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Reflections on communicating with our staff during the pandemic

During the pandemic those responsible for communicating with staff have played a vital role. They’ve had to ensure staff, including those working from home or on furlough, are kept up to date and feel supported with their wellbeing.

We talked to our Internal Communications Manager at Mind to find out about the challenges she’s faced and her advice for others in similar roles. Laura Pickering, who has only been working for us since a few months before the first lockdown, has been responsible for communicating with over 400 national Mind staff throughout the pandemic.

Laura Pickering, Internal Communications Manager at Mind

1. With everyone at Mind working from home for the past year, what have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced in delivering important communications to staff? How have you had to adapt?

The biggest immediate challenge was obviously the change to our ways of working in response to the initial crisis. We went from having a mix of office-based staff across two offices, with some homeworkers, and shops all over the country, to everyone homeworking overnight and all of our shops closing. We had been planning for this for a few weeks before the announcement from the government was made, but putting that all in place overnight was really difficult. We had to be quick to react to adapt to the changing situation and put the wellbeing of our staff front and centre.

But this adaptation has served us as time has gone on and the challenge has become longer-term way of life. The changes that have been made to the Government guidelines, often at short notice, has meant that that agile ways of working and decision making has been needed throughout the pandemic. We have staff in Wales and in England, and office-based staff plus our retail team, so we've needed to keep an eye on lots of different, two-nation, Government announcements and tailor our comms accordingly.

2. How have you been able to cater to everyone’s different needs? 

We know that everyone’s experience of the pandemic has been completely different. We've had staff members in houseshares in London, those caring for relatives, those with their own health conditions, and parents homeschooling their children – all whilst trying to work in the same place they live. That's a challenge for internal communicators – you’re not communicating in a vacuum. All of those things are affecting how people respond to the information that you're giving them. We started a weekly 'coping with coronavirus' article that looked at these themes and then shared them in our internal channels, and we've introduced a random coffee initiative to help connect colleagues from different teams. 
At Mind, we have a lot of staff with lived experience of mental health problems, and we all know how much of a big impact the pandemic has had on people's mental health. Our staff are obviously really passionate about our work and supporting people, so it's been important to encourage our staff to look after themselves throughout this period. 
Also, when we started to furlough our colleagues, we started a second comms stream to furloughed staff only - this meant that we could deliver tailored messages showing thanks and support for our furloughed staff, as well as tweak our messaging for those staff members still working.


3. Why is good internal communication so important at a time like this?

Research has shown people trust their employer more than charities, the government and the new media. Good internal communications in a crisis is key in keeping that trust with your staff. 
With so much change in the external world, you need to be able to give colleagues as much reassurance as you can –but also recognise that this isn't always possible and sometimes you can only do so much. It's a bit of a balancing act. There have been times in the past year when all we've been able to do as acknowledge that guidelines have changed and that we are looking into what this means for them and will be in touch when we have more information.

You'll never be able to eliminate worry - and you have to make your peace with that early - all you can do is try and manage it as best as possible.

We know that good internal communications can help lift people's spirits too - we led on our staff awards event at the end of last year, and we had lots of great feedback about how it had really helped lift people's spirits and remind them of the incredible work we've done as a charity this year.


4. How has the pandemic changed the world of internal communications for the better?

I think the pandemic has really put the importance of good internal communications on the map. It's been shown how vital well-considered internal communications is during times of crisis, and it's just as important to get comms right as we start to return to normal as much as there was in the initial crisis a year ago. 
With more hybrid ways of working inevitable, we're going to need to continue to be creative in how we respond to this. For example, our colleagues in Cardiff have said that the pandemic has been an equaliser – they’re not a face on a screen in a London meeting room. 
The last year has shown how we need to listen to staff and really put their experience of staff at the heart of the organisation. It's shown the importance of looking after your staff's wellbeing, showing understanding during difficult times. It's also put leadership front and centre - we've seen into leaders' homes, and it’s humanised them in a way that you would never have seen in our old-office based workplaces.


5. What one piece of advice would you give to employers about communicating with their staff at this difficult time?

Put your colleague's experience of work at the heart of what you do. Know your internal audiences, think from their perspective and understand that everything you communicate has an impact on the relationships that staff have with you as an employer. Internal comms is much more than what’s written in that all staff email you sent - it's how you say it, how you listen, how you made those decisions and how you make people's lives at work better.

Where to find more support

We have a range of information and advice to help you manage your mental health at work and support others’ on our coronavirus and workplace hub. We will also be sharing new resources and blogs as we reach one year since the first lockdown.

You can also find more resources on the Mental Health at Work website.

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