With Paul Downey, Head of Employee Communications

I was delighted to catch up with Paul Downey, Microsoft UK’s Head of Employee Communications recently to explore how the pandemic has impacted his business and specifically how Paul’s team had adapted employee communications.

As the world relied almost entirely on virtual communications from March 2020, Microsoft Teams became a vital tool for many companies. And Microsoft rose to the challenge of the pandemic by, for example, delivering innovative solutions to clients in the health and education sectors. The progress was at such a pace that mid-way through the pandemic, Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft said: “We’ve just seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”.

Paul spoke of two key benefits for the business during the last year. There was an enhanced focus on employee well-being with a virtual resource library, tonnes of well-being related events and five extra well-being days to recharge. As Paul said: “Employees felt they could bring their whole self to work”. And of the virtual relationships between employees and leaders, Paul reflected that: “This time was a gift for leaders as they had to be – and were – more authentic, as they led meetings from their homes. We got more of a personal insight into the lives of our leaders; as well as the shared experience of going through the same thing. It was impossible not to share how you were dealing with the pandemic. And this sharing was inspiring for employees.”“

So how did Microsoft change their communications? Firstly, there was a real emphasis on agile communications with dedicated and bespoke Yammer channels and virtual events, while being mindful that communications needed to be inclusive for all. Content focused heavily on the business purpose and inclusion which the communications team knew were both motivational and well received. Paul explained: “It was about seeing our employees as customers by being innovative, engaging and useful, and also thinking about the time and appetite that employees had for work related communications. For example, the quarterly business Town Hall meeting was substituted for a monthly virtual meeting with a business and cultural emphasis” and there was a plethora of ‘snackable videos’ which were very popular for being short and direct.”

In conclusion, we talked about the impact the pandemic will have on internal communications in the future. Paul explained: “The function has moved ahead significantly and demonstrated it is more strategic and can influence leaders and make a real impact”. Paul added: “ We were able to champion inclusion and diversity across the business and demonstrate empathy with Microsoft employees who were often working in difficult, temporary circumstances and juggling their lockdown lives at the same time.”

Looking ahead Paul concluded: “ For me the big challenge ahead is around maintaining a sense of community as we move towards hybrid working. How do we continue to develop culture in this new era of working?”.

Published by Comma Partners
15 September 2021