The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the importance of having — and maintaining — a responsive, connected and communicative workplace culture.
For many associations, it’s been a case of consolidating and fine-tuning previous work practices rather than learning how to implement flexible, connected and remote working arrangements from scratch.
Other membership associations have had to develop entirely new workplace guidelines, communications frameworks and cultural norms under pressure due to rapidly changing government and workplace health and safety requirements.
A recent study into the impact of the pandemic on the not-for-profit association sector, COVID-19 and Beyond, reveals how effective communication has underpinned the success of organisations that have adapted well during the crisis.
According to the study, the top 5 factors that enabled organisations to respond well during the crisis were:
- CEO and senior leadership team (89%)
- Staff skill and experience (85%)
- Organisational culture (78%)
- Prior communication effectiveness with members (73%)
- Member expectations and engagement (71%).
The results indicate that effective communication to execute on strategy, rapidly realign organisations, build culture and connect with customers underpins an organisation’s success in times of crisis and change.
“The association sector is experiencing a level of innovation not seen since the introduction of the internet,” the study stated.
“There is a strong focus on developing services to meet the needs of different member segments and delivering those services via the channels most convenient to the member,” it found.
“While the crisis has caused many associations short-term pain, most respondents believe it will have a neutral (27%) or positive (52%) impact on their associations over the long-term,” the report stated.
Member engagement has meanwhile increased for 75% of respondents, with many reporting that the increase in engagement has reinforced their relevance to their existing members and prospects.
So what general conclusions can be drawn from the association experience?
An effective regular and interpersonal communications framework needs to underpin communications from the leadership team and between team members in times of change.
What does this mean?
- Regular remote team meetings and one-on-one meetings
- Remote All-Hands or Town Hall meetings where staff can ask questions or provide feedback directly to management
- Provision for reaching all staff regardless of their location, whether at home, in the workplace or on the road, accessible both in cities and in regional areas.
Organisations must work to develop or maintain a responsive, agile and connected culture in a decentralised workplace.
What does this mean?
- Agile work cycles that provide the ability to execute change instructions quickly, assess effectiveness and alter or improve operations and results
- Structured formal and structured informal communications forums such as virtual team drinks, embedded humour, fun, fitness and team-building activities
- The ability to poll or survey staff to take the pulse of the organisation.
Prior effective communications with an engaged membership base enabled associations to quickly connect with members to communicate changed plans, and adopt effective digital communications strategies to maintain that contact and engagement.
What does this mean?
- Hosting crisis communication events where customers and prospects can interact and share their experiences and recovery strategies
- Ensuring all regular marketing, education and training courses are offered online
- Converting previous physical events to digital events.
Interestingly, and with Coronavirus restrictions set to continue for the foreseeable future, the changes made during the COVID-19 crisis look like becoming established workplace practices rather than a temporary adjustment.
According to the report, associations were not known prior to the pandemic for flexible work arrangements and agile cultures. Only 12% of staff worked from home prior to the crisis, but this increased to 96% during the pandemic. Three in four say they will be more amenable to working from home arrangements in future.
This is borne out by research conducted earlier this year by Redback Connect, in which we found 80% of those working from home believe remote meetings will continue to dominate even after people return to physical workplaces.
And according to a recent survey from Swinburne University, nearly four in 10 respondents had never worked from home before the crisis. But only 10 per cent said they would not do any work from home in future.
COVID-19 is transforming the way we work. The lessons we learn, particularly when it comes to communications, culture and connectedness, are likely to have a lasting impact on our organisations and their financial success.
Download your copy of the report COVID-19 and Beyond here