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Nicole Alvino: Give Workers What They Need, Then Give Them a Voice

January 20, 2021 Digital Workplace
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By SMG Events

With three boys between the ages of 6 and 9, Nicole Alvino knows all too well the stresses of working from home during a global pandemic. Sharing work and school space while trying to keep a balance between personal and professional lives has become the norm in households across the globe. With remote and hybrid work here to stay, keeping employees connected with their role and with a company’s strategic objectives is no small feat.

"In order for any business to thrive — especially in a COVID world — people need to really understand the purpose of their role, have that connection, want to perform their role and be empowered to do so," said Alvino. "And that means reaching every worker with the information they need, whether they work at their desk or out on the front line. Personalized and targeted employee communication has now become a much bigger need given the context of the digital employee experience."

Alvino is co-founder and chief strategy officer at SocialChorus, a workforce communications platform designed to simplify the digital employee experience by making it easy to send and track more targeted communications. SocialChorus is a sponsor of Simpler Media Group's Winter Digital Workplace Experience (DWX) Conference, held virtually on Thursday, Feb. 11. Alvino and her co-presenter Rey Bouknight, strategic advisor for SocialChorus, will present “How Top Companies Drive Customer Loyalty Through Digital Employee Experiences." We spoke with Alvino about how the digital workplace experience has changed over the last year, and what companies can do to ensure they stay connected with their remote and hybrid employees.

The Changing Role of Employee Communication

SMG: What do you think is the most unexpected development over the past year when it comes to the digital workplace? 

Nicole Alvino: The biggest shift that’s affected us positively is the acceleration of the digital transformation roadmap from five years for most companies, to a matter of months. While organizations have quickly moved technology to the cloud or retooled their processes, we’re finding that desk-based workers are overwhelmed with systems and information. On the other hand, the deskless worker — like those on manufacturing floors, hospitals and hospitality — are still left out and not as connected as other employees. It’s the first time, at least from a technology standpoint, that we've seen such a big shift in a compressed timeframe — and something that's affected everybody, regardless of industry.

SMG: How have you seen workforce communication shift since the start of the pandemic?

Alvino: This is the first time that leadership felt the true pain of not being able to reach every worker, whether it was about business continuity, or just checking in on their employees. A lot of the communications that we and our customers were managing on our SaaS platform really shifted to focus on health, wellness and safety. We saw a huge uptick of CEOs using our platform from their homes to deliver heartfelt videos, even to furloughed workers, to ensure that they felt connected and part of the company, and that the company was putting their safety and wellness at the top of the list. We’ve seen some very mission-critical type of communications, both for the worker and for the organization.

SMG: Do you think that COVID-19 has changed or elevated the role of communications in the workplace? If so, how?

Alvino: Communication has now become a CEO problem. Before, CEOs thought they could send communications to those who have email and depend on them to pass the message on to other employees. But COVID has shown us that's not enough. It’s brought to light the importance of targeted communication, and understanding the outcome of that communication.

This means asking yourself questions like: Which audience do I need to send this communication to, and what do I need them to do? Do I want them to work differently? Feel supported? Change behaviors? The person sending the communication, whether the CEO or another leader, has to manage and measure that outcome by understanding who’s received the communication, who’s taken action, and who hasn’t. They should be able to use that data and correlate it to performance, whether it's people performance in sales, a reduction of safety incidents, or retention. Based on this, we’re now seeing a lot more people use our platform at a much higher level.

Nicole Alvino, "COVID-19 brought to light the importance of targeted communication, and understanding the outcome of that communication"

Challenges of the Remote Workforce

SMG: As CEOs try to navigate all of these changes, what are some of the biggest challenges organizations are facing?

Alvino: I see three big challenges. First, is digital noise. For people working from home, there’s more digital noise and it’s hard to tell which messages are important, which need action and which are nice to know. The second challenge is the loss of our building culture, water cooler conversations and team off-sites. Organizations need to figure out how to enable that culture in a fully remote environment, including how to integrate new employees into the culture as you’re onboarding.

