When unexpected events require speedy execution of practical communication channels to keep people connected.
Deborah and KPC worked for John Laing during my time as CEO. They were instrumental in helping us promoting our narrative, company's purpose and values internally and externally. During the Covid19 crisis they were incredibly dedicated to maintaining contact between our people around the world at a time when all of them were working from home. Deborah is passionate, dedicated and creative. She is a real game changer.
Olivier Brousse, Former CEO, John Laing
John Laing is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is an international company employing 145 staff in 10 offices worldwide. The company is an investor and partner in essential infrastructure projects including road, rail and social programmes.
KPC was working with John Laing on a range of internal communication projects when the COVID-19 crisis struck. As lockdown started around the world, the company had to quickly scale up to keep the internal organisation connected while managing the challenges of keeping people safe and implementing the guidance issued by different countries at different times.
During the crisis, KPC was responsible for developing and implementing a communications strategy that would keep pace with coronavirus-related regulations in each of the regions that John Laing operates from, while bringing and keeping a traditional workforce unused to remote working together,. Naturally easing the apprehension associated with the virus and its implications as well as addressing technical and practical questions was also a big part of the brief.
In addition, this had to be achieved in the context of the existing CEO leaving and a new one yet to be appointed, making clear leadership difficult to convey and lines of communication vague.
The main aim was to ensure John Laing’s entire workforce felt connected and supported during the COVID-19 enforced lockdown. A traditional, largely office-based workforce, had not entirely embraced flexible working patterns and therefore, we had to quickly develop a unifying, supportive manner, while maintaining a ‘business as usual’ attitude as far as possible.
Understandably, for this largely conservative workforce, there was a lot of apprehension around the new way of working as well as the robustness of the business and job security. It was our priority to tackle this and ensure everyone felt comfortable with the changes that were being made, as well as reassured about the security of their position. A clear channel for questions and concerns, given the changes in personnel at the very top of the business was also critical.
To help staff transition comfortably to working from home and to sustain motivation, we employed a multifaceted approach.
In the first phase, it was important for us to ensure everyone had what they needed to work from home comfortably. We sent out a company-wide communication, not just encouraging employees to get whatever it was they needed, but also to ensure they thought carefully about their physical and mental health when working from home. An eye to ergonomics, practical space and delineation between work personal time was explained, followed by IT support and advice communications.
Secondly, we quickly scaled up our use of the tools that were available to us and that employees were already familiar with. This included using MS teams, with the support of the Knowledge Management team, and Yammer as a central focus of team connectivity.
Our approach on Yammer was to create an informative but informal information hub where employees could receive support and advice both from company leaders and from their peers. It is the perfect tool to do this, as it enables immediate feedback and conversations.
We kickstarted the approach by creating a ‘Working from Home’ Yammer group and organising communications under a series of four headings. These were:
To ensure employees were hearing from John Laing on a regular basis, we committed to posting under one of the categories on a daily basis.
We also used Yammer to encourage conversations between employees to keep morale high. We initiated a ‘workplace selfies’ series where employees took a photo of themselves in their working from home environment, shared their best and worst thoughts on working from home and posted it on Yammer, nominating a next colleague to do the same.
This exposed a different, more human, side to people; an at-home version of the employee rather than the office version that everyone was used to seeing. It also gave people the opportunity to share their highs and lows of working from home, stimulating helpful, advice-driven conversations as well as light-hearted conversations about haircuts and hobbies.
In fact, as a direct result of the workplace selfies and getting a glimpse inside employees’ homes and their hobbies, there have been many off shoots such as virtual group bike rides and quizzes. During the initial lockdown period, there were more than 100 selfies posted on the channel.
As well as supporting employees with equipment, and creating information hubs for informal communications, it was also important for us to establish a formal communication channel for employees to hear directly from leaders on a regular basis.
As such, we implemented a fortnightly ‘All Company’ call where employees from all offices across the world were invited to hear from the company leaders. One advantage of lockdown was more flexible working patterns, so we could ask employees to attend at non-core working times. For the first time we could get the whole company together across all time zones and we managed to engage on average 86% of the workforce together, something that had been impossible previously.
What started off as a formal and structured communication has, over time, become more relaxed as people have become more comfortable with the setting. It also gave the leadership team the perfect platform to show some vulnerability, an understanding of the pressures their teams are under and gave permission to employees that it was okay to be working differently.
The biggest success has been the on-going implementation of some of the practices. Even as lockdown eased, there was huge appetite to keep the all-company calls ensuring the whole company can be together and hear news and announcements at the same time. Yammer stats have also shown the success of our Yammer channel too.
increase in messages in the All Company group in Yammer
increase in likes in the All Company group in Yammer
increase in active Yammer users each day
on corporate Yammer communications
However, the Working From Home channel and specifically the workplace selfies were a real conversation starter – receiving 778 likes and 148 comments and being seen 4111 times. Also, in a recent feedback survey about John Laing’s COVID-19 response, employees said:
Thank you to our ExCo, Board, HR-Team, EME Regional Director and MDs for your support through this period with lots of personal efforts, transparent communication and regular updates. You are doing a great job to support us all!”
John Laing employee
Feeling very supported. My line manager has great communication skills, and always provides support
John Laing employee
89% of respondents also felt extremely or somewhat confident of having the right benefits and resources to help support them through this period and 86% of respondents stated that they were extremely or somewhat confident that the right decisions will be made by the Executive team through the crisis.
The sentiment of All Company calls and Yammer communications has become more relaxed, indicating that employees are beginning to feel more comfortable with their new working environments. An increase in informal conversations reflects a more relaxed approach, while company quizzes, virtual bike rides and Friday night drinks as a result of workplace selfies indicate employees now feel more at ease in each other’s company, as well as with their new working routine.
During this period, the leadership team have become more accessible. Employees have felt more confident to ask leaders questions they might have previously shied away from and leaders have been more visible on platforms such as Yammer. Commenting on the support of John Laing leaders via the ‘All Company’ calls, one employee said: “The company is giving great support in this difficult period, I especially like the all company calls and would like these to be continued”.
To find out more about how we can help you with your internal communications strategy, in times of change or to support everyday connectivity and information flow, contact Deborah Kingsley today.Contact us