Culture and comms matter now, more than ever

It’s hard to believe that I was with clients at Cheltenham Racecourse just over a week ago.

The government moved into the ‘delay’ phase of its response to the outbreak while I was there. It felt strange being at a major sporting event whilst following what was happening elsewhere. What’s followed since has been head-spinning. How we live, work, communicate and travel have all changed, suddenly and without warning.

New phrases – COVID-19, self-isolate, social distancing – have entered the lexicon. Words like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘lockdown’ are everywhere. No other story has been in the news for the last 10 days.

Coming to terms with the ‘new normal’

I don’t mind admitting that I’ve experienced many mixed emotions during the last week. As a type 1 diabetic, and potentially a member of a ‘high risk group’, the prospect of being told to stay indoors for 12 weeks comes as a body blow.

Walking through Wells this weekend and seeing good independents locked up was deeply upsetting. It made me wonder how my parents’ fashion retailing business of 40 years, and many like it, would have coped with the shock caused by a sudden mass disappearance of customers. I fear it will be devastating for the high street.  

On the high street in Wells: a family-owned restaurant closes its doors

Amidst this existential stuff, smaller things have hit me harder than I would have expected. Leaving the office behind on Monday, conversations with friends and texts from colleagues have left me welling up at times.

But there’s also been some inspirational moments to celebrate.

People and culture matter

In the spirit of Social’s one value, Life.Happens, our agency has placed the team’s well-being at the heart of its rapid response to the ‘new normal’.

Colleagues set up their offices from home on Tuesday, supported by our commitment to flexible working and investment in technology. They are supported to find the rhythm that suits them. This has helped them work whilst juggling family and caring responsibilities. I am sure that the fact that we’ve been working at this approach for a few years has made this rapid transition more possible than it would have been if we were starting it from scratch now.

Just as we’d advise clients, communication with teams has been regular, clear and multi-faceted. Leaders are visible and give regular updates in person and by email. These updates have gone beyond the focus on delivery and sought to reassure and support staff. I’m having daily check-ins with my team at 9.30am and maintained my weekly breakfast meeting – virtually, of course – with my colleague Amy Bodey on Wednesday.

There have also been some brilliant posts from colleagues on Workplace, which we’ve used for internal comms for nearly three years. #ShowUsYourStation – where loads of people posted pictures of their new work set-ups – was brilliant to see.

On Friday, loads of us joined a virtual pub quiz organized by host Seb Patrick, which was a fantastic end to the week.

Physical separation has not meant ‘social distancing’ this week. Keeping this going over the coming weeks will be hugely important.  

Supporting clients

This agility and ‘can do’ approach has helped us quickly respond to support clients’ immediate and pressing communication needs.

Work to develop a corporate strategy for a local authority will shift to COVID-19-related work this week.

Our CEO John Quinton-Barber has led webinars with business leaders in Greater Manchester focused on challenges caused by the outbreak.

Coronavirus Business Support Webinar – Legal and Insurance implications

We’ve had daily conversations with clients about how they’re communicating with staff and customers. Whilst clients’ challenges are all different, the principles of saying the right thing at the right time guide their approach. It’s a privilege to be helping them.

More than ever, caring about others and about how you communicate is massively important at times like these. Organisations that come through this crisis with their reputation intact will be stronger in the long-run. Those who treat comms as an add on risk tarnishing their reputation with tacky marketing, or worse. The backlash against some who have erred has already been severe.

I want to write another blog post on this topic very soon. I was intending to cover it in this one, but it turned into something else. Even if it doesn’t add anything new to the conversation, it’s been helpful to me to write something about my feelings on this situation today.

As Amy said at the weekend, we’ve ‘walked the walk’ this week. I’m proud to be part of a company that’s responded so positively.

I’d like to give heartfelt thanks to all colleagues and clients for their support and camaraderie over the last week. It’s meant more than you could know. Knowing you’re with people who have your back will help us come out of this crisis stronger.  

Stay well everyone. And if you’d like a chat about any of this I’d love to hear from you.

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

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