As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s clear that the last eighteen months have forced companies to embrace ways of working that were previously considered problematic or too logistically difficult to think about seriously. Yet we’ve been forced to make it work and, in doing so, we’ve permanently changed the future of work and of the workplace.
What does this mean then when it comes to employer brand and your communications? If you’re working remotely how do you get people to buy into your brand? How do you keep your culture strong so that your workforce is invested, wherever they’re working?
We answer these questions and more, looking at the issues through six lenses and giving our recommendations for how to build a potent employer brand as the world of work changes.
For most of us pre-pandemic, our work lives revolved around the office. Perhaps the most fundamental change to emerge from the pandemic is the permanence of home working, or, more likely, a hybrid model of home and office working as we’ve come to recognise the benefits of being able to work more flexibly.
We need to make the best of both these new worlds of work. Organisations are looking at making the most of what they already have, reshaping how we work and upskilling existing employees rather than recruiting new ones. Companies are looking afresh at their values and behaviours, making them more overt and giving them more clarity. With people working in different places there’s a need to engage and communicate in new and different ways to ensure everyone can work in a similar way and to meet people’s new expectations of what being part of a company is all about. The office environment itself may need to change too. It must be an attractive proposition and many of our clients are looking to redefine office spaces as ‘collaboration hubs’. While the idea of these isn’t new, the pandemic has accelerated their popularity.
People now want to feel a connection to their workplace. By embedding your employer brand message in a tangible way within a welcoming and sophisticated environment you can achieve cohesiveness. Consider new ways of sharing information, (since we won’t all be together all the time). Make people visible – through dedicated employee social media channels, in-office imagery, etc. – so that when people do come in the right messages are reinforced, and when they’re at home they still feel connected and up to date. Something as simple as merchandising, for example, can be a relatively easy and cost-effective tool to support this. We’ve been given the chance to reset and think about what we want from our work. Get it right and your employer brand proposition becomes a really powerful tool for both retention and recruitment, widening your talent pool in the process too.
A strong employer brand will transcend the workplace and bring your people together. By the same token, a weak employer brand will fail to galvanise your staff.
We took a look at several global organisations to see who was getting their employer brand right in the new remote working context. We looked at one company with 3,500 global employees working in 120 countries. They’re a tech company, and while that might make some of the operational challenges around remote working a little easier for them, the employer brand still needs to be a bold and strong one to unite their thousands of people across the world. This particular organisation focuses on our new world, about working to make a difference and charting your own course, connecting to work wherever you are. It’s clear they value their people and that work for them is a verb, not simply a place to go.
And these aren’t just words. This company puts what they say into action. They have a clear employer manual that constructs the whole employer brand around these ideas, thus making them credible. Employer brand goes beyond the office – it’s about the entire culture of the organisation. Their values have been crafted carefully too, in consultation with their employees, so that they feel truly reflective of their people rather than being imposed from above. In addition, they actively promote remote working and in doing so open up a broad potential workforce which in turn supports inclusivity as a key part of their employer brand. To ensure that this remote working focus doesn’t result in a scattergun approach, they ensure that individuals’ goals are aligned to the team and the company’s overall goals, creating cohesiveness and internal buy-in.
The lesson to draw here is that a strong employer brand genuinely feels like it’s supporting its people from the bottom up, rather than imposing a top down view that could be perceived as out of touch.
Employer brands are in many ways a reflection of a company’s role in the wider world and Covid has changed that role for many organisations.
The former Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, produced an interesting report in 2020 that talks to potent employer brands and their value. He talked about economic dynamism and efficiency being joined by fairness, responsibility, compassion and solidarity – all values that are relevant in a company context. He noted that when the crisis is over, companies will be judged on how they treated their employees. The organisations that will come out best will be those that looked after their people, rather than rushing to help themselves first, and who have played a positive part in making the world better for future generations. Here we have the convergence of purpose, sustainability and social responsibility. We are starting to see this more too in the briefs we receive from clients, as companies question their role in society and how they can better connect to human values. Ultimately, this is about what matters to people on an individual and emotional level. You need to reflect it in your employer brand, especially as new generations, who particularly value companies with a strong purpose who make a positive impact, come into the workforce.
So, consider how to weave your purpose, mission, vision, values and sustainability into one compelling employer proposition. We see challenger brands who do this really well. Their entrepreneurial spirit and ambition allow them to be bold and emotive, with mission driving what they do. They don’t shy away from being critical of themselves and of their industry when required, in a bid to make things better. They push the limits and break down barriers, allowing their personality to come to the fore. We can take a lot from such examples, not least that the most potent brands all have a human connection at their heart.
