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?


  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?

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’.


  • 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


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…

Local comms: the view from where you are

Reflections on what internal communications looks like outside of the corporate team – and a reminder of how effective local comms are an essential building block for corporate internal comms.

Effective local comms is an essential building block for corporate internal comms

The view from the Yew Garden at Packwood House (through a narrow gap).
The view from the Yew Garden at Packwood House

When you are working in corporate comms you feel that you have to focus on supporting communications which further the org’s strategy.

Very often, sat in a corporate team, I’d despair at the functions who wanted help with their local comms. (In every corporate team we were never resourced to support local comms.)

I’d give some top-level pointers on what they could do and then move on to looking for stories to demonstrate our corporate messaging, all the while bemoaning the quality of line manager communication.

And sometimes we’d run comms communities to upskill and pool info.

Catch 22

The Catch 22 is clear. And all the clearer for recently spending five months embedded with a team outside of the world of corporate comms.

Good comms within your function reduces frustrations and confusions in your role and makes you feel better about work.

It also makes your team more efficient, reducing duplication, overlap and work at cross-purposes.

And it makes it easier for others to work with you. Especially key if you are offering services and products to others.

Lastly, it also makes it more likely that you will use and support corporate messaging and campaigns by carrying out the essential local context-setting and relevance-adding.

So, my new perspective has confirmed what I secretly knew all along. By not investing in, and supporting, good local communications, corporate internal comms teams are missing a trick.

Good basics

My recently-drawn observations about good basics for local comms (and there’s no rocket science in this, just salutary reminders) are:

  • Two-way face-to-face is still king – equip your local managers and be human about it
    • Brief them regularly with useful info and content – give them a chance to fully understand and interrogate the info
    • Task them with getting their people up to speed face-to-face (but however works for them) – and give them a reasonable amount of time to do it
  • Functional, regular, very short and disciplined, stand-up briefings (in person or online) help people to share essential updates and give visibility of who’s doing what right now
  • Minimise the amount of push and inbox comms
    • Try and consolidate as much as possible into round-ups (including the corporate and divisional comms)
    • Try and allow people to opt-in and out of as much as possible so they can tailor what they receive as a push
  • Maximise the amount of pull communications – and make it easy and effective
    • Build an easily navigable, single place for pull communications which has everything they could reasonably want including the links to the corporate resources they need (recruitment/ reporting/ induction)
    • Make your local management meetings and decision-making transparent by sharing agendas, minutes, meeting dates etc.


This is part of the prescription for the team I’m working with right now (backed up by some proper comms research) – but it’s close enough to my guess in week one. The key is to invest time in taking the people on the journey and getting the buy-in so that they can own and operate the approach themselves.

Inside out

Meanwhile, on the other side of the job, I’m looking at improving communications with customers and stakeholders within the organisation. And the other truism is that it’s hard to do that without getting the team’s own internal comms in hand. More on that in my next post….

Performance management and employee engagement

A former colleague of mine was asking me last week about the norm for objective-setting. Is it to cascade down or to build bottom-up?

Post-it reading "It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it."
And that’s what gets results.

This started me thinking about the role of objective setting, regular performance management conversations, and performance appraisals in engagement.

Years ago, when I used to work with the Civil Service People Survey, we used a definition of the key drivers of employee engagement which has stuck with me.  It’s still my go-to definition.

Go-to definition of the drivers of engagement

Almost all of the drivers relate to performance management:

  • Vision and direction – creating and communicating a clear and motivating picture of the future for employees
  • Career development – opportunities for professional and personal development and advancement.
  • Recognition – acknowledging the importance of the role each individual plays and thanking people for superior effort and performance.
  • Line management – enabling managers to be advocates of the organisation and their staff.
  • Work itself and environment – creating absorbing roles and suitable and effective work spaces.
  • Employee involvement and autonomy – making use of employee expertise and opinion in operating and managing the business.
  • Reward – valuing employees through a total reward package of pay and a range of other benefits.And the Cabinet Office model also specifically draws out performance management and some other relevant things among its list of critical success factors:
    • Meaningful performance goals – organisational outcomes linked to employee actions
    • Effective communication – regular, tailored communication to explain the benefits of the approach, acknowledge challenges, recognise the efforts of employees and update on progress.

So back to the question…

Does a performance management system ever work?

I’ve never worked in an organisation where performance management works.

I’ve worked for several extremely good line managers who’ve made it work in their teams.  But as a whole the process and forms in every organisation seemed to change annually and the supporting HR systems seemed to make everything much harder than it needed to be.

Top-down or bottom-up?

In a top-down system there always seems to be a delay in waiting for the cascade of objectives.  Are you waiting for the CEO to have their objectives approved by the Board?  Or are you waiting for a Director to share their objectives with their own team members?

Then, if everything is very tightly cascaded, what scope is there for defining your own objectives and what does that mean for your sense of autonomy?

And what happens if you work in a speciality which isn’t really represented in your line manager’s objectives – say, for example, if you work in a matrixed organisation?

But then in a bottom-up way of working – how do you make sure that your objectives are aligned to the year’s organisational objectives?

And how do you avoid falling into the trap of setting objectives that are really just about delivering your day job? How do you co-ordinate your objectives with those of your team-mates?

Dialogue is the key

As always, ongoing dialogue is the key.  Exchanging ideas with your manager, having visibility of your manager’s thinking, sharing and testing with your colleagues to make sure you’re joined up, having the ability to influence each other.  All of this ideally informed by a strong understanding of the organisation’s vision and current circumstances and your team’s purpose.

Ongoing dialogue

And keeping the conversation going is equally important.  We hear so often that conversations about progress and performance should not be three times a year (objective-setting/ mid-year appraisal/ end-of-year appraisal) but should be regular.  This makes a world where there are no surprises and you can get feedback and support as you go.

tl;dr – it’s the line managers stupid

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it​

So, for me, whether it’s top-down or bottom-up, it’s about informing and equipping line managers.

It’s the old internal communications chestnut – it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

Here’s my checklist:

  • do they understand the vision?
  • do they understand their team’s purpose?
  • can they explain them to their team members?
  • do they know the process timelines and logistics – and are they given enough notice?
  • are the supporting systems user-friendly?
  • can they explain the process to their people (including any performance-related pay)?
  • are they equipped to deliver feedback constructively?
  • do they know to focus on the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’?
  • are they enabling people to have autonomy over their objectives (people can, at least, define the specifics, and the how, and the SMART measures)?
  • are they making sure that the objectives are about this year’s point of difference (and not the day job)?
  • are they creating opportunities for dialogue both in objective-setting and throughout the year?

What would you add?

You might like to read:

House of Lords Martini In and Out on Toast – revisited

Writing about:

I’ve since learnt that a House of Lords Martini refers to a martini made with Booth’s House of Lords gin. So there.

And if you want to know what in and out on toast is you’ll have to read the earlier post.

(As an aside, I can heartily recommend Everyday Drinking by Kingsley Amis as a good read.)

Anyway, the point remains, you can’t under-estimate the knowledge of those people who spend time with your customers.

This is true in both of the projects that I’m currently working on – one on customer experience, and the other on building better relationships with the business as a service function.

Also, I’d much rather hear than the much loved and almost certainly apocryphal story of the conversation between President Kennedy and a NASA janitor.

Because this one is about recognising a colleague’s knowledge and insight. About enabling empowerment and autonomy to get things right. Not just about recognising the contribution to the bigger picture.

Let’s tell this story more.