How Internal Communications Helped Raise Morale During the Pandemic
By Katelyn Flanigan, Aileen Hinsch, Danielle Smith
April 27, 2021 | 4 minutes
Communications Written and Oral Communication Skills Reputation Management Content Type Article Additional Options Content Level: Essential Firm Size: Small Firm Size: Medium Firm Size: Large
Like all businesses, law firms faced a new challenge last spring — workforces suddenly forced to go remote, with no time to plan for how to stay connected. While IT teams scrambled to work out technical requirements, communications teams partnered with administrative staff to come up with softer ways to engage their newly distant workforces. Here are some of the strategies that proved successful.
Connecting in Real Time
In addition to remote happy hours and team gatherings, some firms used out-of-the-box virtual events to connect employees. At one global firm, the public service manager organized regular virtual community service events with local schools and national nonprofits. Among the most popular was a volunteer session hosted in partnership with Love for Our Elders, during which attendees hand-wrote letters to send to seniors in care facilities. Lawyers and staff were grouped randomly into virtual breakout rooms, and they welcomed the opportunity to connect with colleagues they did not otherwise regularly interact with. They also enjoyed the chance to do something meaningful: as one legal secretary said, “It's encouraging to know that something as simple as a handwritten note can help both the recipient and the sender feel more connected and less alone.”
Another large firm hosted a virtual “Sip-n-See” for employees who returned from parental leave to find themselves in a completely remote working environment. New parents had the opportunity to reconnect with colleagues as they transitioned back to work and to introduce the new additions to their families.
A Focus on Wellness
Many firms heavily promoted wellness content during the pandemic. Some created intranet hubs to showcase internal and external mental health services. One firm made wellness a centerpiece of its weekly internal COVID-19 updates, including one wellness tip in each installment.
Firms also engaged external resources. One made the Calm app available for free to firm attorneys and staff early in the pandemic. Others hosted regular resilience trainings, yoga, healthy cooking demonstrations and other virtual sessions featuring external experts. One firm found that 30-minute sessions best fit into people’s schedules, strengthening participation.
At one firm, the most popular community-focused intranet posts were slideshows of pets... This initiative fostered sustained engagement that is often difficult to achieve.
Wellness was also a theme in less direct ways, with internal comms teams spending more time on purely feel-good content than they might otherwise. At one firm, the most popular community-focused intranet posts were slideshows of pets — one from the early days of the pandemic featuring furry, remote “office assistants,” and another more recent showcasing dogs that were adopted during the pandemic. This initiative fostered sustained engagement that is often difficult to achieve with nonessential internal communications.
Gamification and Content
Many firms harnessed their high-performing lawyers and staff members’ competitive drive to add incentives to engage. One global firm applied this spirit to wellness: its Brussels, Doha and London offices held a competition to see who could clock the most hours participating in various wellness and self-care activities over a two-week period. Each office was given a target number of hours to reach, and all exceeded the targets by more than 100%.
Another firm held a virtual round-robin Euchre card tournament. Many of the games were played after hours and started and ended with the personal, non-work-related conversations that have been sorely missed by many in the current extended work-from-home environment. The firm plans to host another one later this year to capitalize on the great success of the first.
Another firm created a weekly photo contest for all employees with themes that included “show us your new home office space,” “show us your favorite outdoor activity while on quarantine” and “show us your arts and craft projects.” The finished product was a virtual photo album of families, homes and hidden talents that was shared with the entire firm, allowing employees to peek inside their colleagues’ personal lives and build connections based on shared interests.
In many ways, the pandemic has humanized our colleagues — showing us pets and kids when they pop into virtual meetings — and is making challenges surrounding childcare and education, as well as mental and physical health, more visible. The best of our internal communications during this time have helped us to connect around the shared challenges and joys at home, and hopefully will help foster supportive and engaged workplaces as we begin returning to the office.