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Prepare your employer brand for the end game

Back in the day, oh, how simple it all seemed.

Everyone thought we understood the world of recruitment, and knew it all; the war for talent, the recruitment lifecycle, posting to job boards, automating as much as possible, retention, training, loyalty, fluctuation. Yada yada yada.

And it felt comfortable. Predictable. As though nothing would ever change.

But then - COVID-19, something we could never have seen coming!

Suddenly being in HR meant a heaped spoonful of new words, new challenges, and new ways of working. Workplaces not considered critical were advised by government to close their doors, and to send employees to work from home - where they could. Where they couldn’t, there was another new option. Making decisions daily about what was ‘critical’, whose jobs were vital to keeping business moving, who could work from home, who had to be kept on side but safely away from the office while vulnerable. Furloughing staff whose jobs weren’t closed, but who weren’t working, became the ‘new normal’.

All of these new challenges, with no idea of how long this was likely to go on. Wow. Who’d be in HR, eh?

During this time of lockdown, people have gone through a whole range of emotions. Phase one - panic. I’m not working. My job has gone. I’m working from home. The world is coming to an end. I’ve got more work than I can handle as my teammates are furloughed. What do I do with the kids? And then, phase two - relaxation. I’m getting furlough pay, but spending less. I’m sure I’ll get another job. I’m enjoying working from home. I’m important to my employer, so I don’t mind going the extra mile. And then, suddenly, phase three. Boredom. The novelty has worn off. I can’t even picture going back to work. I’m not sure I want to work like that any more, anyway.

We’ve been in this strange kind of stasis for seven weeks, and only now is there the faintest glimmer of an end game. The first few restrictions around exercise and socialising - all within the guidelines around social distancing - are leading employers towards reigniting the workplace. The PM wants workplaces to open - safely - and invite staff back where they can. And now this has become the latest challenge - combining the old normal and the new normal in one.

So where does this leave you, as an employer?

If you’re lucky, you live in an ideal world. You have managed to keep business moving, have kept your teams together, and will soon be up and running exactly as before. An ideal world, indeed.

But, as is more likely, you find yourself in a state of limbo.

Some of your employees may have moved on during lockdown. Some will have found new direction, possibly even new employers. Some may have found the time to rethink their entire future - perhaps they’ll be considering setting up small businesses, taking time out for family, changing their lives in other ways. Or your workplace might itself have changed. Perhaps you don’t need certain divisions or teams, or perhaps you actually need to expand with new opportunities. In either case, your staffing requirements have changed along with this.

So, now is a very good time, with people’s minds now turning to their working future, to prepare your employer brand for the end game. To ensure your brand stands out against the competition, if suddenly any voids in your own teams are thrown into sharp focus. How will you show you’re the perfect choice of employer for the very best talent, when you most need to?

If you can open at all, and start taking your staff back, you’ll have plenty of practical things to think about. Creating safe working places with suitable space apart from one another; how to keep shared spaces disinfected; what to do about toilets and kitchens, lifts and stairwells. Those we can’t help with!

But there are also the less tangible aspects of your employer brand - these are things we do know about. And these foundations can be laid now.

As a creative agency, we would, predictably, say at this point that Content is King. But truly, it really is vital right now to be ahead of the game with your messaging. Some companies are doing this very well indeed. And are getting spoken about by others - a vital part of your employer brand. Your team, sharing good news about you, in their own words, and all positive - this is the nirvana of employee engagement.

Many companies are writing engaging blog and update pieces, shared on their websites or by email, to keep employees on side. We’ve heard of some where the top brass, the CEOs and MDs and directors of departments, have been phoning members of staff individually - not to talk about work or to check up on them. Under furlough that wouldn’t be allowed anyway. But simply to ask after their mental health, their families, and how they are coping. Some are setting up Zoom or GoToMeeting conference calls with dozens of staff at a time, to keep everyone informed about what’s going on and to include all working staff in discussions and plans. Others have been enjoying weekly quizzes, with all staff included, whether working or not.

And these are the kind of things that are keeping employees engaged, loyal, feeling part of something that values them. They are going to tell others about it. And this is exactly what you need for your positive employer brand. The inclusion; the transparency; the being valued; and being talked about.

And the routes to reinforcing your brand as a dynamic, caring employer are simple enough; social media - Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter - are visible platforms where current and future teams live.

Set up a post-COVID @handle, with a named team, rather than reinventing previous social media, and be active as much as possible, responding and engaging. Keep in mind that how you behave now will stay in everyone’s consciousness, whether they already work with you or might in the future. Tailor your messaging to the platform, but where appropriate a light-touch, smart, inclusive approach can work wonders. Embed your brand firmly in the minds of people not necessarily looking for a new position, but who will remember your stance when they do.

You need to embed in your employer brand those elements that people warm to subconsciously; personality, trust, openness, humour but professionalism. Integrity. Positivity. Your company is going places - this COVID-19 hasn’t been a disaster - on the contrary, it gives you the opportunity to bounce back better, more efficient, more flexible.

Be welcoming. Whether current employees or those of the future, everyone needs to feel valued, important, an integral part of something bigger than themselves. Share things about the company, positive things that have happened in the past, wins for the team, plans that will lead to a great future; things that others may not know, may have forgotten, and may share further. Talk about what life used to be like at your company, what it was like during lockdown (did you keep a skeleton staff, did you have to put the brakes on, did you battle through?), what it’s starting to be like now (better than ever, of course!).

In the wider world, most people agree that community feeling has grown. Volunteers have stepped up to help the more vulnerable, neighbours are looking out for one another more, people are speaking in the street. Talk about this for your workplace, how teams of loyal colleagues are encouraged to share their ideas and take part in the new future. Ask teams to share things they’ve learnt during lockdown, new skills or interests, and bring these into the workplace. Some people are now more IT-aware, live streaming has become normal, your teams may be more technologically-aware, more confident about presenting, more environmentally aware, fitter. Keep the communication skills everyone used in their Zoom quizzes and conversation with grandma, and turn those into new meeting styles internally.

But be realistic. People have been battered of late by a lot of bad news, a lot of statistics and science and negative news. Be open about the world having changed, share stories about how the company has coped during this period, and what will change in the future. Invite team members’ collaboration and ideas,encourage them to get involved, so they feel things they’ve learned in the past will continue to have an impact and there’s no line drawn under progress to date.

Let’s say you’ve done all of that. You’ve got your employees on side; you’ve created a feelgood factor internally and spread that further as part of your fabulous employer brand. You’ve caught the eye of possible future employees, and all from lockdown. Well done! It’s only the beginning. But it’s a fantastic start.

Here’s to a happy post-coronavirus world!

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Be open about the world having changed, share stories about how the company has coped during this period