The COVID-19 pandemic created a new normal for the way we do business. For utility communicators, the change to remote work and social distancing has been especially impactful. It forced us to cancel or modify many of the events we hold for our consumer-members and other external stakeholders over the past eight months.
Most critically, it has changed the way we interact with our fellow employees. It’s already hard enough to engage our internal audience. Now we have to do it virtually?
Seminole, like every other utility, had to adapt to this new digital reality of communication. While there is no true replacement for in-person interaction, the communications team has done a few things to bridge the gap between our many remote workers during this time.
Internal Newsletter Update
Seminole’s internal newsletter, Empowered, started in 2015 as a monthly publication for employees. Once the pandemic started, it became clear a monthly timeline wasn’t ideal to engage employees. With the normal opportunities for people to interact with other departments in the hallways, before and after meetings, and at lunch no longer available, we wanted to increase the frequency of the newsletter so that people would be more in tune with what was happening across the co-op.
As a result, Empowered was converted to a weekly publication.
The format changed from full articles to a bullet-point list style so departments would be more likely to contribute to the publication on a weekly basis.
The communications team received very positive feedback from this change. Empowered now runs as a biweekly publication, and will remain this frequency for the long haul.
Email is a primary way of delivering important messages to any organization. While email has its benefits, it can also seem heavily “crafted” because of a lot of wordsmithing to write the exact, perfect message. Podcasts, on the other hand, offer a way to deliver a more off-the-cuff sounding message, even when following a script. With a little practice and a modest audio setup, podcasts can have a high impact on employee engagement.
At the start of 2020, the concept of a podcast was new to Seminole. However, the pandemic presented new communications challenges, and podcasts offered Seminole’s CEO a way to get in front of every employee from her office.
Podcasts can cover the same content as a written message, but by allowing people to hear our CEO’s voice and to hear her commitment to the message, there’s an extra level of connection that is difficult to replicate in an email.
Virtual Meetings: Camera On
Ah, virtual meetings. What was once an occasional meeting device is now the primary way we communicate with everyone. Remember what it was like to just walk up to people and start talking to them? Given that meeting through the many virtual meeting platforms is the only avenue available for many utility communicators at the moment, it is important to make the most of it.
So, here’s the big question: do you turn on your camera when having meetings with others? Are you quick to turn off your camera when you “have a bad hair day” or “just woke up?” Why let anything get in the way of helping you get your message across to other employees?
You convey more than half of your meaning through the visual medium. Use this to your advantage!
The Things that Tie Us All Together
Even though many of us are working from home and don’t see our coworkers in person, we have found it to be incredibly important to engage with fellow employees virtually in any way we can. It is just as important now to continue to deliver safe, affordable, reliable electricity to our communities. A pandemic cannot change that.
Remember, we’re all human beings. Our lives continue on despite the current pandemic. We’re people with families, interests, and maybe most importantly, senses of humor.
The technology that’s used to connect us may change, but the connections we share with coworkers and the importance of effective communications is always at the forefront.
The reality is: things always change! This is just the most recent change. We are smart, adaptable communicators, and we will always find a way to connect with our communities.
More Peer Pandemic Tips
We learn best when we connect to peer ideas. Did you miss earlier Pioneer blog posts on pandemic-era communication challenges and solutions?
- 7 Ways to Keep Up Day-to-Day Communications in a Time of Crisis: Pam Spettel from Blachly-Lane Electric Cooperative shares ways to adapt and thrive in a remote working environment.
- 3 Tips for Meeting Planners in a Pandemic: Trent Scott, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, weighs considerations and options for meeting planning during the pandemic.
- Reporting Tips for a Social-Distance World: The NewsData reporting team shares how to interview subjects and build trust from a distance.
- Finding our (Digital) Humanity: A new video and eBook highlight how public power utilities are adding personal, helpful touches to their work to be human in a digital world.
Would you like to share your experience with your peers? We love sharing your stories. Reach out to Megan with content ideas.