On March 11, 2020, the world as we knew it changed. The president of the United States canceled flights from Europe, and thus began the lockdown. Shortly after, Canada and the United States went into lockdown like most of the world.
Millions of people were laid off. Businesses shut down. Organizations who’ve never had an employee work from home pivoted to 100% remote work in a matter of days. Maintaining a workplace culture that’s engaging is increasingly difficult.
While some companies were quick to pivot and thrive – like big tech companies in Silicon Valley going completely remote (Twitter, Shopify, and Facebook), other companies fell into the Big Brother trap of using geo trackers in their employees’ apartments to spy on when they leave their home. Employees have even been forced to put apps on their phones and laptops, and when they veer away for a minute to search something non-work related, get a warning they have 60 seconds to get back to work.
Most companies, like the North Dakota State Auditor’s Office, fell between these two extremes. In the end, they managed to weather the storm through a thriving office culture. For other companies, there is still a lot of uncertainty about how to adapt office cultures to work in what we’re now calling the ‘New Normal’.
Founded on values, your office culture is an amalgamation of behaviors, systems, and practices that become the character and personality of your organization. You may have your values written on the wall but if you’re not living them in leadership and rewarding team members for doing the same, it’s unlikely your office culture is what you expect it to be.
Human connectedness is in our biology, it’s why we crave belonging in a part of a community. It’s often natural for us in person but takes some adjusting in our new virtual offices.
That’s why we asked Brianna Ludwig, the Deputy State Auditor at the North Dakota’s State Auditor’s office to join us for a webinar in May 2020 to showcase how she uses her intranet to maintain their close-knit culture.
Brianna Ludwig is an exceptional example of what to do amidst a crisis. Calm, confident, and resilient with over 10 years’ experience in building an organizational culture rooted in values through strategic internal communications. She is an expert in leveraging employee communications to impact the bottom line and has coached others on how to implement tools and best practices that increase employee communication.
“My advice to leadership is to always focus on the human part first then the work.”
Before moving into the role of the State Auditor, Brianna was the Director of Communications. “I was originally hired to do external comms, but I enjoyed internal more”. She knows first-hand how valuable internal communications is to an organization, and how putting people first encourages them to do their best work and stay loyal in situations such as receiving other job offers.
“It’s making those small deposits to that person’s emotional bank account so later on when they get a job offer somewhere that maybe makes more money, they are loyal to us because of how we make them feel”
The ND State Auditor’s Office uses the intranet primarily for engagement, and secondarily for internal communications. They celebrate work anniversaries, new employees, and promotions, but also personal accomplishments.
“We want people to give their best at work, but it’s difficult when they are concerned about something going on at home [or a world pandemic]. Showing that you care should come first. When we show that so and so had a baby or a new member joined the office, we’re showing that we care about your personal life”
When the pandemic struck, The State Auditor’s office in North Dakota reacted swiftly with a plan in place to keep morale and connectedness alive.
“After we all started working from home, we ramped up the use of The Hub [Source intranet software] to keep our culture alive and to keep our employees engaged with each other from home.”
They accomplish this by incorporating different company news posts asking for interaction such as:
They’ve taken the opportunity of remote working to come closer together.
“It’s been a good opportunity to learn more about each other. We’re in a weird time right now where your co-worker’s personal lives are directly affecting your workload. Kids cutting into meetings, dogs barking, and the UPS guy arriving. There’s been a lot more grace that’s had to happen and a more human side to our coworkers than we’ve ever seen before.”
Brianna likes to make the intranet a place people enjoy going to as opposed to strictly a place of business. It’s simple to mass upload daily jokes to rotate on the homepage “I could have added a daily health tip, but I think everyone is a little fatigued from constant reminders to stay healthy”
“We’re all at home making breakfast, lunch, and dinner, uploading photos of what we’ve been making and inspiring others to try our recipes.”
We use polls to gauge people’s interest in returning to work, their productivity, and how comfortable they are. Outside of COVID-19, ND has always used polls each week to keep a finger on the pulse of the organization. “If you do an annual pulse survey, it’s only going to inform you on the past 6 weeks. When we make a change or [for example] implement new software, we ask right away how people feel about it”
“We don’t use all staff emails. Our intranet is our one source of information.”
All news is kept on the intranet, including management meeting highlights and what managers are working on.
To keep the information sharing fun, they like to mix in a personal question with work to have a little fun and make information sharing more engaging. “You can see the human side of these people we’ve been working with professionally.”
“All these avenues give people that release when we can’t go outside to be social”- Brianna Ludwig, Deputy State Auditor at North Dakota’s State Auditor’s Office
If you’d like to learn more about what internal communicators should be doing to thrive after COVID-19, sign up for our next webinar on June 24, 2020, at 8AM PST, 11AM EST: