Whitepaper 1.1 – Collaborator Perspectives Part 3
Lisa Gubbings, Digital Communications Manager, John Lewis & Partners
The John-Lewis Partnership is a British company that operates John Lewis high-end department stores and Waitrose supermarkets. They have around 80,000 Partners and a £10 billion turnover.
“We had a watchful eye on COVID-19 quite early on, and we had groups already dedicating time to monitor the situation in January. We have overseas offices in Hong Kong, so it struck us earlier on. In normal business matters, we were just coming out of post-peak and preparing for the end of the financial year.”
“I think it was around the 15th when the Government advised against all non-essential activities. This is when we started to see a serious impact on Waitrose due to people panic buying and stock piling. We were experiencing shopping volumes larger than Christmas without the detailed preparation. All of a sudden it was a case of how we deal with this situation.
“Whereas in John Lewis it was more about following government guidelines to limit contact. We had to pause close contact services on our beauty counters and staff were no longer allowed to enter customer’s homes for services like kitchen installations. We were implementing interim measures to close parts of the stores. Between the two areas of the business, we had very different guidance going out at the same time.
“When John Lewis stores were officially told to close, it would have meant furloughing a huge proportion of the workforce. However, with such high demand in the Waitrose stores, we allowed some employees to continue working for that side of the business.”
Each member of the comms team was assigned a specific area of responsibility and each team was spinning out information for their given audience. To relay the messaging across both groups, a range of mediums were proposed.
- Hub – Hosted on the intranet, the hub was designed to host all the information related to COVID-19, which was accessible to all 80,000 employees. The hub was constantly being updated with the latest information, with around 30 updates per day at the peak. The hub was broken down by business area that hosted specific guidance for that audience. On the 15th when the hub was first launched, it had 75,000 views within the first week, with 60,000 partners accessing it (75%). In the first month of its launch, there were around 12,000 daily views. Between March and April, the hub received 180,000 views.
“Due to the varying and complex messaging, we wanted to create a central place that would host all the information and be a single source of truth.”
- Feedback Form – To understand how people are interacting with the hub and what features they liked and disliked, the comms team sent a feedback form to all Partners, which received a 95% feedback rate. From this, they made amends to the design and layout to optimise user experience.
“Changes to policy and guidance were the biggest draw as employees are always interested in changes that impact them directly.”
- Email – Alongside the government updates, the comms team also sent out more strategic messages from senior leadership like updates from the Chairman. They would share their personal thoughts on what lockdown has meant for them, alongside thanks to all the partners who are working through this. There was also messaging around wellbeing.
- Newsletters – Newsletters were sent out each day with all the latest changes to all the different areas of the business, redirecting them back to the hub. They refrained from sending multiple emails when new updates arose and focused on one to avoid losing engagement from Partners. For those that continued to work, they would receive updates around how stores could operate safely.
“It was a manic time especially for those working on the shop floor. When the rest of the world is being told to stay at home and you have to continue going to work it can be difficult to process, so we wanted to be sure Partners felt supported.”
Keeping Connected Hub
The team also created a central space for keeping people connected, whilst working from home or for those furloughed.
- Partnership Radio – Once a week they would do shout outs of individuals and thank you to the teams. Any partner was able to send in a suggestion of someone they would like to nominate.
- Virtual Exercise Classes
- Partnership Awards – For the first time they held the awards as a virtual ceremony, with people presenting on the live stream.
“We wanted to make sure there was a balance between operational messaging and more supportive messages, so regardless of their situation they felt connected to the business. I think the big thing for me was that we tried a lot of new and different methods, which we wouldn’t have done if it wasn’t for the pandemic I think it pushed us to think outside the box and now we have a lot of different tools that we can use in the future.”