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09 September 2020

What internal communicators and businesses can learn from the church’s response to the pandemic


Should employees keep working from home, or return to the physical workplace? Here’s what internal communicators and businesses can learn from the church’s response to the pandemic

Practice what you preach – that was the message from Matt Batten as he explained how the Church in Wales has successfully navigated the communications challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Matt, who is Director of Communication and Engagement in the Diocese of Llandaff, was speaking during our first Sequel Presents: A Coffee With webinar.

He compared the way the church has adapted to the ‘new normal’ with changes in the corporate world. He also explained what business communicators can learn from the church’s return to physical meetings earlier this summer and the positive impact the pandemic has had in accelerating the adoption of Office 365, streaming and digital giving.

He says: “I think it forced the church to think about the unique aspects of each method of communication, so it could offer the right mix of online and physical options in future.

“That’s something every organisation will need to consider – asking ourselves why and when we need to meet in person and how can we make that experience safe and worthwhile.

“For the church, face to face meetings are needed when we want to give people a place of sanctuary, where they can collaborate and enjoy each other’s company.

“Most importantly, we need to give people varied ways to connect, so they can return in their own time in a tailored way to suit them.”

Matt also explained why it was important for internal communicators to ask leaders to walk the walk when it comes to adopting new communication methods.

He said: “One of the key things we needed to explain to our leaders was that, if they wanted parishioners to adopt social media during lockdown, they needed to practice what they preached and lead by example.

“I think that’s vital for leaders in the corporate world too, but I’m really proud of how people across our diocese embraced technology.”

You can view the full video recording of the webinar God, Zoom and the return to work belowCheck out our previous session about how to keep employees informed about cyber security while working from home with Corinne Linskell, Head of Digital and Cyber Security Awareness at Dixons Carphone.

cyber security: keeping employees informed

YouTube video

 

Nick Andrews

So good morning everyone and welcome to the first of ‘Sequel Presents a coffee with…’. I’m Nick Andrews, business development director at Sequel Group. This is the first of these ‘coffee with’ webinars and you’ll be pleased to know there are no PowerPoints or slides today. We’re going to meet on the first Thursday of each month and have a half-hour coffee and chat with someone on a particular issue. We’re looking at internal comms, HR and the technical landscape. We’ll make the conversations available to listen to on our website, so please feel free to share with your colleagues after this event. And if you’d like to sign up to our next session, or indeed speak at one of our events, please contact us at hello@sequelgroup.co.uk.

Today’s topic is about the return to work, which is a hotly disputed topic at the moment. And we’re going to take a slightly different angle on it: we’re looking at the return to work and the parallels, or not, between people going back to the office and people returning to church and their Sunday service. Please feel free to ask any questions as we go along or use the chat facility to add your own comments. We’d be delighted to hear what you have to say, and we’ll give you some time at the end of the session to go over that. I’m delighted to introduce to today’s session, Matt Batten. Hi, Matt.

 

Matt Batten

Hi, Nick. How you doing?

Nick

Good. Thank you, Matt.

Matt, for everyone who doesn’t know, is director of comms engagement at the Church in Wales. He’s a self-confessed comms nerd. And he has had the task in recent months of communicating with not only employees of the Church in Wales, but also parishioners who have had to deal with the pandemic and the kind of restrictions it put on actually worshiping. I’m glad Matt’s joined us; I’m going to ask him some questions. But first of all, we’re just going to play a little video, which might give a slightly different angle on the whole subject.

 

(Voice on clip – Nick Ferrari)

This is ridiculous. I mean, I’m not here to tell Google… goodness me, I wish I had half, or a millionth of their brains. I’m not telling them how to run their companies, nor I am here to tell to tell Ernst and Young or KPMG or any of these guys, PwC or Microsoft… but this does not work. People need to go to their places of work. It’s better for you to go to the office. You go in, you get away from your husband, you get away from your wife, you get away from your children. You know why we have offices: so you can actually do some damn work. Bloody Zoom calls. I’ve had enough of them. Get back to work. What do you think is going to get this country going again? You sitting in your jimjams not doing anything all day long? And wandering around, getting your nails done and having a cup of coffee with your girlfriends. You think that’s going to get the country back on track do you? For the love of God, we are broke; £300 billion broke. And now companies are saying don’t come back this year. This year!

