Everything is clearly fine

The way I see it (so far)

Thanks for subscribing (a long time ago). This letter writing experiment has been paused for months. This tiny newsletter was intended as a between-paid-work activity, yet I found almost no time available between paid projects. If all goes well, this will be an ongoing impediment. Onward!

First, it's important to address the thing that has occupied minds around the globe over the last 12++ months. The hundred years pandemic (emphasis mine) has been a long and arduous journey for so many. For some, communications have been paradoxically siloed and radically open. An odd mix of directly addressing issues and completely ignoring even the most basic.

2020 was a banner year for crisis communication. Internal coms teams were tested at scale. Organizations of all sizes had to find the right way to communicate amid uncertainty and provide structure for their workforce. Some faired well, while others failed. Employees everywhere were affected by decisions from the top.

The Remote Work Experiment

During the early days of lockdown, communications advice was clear about employees’ needs for transparency and honesty from management. Shifting to remote work would mean continuing with regular communications about the organization and employee expectations. Employers that chose this path found it contributed to overall employee satisfaction. As expected, employee engagement and satisfaction plummeted when employees felt they did not get adequate information from the organization. In many cases, messages delivered from upper level management or the executive ranks failed to address basic questions employees had about things like potential layoffs (for example). This weak approach has since been proven an utter failure as the so-called Great Resignation has begun.

Office Returns at All Costs

The pandemic shifted more communications online, but this didn't automatically make them more direct or easier to understand. The keys to effective communication were essentially lost at many organizations. They didn't know the audience and the messaging proved it. Months of promises to thoroughly consider worker needs before requiring everyone to return to the office evaporated into false statements about organizational values. Many workers were forced to return to the office during the first few months of 2021. Organizations that chose this path offered platitudes about the benefits of in-person collaboration or cited weak examples of why remote or flexible work doesn't fit in the organization. After more than a year of productivity in uncertain conditions, workers were told the all things they've already been doing simply weren't good enough going forward.

Intentional Communication

The reasons for poor communication from the top of an org can be many. Parsing the multitude of mistakes isn't something I want to take on now. Instead, I want to focus on a couple of things orgs to ponder going forward…

Denying the productivity gains seen over the last 12/14 months would be a wildly miscalculated mistake for any leader considering a heavy handed decree of inflexibility forever more. Instead, it's time to consider the whole work experience as it relates to real life for so many. Crisis communications are akin to really good regular communications, but include important decisions made at the top of an organization. Ignoring the basic principals of good communication will result in more confusion.

Remote work can work across industries so long as communication norms include some structure. There is nothing magical about working inside a building. Office culture typically includes at least semi-structured methods of translating ideas into strategy. Success found through interoffice collaboration need not be relegated to a specific building during fixed working hours. Technology makes possible all the things we tend to think of as office-only experiences.

How exactly is technology changing the way we communicate?

In future editions, I'll explore some of the many ways technology is changing how we interact (or avoid interactions).