We’ve always talked about the importance of authenticity in photography, especially when it comes to aspects like diversity and inclusion. The pandemic has meant that photography has become a crucial part of employer brand and communications now too.
The traditional, cheesy office shots no longer ring true, since most of us haven’t set foot in the office for months. We’re used to more natural and sophisticated images now, with reportage style photography increasingly popular as it lends itself to a more authentic feel.
Social media is proving a great channel to show a different side of an organisation. Within the B2B sector we’ve seen Instagram become increasingly popular as a way of giving an organisation a much more human face. Many larger corporations now have Instagram feeds for their employees which are a lovely way of showing more natural, human moments – a walk with your dog, your cat sitting on your keyboard as you try to work, and so on – real-life situations we can all relate to, within the setting of our own imperfect environments. It’s no longer about the shiny, slick office and glossy corporate life.
Some organisations have gone further, handing the camera over to their employees (although with a defined brief), resulting in varied and creative imagery, yet still consistent and recognisable as the organisation, from employees across the world. This also supports employees to feel connected and part of something bigger, even from within the confines of their lockdown walls. One large organisation in the financial services sector produced a film at the height of the pandemic for an internal communications campaign, focusing on a day in the life of their employees with user-generated footage engaging their people in the process and instilling a sense of pride and belonging. It’s a world away from their previously corporate-focused employee communications and was very well-received by employees and externally too as it showed a different side to the company.
We believe there’s a lot that can be learned from seeing how organisations have been communicating with their employees over the last year or so. It became clear at the start of the pandemic that the content of communications would need to change. To start with, it focused on the functional and operational out of necessity as everyone moved home to work. As things progressed, employees needed and wanted compassion and action, and so content changed again.
One major financial firm in the City wore their heart on their sleeve, putting out a strong message of support for the firm and its people, letting people know they were there for them, and acknowledging how challenging the times were while making it clear how they could help. The message was posted on LinkedIn, which gave it accountability from being published in a public space. Another professional services firm put out a communication to employees after each government announcement, giving clarity on what that meant for the firm and for its people. They also set up individual sessions for staff with a member of the leadership team to ensure employees’ wellbeing and to gather information about what employees wanted going forward.
Hearing from senior leadership is something more and more employees have become used to. They’re connecting with the C-suite in a more personal way than they did before. Organisations are talking more about wellbeing and mental health, taking it more seriously and giving it greater emphasis in their employee communications. In doing this, organisations have become more empathetic. Other companies have focused on their local communities, rallying their people to offer support, whether through volunteering or donations. Such actions make for a more powerful employer brand because these initiatives bring people together and give them a broader focus beyond their everyday work. Community action in particular is a great way to demonstrate considerate, responsive and tenacious company values, while taking care of employees shows gratitude for and acknowledgement of the hard work they’ve put in, as well as understanding of the challenges they’ve faced.
We’ve focused so far on existing employees, but what about those who are about to enter, or who have just entered, the workforce? What about the recruitment message for them? For many young people and recent graduates, their dreams for their careers were taken away from them during the pandemic and it has been a tough time. As employers, we must remember that their optimism would no doubt have taken a hit.
Recruitment messages previously often veered on the side of grandiose, talking about the amazing impact you’ll make and how your role will make a better world, a better future and a better you. Such sentiments and tone will need to change as we emerge from the pandemic. Perfection and hyperbole are no longer credible. We perhaps need to be more understanding of the difficult situations people have found themselves in and recognise the current state of mind. We’re not saying your message needs to be bleak but being a little more realistic – yet still optimistic – while leaving out those grandiose claims, is probably more appropriate for now.
Building the potency of your employer brand in the new world of work we find ourselves in requires courage and compassion. Have the best of both worlds – the remote and the office. Build your employer brand for the people it’s there to serve from the bottom up, not simply for your company from the top down. Engage with human emotions and the need for connection, dialling up the empathy not just for your existing workforce, but for those who might be joining you soon as well, ensuring the dream you sell is attainable and credible. Consider our recommendations and you’ll be able to develop an employer brand that’s powerful and distinctive, and that truly reflects your people.
We developed a bold approach to encourage everyone to think differently.
It’s probably never mattered more and never been so easy to misframe. How can you ensure your D&I commitment is communicated as an ever-present golden thread and not an after-thought?
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