Maybe there’s some anxiety there because they haven’t met with people face-to-face. How can you make that a smooth experience for them? What would that look like? What would it feel like? What would it sound like?

That’s part of your planning. When we were going through the CLEAR model earlier, it should be part of what’s happening. How can you focus on the experience that employees have? How can you make it a positive one? If it doesn’t feel positive, why not go through that model?

What’s the feedback? What’s not working. What can we confirm? What can we review? Are we still on track? The final thing I want to share with you is to encourage you to keep iterating and keep evolving. It is okay to not know what you’re communicating.

If you are listening to this episode because you are stuck, I promise you, you are not alone. Everybody is figuring this out, so think about the language that you use internally. I am a big fan of pilots. If you’ve worked with me one-to-one, you will know this.

I regularly launch and test and pilot things and this is important because inside our organizations, right now, we are iterating and evolving. We’re finding our feet. We’re finding our way.

So this is where a phased approach could be really helpful. So think about saying to your employees, build this into your messaging. Think about saying things like, “We’re going to trial as a pilot. We’re going to trial employees working two days a week from home and three days in the office.

But because it’s a pilot, we’re going to review in a month’s time or six weeks time or three months time,” whatever feels right for your culture, you’ll know better than I do what’s right for your own organisation. Try things out. Don’t be frightened to evolve your thinking because we are all working our way through this and finding our feet and figuring out what is best for our employees. We have been in crisis mode for so long through this pandemic the adrenaline has well and truly worn off.

So think about piloting, testing things out. Have those really good two-way channels in place where you are tuned in and tapped in.

You’re listening to the room, as you’re listening to concerns of your employees and it is okay to say, “You know what? This isn’t working for us, so we’re going to regroup and we’re going to try something else out.” I hope that was helpful. Do let me know your thoughts. Do let me know what you’re doing when it comes to hybrid working. If you have any top tips to share, you can find me online @AllThingsIC on Twitter.

Do find me on Instagram @Rachelallthingsic. Look me up on LinkedIn and hello to everyone who’s been connected with me on LinkedIn. I love receiving your feedback and hearing what you’re doing differently as a result of listening to the Candid Comms podcast.

I’ve received so many messages on LinkedIn from around the globe, so hello to you if that includes you. You can find me by looking up Rachel Miller and remember, what happens inside is reflected outside.

See you again soon.

Thank you for stopping by,

Rachel.

First published on the All Things IC blog 11 April 2021.

Hybrid working online course

Comments

  1. […] Episode 13: How to communicate hybrid working […]

  2. […] Further reading: Podcast – how to communicate hybrid working […]

  3. Damien Devlin says:

    Hi Rachel,

    this is great and i’m using the CLEAR model in developing my comms plan on this. One question is, what’s the difference between Clarifying and Articulating? Is clarifying more in the project, making the decisions and articulating more about communicating them to the organization?

  4. Hi Damien, thanks for your message. You’ve got it, that’s exactly right. Kind regards, Rachel.

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