Covid brings communications revolution

Covid has highlighted the importance of good lines of communication, a Working Families webinar on best practice in Scotland heard this week.

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Covid-19 has brought a communications revolution in some companies, with an emphasis on direct channels to senior management and feedback loops, a Working Families webinar heard earlier this week.

Speaking on a Future of Work in Scotland webinar on Tuesday, Graham Cameron, Head of Human Resources at Dounreay Site Restoration [DSR] Ltd, said the pandemic has brought a revolution in the way the company communicates. They now have their own company app via Netpresenter which connects senior leadership directly with everyone in the workforce and has enabled whole staff briefings. The managing director of DSR, which has 1,200 employees, has also started a weekly vlog and engagement has increased and the company has used feedback from employees to form protocols around new ways of working, for instance, to address the danger of an ‘always on’ workforce. That has meant they are widely accepted. Hidden problems, such as domestic abuse, have also been highlighted.

Mark Haslett, Senior HR Consultant at ScottishPower, said the company has invested more in communications, for instance, centrally available Q & As, and line manager support.

For working parents it has provided sessions by parent coaches which were well attended and helped with homeschooling during the second lockdown. They tried to reduce parents’ anxieties, but sometimes this went wrong. One senior manager had told a working parent employee to ‘do what you can’, something they did with good intent, but which instead meant the employee felt they could not leave their desk.

The company, which has 6,000 employees, focused on mental health through its mental health steering group, encouraging an open dialogue which promotes resilience, and has set up new health and wellbeing guidelines to reflect its expectations around remote working during the pandemic, for instance, to avoid people being ‘always on’ and enabling people to flex their hours.

It has also updated their travel policy to promote a net zero world and flagged female career progression as an ongoing issue after Covid. The company has a connected women network and offers maternity coaching to both managers and employees to encourage better, less paternalistic conversations. It is looking to extend maternity leave and its bereavement policies as well as implementing a menopause policy. It is also co-creating a working parents network.

Harvey Tilley, Chief Operating Officer of the Independent Living Fund [ILF] Scotland, which provides support to people with disabilities so they can live independently, spoke about the transition to Covid working. He said the organisation was already very flexible and supportive before Covid – and indeed won a’s Top Employer Award as a result. He said this made it much easier to flip overnight to working from home.

It had been very busy during Covid and one of the big issues was the risk of people overworking. To counter this the ILF brought in a long weekend every month on top of annual leave and periods when people were encouraged to ‘ditch the desk’. Employees who were used to going into people’s homes felt very isolated and mental health was also a big issue.

Covid keepers

All three employers were asked what their ‘Covid keepers’ were. For Cameron, it was that management don’t need to have all the answers and that asking people for regular feedback and understanding what they are thinking is vital. He also spoke about how the pandemic has shown remote working is possible and has increased productivity for many in his company. For Haslett, it was the importance of engaging with employees about policies such as the future of work post Covid and the fact that everyone’s circumstances are different so a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.

In the Q & A section, the speakers said they had not considered extra allowances for people working from home, although they did pay for additional office equipment to enable workers to work remotely. Haslett said the extra cost of things like heating through working from home was balanced out by savings on commuting and that he didn’t want to create a situation where ‘people felt so tied to home’ that they could not go back to the office.

Some of the biggest challenges flagged for the future included the potential division between those who can work remotely and those who can’t. Cameron said his company is working with trade unions to identify individual issues. Haslett said involving employees in policies from the start cut down problems later and mentioned potential tax problems regarding employees who chose to work from different countries during the pandemic.

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