AUDE: Can coronavirus still be a subplot in internal communication, or has it completely dominated what we talk about in companies?
Aleksandra Golus, Internal & Corporate Communication Coordinator, Avon Cosmetics Polska: It’s best to find a balance between these two. At Avon, coronavirus has not dominated our communication with employees, but it became a kind of a starting point – e.g. when we present business summaries, we show a wider context, we make references to the current global and market situation. On the other hand, transfering the whole “office life” to the internet has affected the content we send out and the communication tools we use. MS Teams has gained a second life, as this is where we now organize company meetings with the leadership, create new groups and organize work. There appeared new lifestyle newsletters, and office rituals have gained their virtual counterparts. For instance, we now send digital “Kudos” cards in place of the physical cards we used in the office to show appreciation for others.
In the beginning, when the situation was very dynamic, we were sending a “coronavirus update” every day. It contained findings of our internal crisis team, new governmental restrictions and useful links to reliable sources. But we are trying to make our communication flexible, so now that the situation is more stable, we send the newsletter only in the case new information appears. We don’t want to overdo it – even though coronavirus has been one of the main topics for a while, we still want to show the “normal life” of our company.
There are also difficult subjects which affect many people nowadays, such as employment security. Should companies refer in advance to such concerns? How to do it right?
Indeed, it would be hard to ignore these concerns. At Avon we speak openly about where we are as a company – what opportunities we see, and what are the risks. We address those concerns both in general communication with employees, and with managers – preparing them to possible talks with employees. Addressing such concerns is important, because dissembling them will not make them disappear. It is worth, however, to keep both feet on the ground and not to make promises one won’t be able to keep. We say how it is, what we know at this moment.
I heard recently Igor Klaja, the CEO of 4F, say in his talk with Polsat News that his company would rather go bankrupt than let any of his employees go.
We tell our employees openly what solutions we implement to prevent this situation. This is what we want to build their sense of security on – knowledge, information about the steps we take to protect our business. Making declarations for the future or speculating is risky. It’s like in a relationship. When you say “I love you” you don’t add: “But I don’t know what it’s going to be like in six months.” From the rational point of view, anything can happen, but such statements would only cause anxiety. This is one of the principles of our communication – we don’t want to cause uncertainty or make commitments for the future given so many unknowns.
Should companies create additional contact channels for people who fear the company would “stop loving them”?
It is important that internal communication provides for the fact that we all go through this quarantine period differently. Apart from casual lifestyle messages that we send, we also think about those for whom this is a difficult and stressful time. One example is the launch of our “call a friend” helpline for employees allowing them to contact our HR on the phone unlimited number of times. We also have a safe, anonymous channel for contacts with the management board. We can see more and more such initiatives in other companies, e.g. organizing psychological help for employees.
There are a lot of topics, threats and changes – how do you make sure you’re not overloading employees with too many messages?
First, it it important to group messages and assign them with the right channel and tool, so that the recipients always know where to find each piece of information. At Avon, we provide most of the general-type information at weekly meetings with the management board on MS Teams – owners of topics talk about their projects, and employees can ask them questions in real time and comment on chat. We use emails, on the other hand, as a one-way communication and we recommend our intranet to get more information. We also cascade information via managers to strengthen communication at the team level, which is just as important as the company level.
Even though the coronavirus has impacted the number of messages for a while, eventually it did not make that number any bigger. Something different happened; this new situation we are in has made us reorganize our communication. Some content is distributed via different channels, and new initiatives are replacing the old ones. I think the time of the pandemic is also an opportunity to take a fresh look at internal communication.
Coronavirus seems like a huge celestial body to me – its gravity is strong enough to affect other, smaller bodies circulating around.
Yes, no doubt this new body has reorganized our previous way of working and communicating. Even though it came out of nowhere, and shifting to the online mode day by day was neither easy nor painless, with time we can all benefit from it. This is a good time to experiment, test new tools and undermine the status quo. I believe all this can positively influence the way we communicate after we return to the office.