The challenge of telling stories in a unique way each day as a communicator is a challenge that suits Kevin Berchou, a former golf journalist and branch manager who now heads up internal communication for M&T Bank.
And boy does he have a lot on his plate these days. Aside from the ongoing challenges of keeping north of 18,000 employees feeling informed, engaged and energized during an ongoing pandemic, the bank is in the final stages of a $7.6 billion merger.
“You can’t assume you have all the answers,” Berchou says, adding that nobody knows what this “new normal” is supposed to look like.
About 4,000 of the bank’s frontline employees have continued commuting into work throughout the pandemic, he says, although a good portion of folks whose work isn’t customer facing are still working from home. That remains the plan into the new year, though the bank plans to call a majority of employees back into work (in a hybrid capacity) whenever it’s safe to do so.
That hybrid approach has presented plenty of challenges—but it’s also creating new opportunities for genuine connections.
Video for the win
The bank’s use of video has grown exponentially during the pandemic, Berchou says. M&T’s “enterprise story team” of 20 communicators has deployed video content at a clip of four or even five times higher than what they did pre-pandemic. The bank produces mostly self-produced footage with iPhones and Adobe editing software.
Berchou relays that employees have responded well to more visual storytelling. He cites an ongoing series of short-form videos (which they call “M & Tok”) as being particularly popular. The mix of lighthearted, employee-created content has been a hit during a time when many crave authentic connectivity.
The bank’s execs have gotten in on the video fun, also. Berchou’s team gets senior leaders to do interview-style company updates that they edit down (two-three minutes, tops) and send to all employees.
M&T has also used webinars featuring medical professionals to help employees bolster their mental health and fight burnout. More than 1,200 employees watched those webinars live, and they’re also available afterward on demand.
Of course, there’s no silver bullet for reaching such a vast number of dispersed workers. That’s where listening comes in.
Communicators must “constantly” ask employees what they want in terms of content, Berchou says, and communicators should “do more listening than communicating” right now.
That dedication to listening has yielded a trove of data for Berchou and his team to craft more targeted, resonant stories. Employee feedback led to an intranet refresh and rebuild, which coincided with the outset of the pandemic. The bank’s “Community 1” hub has become a “real link that keeps us connected,” he says.
None of these activities are set in stone, however. It’s crucial to continuously “test and learn” and gather feedback on how employees are feeling about their jobs, he says. His team collects feedback from the intranet and through pulse surveys, which they send out every four to six weeks to survey the entire company. That data informs their approach to communication.