Internal Communications: Keeping your Team Engaged in a Virtual World

Our first event of 2021 kicked off with a bang! We talked about something we’re all focused on, particularly amid the pandemic: internal communications. Our wonderful moderator, Dave Whitman, APR, a principal and the corporate communication director at SmithGroup, led a great conversation with the following speakers:

  • Erin Craig, Director of Employee Communications, Comcast
  • Chris Smith, Director of Internal Communications, Rock Central
  • Vickie Winn, Director of Communications, Detroit Health Department

Increased Cadence

All the panelists had to increase internal communications in order to keep employees informed and empowered.

  • Vickie spoke about wanting to be the voice of truth. She said, “The team knew what we knew, when we knew it.” She focused on the importance of communicating and engaging with every member of the team. She added, “We should be social butterflies to know what employees are looking for. This way, when we are communicating difficult messages, you have a better understanding the best ways to communicate.”
  • Erin spoke about how video messaging and Microsoft TEAMS were game changers for employees. “We had to be highly targeted because half of employees are working from home and half are essential and still working on the field,” she said. (The team spans multiple states too, meaning COVID-19 updates varied as well!) She noted that at first her team had monthly calls with supervisors and then shifted these calls quarterly, and now they conduct TEAMS live meetings for all 2,000 staff members.
  • Chris explained that his team developed key messages early and focused on transparency and letting employees know that they would be the first to know when decisions were made. The CEO curated weekly videos to communicate with employees to increase transparency as well.

Staying Creative

Maintaining the culture virtually was also an important component to each speaker.

  • Erin and her team asked employees to take videos of themselves for commercials to tell their stories. Additionally, her team used self-made videos for fun activities like at-home exercises to share how they’re staying in shape so they can stay engaged with the wider team. A tool they used for these videos is Video Ask, which is a great way to organize these clips.
  • Vickie spoke about utilizing newsletters, posters throughout city buildings and a lot of “old school” tools. I loved her reference to the team’s Zoom, team spirit day where employees got together and wore their health department swag. They even have an employee engagement team who have been great at organizing impactful events.
  • Chris and his team rolled out TEAMS live events called “spread the news,” which is focused on trickling down information throughout the team. He also talked about his team’s successful R&R program to give everyone a free paid day off that didn’t go towards PTO to make sure everyone was taking care of themselves and it was extremely successful. I also loved his team’s innovative idea to have a socially distant Olympics too. For example, employees had to build the best fort they could with their kids and send in a picture.

Looking Ahead

Although the future is still unpredictable there is plenty of work to do.

  • Vickie said, “There are so many tools at our disposal and it’s important to not rely on one tool because there can be up to five generations at one company.” Her team is doing so much to work toward the future, like daily 8:30 a.m. mindfulness events for employees, providing vaccination information and more.
  • Erin‘s team is rooted in reflection. She said, “We’ve started conversations re: ‘what are you doing now that you’ll continue as a new best practice?” I think this is great to encourage growth among employees. I also love that her team has maintained their internship program. She said, “we have been able to talk to people we may have never talked to before (based on where they’re located because everything is virtual right now.)!”
  • Chris said,We know we’re going to go back to the office eventually so we’re getting ready to roll out that plan to get people back in the office. We’re so committed to Detroit and its businesses and it’s important to us to go back. We’ve done some office construction during this time so we’re able to share photos and videos of those updates with people to get people excited.” He also noted discussing vaccine procedures as well, so people feel safe.

The panelists stayed on after the event to network with some of the members and answer more questions (see pictured)!

Internal communications will certainly continue to evolve as the pandemic does and as more and more people return to the office. Many thanks to this trio for their time and for getting us all thinking about the future of internal communications.

Megan Bonelli (formerly Peterson) is an Account Supervisor at Franco and a Detroit PRSA board member.

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