We see...IC

Conversations with IC leaders

Jul 16, 2020 | Feature

We grab a cuppa and settle in for a virtual chat with some amazing IC experts.

In the latest installment of our series, we caught up with Kimberley-Marie Sklinar, Internal Communications Partner at StepChange Debt Charity, on how virtual communications are shaping the future.

How many people do you have at StepChange?

About 1500 people work at StepChange, our Head Office is in Leeds but we are based across eight different locations. There are three of us in the Internal Communications team, reporting to the Head of Internal Communications and we usually work as business partners, each looking after different projects, departments and locations. Coronavirus has meant some fairly big changes to how we have approached our comms.

What was your initial reaction as an IC team to the COVID-19 situation?

We were keen to send out communications as soon as possible, but waited until we had something coherent to say, as we didn’t want to confuse anyone. Almost two thirds of our employees work in a contact centre environment and on desktops, so the aim was to get them set up for home-working as soon as possible.

We secured equipment funding and it was a real joint effort getting this out to people so they could work remotely. It was a struggle to communicate during this time, as colleagues didn’t have access to systems or regular communications tools, so we had to be creative.

How have your communications had to evolve?

Not many people were used to working remotely or using virtual tools like Teams, so we worked with L&D to create guides and training. We’ve been doing weekly update briefings and even did our bi-annual town hall meeting virtually. Usually, our Senior Leadership Team travel all over the country for this, but the response we got from a virtual session was so positive that it might be something we continue to do when lockdown lifts.

We used Workplace to host our town hall meeting. I think the biggest thing we’ve done for our comms is to roll out Workplace as a new tool. It has been a real labour of love but the results have been pretty spectacular.

What have your main communications objectives been?

Keeping people up to date and informed is our main communications goal, but we also received a lot of feedback that people were missing the social side of office life, which fed into our decision to implement Workplace. We felt this was important for people’s wellbeing and remaining engaged with the charity.

We did a ‘backwards’ launch for it, as the primary aim was not to be for work-related communications, rather focusing on social and wellbeing. We piloted it with our department and set up lots of different groups e.g. Culture Corner and Pets of StepChange, to get people on board and sharing with each other.

Within three months, 80% of our employees are active on Workplace – we’ve benchmarked ourselves against other organisations that use it and this result is outstanding! The number of groups is growing; we’ve even started a recognition section on there for thanking other colleagues. It’s a space were people are feeling more confident asking questions and it’s been really important for us in breaking down locational and hierarchical barriers. Our Executive team are really visible on Workplace and it’s a way for people to interact with them in a different way. It’s been so positively received that our next steps will be to use Workplace for more charity-related comms.

What have your main challenges been?

Technology was a challenge initially as we struggled with getting our communications out to our people, but we figured out ways to overcome this, like setting up an external site for people who were unable to access our VPN, where we housed relevant comms.

Initially, overcoming pre-conceived notions of what Workplace would be like was challenging too. There were people who thought ‘Well I don’t like Facebook, so I won’t like this,’ so we had to dispel those kind of thoughts in our comms and gradually saw take-up improve.

What positives can be taken from this?

I think that the value of internal communications has really been recognised. It feels like more is being asked of us because people have seen what we can do, and we’re being involved earlier.

Workplace has brought people together, and the amount of support and kindness that is coming out of it is amazing. People are sharing stories and opening up about themselves. It humanizes people and allows them to connect in a different way. Our Execs have been filming videos, and seeing them in their own environments, being a bit silly sometimes, has been really popular.  

Colleagues tell us that they’ve felt a more level playing field around important charity updates on what’s happening, and there’s less worry about missing out on key information if you’re based in a different office or department.

What lessons will you take from this?

We’ve always wanted people to take ownership of their own departmental communications more by being more outward-facing, and Workplace has shown we’re in a position to work towards this. We also use Workplace statistics to gauge what content people respond to, and based on this I think we’ll aim to do more video content where we can. It’s been a challenging three months but we can shape our future communications strategy off the back of this, and use our new virtual platforms to their full potential.

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