No company was perfectly prepared for the coronavirus crisis, but CAE Technology Services was better prepared than most. Tech comes into it – an IT provider isn’t scared of the odd Skype orHouse Partysession, and we’re sure they have some snazzy virtual video backgrounds. But tech is only part of their success story. A much bigger reason for CAE’s ability to deal well with lockdown is its hard-won culture of regular, free-flowing internal communication.
That culture stems from CAE chief executive Justin Harling and his team, who place enormous importance on keeping all 300 team members up to date with what’s going on in the company at all times; even when everyone is working from home.
Justin says: “Coronavirus meant that we went from having eight company offices to 300 home offices – overnight. But that hasn’t stopped us from staying in touch. Our level of communications is so heightened right now and we are learning loads from it. Lockdown has undoubtedly accelerated our company’s cultural journey.”
And the CEO believes that internal communications will become even more critical post-lockdown. The reason is simple. Good comms allow you to build a distinct company culture and a feeling of togetherness – no matter where people are located. Whether you work from home, in an overseas office or on a space station near Pluto, if your organisation has a strong culture of communication (supported by the right tech), your colleagues will all feel united, included and valued.
But what do effective internal communications look like? Justin says: “At their simplest, good internal comms are about having regular touchpoints. A few months ago, we launched our Monday Morning Mail, which I write. It includes all the amazing things that have happened in the company in the previous week, and the things to look out for in the week ahead. And it always concludes with a thought-provoking question.
He continues: “Next, we send out our Wellness Wednesdays update, which includes fitness and sleep advice, often from external experts, and info about our book club. Finally, we have a themed Photo Friday email. Our system lets us ping out messages to everyone in the company on all devices really easily so, everyone feels like they are part of one team, on the same journey together, no matter where they are.”
But does such a comms strategy add to the bottom line? Is it really worth doing?
In answer, Justin refers to the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to Work for list, which features CAE. He explains: “It can be difficult to get a genuinely honest opinion about what’s going on in a business, so we decided to draw out that opinion through the Best 100. Taking part is not a marketing exercise. It’s about real information-gathering. Their detailed survey provides us with an enormous list of things we could do better, so the feedback can be painful, but it is invaluable.”
The most recent Best 100 survey showed CAE that it was doing many things well – hence its place in the list – and it highlighted how much value staff placed on communications. The CEO says: “With staff working across different offices, sites and countries, the Best 100 showed us that our people want a communications strategy that pulls everyone and everything together. Team members need to be in touch and have enough info, so there is absolutely no question for us about investing time and money in internal comms as it makes sound economic sense – especially now. In fact, post-crisis, it’s not going to be optional. Coronavirus has been an incredibly steep learning curve in terms of what works, what doesn’t, and what’s important to people. It’s suddenly become mission-critical to have enough communication so that everyone feels like they know what’s going on and that they’re not on their own. Yes, the time it takes to implement is significant, but you have to prioritise it. If no one knows what’s going on, uncertainty creeps in, people become unsettled and any sense of togetherness disappears.”
And Justin goes further. He argues that effective internal communications can make or even eventually break a company.
“We’re now living in different times and people need anchors, a sense of normality, a sense that life and business go on. That requires brilliant internal comms. Get it right and you build the feeling that everyone is looking out for each other, as in an extended family who care for one other – regardless of distance. Build that culture and it can give your company genuine longevity.”
If, on the other hand, you choose to ignore your internal communications strategy, you invite the opposite scenario. Indeed, ineffective comms – particularly with coronavirus issues set to continue – may lead to uncertainty, worry and a feeling of isolation among your team. And with that in mind, perhaps it’s time for you to join your teams together with a Teams or Zoom session to understand what they need and plan a new approach?