Featured

First anniversary of WFH

A collection of personal coping techniques for working from home and resources for virtual productivity and collaboration.

Tips for being productive and inclusive virtually

This week is the first anniversary of starting to work from home full-time. Many of those of us who have office-based roles will be in the same boat.

I marked the anniversary on social media this week to a very mixed response.

Some friends have settled in and prefer not having to commute; others are desperately missing the society of working in an office.

One asked me what I’d learnt that was making it work for me. And I’ve been reflecting on that point.

Physical support

The organisation that I’ve been working for over the last 18 months was already well advanced in terms of supplying everyone with good mobile kit, good remote connectivity, and good video-conferencing.

The other benefit is a remarkably well-used Yammer presence which offers work social networking and a wide variety of staff networks and interest and support groups. I’ve rarely seen the like of it – these things usually fester unloved in a corner.

But, on top of that, they were very quick to organise ancillary screens and kit and even office chairs for delivery to home addresses. Latterly, they’ve also offered a contribution towards tables that we’ve bought ourselves.

Having the right set-up makes a difference.

Moral and financial support

But more than that they were also extremely quick to acknowledge that homeschooling and caring responsibilities meant that people would have limited capacity. So they asked people to work out what they could manage in terms of hours and replanned organisational priorities – while keeping everyone at full pay. The impact on wellbeing, engagement, and discretionary effort is incalculable.

I don’t have any caring responsibilities myself but even so felt the benefit of working for an organisation taking such a progressive stance.

Social support

Colleagues have been similarly quick to step up and offer peer-to-peer contact.

One is running a series of virtual 15-minute show and tell sessions – there are usually a couple of week from different contributors of the most ecelectic and fascinating range of topics.

Another is organising a kind of coffee roulette – she draws names out of a virtual hat every week and you meet for a 10-minute chat to talk anything but shop. She says it’s designed to replicate the kind of incidental contact that you have in the office kitchenettes.

Contact time with line managers has increased – one colleague told me that she now had more regular 121s than before because her manager works in a different office and they used to wait until they could meet face-to-face.

Health & Wellbeing

The organisation has also put a heavy focus on health and wellbeing with all kinds of outside experts running short video sessions on physical, mental, financial, nutritional and relationship wellbeing.

I particularly valued a six-week course on resilience techniques, and picked up all sorts of tips.

Making us more productive and inclusive

My own contribution has been in helping people to understand how to make technology work for them through better meeting practices and better asynchronous collaboration. I’ve added a whole list of resources at the bottom of this post.

Colleagues have also been running 15-minute sessions on personal lean techniques – my two personal biggest takeouts have been the Pomodoro Technique and the ‘second brain’.

Sharing what works for us

We’ve also been taking turns in sharing what we’ve been learning and what’s working for us. Here’s my contribution last summer:

Resources: being inclusive and productive virtually

An excerpt from what’s working for me personally

Quality time – quality of life
I’m loving the extra three hours a day gained by cutting out my (fairly average) commute. I only live in Coventry, but by the time I’ve walked to the station, waited for the standing-room-only train, and got to New St, it’s an hour and a half each way.

I’m also having an actual lunch break every day – saving an incredible amount of money by eating lunch at home and eating better lunches. I realised that (because I’m lazy about packed lunches) I was spending about a tenner a day on grab and go lunches from Grand Central. Now I mostly have leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, or a quick omelette or lentil pouch.

I’ve dramatically cut down my caffeine intake – to one single freshly-ground cup of coffee each morning. So much better for my wellbeing and it’s turned that cup into a treat that I often take out to the garden for a moment of decompression. (I’ve also cut right down on alcohol because daily evening aperos and nibbles were featuring a bit too heavily in April and May!)

In the extra time that we’ve gained in the mornings I’ve started Yoga with Adriene and I’ve become an enormous fan – I like her relaxed and compassionate style. It’s yoga for every body (which is just as well!). Over the summer I’ve often popped out after breakfast to do a bit veg harvesting – we’ve made a real effort to grow lots this year – my partner has done amazing things in germinating some extremely old seeds left over from our allotmenteering days.