I think I’ll give you till Thursday, two o’clock in the afternoon. If you’re not back, you’re fired. Enough already. The country has to get moving. There are businesses crashing. You go to the city of London; tumbleweed blows through the City of London now. And if you don’t realise how important the City is – this is the financial city – the City is to this city and then to the whole country, I don’t know where to begin. So, these companies, they need a reality check.

 

Nick

So, Nick Ferrari, shock jockey at LBC, with his own view of the situation. And I think he was making the point, rather badly in my opinion, that the economy depends on us going back to the office. And I think there’s another angle about returning to work, which isn’t just about the economy, but is about collaboration and seeing people in the flesh. And so my question to Matt is, first of all, your thoughts on Nick’s particular take on the situation but also are there, as I’ve already said in the lead-up to this conversation, parallels between going back to work and meeting people in the office and, for your parishioners, going back to church and actually seeing their friends and talking on a face-to-face basis?

Matt

Wow, that’s a big topic to kick off with, isn’t it? But in terms of Nick Ferrari’s video, I mean, I think I speak on behalf of most people when I say I haven’t worked so hard during lockdown as at any other time of my career; it has been non-stop. I have not sat down doing my nails and, all right, so maybe I have been in my jimjams with a Zoom suit on, but that’s still a lot of work that happened. I think it’s a right insult to say people during lockdown haven’t been doing any work.

It’s a big deal going back to the office, though; it’s a big deal, what we discovered, convincing people that if they want to go back into church, to go back into church, because, you know, you’ve been in lockdown hearing all the news about the virus that’s still there. And there’s a lot of nervousness, and I just think you have to take these steps really slowly to get people back, to feel comfortable to go back to work, and also to go back to church, which is where a lot of our comms is focused on right now.

But for me, the biggest thing I see is, would I travel an hour to go and sit at my desk for nine hours, when I could just do that at home? So what is the difference between what you’re offering in the workplace and what you’re offering at home? And I think the two things should be seen as slightly different.  Think about the synagogue in the Jewish faith, for example; the Hebrew for it is ‘beit knesset’, which is a house of meeting. And for me, that’s a really nice analogy of what going to a workplace could be about: a house of meeting, house of collaboration, and then your home life could be where you’re at your desk doing your work and doing those one-to-one calls.

No one sat around in lockdown doing nothing – I don’t believe that at all. It’s been it’s been a tough gig. Give us a break. It’s been a tough gig.

 

Nick

Well, we’ll send your regards to Nick Ferrari. I’m interested in the Church in Wales, because it’s a really fascinating organisation. I’ve been on your website in the last couple of weeks, and I sense it’s quite a traditional organization; I sense that a lot of your parishioners are perhaps more elderly than corporate communicators might be. I know you’ve used Zoom, and other online platforms are available, but what are your parishioners saying about the way you’ve adapted? And you know, I guess have they said to you, ‘we’re really missing the church itself and the whole experience’ – what’s the experience there Matt?

Matt

They have been missing church. They have been missing the whole experience, I think, because church isn’t just a place to go sit for an hour of worship and then leave. It’s also a place where you meet your friends, people who’ve been part of the church community for years and years, you know, there’s people who dedicate their life to going church. So, it’s been a big hole, I think, for them to now not be able to go to church.

When I first joined the church, and was talking a lot about digital comms, I would get a lot of comments back saying ‘yes but our audience, our parishioners are not on digital, they’re not on media’ and I’m not sure that’s the truth because that’s a generation of people who lived through the biggest shift in the workplace since the industrial age when computers came into the workplace, and now you’re saying that just because they’ve retired, they couldn’t possibly use WhatsApp.

