WFH is here to stay, even as states open up. Companies have invested in remote work technology and it’s unlikely we’ll be returning to the status quo before the pandemic.
Everything from career paths to work-life balance are up for grabs in this new reality and communicators are looking for guidance to put it all in perspective.
So we checked in with Meredith Klein, director of PR, Walmart to see how it’s going for her and whether she has any career advice for communicators in the quarantine age.
A mother of two, she lives with her children and husband in Staten Island, New York. Athletic and driven, she was captain of Quinnipiac University’s field hockey team in 2004 and says her greatest skill on the field and at work is her “scrappy resourcefulness.”
It’s a trait she applies in her current role at Walmart and before that on the agency side with the likes of Golin and Makovsky, where she worked with clients ranging from Cisco and GE to MetLife and Adidas. She also says it’s helpful in today’s WFH environment, where the best teams are made up of high energy go-getters who flat out refuse to quit.
Translation: Small office, big heart! Here are her insights and career takeaways for others:
Ragan: How would you describe your WFH experience so far?
Klein: It’s been a challenging several months for everybody. For working parents, remote work has been hard for all of us—managing the workload while juggling the kids and maintaining the household. The good news is I figured out some important lessons. I like to call them the 3C’s.
Ragan: What are some of those lessons?
Klein: Communicate like it’s a lifeline. That’s the first one. Communication is our connective tissue through all this. That includes communicating with your family, friends and employers. As brands, it means communicating with your customers, associates and key stakeholders. And as human beings, it means communicating to support one another. All these communications have been amplified in the absence of in-person connection.
For my family, clear and constant communication has helped us navigate this incredibly complex and stressful situation. I’m fortunate to have a profession that can be done remotely and a supportive employer that allows the flexibility to work from home. My husband, as an attorney, faces more complexity when trying to work from home, but still has calls and cases to manage, nonetheless. Every night, we discuss our schedules for the following day. Where there’s a conflict, we discuss who has flexibility to move their call to accommodate the other. We then identify “shifts” for each of us to work. We’ve had to be disciplined in sticking to our shift, making us more efficient and productive during our shorter sprints of work and more engaged when our shift is up and it’s time to re-center around the children.
It can be difficult if a meeting gets moved or something urgent pops up. While we do everything to accommodate schedule changes, I have had to say no to impromptu meetings when my husband also has a priority work meeting or can’t be with the children. Given the situation we’re all in, people understand, and I’ve been transparent on the importance of balancing work and taking care of my kids. The work always gets done … often later in the evening when the kids are asleep.
Ragan: That sounds intense! What are the other two lessons?
Klein: Create time and experiences. Do it for yourself, your family, your friends and your job. That has given me strength and better control over our situation—whether it’s creating time to take a walk and focus on my personal wellness, creating experiences for my children to help them explore and use their imaginations while home, creating time to check-in with family or friends, or just creating time to stop, think, write and reflect.
It’s easy for the days and weeks to blur together with the amount of pressure on people right now. It may seem impossible to create time when you’re working long shifts—or with your children with no break—but recognizing the physical, emotional and mental benefits of creating time and taking back some control over how you manage your days is important and empowering. As the saying goes, “You don’t find time. You make it.”
Ragan: I’m guessing you saved the best lesson for last?
Klein: Connect and prioritize connection in your life. It’s potentially the most powerful lesson, because connection is what makes us most human. In the absence of being able to fully connect in-person, we’re having to make a more concerted effort to connect with others in new ways. It’s reopened communications with extended family and long-time friends as we want to make sure they’re OK.
It also means being more connected with various mediums.
Information can empower you, giving you a sense of control and comfort. I’ve stayed professionally informed and connected to the world and the world of communications through Twitter and LinkedIn and find relatable parenting content through Facebook, Instagram. I’ve also been using TikTok, which has informative and fun content. It’s important to find content that’s relatable. Once you do, consistently tap those sources and become part of those communities. For example, I’ve joined PR industry virtual conferences as well as “Women in Leadership” meetups. Both serve completely different needs I have to connect and relate to other professionals, women in business and parents.
Ragan: What tools does your team use to connect?
Klein: We’re using video conferencing, like everybody else. We also use Workplace by Facebook and everyone, from associates through senior leadership, are active and engaged on the platform. We also have a ton of internal platforms (weekly newsletters, intranet, memos from executives) and mediums (podcast, video) that we use to communicate across the company. Our leadership is exceptional at sharing company news and initiatives, and spotlighting associates and customers on their own personal Instagram and LinkedIn pages, as well.