In the evenings I’m cooking proper meals again – and a far greater variety (except when we’ve had to use up various garden gluts). I’d fallen into a time-pressured rut of a few boring, but quick and easy, standards.

We’ve started a Sunday Walk club with two close friends and neighbours – we’ve now covered the whole of the Coventry Way and most of the Coventry Way circular walks. And we’re all now investing in winter walking gear so we can carry on as the weather turns. Having a fixed social point in the week has made a big difference, we finish each walk with cake and tea and have a snack halfway – and it’s even replaced our Saturday night Zoom Pub calls from earlier in lockdown.

Virtual Productivity
Workwise, having a routine has also been key – daily huddles with the internal comms team, and frequent catch ups with my Sixth Gear team mates.

I’ve also found a lot of the Lean15 techniques valuable for productivity – a special mention for time blocking and pomodoro technique, and my ‘second brain’ that I’ve started in One Note and refer to daily.

Each morning I set up my work station on the dining room table, check my inbox and Yammer, and then fill in the IC Huddle board before our meeting, and each evening I update my ‘second brain’ and do my What Went Well listing before packing my work station away again. Getting these routines in place has been crucial.

Also, I’ve learnt a huge amount about making teams and meetings productive and inclusive virtually, including using Liberating Structures and other exercises – and this knowledge has really meant that I’ve been able to be as efficient and productive as I would be in the office. In fact, possibly even more so, because it’s now much easier to block out focus time and get my head down.

That said, I couldn’t do this if I didn’t have the necessary counter-balance of Yammer, Tiny Talks, Gilda’s coffee meetings (I’ve met people that I’ve never met in the office), and the Corporate Enablers huddles and socials (special mention for Through the Keyhole).

A 2-page communications campaign framework

A framework for a campaign to embed your organisation’s strategy. What to do when they ask you for a hearts and minds campaign.

We need a hearts and minds campaign for our strategy.

Every organisation ever

Here’s a simple, adaptable, framework that could work for you.

It relies on these building blocks:

  • Identifying themes in your organisational strategy
  • Finding (proxy) clients for each theme to work with
  • An engagement-led approach
  • Creating tools and products that enable people to change
  • Reinforcing internal broadcast communications

Building your movement

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

The question becomes, how do we get people behind our cause?

The start of a Warwickshire cross-country race - a wall of runners heading towards you.
A wave of cross country runners heading towards you at speed.

And the answer is by finding common cause.

And you do that by listening.

This is where a technique from community activism comes into play. And thanks to Ruth and Julie from ThePublicOffice for recently introducing me to the concept. 

Public narratives

It really struck a chord with me because I had not long ago read the first volume of Barack Obama’s autobiography, Dreams from My Father, in which he talks about the time he spent as a community organiser.

How public narrative works is explained here far better than I could.

I can absolutely see the application to change within organisations and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can help people to do with the technique.

Sharing so that you can think about it too.

Culture is an outcome not an output

And, while I’m at it, you can’t communicate culture. Not even through “hearts and minds” campaigns *cringe*.

And the reason that you can’t communicate your way to a new culture is that it’s not something that can be done to an organisation. You have to do it with an organisation.

That’s right from defining where you are now, the challenge you’re facing, and where you want to get to.

As for the ‘how you’re going to get there’ that takes a cast of thousands. They just need to support the idea.

What can communications do?

You can share the story of where you think you are, what you think the challenge is, where you think you need to get to, how you think you might get there, and what you hope the benefits might be when you get there. And you can use this to help test the ideas and shape discussion.

You can share stories of where you think you are already doing these things.

You can be clear about what’s up for discussion and what’s not.

You can amplify people’s stories of where they are trying new things and what they are learning.

But you can’t paint a picture of a to be state (however compelling or visual or blanket coverage) and then expect it to be owned and delivered.

Time and space for discussion

The magic ingredient is offering people time, space, and a framework, to find a common understanding, a shared purpose, disagree well, discuss at length, input, build, and sense-make.

Time to debate, tyre-kick, think about things from different angles, and work through what it really means to them as individuals and teams.

Structures and systems, policies and processes

Then, once people have wrapped their head round things, and begun to make it relevant to themselves, you can work with them to help them think through what changes they want to make in the light of it.

