How to ‘edutain’ a hybrid workforce

A top communicator for Phillip Morris International shares key ingredients to whip up a zesty, appealing spread of engagement tactics for such a time as this.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, internal comms teams around the world sought to offer employees as many virtual life rafts as possible.

As people everywhere started turning to social media to stay connected, employees also looked to maintain their connections while physically unable to get together. So, communicators had to offer simple, engaging opportunities to do just that.

The beauty of internal communications is that you don’t have to have a great budget. What you do need is a great idea —and the ability to put yourself in your colleagues’ shoes to know what will resonate with them. If you have a solid functional and cultural foundation to build on, along with enthusiasm and inspiration, the sky is the limit in our digital age.

Here is one simple, yet educational and entertaining—in other words, “edutaining”—example of an effective engagement program for a hybrid workforce.

Ready for dessert

Prior to the pandemic, my team at Philip Morris International (PMI) created a strong employee engagement plan to support our ongoing business transformation toward a smoke-free future. This includes a quarterly Transformation Report, Transformation Toolkits customized to each internal audience, and quarterly webcasts discussing the state of the business. We also assembled an Internal Communications Network of 120+ communicators, and equipped them with an Internal Communications Playbook full of customizable templates and best practices.

Lucky for us, these elements translated into our new reality of a mostly remote work environment. But they were all focused on the business.

We knew that to effectively support both our transformation and our employees through the pandemic, we had to continue to fortify our culture and find new ways to foster belonging and community.

What we needed was “edutainment”—something fun and energizing but also educational and inspiring—and appropriate for our virtual workplace. Our employees had been very good about consuming the healthy, organic communications we’d served up in prior years. However, unprecedented times called for a sweeter approach. It was time for dessert!

Here’s what we cooked up:

Try a taste of experiential programs.

We all know and follow amazingly simple and powerful examples, from cooking communities like Food52 on Instagram, through wellness content like “the art of healthy living” blog or the myfitnesspal app. Another collective favorite: the “View from my window” Facebook Group, which started at the beginning of the pandemic, with the simple premise of sharing a description and a photo from one’s home to the outside world. Each of these have gathered millions of followers over a short period of time because they do exactly what we were looking for: inform, inspire and “edutain.”

Ultimately, our team dreamed up and debuted three experiential programs for the PMI family:

  • PMI Music Experience showcases employees performing music.
  • Open Stage is a curated open mic for employees to perform any number of talents.
  • Your Story on a Plate encourages employees to share a family or local recipe along with the story behind that dish.

We deliver these programs through our existing digital platforms. Just like our “regularly scheduled” business programming, they are available around the clock for all PMI employees via the web or a mobile-friendly version and can be enjoyed live or on demand.

Pick your flavor(s).

When developing our programs, we wanted to celebrate the diversity of cultures, nationalities, races and life experiences among our 70,000-plus employees. We took inspiration from a few colleagues’ remarkable musical performances at a previous annual year-end party. We also noted employees’ passion for clubs organized around food or music. And we mined feedback from our companywide Yammer channel to confirm that these two topics resonate well with our employees globally.

While we already have two topics that offer unlimited possibilities for new performances, recipes and enthusiastic discussion, there are many opportunities to expand our “edutainment” to new areas and experiences in the future. The same way there are countless groups and communities we may get absorbed in outside of work, there are countless experiential programs we can create for—and with—our employees at work.

Make sure you offer something (ful)filling.

For each program, we track awareness and engagement. We measure awareness by the views on programming-related content on Yammer, our intranet, and in our e-newsletter. We measure engagement through live and replay views of the actual performances, as well as likes, shares and comments across all platforms.

We also routinely mine employee comments to learn what is resonating, what needs to change, and to gather new programming ideas. In fact, comments on our inaugural PMI Music Experience suggested some of our colleagues had creative interests beyond music—such as dance, poetry and magic. This led to the launch of Open Stage.

To date, these “edutainment” programs have generated over 300,000 views from more than 80 countries, along with overwhelmingly positive reactions and enthusiastic comments. For Open Stage in particular, the “likelihood to recommend the event” score averages 9.2 out of 10.

More importantly, employee feedback captured on each of these programs expresses an incredible sense of connection to our communities worldwide. Many reported feeling inspired and energized by the experience, noting their pride and appreciation for both PMI and their talented colleagues.

Don’t forget the icing.

While 2020 was video conferencing’s breakout year at work, it also set in place new social trends and habits for us professionally and personally. Internal communicators must understand the ways this will shape our work to inform, engage and “edutain” going forward. We must also continually consider what new social offerings to add to our menu to appeal to the evolving appetites of a permanently hybrid workforce.

Bessie Kokalis Pescio​ is VP of Global Internal Communications for Phillip Morris International.

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