PR Presence - The 'New Normal' Edition

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It’s unusual to have such a universal topic which is affecting all our businesses. Amid this pandemic that we’re all living through, we have to start accepting a ‘new normal’. As work from home may continue for several months and into the distance future, how do we engage employees in the new socially distant workplace? 

On Thursday 4th June 2020, we held our first ‘virtual’ PR Presence event which addresses some of the challenges and opportunities which we are facing today. 

In case you missed it, here are some of the key takeaways from the discussion.

FACT: 44% feel more connected with people, spending time at home with their immediate family and having more times to connect with their broader family and friends. 

The Panel

Naeema Ismail, Senior Partner & GM, is the architect of culture for Ying Finn over her 12 year tenure. She says that in an agency it’s all about people connecting with other people. 

Kim Danker, Social Media & Business Operations Lead, APJ at Intel Corporation. Has spent the last 5 years at Intel where working from home has been broadly utilized and accepted, even before C-19. 

Marla Arnell is the Regional Consulting Team at Mercer supporting clients across topics ranging from D&I, digital wellbeing, employee benefits and communication. Marla is particularly passionate about the forced acceleration of certain topics as a result of the pandemic such as digital, wellness and diversity and inclusion. 

How connected have you felt working from home? 

Naeema expressed that the pandemic has been a test of culture but being physically distant doesn’t have to mean cultural distance. 

It’s just human nature that in the absence of close physical proximity, people are looking for other ways to connect. If the connection is removed from you, you’ll find a way.  Naeema has noticed that employees have been surprisingly personal with what they have shared with the team during meetings, which focus on a range of themes on a business and recreational basis.  This has allowed a connection on a deeper level than if they were in the office together. 

Kim isn’t new to working from home at Intel, they are used to doing the early morning and late night calls over time zones each day. But Kim feels that the removal of the one key location (the office) has actually brought people together.  There is more empathy that wasn’t quite as present before - now they spend the first 5 minutes of each call to ask how people are rather than diving straight into business at hand.  They are trying to connect more, seeing them as humans and being a little more kind.

Having pets, partners and children pop up in Zoom calls is becoming a typical part of our working day, and that's ok! This is also accelerating another emerging theme - authentic leadership. The leaders that can be inspiring and authentic are coming out on top. 

What are the challenges and opportunities of working from home? 

Before C-19, WFH, in theory, was given as an option but Marla observed that employees weren’t exercising that option. Now it’s a forced reality and we can close the leadership ‘say-do gap’ as there are less reasons for leaders to say they don’t support this benefit. 

People used to be glamorous working from home, now it’s not as ‘cool’, but we do know that it’s possible. 

There are digital opportunities such as telemedicine which is up 100%, closing the gap in the healthcare systems. Naeema expressed that the digital agenda doesn’t need to be mentioned - it is the agenda!

We are taking the holistic view of wellness to the next level. Daily steps counters and weekly fruit baskets used to be enough but as salaries stagnate, wellness needs to be top of the agenda for employee engagement. 

So what is an office for, what needs are being met by having the physical office? 

We’ve certainly never questioned it before! 

Kim thinks that it’s an important part of the social construct.  You can put your ‘work self’ into action and Kath agrees that work used to be the place where you could go and be that one persona without interruptions. Nothing can replace the interpersonal moments that you have with your colleagues. 

What is the responsibility of the employer for mental health? 

What the mentally well employee means for the business is becoming more clear, as is the ROI from employers.

Employees are providing awareness, making it ok to speak about mental health but there has to be resources and access to care.  It’s great to talk about it but when you have the awareness, you need to be able to offer an EAP (employee assistance program) but this isn’t the only answer. 

Marla urges that we should be listening to employees frequently rather than relying on the annual pulse survey.  Some companies are checking in monthly, weekly or providing platforms to share their thoughts on a daily basis. 

Marla also emphasised the importance of mobilising this data. Use the data and act on it so employers can create support services for any group which require it.  The policies also need to be inclusive (same sex couples or couples who are not legally married, for instance). 

Mental health needs to be balanced to do our jobs well and this pandemic is a great opportunity to collate more data to measure ROI and ensure that it goes beyond C-19.

How will employers optimise onboarding processes?  

Ying Finn hasn't stopped onboarding and Naeema shared that onboarding has largely stayed the same. Where it has differed, is that they are explaining certain aspects in more detail to ensure that it’s easy for the employee to connect and feel like they are part of the community. 

Naeema has taken a personal interest in coaching and has created a buddy system, mentor systems, as well as providing coaching herself.  

And finally, when is the right time to start the post pandemic narrative? 

It has to fit with the overall mission, vision, values.  The pandemic will be here for a while so make it your own story. We have to treat it as normal - this is how life is today. 

Watch the whole PR Presence - The 'New Normal' Edition on YouTube!

Please join us for the next edition of PR Presence, an event to bring together the Singapore PR & Comms industry.  Each event will feature a diverse panel from within the industry, covering a different topic which are important to you. Stay tuned on our social media channels for any announcements!