Communicating & Engaging in the New Normal: A roundtable discussion led by Management Strategies

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The devastating pandemic that continues to sweep across the globe has forced many organizations­ to reevaluate their priorities and rethink their systems. From dynamic, collaborative office settings to an isolating work-from-home (WFH) arrangement with very limited social interaction, we have seen a radical shift in the way we work.

Our very way of life has been shaken by this crisis. And just as employees and companies learned to work within their new work conditions, MECQ and GCQ kicked in with their own set of rules.

As employees adapt to an additional set of work conditions, leaders must step up and fulfill a crucial role in the organization, providing much-needed hope and direction in these trying times. But how does one do this with so many factors constantly changing?

Icar Castro, a Senior Consultant of Management Strategies with over 20 years of experience in organizational development, emphasizes that communication and engagement will play a key role in this period of transition.

In two virtual roundtable meetings held in May 2020, Management Strategies met with top leaders from various industries to discuss what business leaders can do to continue to keep employees connected, energized, and productive in a time of crisis.

Due to the pandemic companies are concerned about how to keep their businesses afloat, how to engage with their consumers in this new environment, and how to effectively lead their people in the new work set up. Employees, on the other hand, are concerned about job security and finding purpose and connection in this time of extraordinary stress.

“Now more than ever, it is important to connect and communicate clearly with your people. We ­must change our way of thinking and doing in this time of crisis,” Castro underlines. Indeed, what you say and do (as a leader) will affect your people and how your company moves forward.

At the round table, Castro presented key points for communication and engagement in these times. The participants in turn shared some of their own innovative practices that have worked.

SHOWING CARE AND COMPASSION   Morale will undoubtedly be low if messages from the top management revolve only around work, business, and numbers. At this crucial time, employees seek compassion, stability, hope, and trust from their leaders.

To help manage the lines of communication between employees and the top team, Head of Human Resources Ethel Vergara shared that Kimberly-Clark hosts a regular “GM Hour” where people are free to air out their concerns and have their leaders answer these questions directly. More than just an avenue for discussing the directions of the company, GM Hour makes sure to share good news and updates.

NURTURING TEAM RELATIONS   With the WFH arrangements, Willis Tower Watsons, along with many other companies, launched their own initiatives to boost engagement among their people. Cecille Fernandez shared, “We established the Weekly Wandering Guide, an electronic page that features potential interests our colleagues can check out over the weekend. Now that we are on quarantine, the features shifted various potential interests that colleagues can enjoy at home with their families – what movies to watch (say, on Netflix), what e-books to read, and other digital materials to help others learn new skills and explore new hobbies.” In addition, they also launched #MakingItWork, a corporate-wide campaign where people can share how they have been able to “make it work” during this lockdown.

Nico Mallillin, Vice President for Human Resources at GCash, is proud that their company was agile enough to adapt to the swift changes, as most of their teams were accustomed to doing remote work. “However, we also needed to address a new challenge, which is taking care of the mental health of our team.” Protecting mental health should be a priority among companies, especially during crisis, he stresses. “And so GCash is now connecting with partners to provide tele-counseling. And we are sharing more references and materials with our teams on how to deal with stress and other mental health concerns.”

At Pushpin Visual Solutions, a creative agency, Elbert Or shared that “even before the pandemic, we had already given our people the permission to opt-out of meetings or even not involve them completely if they say or we feel that they need the space. We explicitly tell them, ‘You do not need to be here, you do not need to be on work mode all the time.’” This is an effective and gracious approach that gives people the time, space, and freedom (without the guilt) to take care of their mental health.

ORGANIZING THE WAY WORK IS DONE   Whether employees are still on WFH or are back at their offices, leaders must ensure that their people have all that they need to safely and effectively do their jobs.

Another top executive shares a big challenge of a semiconductor company that employs thousands of employees. “WFH is not possible due to our nature of work, so we have to ensure the safety of our employees on-site.” To do this, the company initiated a massive effort, building accommodations on company grounds to allow their employees to self-quarantine, as well as provide transportation to and from their respective homes.

“These effectively helped our workforce know that their safety was our priority. And to further help address the worries of their families too – ‘What if they get sick at work?’ – we created a video to show how the company was taking care of their loved ones. This gave them the peace of mind to allow their families to go back to work.”

REITERATING YOUR NORTH STAR   Strengthen the sense of purpose and unity among your team by laying down the clear plans and priorities of the company.  At the Aboitiz Group, goals are regularly revisited and necessary proactive changes are introduced. This is to ensure that goals are strategically aligned and tailored-fit to the market trends and changing work environment, as shared by Candee Lagura, its Group HR Manager for Performance and Engagement.

To ensure the alignment of goals in their organization, the Aboitiz Group hosts regular focus group discussions and drives effective collaboration and communication tools to share with their team members. The Group also ensures constant and up-to-date delivery of essential information to its team members by having regular town hall sessions hosted by the Aboitiz Group President and CEO. They have also developed a microsite containing all advisories, guidelines, urgent announcements, and other critical information.

Maintaining communication was also a particular challenge for Okada, as the company employs a diverse team, from expats to service personnel who have very limited internet access and resources. Its Vice President for Human Resources Jerome Sarte commented, “To maintain communication even when we’re apart, we had to find a platform that was good for everybody, and the most common platform was Facebook.”

The group immediately set up a private FB page for their people and this is where they post updates regularly. Beyond the sophistication of tools, he says, it’s the accessibility of these tools and platforms that have allowed them to achieve better communication.

ESTABLISHING NEW NORMS     Establishing guidelines for work and communication will boost productivity at the workplace. “When we are in a situation where we don’t have much control, we will tend to zone in on what we can control. This leads to overworking, which is also not ideal for sustainable productivity,” says Castro.

To deal with the issue of overworking, some companies have designated time periods for communication and implement a strict working schedule. A major fintech company utilizes signaling tools to direct work. “We’ve employed this simple yet effective means of texting everyone to stop working at the end of the office day to remind them to disengage from work.” They utilize the same signaling tools to remind their people to relax and have fun. “We freely share materials such as bingo cards and such, which they can use anytime.”

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Through these unprecedented times, each organization has faced its own set of unique challenges. Compassionate leadership, clear direction, and effective communication are needed now more than ever. By empowering leaders with the essential skills to effectively communicate and engage their teams, organizations will bounce back stronger and move forward confidently through any crisis.

Please write us at info@mgtstrat-asia.com if you are interested in joining the next Management Strategies roundtable discussion.

This article was written by Kristel Dacumos for Management Strategies
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