As International Women’s Day is just around the corner, exchange4media PR & Corp Comm is running a ‘Women Achievers Series’. It will feature the journey, success and achievements of some of the top women leaders from the Public Relations and Corporate Communications fraternity.
Today’s series features Varsha Chainani, Sr VP, Group Communications at Mahindra Group. Chainani, a senior corporate communications and marketing professional, holds extensive experience working with large global conglomerates and diverse industries including IT, Pharma, Hospitality, Auto, Farm Equipment, Hospitality and Financial Services.
Excerpts from the interview:
Now that the industry is opening up workplaces and resuming operations from the office, what are the initiatives, measures and precautions that should be taken to ensure a smooth transition?
Through the last two years and three waves of the Covid-19 pandemic that we have experienced, most of the workplaces have developed rather robust processes and protocols for their workplaces and employees. These processes not only comply but many times exceed the state and local guidelines and restrictions for employees returning to work.
For most companies, it would be impossible to bring back the entire workforce at once. Beyond the sheer confusion of many people returning at the same time, employees will likely need time and space to reacclimate and readjust to a physical workplace. Psychologists say that it is normal for employees to feel apprehensive about returning to work given that we’ve been safe in our little bubble for about two years. There would be worries about safety and anxiety around social interactions – something as simple as meeting with people in person, looking them in the eye and engaging in everyday conversation.
Four tips to look at as employees start working on-site
- Increased focus on the workplace, workforce, and well-being of employees isn’t a pandemic fad. Organizations will need to continue to exhibit patience and kindness.
- Tier officials return to work with an initial period of the flexibility of working on-site. eg. two days a week.
- Together with HR, communications teams will need to support employees to adapt to the new normal and deal with on-site work.
- Employees should expect things to look or feel differently. They may need to take time to make themselves comfortable. Focus on what they are struggling with. For eg., if they are feeling safe or anxious about leaving their kids. It is important to logically figure out what they want.
The last 20-24 months have been trying for every professional, especially with the hybrid working model. How did you strike a balance between office work and household duties?
From pandemic to endemic (hopefully), the last two years have been. What started with challenges and turmoil to just survive and deal with it, also opened opportunities to go back to fundamentals and being human, and relook at life in general.
As a single mother of a covid-warrior (a doctor), work became a potentially 24/7 activity, leaving little time for personal needs in the first year. However, sanity prevailed thereafter and balancing work with a focus on mental, spiritual and physical health became important. Patience, centeredness, perseverance to deal with continuous state of dynamic flux and kindness have made their home within me. Life after all is a continuous spectrum of all the things you choose to welcome in it; work is joy if you let it be joy.
What are the key foundational elements that can help communication professionals to navigate the evolving world of corporate communications? How have the last two years elevated the communications role, and do you expect this to last?
We are at the beginning of a ‘hyper agility’ era. This sense of urgency is likely to endure even after the virus has become less of a threat.
We know that the post-pandemic world will demand very different skills than the ones we have practiced so far in the profession. Old ideas and approaches to business communications will just not help.
Here are a few ‘new normal’ trends and tips from a communicator’s perspective will stand us in good stead:
- The role of communications is central to the organization and important to the CEOs and the C-Suite: Reputation and brand trust takes the center stage for every organisation. ‘Organisations of the future’ are in the making and communicators are acting as change agents, enacting transformation.
- Technology, Data and Digital have been key enablers as we all worked remotely. ESOP [Earned, social, owned and social media] are our mediums to leverage.
- Shape a clear, cogent and bold narrative that provides an authentic picture of the corporate’s purpose, values and culture, and ideals. Digital acceleration, corporate purpose, ESG and how companies change their processes and become more agile and react have become a part of the narrative.
- The collaboration/integration of PR and digital marketing can develop opportunities to convert high-value content assets into lead-generating machines.
- Leverage the voice of hyper-local and micro-influencers to maximise credibility as well as reach.
- Leverage organization leaders effectively as spokespeople to inspire stakeholders, foster commitment and generate excitement about your company, its products and services, and build pride.
- Focus on financial – investors and analyst community – communications.
- Agility in managing uncertainty [crisis/issues management] is a major trend. The pandemic taught us to be resilient, be ‘always ready’ for any situation and showed us the power of positivity. Be very clear on what needs to be done once you anticipate an issue.
- This approach is as critical in customer communication as it is in employee communications as retention as the war for talent continues to increase in importance to the business.
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