I find that a really bizarre analogy that we’re saying that older people are not online, they don’t want to be online. Particularly, I think, having seen people, the older generation, who are staying in contact with their family and their grandkids on Facebook and via WhatsApp. They do know about this tech. We as a church just haven’t offered it before. So it was new for us and I think a lot of the fear was ‘that’s not what I went into the church for. I’m used to standing up on a pulpit and preaching and that’s what I’ve been trained for. Now, you’re asking me to sit in front of a camera and preach to people I can’t see – it’s different’.

Nick

That’s really interesting. On that point, talking about preachers standing in a pulpit and saying what they do; do you think that our senior executives have adapted to online meetings? Or are they more comfortable with talking to people in the office? I know everyone’s different, but what feeling do you get you around that?

Matt

Our bishop, the senior person in the church, has done a lot of videos. Our audience is also an internal audience, which is officers, clergy, about 200-odd, and volunteers and external as well. People who want to see the authority figure and their leader talking about change and what’s happening. So when lockdown happened, it coincided with the first week of Holy Week, which was the biggest period of change, because most people go to church at Christmas and Easter. So now, our churches closed. So we had to shift to doing stuff online. Thankfully, our bishop was very much part of being at the forefront of those video messages, and that’s reassuring, I think.

I do think leaders should be at the forefront of communicating because if you’re asking your people to communicate online during lockdown, you need to be part of that as well. You need to be role modeling those behaviours. I’ve been working with our senior leaders to up their profile online as well. It’s never been something I think the church has seen their senior leaders as needing to do, but I’ve come from a background of working in corporate organisations where that’s what you want to see. That’s what employee engagement is about. If you’re going to be issuing instructions to say, right, we’re now using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc. you want to see your senior leaders practicing what they’re preaching and that’s what I’ve been doing and working with our senior leaderships on, understanding the best way of using Zoom for preaching.

But also, not everyone’s comfortable with it, and that’s okay. So we’ve had to think about, all right, for those who are okay and want to engage online, but then for others who don’t and just want to do church their own way, we’ve been creating additional resources for what we called Home Church, where you can do it in your own time in your own space in a small group with your friends or what have you.

We’ve been looking at a range of options that we can be giving people knowing that one size never ever fits all, but our older people have really embraced Zoom. I’m really surprised, literally, I mean, I have had more Zoom meetings than I’ve had coffee breaks in my entire time. And they’ve replaced the part of church that is hugely important, which is the after-church meeting, where you go, you have coffee with your friends, chat, gossip, catch up. What I’ve noticed in the churches that do Facebook Live is they’re using Live to stream their services, and then hop over to Zoom. I mean, you know, where are you going from Facebook Live to Zoom? They’re getting the numbers and we’ve been hugely impressed with it. So, it’s really helped us with our digital output and our digital focus to say if the quality is good, people will go to it. Don’t get so hung up on whether someone’s online or not, if what you’re offering is good, and it’s easy to get on to. Content is always king – always going to be the best thing.

Nick

Okay, and what are the drawbacks to this online revolution? I’m being a little bit mischievous in my thinking; surely one of the drawbacks for you guys, in terms of the church, is the collection plate doesn’t exist does it?

Matt

It’s like you’ve done your research! This is a big deal for us in terms of finance. The church, when it comes to digital, is not exactly at the forefront of the digital world and the plate is the big, unspoken thing right now. So, people don’t carry cash. Some people do, but the ones who carry cash are the ones who go to church all the time. Because you’re used to it – you know the plate’s gonna come around.