The third challenge is around mental health and wellbeing. People are working more hours with no commute. It’s harder to distinguish between work and home life. Layer on the emotional pressures, whether it's worrying about family members who work in healthcare, taking care of a family member who's been affected by the pandemic, or losing a family member to COVID. And finally the working parents and children who are next door or downstairs doing Zoom calls and classes. We see more organizations and leaders really trying to focus on these pressures.

SMG: What can organizations do to address these challenges?

Alvino: Get people exactly what they need, period. Don’t require them to search or filter through information that's not important for them. Give them a really seamless way to access it. We call this 'orchestrating their digital employee experience.' Whether it’s quickly checking my pay stub or changing my shift schedule. Reviewing top priorities for 2021, watching my CEO video, or checking in on something from my manager. I know those are priority for me, and I can ignore the 50 other things. Organizations really need to deliver that signal through the noise. It’s paramount and affects your culture.

On the mental health side, we’ve seen organizations hold virtual events to build culture like 'show us your remote workspace' or 'share your most inspirational story.' People in remote offices get together online for coffee breaks or celebrate employees with videos and comments. With onboarding, we’re seeing the importance of communication customized especially for the role. For example, if you’re in sales, you’ll get a welcome video from the CEO and the CRO, as well as information specific to your region and role. That way, you know exactly what you need to focus on while onboarding. You’ll also get a buddy and someone you can talk to and ask questions. It's all about being more intentional and delivering these experiences digitally.

What Successful Workforce Communication Looks Like

SMG: Can you give us some examples of companies that are doing workforce communications right?

Alvino: Dow is one of our customers who had invested in SocialChorus ahead of the pandemic. Because they already had the infrastructure in place, they were able to immediately get messages out to people in their plants all over the world, know who received them, and then conduct retargeting to be sure those messages got to the right people.

MGM Resorts, which we’ll talk more about in our DWX presentation, was able to maintain communications with both active and furloughed employees throughout the pandemic. Using our platform, they were able to keep employees up to speed on daily operational changes, and direct employees to resources they were seeking during that time.

Boeing made a decision to modernize their communications function and transform the impact communications could make on the business, even before the pandemic. They streamlined all global publishing on our platform, so they had a single source of truth to deliver everything from targeted business continuity to culture communications. They used our platform to open up a dialogue to give their employees a voice and let them share what they're feeling during challenging times. Most importantly, they led with empathy.

SMG: What’s your top advice for organizations that are still struggling to get their employees aligned around their message and connect them with the meaning of their work?

Alvino: Simplify. Cognitively, it’s hard to take on new information, especially when everyone has so much going on outside of work. Use simple messages that resonate emotionally and are really focused on the individual and their role. Instead of talking to a group of thousands, break up the message to deliver clear, transparent communications to different segments of the workforce. Then check for understanding with tools like polls. After a critical CEO communication, you need to see if they’ve understood what it means.

SMG: What are you most excited about when it comes to the future of the digital workplace?

Alvino: I always think about three personas that I’m excited about in the future: the worker, the communicator and the organization. For the worker, I’m excited that they get what they need digitally in two minutes a day wherever they are — regardless of pay grade, shift, type of work or device. On the communicator side, it’s the impact — delivering the right bite-sized, authentic, targeted information  to the right group of people in a way they can understand it and take action. And for the organization, which is the CEO or the other C-suite persona, it's taking data and turning it into insights, which can become workforce intelligence. Knowing what makes your people tick and connecting with them in a meaningful way can motivate them to take action, and help your business become more agile. 

There’s a massive opportunity for communications to be the backbone of the digital employee experience. Humbly speaking as a founder of a software company with some of the biggest brands in the world using our platform, it’s incredibly rewarding to see how they’re using our platform, and the benefit that both the company and workers are getting. I’m really excited about where we are in the space and where we’re going.

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