As the impact of Covid-19 continues to reshape the world of work in an unprecedented fashion, companies are continuously adapting their approach to business. The 2020 Global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been revised from 2.5% to 0%, following the economic shudder felt across the globe.
Subsequently, firms are understandably looking at ways to recapture lost revenue following months spent under lockdown. Whether it be via fresh marketing campaigns, innovative new services or a score of sales and discounts, there has been a drive to get back in front of customers and declare business as normal. Yet I wonder, with marketing being a key component in reaching an external audience, how much consideration has been given to its role in reducing the internal upheaval?
For many organisations, traditional office-based life has been turned on its head following the arrival of Covid-19. As a result, the rapid rise of homeworking has been heralded as an overnight revolution with positive societal, economic and environmental effects. Roads are less crowded, commutes have been swapped for workouts and households are saving money on transport costs in the process. Yet it hasn’t come without its challenges. People have had to learn to cope with a huge amount of change when it comes to work and collaboration. The homeworking structures many companies thought would take months or even years to put in place have been hastily assembled in a matter of weeks. Regardless of whether you’re used to working from home or not, it’s been a big change, and especially challenging for those not used to it.
The thought crosses my mind during a very informative webinar held by my former employer, SThree. The talk, which brought together industry leaders from the likes of Salesforce, Blue Level Training, Walmart Labs and SThree itself, centred around the topic – “Return to work: what is the future of the office?”. Numerous views and ideas were exchanged, many of which were eye-opening and innovative, covering subjects from wellbeing and infrastructure to staff onboarding, productivity and culture. All would have to be tackled by the relevant organisational function whether it be the Board, HR, Sales, IT or Operations. Yet I felt that one function was rather conspicuous in its absence for not being named – Marketing.
So how can we, as Marketers, demonstrate that we’re able to play a pivotal role in helping our employers adapt and support their internal structures to benefit the wider business strategy?
First of all, there’s a need to emphasise the added-value marketing can bring to any business beyond the creative, branding stereotype. According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), by turning the disciplines and approach of marketing inwards, a business will put itself in the position to, “improve the effective implementation of business plans and change programmes”. Notice the last two words? Change programmes. Exactly what the entire world of business is currently going through. Internally, your staff are your customers and the change in the way we work is the product or service – as a result, we must now market to them. Welcome to marketing orientation.
Why should other functions collaborate with marketing?
You might wonder why it’s any of the Marketing department’s business as to how other areas of the company restructure in the current conditions. Why are we poking our nose in? There’s a method behind the madness.
The fact of the matter is, a company’s marketing strategy for wider business growth will impact each and every function over time. Let’s use Human Resources as an example. They will need to recruit more staff, implementing new systems and methods of candidate attraction. It’s therefore vital that both departments are working towards the same goals from the very beginning. Macro and micro-environmental factors can be fed into HR, who can in-turn steer Marketing in the direction in which certain strategies such as recruitment may need to go.
Flip it on its head. What if we’re making redundancies? Well, that is where we can adapt social listening. Using tools such as Hubspot, we can monitor mentions of the brand across the web. If a poorly handled redundancy process is drawing substantial attention in the local network on Facebook, or Twitter, we can acknowledge any issues, understand what is being said and advise on what people want to see improved.
Now, let’s review the areas covered during the webinar:
One of the most interesting topics discussed during the webinar was that of wellbeing. The point was made that there’s no longer a distinction between work and homelife, with the boundaries now considerably blurred. For all the times we moaned about the bad traffic or train being late, at least the commute created a natural break. People are now at risk of working too hard for too long, conscious of the pressure to be active and proving they’ve been productive.
Working in collaboration with the likes of Human Resources and the management team, Marketing can play a key role in supporting employees throughout this major transition through effective communication strategies, cross-departmental collaboration and reinforcing the vision and values of the business.
It’ll be important to strike the right tone and frequency of communications sent out to employees; avoiding over-communication as well as never contacting them at all. Given that this is a key discipline that Marketing practices day-in, day-out, we’re in an ideal position to advise HR and other departments on achieving this balance.
Furthermore, we can also liaise with our colleagues to devise engaging, high-quality content that clearly communicates the necessary support structures put in place by the business. Whether its video-based content from the management team or a graphics-based newsletter, the skills are there. Use them.
Next, how about creating a company-wide engagement strategy, to gauge the happiness of the workforce? As an example, a great tool used by countries around the world is the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). Ultimately, maintaining employee happiness and satisfaction is essential to the ongoing success of external marketing efforts. Fatigue, stress and a feeling of unappreciation is easily reflected in employee behaviour, especially those engaging with clients or posting about work online. Therefore, by developing an engagement strategy that involves regular checkpoints covering comfort, happiness and wellbeing, we can retain staff and ensure they’re in the best mindset to deliver optimal performance.
This approach also provides reassurance, especially if working remote, that the workforce is valued and central to business success. Alongside surveys, part of this strategy could involve empowering employees by creating content recognising what they do and how their roles are essential for business success.
