Clear, consistent communication is more vital than ever when we're all in lockdown, particularly with colleagues and furloughed employees. Olivia Moore, Careers Development Officer at the Law Society, examines how to get it right.

Over the last couple of months, there’s been lots of information out there about working from home. From where to set up a workstation, to how often to stretch, to how to differentiate your work and home life - we’ve probably all seen and read a lot about it.

One of most important themes that we need to keep focusing on, though, is how we keep our interactions with colleagues going. It’s not just critical to ensuring businesses run smoothly; getting it right has a massive, positive impact on wellbeing.

Now that we’re two months into working from home, let’s keep the communications up. Perhaps your team has fallen into a mode of working slightly closer to ‘business as usual’, in which case it might be time to evaluate how you’re keeping in touch and whether that's working as well as it can do. For other businesses, perhaps you’ve barely been able to draw breath and it’s now time to check in with your colleagues and make sure they’re fully up-to-date with everything.

Keeping in touch with colleagues working from home

There’s a huge number of ways we can keep in touch with colleagues and, as you would expect, huge variations in which channels organisations choose to adopt.

Everyone is different and employers might need to vary their approach or try a range of options, so colleagues can pick and choose what they prefer. Between furlough and childcare issues for example, the ‘fun’ part of keeping teams together isn’t always that feasible. It’s important it doesn’t become an extra pressure.

The part that isn’t optional is to make sure colleagues aren’t isolated with their work. Managers should check in regularly about workloads, working patterns, worries and ask simple questions like ‘how are you getting on?’ For overloaded-managers, who aren’t superhumans, businesses could look at setting up peer-support options and buddying people up.

This is an important time to show compassionate leadership. As one firm put it, leaders should ask themselves, “how do we speak to our staff to make them understand that we have got their backs and we care?”

Keeping in touch with staff on furlough

A major argument for keeping in touch with your colleagues on furlough is to ensure the rumour mill isn’t a source of misinformation. It’s natural that speculation will arise in the absence of transparency, as not working can be anxiety-inducing. People will feel more at ease if they are aware of the types of decisions taking place and it will help build trust, particularly if they understand the tough choices the business is needing to make.

I have been running roundtables recently for trainees on furlough and a lack of communication was a common concern. A lot of trainees hadn’t had any direct phone calls from people in their organisation and weren’t receiving any updates about their situation or the business generally. Trainees on furlough, understandably, start to worry about redundancy, whether their qualification dates will be delayed and what they should be doing with their time.

How much you should keep in touch with colleagues on furlough is broadly a common-sense approach, although if you can, ask them what they would like to hear about. The bottom line is to make sure people don’t feel totally cut off; furloughed colleagues need to know they remain a valuable part of the business.

Looking for ideas? Here are some organisations that you might be able to learn from

There are a lot of creative options out there. I realised when listening in to a roundtable for in-house members that I had barely scratched the surface of exploring what’s possible. Here are some of their case studies; perhaps there are elements to borrow and adapt for your team.

Neil Campbell, Managing Legal Counsel, Outsourcing, Technology and Intellectual Property team at RBS

“For over a month now, almost 50,000 RBS staff have been working from home while keeping the Bank open. For me, this new way of working has highlighted the importance of staying connected and teamship. As a team we have tried to continue our operating rhythm in terms of team meetings, 121s and coaching sessions although they now take place remotely.

"In addition, we have been trying new ways to keep in touch. At the end of each day, we have an open team Zoom call. Colleagues are welcome to dial in if they wish and share their day. We host a virtual Friday night team quiz, we will shortly host our first virtual team book club and we have a team WhatsApp group.

"The Bank set up a Covid-19 Wellbeing communication hub on its intranet, which provides lots of information and support to staff. As a department, Legal provides regular communications and have held a number of virtual town halls, with a particular focus on wellbeing.  We will shortly be rolling out a pulse survey which will be  a useful tool to check-in with colleagues on their wellbeing. We are fortunate that we also have  Workplace (Facebook at work), which has become a really useful tool for colleagues across the Bank to connect.

"For me, it is important that colleagues feel they are part of a team and that they feel supported, even though they are working apart.”

Kirsteen Bell, Legal Counsel, Legal & Corporate Development, Skyscanner 

“At Skyscanner, we take health and mental wellbeing very seriously. We have had a lot of practice with remote working, as we operate a very flexible working-from-home policy and the company has really made sure we are set up for success from a technological perspective. Our teams are global, so Zoom and Slack etiquette are key to ensuring all colleagues are included and can participate equally.

"As a Legal Team, we are geographically spread and have a daily morning Zoom catch up, where we talk about anything non-work related and make sure the team is coping all right. We’ve also increased the cadence of our All Hands and Town Halls meetings to make sure staff are up-to-date with the latest announcements and the Executive Team are on hand to answer all manner of questions.

"We’ve found that social interaction is really important, so we have held Friyay Zoom Drinks, virtual pub quizzes, bingo and set up Slack channels to showcase life working from home, with #battlestations, #wfh-_lunches and #happy_chat being the most popular!

"For me, the key to feeling supported is regular communication with your team, transparency of initiatives and plans, but also recognition that we are all human and want to do our best, despite the challenges we are all facing right now. Skyscanner have been very proactive in the protection and cultivation of wellbeing during this unprecedented period and I am very grateful for that.”

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