Autonomy and ownership

The last piece of the jigsaw is how we support each other and remove blockers. Do people feel as though they are enabled and encouraged?

  • How do your leaders and people managers enable people?
  • How do you share information and ideas?
  • How do you get decisions made?
  • What are your people saying they need in order to get on with things?

Tl;dr

  1. Paint your picture – why change, why now, broadly how, why will it be better
  2. Make time and space and structures to help folks test the thinking and make sense of it
  3. Help people think through what they can/want to do to help
  4. Get out of people’s way – make governance, leadership and management supportive
  5. Amplify stories of where it’s working and/or where people are trying things out

What have I forgotten/glibly skipped over?

This is a quick fly-through of the mental map I’ve built from the five or so organisations that I’ve spent time with over the last ten years.

What would you challenge on this? What would you add to it?

Be brief – get your point across

Making your writing short and precise will make you look cleverer and make people more likely to read it.

Photo: Cecil Beaton [Public domain]
Quote: As cited in Churchill by Himself (2008), ed. Langworth, PublicAffairs, p. 50, ISBN 1586486389

Things to avoid

  • Repetition – your writing can be boring for the reader if you keep repeating the same words or phrases
  • Overworked words – some words are used so much that they lose their meaning – try and be specific
  • Clichés – phrases that have been used over and over and don’t add anything
  • Verbosity – using too many words when plain language works better – try not to sound pompous and over-formal

Not big, not clever

A 2005 study from the psychology department of Princeton University found that using long and obscure words does not make people seem more intelligent. Dr. Daniel M. Oppenheimer did research which showed that students rated short, concise texts as being written by the most intelligent authors. But those who used long words or complex font types were seen as less intelligent.[22]

Keeping internal campaigns on track

The key to getting results from an internal communications campaign is about working with your sponsors to define clear outcomes (rather than outputs).

The key to getting results from an internal communications campaign is about working with your sponsors to define clear outcomes (rather than outputs).

Preparing for a journey on the Watercress Line

What will the campaign achieve if it’s successful?

The bottom line is…

…will it:

  • deliver a change, or
  • help get something done (an aspect of the organisation’s work).

Critical success factors

Here’s a useful checklist:

  • Have a clear objective that contributes to a shift in audience behaviour, knowledge and perception, or feelings
  • Know how you will evaluate delivery against that objective
  • Know how your campaign supports the organisation to achieve its mission and vision
    • and/or one or more of its milestones, strategic priorities or objectives
  • Use multiple channels during a clearly defined period of time in support of targeted stakeholder engagement activity*
  • Include a means of evaluating the success of the campaign, ideally before, during, and after

*broadcast communications alone will struggle to deliver change. But they can be useful in reinforcing targeted stakeholder engagement.

A stitch in time saves nine

Spending time with your stakeholders to get the what (desired outcomes) and the why and how really straight and watertight is the best investment you can make.

Getting started without getting these properly nailed down can leave you adrift and adding to the comms churn to no point and purpose. Not helpful for your audience, or your sponsor, and demotivating for you.

Internal communicators will never stop being asked to ‘raise awareness/profile’ or deliver a change in ‘hearts and minds’. And helping our stakeholders to think more rigorously is often challenging – especially when they are under pressure to show that they are ‘doing’.

But we’ve gotta try. It’s our duty.

Recipe for a change narrative

A structure to help with writing a change narrative, and suggestions on how to use it.

First catch your ‘why’.

Ingredients

  • 1x background
  • 1x what’s changed
  • 1x what’s the challenge
  • 1x what’s the strategy for facing the challenge
  • 1x how will we need to behave to make the strategy work
  • 1x how do we know it will work
  • 1x what’s the first step we need to take

Method

Mix all your dry ingredients. Make sure that your why and how are evenly distributed.

Use this mix as the basis of your messaging. It is versatile and can be turned into:

  • Key messages
  • Presentations
  • Speeches
  • Elevator pitches
  • Web content (static pages / news content)
  • Social media content
  • Staff briefings
  • Videos
  • Animations

But remember

Show, don’t tell. It’s essential to include the examples of where it’s already working (how do we know it will work), and to keep giving new examples of where it s happening, working, changing…

Even better if you can include a diversity of voices telling stories about where it’s working: colleagues from different areas (managers/ frontline/ leaders), customers, external stakeholders…

Writing for the web

Most people don’t read web pages word by word. Here are some tips about how to write for the web.