Rewards and Incentives
Just because the workforce is no longer physically in the office, doesn’t mean recognition of their hard work should stop. Arguably, it should be increased.
Build a strategy around how the company plans to reward, incentivise and recognise the hard work of its employees. Even something simple like a branded, personalised communication thanking a member of staff can go a long way towards employee retention and loyalty. Now more than ever, workers are trying to perform their jobs in challenging conditions. Recognise individual situations, understand their unique circumstances and provide flexibility where possible. We can play a key role in driving these campaigns and ensuring high performance is recognised.
Homeworking Infrastructure – Do Companies Need To Invest?
The leaders who took part in the webinar discussed how, to varying degrees, their businesses have had to implement a substantial shift in infrastructure to accommodate homeworking. Dave Rees, the Chief Sales Officer at SThree, made a very interesting point that most companies have provided their staff with a mobile phone and laptop, with many employees having a temporary set-up at home. Some people will have office space, others will be in their dining room. Broadband speeds will also vary depending on location. With home working now in place for the foreseeable future, how do we make it a level playing field?
One answer was suggested that those companies intent on retaining homeworking will need to invest in the necessary infrastructure for their employees to do so. Of course, there’s also occupational health and safety to consider. It’s just as important to communicate the importance of a safe working environment at home as it is in the office. Will that mean an employer carrying out a risk assessment in your home, or even investing in office furniture for you? What happens when you move jobs? It’ll be interesting to see how companies deal with this as we move forward.
In a time when many employees do not currently have a full suite of office hardware at their disposal, it is vital that employers engage with staff to determine any areas in which this is affecting their role. Position the Marketing team at the forefront of efforts to show the business cares, adopting their expertise in running surveys through the likes of Survey Monkey. It’ll develop an understanding of the challenges staff face working from home and guide any future strategies on infrastructure investment. You could also liaise with workers regarding any new skills or programmes they’re struggling with and whether any training is required to upskill and maximise the potential to work from home.
What are our competitors doing? How have they adapted to the change in conditions? Has it had any impact on their market share? Market research is the way to find out. Task the Marketing team with going out to market, talking to people across the sector you operate in and understand what actions have been taken.
Every business will adopt different tools and processes to get their people working to the best of their ability as quickly as possible. It’s important to understand how the competition has reacted – don’t let them steal a march on you or, on the contrary, you can take advantage of their lethargy to increase market share.
Yes, this may be an article focusing on internal marketing strategy but ultimately, it all eventually combines to achieve one goal – running a profitable business via a customer-centric approach.
Offices across the country were closed overnight. Suddenly call centre operators had gone from working alongside hundreds of colleagues to the silence of their spare room. How would this work? What if they needed to pass an angry customer onto the manager? Of course, that person isn’t there to catch their attention over the computer monitor. Interim measures had to be put in place.
Such a sudden, unmanaged change was always bound to affect customer service – but by how much? Use the expertise of the Marketing team to reach out to customers, whether it be via surveys, online meetings, personal calls or focus groups, to understand if there has been a reduction in the level of service. It’ll help inform sales and customer service on where improvements can be made, whilst also helping the marketing team themselves. You can’t successfully market a business without understanding the opportunities and challenges facing a client.
A Hybrid Model: The Future of the Office?
As public places begin to reopen and the UK Government urges the public to return to work, attention is turning to the actions employers are taking to make their working environments “covid-secure”. According to a Glassdoor survey compiled in May, only 44% of UK employees currently working from home as a result of Covid-19 are eager to return to the office. Of course, whilst that figure may change, that is still a huge amount of people. Whether that’s due to health reasons such as shielding, childcare or even a better work-life balance, it’s a prominent challenge that companies face.
Different dynamics will arise as a result of this new “hybrid model” with those working in the office, some working from home and others dividing their time. Therefore it’ll be important that both parties communicate clearly with regards to individual needs and preferences. It’s just as critical that all employees, wherever they work, feel fairly treated and able to have their voice heard.
So how is the Marketing department able to help their employer seamlessly shift to a hybrid model?
Clearly, an effective marketing communications strategy is required in collaboration with relevant stakeholders within the business. It’s critical that both office and home-based staff receive relevant organisational news and initiatives at the same time, whether it be via methods such as online meetings, internal portals or email communications. This would prevent members of staff receiving news “second-hand” and feeling disengaged
According to a study titled ‘Happiness and Productivity” by Andrew Oswald at the University of Warwick, happiness results in a 12% spike in productivity. However, unhappy employees are 10% less productive. It is critical that we get this right as unhappy employees will ultimately impact on the customer experience.
Imagine you’re a smaller business with limited office space. Of course, the need for social distancing is giving you a big headache. There’s no chance all of your staff can return and still abide by government regulations. So how can you effectively ensure their safety whilst maintaining the right level of performance from your business?
Due to our frontline access to customer data, marketing can help management and the relevant departments prioritise different projects, services or product lines. This can then be applied when allocating resources and organising internal segmentation. Project teams could be created as “bubbles” to work in tandem, each with the necessary skill sets in place to achieve the end goal. A defined strategy could be rolled out as to when each team can use the office space for creative or collaborative meetings, working to a blend of home and office-based work.
