An Expert on the Future of Communication After COVID-19

Rita Zonius on the Future of Communication After Coronavirus

Rita Zonius, a social media and communications consultant, tells us about the future of her industry and what things might look like and how they might change in a post-Covid-19 world after the coronavirus crisis.

What we’ve been living through over the past few months has been a great leveller. This will help leaders realise that while, in the past, people looked to them for the answers, now they want them to tell it like it is. I hope that after we come through this and into a new world, leaders will continue to be timely with their communication, they’ll explain deeply why and how decisions are made and be honest when they don’t have all of the answers. In a crisis, that helps to manage the white noise at the edges.

We’re realising just how complex life can be. As we go through this, we’re relating to each other on a more human level. We’re looking into each other’s living rooms, seeing the kids, cats and dogs and it’s putting us on a more level playing field. It doesn’t matter if you’re senior or junior, these are things that are touching all of us.

You want your people to feel safe and to put them at ease. If they don’t feel okay, how are they going to focus on serving their clients and customers? The organisations that didn’t prioritise internal communication will now see that you have to take care of your people first. Forward-thinking organisations will continue to understand this and be able to mobilise people around the things that really matter.

We’re not going to go back to the way things were. The approach of micromanagers who believe in “presenteeism” – you know, “You must be sitting outside my office door at all times so I can see you doing your work” – has been broken very quickly. We’re not all going to be working in offices again and micromanagers need to ask themselves the hard questions about whether they’re prepared to trust their people more. You set boundaries but don’t micromanage the way people get their work done. That’s more motivating for staff – we know that one of the keys to improving staff engagement is autonomy. Tell people what you expect of them but let them figure out how they get there. Managers who don’t do this will struggle to operate later.

We’re going to have to take our technology out of first gear. We can’t keep thinking that processes invented for the old world will continue to work well when we’re working in distributed ways. Take the team meeting as an example. Does it have to be for an hour on a Monday morning, when we all kind of look at each other and a couple of people have something to say? Or could it be a manager posting in their team’s enterprise social network, “What work are you doing?” Then people can respond in their own time rather than all having to convene at a particular time. This is also helpful if you’re in different time zones. Turning on the technology is only the start.

In the new world, we need a strong digital workplace where leaders are playing a role and are seen to be engaging in that technology. If a leader shows up in there – be it Slack or Yammer or whatever network – people realise, “My leader values this. This is a productive use of time. I’ll engage here.” It could be just the leader recognising a job well done. But if you’re a leader who doesn’t want to be there then no matter how many times you ask your people to collaborate and use these tools, they’re simply not going to. Good leaders recognise the investment that needs to be made by helping people become more socially engaged.

We’ve got to learn the habit of working more visibly, doing it out loud and being comfortable with that. The problem with only sending an email around to each other is that we’ve already made an assumption about who’ll have the answer to our question. If you ask the wider world, who knows where the perfect answer may come from? This is the magic of social technology in the workplace. Organisations will soon realise that they have to do a better job helping people to understand what true collaboration looks like – it means being vulnerable and putting things that are half-cooked in front of people. It’s not the perfect PowerPoint that you’ve spent hours on but about sharing it half-done and saying, “Hey, what do you think of this? What could I add to it?” People who get used to the idea that they don’t have all the answers and others can help them will soon find their work will be richer and they’ll be much better for it.

If you’re a bad leader in the real world, you’re going to show up that way in the virtual world. It was easier to hide when you were sending around all those emails and doing things under the cloak of darkness. What do they say? Sunlight is the best disinfectant. We’re throwing sunlight on all sorts of things in the workplace now and dysfunctional leaders who are only there for themselves are not going to survive and thrive in the new world. And that’s a good thing.

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