I remember going to church with my other half for the first time, who was like ‘what do I do?’ He hasn’t been to church since he was a kid and this plate comes around, and I’m like, put a fiver in. ‘What for? What’s it going to? ‘And I’m like ‘can you just put the money on the plate? Can we talk about it later?’ So for us, we’ve had to shift to digital giving. And it’s been a big, big shift. We launched a campaign because we knew in terms of recovery from this, giving was going to be the big thing that will help us survive. I won’t go into the whole how things are financed, but a lot of the local churches are financed by parish giving. There is no massive big pot of money that gets thrown at the church. It’s donations most of it comes from. And a lot of people were not giving direct giving, which is a gift direct, you know? So we launched a campaign during lockdown called Generosity Matters. A lot of it was aimed at clergy and church wardens on how do you promote digital giving. How do you even begin with digital giving, and some of the strategies?

The other approach was communicating to our congregation, our audiences, on new ways of giving. And what we discovered was during lockdown, I think we had, during this period of Generosity Matters, 205 new people sign up to direct giving, which is the biggest amount of people we’ve had signed up for that and it was fantastic; we increased our annual money that was coming in during lockdown by £7,000. So everyone was like digital giving! This is the future Matthew, we need to do digital!

On your thing of the plate – this is the coolest thing: if you go into some churches the digital plate is amazing, right? It’s a plate that goes round with a card reader. So you can put your money in, or you can tap to pay. It’s genius. Honestly, it’s a game changer. When that comes round, I’m like ‘I am tapping to pay’.

Nick

I must confess I haven’t been to church for some time and I wouldn’t have thought that existed, but there you go!

Matt

It totally does!

Nick

So as lockdown facilitated a quicker move to digital, obviously for the church, I suspect that’s the same for corporates as well, that maybe organizations who were grappling with things like 365 and the whole Microsoft package and had been reluctant to do it for various reasons are now kind of switching to it fairly quickly?

Matt

I think so. I think we’ve had to adapt very quickly with limited time to worry about it. Because if your business needs to continue and if the church needs to continue, it’s going to have to be online. When I first started in the office, I was like, ‘so what kind of kit have we got?’ And they said, ‘oh, we’ve got something called Microsoft 365, but to be honest, we don’t use it’. And I’m like, ‘guys, it’s amazing’. But there was no real need to because everyone just came into the office. Now I think people are realizing that there is so much that you can do to make your life easier using 365. Like the planning, the survey stuff that comes with it. And I think it’s helped us streamline our processes a lot more, realizing that, you know what, just watching a video online like you would watch how to change a tyre or something on YouTube, you can do it on Microsoft and find out how to do it. With the Generosity Matters campaign, I was working with our finance team – never done this sort of thing before, but realized if their work was to succeed, they had to get to grips with it, and we had to help people with it, so we were running introductory sessions to Zoom, introductory sessions to Microsoft Teams, to help people understand the basics of it. And I think that’s what corporates have been doing as well, and need to continue introducing this tech and running pilot sessions to help people get to grips with it, but also allowing people to mess around with it and have a go. You don’t need to go to a course sometimes, you just need space and time to have a crack at it and just allow yourself some time to have a go. So that’s what we did. We’ve been forced into using digital and I think we’ve probably advanced our digital strategy by about eight months. It’s been great but we were on the off foot from the start. We just had to move so quickly.

Nick

So assuming corporates and the church are up to speed with the new digital tools and are comfortable and embrace them – and we’ve talked about how many advantages there are – do you foresee then for the church and also for the corporate world a hybrid way of working going forward? What’s your feeling around the future for you as a church? And then perhaps as a communicator, how you think corporates might adapt to the future?

Matt

Yeah, I think hybrid is definitely the way forward. And what I would like to see in terms of the future of church is a division between what we offer online and what we offer physically. You can’t offer the same thing and it shouldn’t be the same thing either. Physical church offers something very different. It’s a very sacred space that you go to, a very prayerful space. It’s a place of worship, celebration; it’s a place of connectivity when you meet other people, but if all you do is just live stream your services, that’s fine, but there are people who want more than that because you miss out on the connectivity. So for me, I would like to see churches embrace the physical church as being something unique, you know, a place to go for sanctuary, for quiet, for peace, but offer something very different online. And for me, even though my whole life is online and tech, you’d think I’d love the whole online church. I do. But I also prefer going to physical church because I have no devices on me. I just set an hour out of my life. That is just wonderful.