Marketing is constantly evolving in an ever-changing landscape of new programmes, concepts and algorithms. As a result, teams across the country are always striving to stay ahead of the game, utilising the latest technologies to gain a competitive advantage. For this reason, the function is well-placed to introduce new technologies beneficial for the business
We’ve all witnessed the meteoric rise of Zoom during the lockdown period, with the business increasing their daily users from 200 million to 300 million in just three weeks, according to an article on Bloomberg. Such video conference platforms have been a revelation for many companies who have been forced to shift to remote-working. There are various platforms that can be adopted and, especially in the case of a hybrid model, taking advantage of Slack is a prime example of a collaborative platform designed to support the way in which people naturally work together. These types of platforms would enable all of the aforementioned bubbles to share ideas, whether it be in an overall marketing meeting on a Monday or an individual bubble meeting later in the week. It also provides users with multiple lines of communication within the business, giving them a voice and input where necessary.
Talent Acquisition & Onboarding: A New Challenge
Onboarding the right talent is a challenge at the best of times, let alone amidst a global pandemic. The challenge is particularly prevalent in companies who hire graduate and junior talent. Traditionally these individuals would shadow senior members of staff and observe the job first-hand, making this method incompatible with the current trend of homeworking. As a result, transitioning to digital onboarding has posed a major challenge for these organisations. How can Marketing help?
Create an engaging onboarding process
For Rebecca Baker, Director at Dynamize Marketing, it’s all about making the process as inspiring as possible. “People appreciate it’s a strange time at the moment but still want to feel part of the business and in a position to make a contribution”, she explained. “Whilst there will be some areas that can’t be performed without face-to-face training, you can look to utilise new starters strengths and help them to hit the ground running in areas in which they’re comfortable.”
“Marketing is a broad function, although in it’s creative form, can play an integral role in developing an aesthetic, engaging new starter pack. This could be an interactive approach consisting of a video message from the hiring manager, a company-branded digital handbook and access to a tailored digital training programme. There are so many ways we can help”.
It’s also important to instil a sense of after-placement care within the process; something which can also be led by marketing. By gathering feedback from new starters, whether through surveys or focus groups, we can gather the necessary information that can help determine the company onboarding strategy in future.
How about attracting candidates in the first place? Are we looking for a specific talent? By collaborating with the relevant departments and agreeing on the candidate specification, a marketing team has the capability to run a targeted campaign, utilising various platforms including social media to reach a specific audience. By guiding relevant candidates towards a landing page where they can record their contact details, we’re able to generate viable leads for the business that could turn into a placement. Think of how much that could save in recruitment costs?
Furthermore, we can also utilise market research to determine if there are candidate shortages for a specific skill set. This could inform future business strategy, whether that is utilising the services of a specialist headhunter now with a view to keeping that skillset in the business through an apprenticeship scheme later.
Company Culture – Is This The End?
It’s a topic that has been raised in management meetings around the world – “How do we retain the essence of our company culture after the move to working online?”. It’s a valid question and one to which many business professionals, in all areas, are scratching their heads.
During the webinar, an interesting idea was mooted for the office of the future. It was put to the group that the redesigned working environment will consist of 20% desks and 80% meeting space, in direct contrast to the current state. Furthermore, the majority of employees will only meet at the office for creative meetings and training that can’t be done online. Is this the resounding death knell for company culture?
Don’t mourn just yet. Any marketing-oriented business will know that the function lies at the heart of building company culture, setting the core foundations such as the vision, mission and values. These pillars serve both internal and external audiences. As the workforce has splintered into remote working over the past four months, it’s an opportune time to reinforce the ethics and culture within the business via a well-structured internal marketing campaign. It’s important that employees understand the culture that the business seeks to maintain, what it is looking to achieve and why the values instilled are central to its success. It helps to keep staff engaged with the firm and, by living and breathing these very values, will translate through company performance into customer satisfaction.
It’s also possible to retain the social vibe that knits many teams together in offices throughout the world. Prior to the arrival of Covid-19, homeworking was already a way of life for many Salesforce employees around the world. It was ingrained in their culture. So much so, that the office was seen as more of a place to collaborate and “hangout”. Could this be the future? It’s certainly something that Marketing is able to facilitate. Working closely with the likes of Health and Safety, we’re in a position to create branded guidelines that help return the office to being a “safe” space. Branded signage can also be displayed for social distancing markers and one-way systems. It’ll show that the company is taking the situation and the health of its employees seriously. Furthermore, it’ll also be a positive stride towards retaining that friendly, sociable culture.
So, have you thought about your internal marketing strategy?
If remote working does become the new normal, it’s clear that companies will need to rethink their internal processes and embrace the right technologies to support their employees, especially if operating a hybrid model between the office and home-based staff. Adopting a marketing orientated approach across the business can play an integral role in doing this.
Those able to launch successful strategies now during the pandemic will be the ones best placed to recover and grow once the crisis abates.