[Discover more communications best practices during this June 25 Ragan Training webinar: “Master ‘Mixternal’ Communications in the Next Normal: How to Adapt to Internal Communications and PR Becoming One Function.”]
Ragan: What was the greatest piece of career advice you received from a mentor?
Klein: “You can get anything done in this world you want as long as you don’t care who gets the credit.” That came from Liza Landsman, who was the president of Jet.com when I was PR director there. Her mother gave her that advice and it’s something she still applies today.
Following that advice can be tough in the environment of today’s heightened gender bias and equality conversations. We should all strive to be collaborative and humble with our eye on the bigger picture. But it can be a delicate balance to strike, considering the innate human emotion to be recognized and rewarded—and in turn for many women, promoted.
My solve is something that’s second nature to me: recognizing and rewarding others for the roles they played to execute a project or effort. It starts at the beginning. It’s akin to the presentation training motto, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them.” My approach starts with telling them what we need to do and how I need their experience and expertise to be successful. As we go through the project, I reassure them of the important role they play and build them up, celebrating milestones big and small. At the end, I tell them what an incredible role they each played and how we all accomplished the plan together. I always front-load the project recap with kudos to the team followed by the results—because the truth is, we wouldn’t have the results without the work of the team.
When people feel recognized and respected—that is the real reward. It’s even more important now at a time when we all want to be recognized and appreciated for our work since we’re offsite.
Ragan: What’s your advice to other communicators who want to grow their careers—even if we’re all logging in from our home offices in sweats?
Klein: Don’t get discouraged easily. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll be overlooked for projects. You’ll be asked to do seemingly menial tasks. We’re all scrambling, so it’s going to happen whether you continue to do more work from home or return to the office soon.
Those who succeed are going to be those who aren’t discouraged, but those who look at every role and every assignment as an opportunity to learn and grow, who raise their hands, and who put in the work and are happy being part of something bigger than themselves. It’s all about teamwork.
I grew up playing sports. I played from an early age all the way through college. I’ve always loved being part of a team and I’d get a high from motivating my team. My coaches would always say “Get it done. No matter what it takes.” That inscribed the dog-with-a-bone mentality I have to this day—and that you need to progress in your career.
Ragan: Field hockey can get rough—how scrappy of a player were you?
Klein: My nickname was “Boss,” because I walked onto the field freshman year and was calling out plays to the seniors on day one. My college coach, Becca, recounted my time on the team during senior day. “She was never the fastest and didn’t have the best technique,” she said, “But man, did she have heart and passion—and she always got it done.” I also found a way to make it into the top 25 all-time scorers and my freshman year team was inducted into the University’s Sports Hall of Fame.
That speaks to scrappiness. But there’s something else that might be more helpful to younger communicators as they grow their careers. The truth is, I was coachable. I was like a sponge, trying to soak up every tip, trick and technique. I welcomed feedback and practiced long and hard. I channeled my strengths and worked on my weaknesses. This is translatable to young professionals. Allow yourself to be coachable. Be just as invested in an effort whether you’re the leading scorer or the bench warmer, for they each play an important role.
Ragan: These last few months have been a whirlwind. What trends do you believe communicators need to keep an eye on in the months ahead to better navigate their careers?
Klein: The biggest mistake communicators can make is to stay inside their comfort zone and do things like they always have. These last few months have made that a virtual impossibility.
Be a 360-degree communicator—something my communications leaders encourage and lead by example. Don’t get hung up in silos. Some people might call it “mixternal” communications, but the idea is that you can no longer focus on a singular aspect of communications, like earned media. Communicators will be expected to handle internal comms and media—including earned, paid and digital media—as well as influencer relations. Depending the size of your company or client, you may also need to handle analyst, investor and government relations. This isn’t new, but it will become the reality. You’ll definitely see more Head of Communications or Head of Corporate Affairs titles versus titles like Vice President, Media Relations.
To adapt, communicators need to be open-minded, fluent in the evolution of the role, up-to-speed on the latest trends and channels, and constantly pushing themselves to seek challenges and news ways of working. And to succeed during quarantine, use the 3Cs: communicate, create and connect.
Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and event producer. Discover more communications best practices during in this June 25 Ragan Training webinar: “Master ‘Mixternal’ Communications in the Next Normal: How to Adapt to Internal Communications and PR Becoming One Function” with speakers from Scripps and ADM.