Over the past few years, Americans have confronted a pandemic, political unrest, the expansion of remote work and a surge in bigotry. Keeping focus became a challenge. This played out in workplaces across the nation as people learned to educate their kids, turn their kitchen tables into an office and live differently.
Sandy Sullivan, a lifelong human resources professional who has worked closely with comms teams, helped to lead a workforce through these times. While her current employer manages a large multistate field operation, Sullivan has also worked with traditional bricks and mortar organizations —including advertising agencies.
Many of the processes that communicators were accustomed to have changed permanently. Sullivan shared some tips for how communicators can follow suit and change accordingly.
1. Start with compassionate onboarding
Sullivan explained that communicators must start with the basics and be mindful of distractions and employees’ desire for flexibility. Her current workforce was remote before 2019 as most workers were in the field — meaning that they do not report to a desk or a building.
“One of the words that come to mind for me is nurturing. It’s the human element,” Sullivan said. “And how do we ensure that we’re making those connections —with our associates — to ensure that they feel valued?”
She says that when people hire on:
- They meet with the owners-leaders personally. Touch points are created.
- Face time is spent making human connections —traditional onboarding is completed online.
- Safety training is an early priority.
- Appreciation is shown.
“A welcome kit arrives at their doorstep usually by day three of employment,” added Sullivan“It has a lunch box, a gift card, and a note that’s signed by all of the executive leadership team.”
2. Meet people on their terms
Through the early 2000’s most employers took a top-down approach and often would not make exceptions for anyone. The saying was “if we do it for them, then we have to do it for everyone.” Today, employees are the focus.
Work today is about flexibility — for the employer and the employee. In Sullivan’s workplace when employees have faced hardships — management has often made accommodations and fellow workers have donated their own time and resources to their coworkers.
To communicate she recommends multiplatform which includes emails, texts, and work apps that are accessed via phone. While Sullivan’s workers are based in the field — all remote environments are field-based. She also explains that one-on-one communications matters and sensitive matters should be discussed in real-time.
Feedback and work review are ongoing and offer both the employee and manager the chance to dialogue, says Sullivan, “Not just to randomly pull someone off the floor and say I want to have a one-on-one with you, but have them on the schedule. Have them pre-planned so that the employee can prepare an agenda. Talk about accomplishments —focus on the positives.”
She also says that top management should routinely offer road shows and deliver real-time information to the workers. This includes allowing the employees to instruct the employer on how to give back to the communities in which they operate — and the possibility of profit sharing.
3. Provide constant, proactive communication
Times today require leadership to adjust communications with their workforce. “It has to be constant —almost like a feeding tube. You provide support or assistance based on what’s asked for, and what’s needed. What I’m seeing today is all proactive. It is really about retention,” she said.
It is also about trust— for both the worker and manager. She adds that management must trust the people they hire — the concept of “earning trust” is dated — assuming the best in human matters.
“How can we make their lives better?” asks Sullivan when she meets with new employees. “That’s one of the things we say at the beginning of orientation. We hope that when you leave here today, you leave better than you did when you came in.”
Jennifer Mooney is an award-winning communications expert. Her senior management tenure includes the former Time Warner, ad agency communications teams, and consulting with diverse clients. She holds an undergraduate degree in Journalism (Albion College) and an MA in Industrial-Organizational Psychology (Union Institute). She is the co-author of Hope Interrupted; America Lost and Found in Letters—a book and podcast. (Orange Frazer Press- 2021) www.hopeinterrupted.com