Nick

So apart from the card reader is it church a device free area?

Matt

It can be if that’s what you want. I mean, I was in the cathedral the other day and people had downloaded the prayer sheet and were using their phones to read it and I was like ‘that’s really cool actually’. Not for me, because I’m on my device all day. I don’t want that. But for online church, I want something different. So maybe I want to go to online church for bible study, for a small conversation group to unpick some of the sermon stuff. And that’s where I think workplaces could learn from this as well. If your people are not ready to come into the office to just sit at their desks, what are you going to offer them instead? What does coming into the physical workplace look like that is different from just sitting at their desk? For me, it’s when physical distancing, social distancing ends. It’s about the collaboration. It’s about getting together, bouncing ideas, harnessing that energy that comes from people who are chatting and talking. And really using that space as a get together space and using time wisely. Maybe it’s a device free time where you’re just bouncing ideas and collaborating on a project, but then using your online meetings for the whole one-to-one online conversation stuff, but I don’t think you can merge them both. I’ve been to a couple of meetings where suddenly they want to use Zoom, but then Zoom has been projected into the room as well and we’re supposed to be connecting with it live and it doesn’t work. Zoom was never set up for that. And last year before lockdown, I went to something called the Global Leadership Conference, which is a live event that happens in America for Christian leaders. So that’s great. It’s all filmed and then what they do is they have a number of fellow churches across the country replay the highlights, and you get together, you watch these highlights and the talks, but it’s then hosted by someone online, a real person, who then does a Q&A in the room. That for me is a different experience than just trying to log online and see what the live people are seeing. Here in that space, you were watching the video together with other people then somebody was bringing us in the room together. And I thought that’s such a great use of online separate from physical, so try and replicate, create unique spaces for both.

Nick

That’s an interesting point. Have you and the church had to organize big events in the past few months where you had to get head round how you do that? Because I know that’s a problem for a lot of corporates around big employee events and how they’re actually getting over their lack of physical meeting.

Matt

Yeah, we’ve got one coming up, which is Governing Body which is our biggest Church in Wales meeting – a sort of big committee meeting, and it’s not Zoom, but it’ll be something similar. It’ll be a big conference event and I’m organizing the Dawson conference, which is Zoom, and somebody wants some breakout rooms and I’m not sure if breakout rooms are a good thing because they are just awkward because you need really good facilitators, otherwise you just sit there in silence; is someone going to speak? So we’ve had to really look at these big events and how they change, because we’re not going to get together anytime soon. But we’ve had to break down what we usually do physically and what would be different for online. Don’t just replicate it, do it differently this time, make it shorter, have really good facilitators in the breakout room. And the other thing we did was moved our Day of Prayer, which is usually a lovely day, and everyone comes together to do prayer, online. No one thought we could do it because they were like, ‘there’s no way it’s gonna work’, but we did. We just got individual contributors to film their sessions then we scheduled them live on Facebook. And then for some other sessions, we had the hosts come in and do a Q&As to discuss what was going on with them. So you are able to do it if you don’t replicate what you think that live event is going to be. Just make it unique. And then when you get to go back to a live event, do it do it differently there, you know, and go back to how it used to be. But online is a different experience and we have to get to grips with that, I think

Nick

You mentioned a couple minutes ago about when you go to church, it’s a place of sanctuary. And there’s one word that interestingly doesn’t normally apply to corporate landscape – possibly, or possibly not, and as you say the Government has got this new campaign around trying to get people to return to work and they’re mentioning things you might miss from the office and they say no words, receptionists, caffeine filled air, office gossip, hearing buzzwords and I think crucially, seeing your second family. Do you think from your corporate point of view that actually going back to the office is like going back to the family? Are there things you miss about the workplace that you don’t get online, and how over overstated or understated are the Government being? I think the Government’s really about trying to improve the economy. But…

