PRWeek Strategic Internal Comms Conference 2016

This blog post was written by Claire Rudall, MD Corporate and Brand.

How best to communicate with colleagues in a ‘post-truth’ world? What does the comms teams of the future look like? How distinct are internal and external communications?

These were just some of the issues addressed at the 2016 PR Week Strategic Internal Comms Conference. A fast-paced day, we raced from the power of the Virgin Trains’ Awesome Colleague Experience, via employer branding at the FT, into the optimised comms team at Telefónica, and the future workplace, courtesy of The Future Laboratory.

Here are my top takeaways from a day filled with discussion, debate and dedication to transforming how we communicate with our colleagues:

1. Better storytelling through broadcast

Joanna Bleasdale and Sarah Davies from BT Consumer ran a high-energy workshop sharing their experiences of how best to get employees involved and playing a leading role in internal communications. Film is a key channel at BT and encouraging employees to participate has delivered great success. Business updates are shared via live broadcast, with follow up Q&A sessions filmed to ensure no employee question is left unanswered. Using film, and where possible live broadcast, for open and honest updates is a simple, more personal way of communicating with colleagues. So, from selfie posts to Christmas choir competition entries, employees are proud to join in.

2. The brand/ employee engagement overlap

Rebecca Heptinstall at the Financial Times, talked about the fundamental connection between brand and employee communications. The employer brand is what defines a business to potential recruits, it enables companies to hire and retain the best talent, and should inspire and motivate existing staff.

FT staff are encouraged to get involved and a range of online and offline internal platforms focus entirely on helping staff to live and breathe the brand. As the FT experiments with Facebook at Work amongst other initiatives, Rebecca talked of ensuring that the employer brand is highly visible at all times, from simple mechanics such as posters, to screens and induction packs. Activities are designed to build connections and promote collaboration, as well as to celebrate achievements. Rebecca talked of the importance of understanding the power of employees as brand advocates and the role of comms teams in fostering a sense of community internally.

3. Tracking success

Drew McMillan of Virgin Trains shared his experience of taking learnings from ICE (Incredible Customer Experience) to creating ACE (Awesome Colleague Experience). Through knowledge gained from the Awesometer, Virgin Trains addressed the importance of building rich, real-time insights to shape communications with colleagues. Developing a deep understanding of how employees feel about their role and their experience of working for Virgin Trains from the moment they start preparing for their day, to the end of their shift, enables the internal communications team to map hot spots and address engagement issues effectively and immediately.

4. Managing cultural change

Louise Myson of TalkTalk shared her experience of managing communications around change. Building trust, demonstrating a commitment to understanding employee needs and shaping a working environment that is fit for purpose today and can adapt in the future, is essential to business continuity planning.

From the TalkTalk Culture Jam, to asking ‘what’s hot and what’s not’ questions online and offline, TalkTalk demonstrates a commitment to listening, understanding and acting on colleagues’ feedback. Building a network of champions made up of both the cynics and the natural ambassadors proved a powerful tactic in helping the organisation to accept and embrace change.

5. The future workplace

One of the most exciting presentations of the day came from Ruth Marshall-Johnson of The Future Laboratory. Highlighting the trends that will most impact our working lives in the future, Ruth talked about workplaces that must become “more intelligent, connected and human-orientated” (Jeremy Myerson, Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art).

Charting the roadmap to the workers and workplaces of the future, Ruth introduced us to ‘bleisure’, the blend of leisure and work that is becoming increasingly prevalent and will continue to evolve. We learned that ‘jobbaticals’ are increasingly being sought out by those who want to combine time on, with time off. Ruth advised us on how to recognise and accommodate evolving workplace rhythms, so replacing the 9-5 with a more tailored understanding of how, where and when people prefer to work.

6. Optimising your comms team

Nicola Green and Sarah Mullins of Telefónica challenged the structure of traditional comms teams. Sharing her experience of building a team of specialists-turned-generalists, Nicola talked of the power of breaking traditional silos (public affairs/ internal comms/ social/ PR) and coming together to create real value for the business. Driving change in a team where each individual is clear on the business objectives and understands the interconnection between their roles, and most importantly their audiences, creates a simpler, more effective comms function.

Overall the conference was highly effective, full of shared experiences and learnings that demonstrated just how exciting it is to work in employee engagement today.

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