People won’t read all you write

There’s no point writing great big chunks of text or long articles.

No-one is going to read them much, or possibly even at all. Most people don’t read web pages word by word.

They scan and skim – looking for words and sentences that suggest it could be relevant to them – and skipping over everything else.

They’re also not going to spend time scrolling down long pages – frustration will usually set in first.

Short is always best

People read from computer screens in a different way to paper and that means you need to write in a different way.

  • Make it as short as you can. People generally read information from a screen more slowly than in print (up to 25% more slowly in fact), and that can put them off wanting to read lots of information. Short sentences of between 10 and 20 words are best.
  • Review what you’ve written – and then cut as much as you can without making it hard to understand. Web content should as a rule have half the word count of paper equivalents.

That doesn’t mean using jargon, acronyms and abbreviations to make it shorter.

Capture attention

Use scanning to work for you. The first sentence of the paragraph should sell the rest of it. Think of your content as a poster that has to capture the attention of people rushing past and that will help you think of how to capture attention. You should also use:

  • headings that tell people straight away what it’s about
  • sub-headings to break up text – make them explain what’s coming next
  • short words, short sentences and short paragraphs
  • keywords that readers will recognise and be looking for
  • occasional highlights to emphasise a point
  • hyperlinks to take those who really need it to more detail about topics

Sell the content

The top of your page is really valuable. It’s your shop window for attracting people to your information. Don’t waste it with unchanging welcome messages or general blurb.

Story structure

Start with the most important information (who, what, where, when, why – and why is it important?), back that up with the top points and finish with less important information: it helps people choose how much detail they want to know, and still get the important information.

Bullet points can help summarise information well online:

  • start with the most important information
  • back that up with the top points
  • finish with less important information
  • help people choose how much detail they want to know, and still get the important information

Don’t repeat

Make the most of what content is already there – provided it’s any good – by summarising briefly and then linking to it rather than repeating everything it covers. Balance that with making sure that people can understand your page on its own.

Encourage feedback

It’ll help save time and effort if people spot a problem with what you’ve written, fail to understand it and want to tell you what they think of it…

Communicating: why bother?

How to help busy people see that communicating can help remove blockers and frustrations.

Encouraging green shoots.

Basically, we internal communicators, spend our lives trying to make ourselves redundant. Not needed. Unnecessary. If we can crack internal communication there should be no need for internal communicationS.

And yet there seems to be no shortage of work. And Internal Communications functions are now very normal in medium and large organisations, especially compared to when I started out in 2001.

So how do we help busy people with busy day jobs to see how communicating can help them?

I’m busy enough trying to do my job, without all these extra things. HR, Finance, Comms…

Things we have all heard people say

You’re just asking my people to do admin

Things overloaded managers of overloaded teams say

As Simon Sinek says, it starts with why.

My response to this is in two parts.

Firstly, why is communicating generally a helpful thing for anyone to do?

Most of the time when we are communicating we are trying to influence other people to do something (differently).

Communicating helps you to get your job done.

Secondly, if you think about your work challenges and what you need to change to remove them, you can focus your communication to help remove frustrations.

A leadership team I’ve been working with recently identified a number of everyday pain points that could be tackled through communicating.

The trick is to identify the pain point, define a key message (probably the reverse of the pain point), look for examples of where the key message is true, and tell the stories. Show, don’t tell.

For example:

People don’t know how to be good clients. They lob in a request and expect to have nothing more to do with the project.

Becomes:

We get even better results when we work with you as part of the team.

Then you look for examples (green shoots) of where one of your customers has been actively involved throughout and you’ve done good work together. And tell the story. Or, better yet, get them to tell the story for you.

How easy was it to work with the team? What insight did you gain? How did your feedback and insight help to improve the result? Etc.

Show, don’t tell.

Start small, get a few examples under your belt. And make sure that you share the impact of the communications back with those hard-pushed people to show them it’s worth it.