Matt

Yes, that is the underlying issue here, isn’t it? But actually, some of that sentiment really resonates with me. I love the colleagues that I work with, and so I’ve missed being in the room with them and having a laugh and the banter, and the silly comments you make over coffee. That’s what I’ve really missed. They are I guess a second family. I’m really fortunate that I’ve got people that I really like. But I think as well, that yeah, I’ve missed that. I’ve missed the banter. I’ve missed being with my colleagues and bouncing ideas in the moment with them.

Nick

In terms of collaboration and efficiency, do you think that the office workplace is overstated in that respect, or do you think that can be done online as well as, or is it a short term thing we’ve been going through last six months and in time cracks will appear in terms of collaboration and creativity?

Matt

I mean, personally, I am looking forward to going back to the office when the time is right because my home has become the workplace. It’s become my partner’s workplace. It’s become our home. It’s become our gym. For a healthy well-being life, work life balance, you need different spaces in your life. Luckily, I get on with my other half, but I just don’t think I need to see him all the time, every day. So I want to go back to the workplace because it’s out of the norm right now. So for me two or three days a week would be the ideal work life balance; that for me would work incredibly well, and I think it probably would work for most people but give us the choice. With the Government and the video you showed earlier, it kind of implies that it’s all or nothing, and it doesn’t need to be, you know. You could still do your two, three days at home or four days at home – whatever works for you – and then come into the office but make the time in the office worthwhile. A lot of the time, if you just sat at your desk, you could do it at any point. If you’re coming into the office, it needs to be worthwhile. And I’d want to go back to the office, but I want to make sure that there’s people in there that that I can have a laugh and a joke with rather than just sat at my desk on my own. I don’t see the benefit in that.

Nick

Absolutely. I realize there’s only a couple of minutes left – the time has flown, Matt, but I’ve been given a couple of questions so I’ll just quickly ask the first one around return to the office and again to the church – practical obstacles actually to getting back. I mean, a lot of companies are saying social distancing means they can’t get back all their employees. Is that the same at church? Do you have to put physical barriers in place as such?

Matt

Yeah, we have the two metre space and washing hands in sanitizer when you come in. You’ll see some photos on Twitter with priests wearing masks, visors, because obviously you go up for the Eucharist. You don’t realize how much church is really physical until you go through the process of ‘oh, hang on two metre physical distance, this is very difficult’. Let’s move away from worship and think of weddings and funerals as well. That’s been incredibly hard for people just picking 10 people to come to a funeral. So there’s a huge emotional element to this as well that our priests have had to work through. But yeah, there are barriers that we’ve had to work through and also people feel really precious about it, so it’s that emotional well-being we’ve had to take care of as well.

Nick

Okay, two very quick questions then, the first one from a listener. What are you most proud of in terms of the work you’ve done the last few months during the pandemic and secondly, any advice for communicators you have in terms of how to communicate the whole return to work debate.

Matt

Most proud I think has been the Generosity Matters work – that has been amazing. But the other one for me is how our clergy embraced social media straight away, and then started helping each other. It didn’t need to come from me. Once they got the hang of it, it just built and built and built, and I’m so proud of them for what they’ve done.

In terms of tips for communicating, work at your own pace on this one. Don’t feel forced by those messages that say you have to go back to the workplace. Speak to your people. They will tell you when the time is right. They’ll tell you when they’re ready to come back to the office and they will tell you what you need to do to make them feel reassured that you’re doing all that you can. Have a conversation with them, and don’t feel forced by anyone else’s tactics. You know your people; you know your workplace. If what you’re doing now works already, brilliant. Take your time. Don’t rush back. Pret will be there another time, don’t worry!

Nick

Other sandwich shops are available! Matt thanks very much for your time this morning. We really appreciate it. It’s been a really interesting conversation and we could have talked for a lot longer.