A stitch in time

In a week of significant coronavirus related UK government announcements, it feels like we are in this for the long haul now and there is a creeping permanence in our current remote working circumstances. Internal communicators should be heeding the ministerial mantra of ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ to move away from the crisis and change communications approach of recent months towards one of continuous improvement.

In the midst of another week of significant coronavirus related government announcements in the UK, a new and unofficial mantra emerged – ‘A stitch in time saves nine’. Uttered several times by ministers and the PM himself, it probably had most people under forty Googling the phrase or asking Alexa.

A piece of wisdom from a bygone age, a stitch in time saves nine means to deal with a small problem immediately to avoid having to deal with the bigger problem which it might become, later on.

In the context of the resurgent pandemic in the UK, its use by government figures came across as somewhat ironic, given their mixed messaging of the last few weeks. A mere three weeks ago, we were all being browbeaten to get back to city centres and offices, swiftly followed by another messaging U turn this week to work at home for the next six months if you can. Perhaps the problem wouldn’t be quite so big now if the messaging had been more consistent earlier. Anyway, that’s a topic for another blog.

As social distancing measures tighten again and many employees face another six months working on kitchen tables and in improvised home offices, what can internal communicators do to observe the UK governments new advice of a stitch in time saves nine? What small communication problems should we be addressing now to avoid them becoming bigger ones later on?

Here are three internal communication ‘stitches’ that might save you nine at some point in the near future.

Check your coronavirus content

It’s been six months now since all of this started, and in that time many internal communicators will have generated large amounts of coronavirus related content, much of it published on intranets and other digital platforms. There have been some significant shifts in the official guidance since the pandemic began.  Is this reflected accurately in your content and links from it to external references, does some of it need updating, or is it time to slim down and streamline what you have to make it more user friendly for employees and avoid misunderstandings?

What about those Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), the beloved tool of all internal communicators, are they still the frequent questions or do they need an overhaul too. If you need some inspiration, there’s some advice for creating an effective FAQ in my blog ‘Ancient origins of the FAQ’.

Also, don’t forget those recent new developments in track, test and trace protocols and technology. For example, does your internal guidance include relevant references to the new NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales and how this impacts on any policies in place.

Finally, if you work in an international organisation, does your content still reflect or cover local guidance and protocols in the countries where you operate? Approaches to dealing with the virus in some territories are very different to others, and the guidance changes rapidly. It’s worth the investment of your time to keep up to date with this, to avoid confusing or excluding some groups of colleagues.

Check your channel strategy

When organisations abruptly transitioned to remote and home working to observe hastily introduced social distancing regimes, many internal communicators were involved in rapid implementations of new digital platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom and Facebook Workplace.

There wasn’t the time back then to properly think about how these platforms would be used for internal communication and how they would integrate with the other communication channels already in use inside organisations. I suspect that this has left many internal communicators with a bit of a mess to sort out, with messages and content being incoherently splurged down multiple channels and employees being hit by the same thing several times from several sources. This is rarely a good internal communications strategy and employees quickly ‘switch off’ if they feel they are being overloaded with spurious content.

Maybe now is the time to review what is being sent down what internal communication channels and if this is the most appropriate and effective use of old and new channels. Remember ‘the channel is often the message’ and a good channel strategy reserves and protects some channels for the important stuff, so that this doesn’t get lost in the mass of other content being shared.

Back in May, I and a few other internal communicators, were interviewed by Corp Comms Magazine about delivering the message with the right tools  and a read of this may be helpful to start to untangle this conundrum. My blog ‘Be more Beethoven’ also includes some advice on developing and implementing a channel strategy.

Check how effective the communications are now

Since the pandemic began many organisations have periodically run wellbeing and health & safety surveys to check levels of employee morale and to identify appropriate interventions such as providing access to mental health resources. Some will have also included questions about the effectiveness of communication which has been an invaluable source of insight for internal communicators.

Now that many employees are faced with another six months of homeworking confinement, is it time to do another check in to see if your communications are still working? Did you identify some improvements to communication arrangements from previous insights, but parked them because of the likelihood of some employees returning to their normal workplace? Following the imposition of new restrictions this week is it now time to take those improvements and changes forward into implementation?

If these improvements involve some IT changes, my blog ‘Who killed Employee Engagement’ has some tips on collaborating with colleagues in IT departments to get them done.

The long haul

It really feels like we are in this for the long haul now, and there is a creeping permanence in our current working circumstances. This demands a change in approach to move away from the crisis and change communications approach of recent months to one of continuous improvement. This will have been a familiar way of doing things for many internal communicators ‘pre-pandemic’ – resolving small communication problems before they become much bigger ones.

A stitch in time saves nine.


Image by Thanasis Papazacharias from Pixabay 

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