Whitepaper 1.1 – Collaborator Perspectives Part 4
Ken Armistead, Director of Corporate Communications, PPG
PPG is an American Fortune 500 company that supplies paints, coatings and speciality materials globally. Headquartered in Pittsburgh and operates in over 70 countries.
Ken leads all employee communication, media relations and corporate social responsibility for the Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) region.
The EMEA region for PPG consists of over 40 facilities and around 15,000 employees. When the pandemic broke out, the PPG team needed to develop messaging that resonated with a diverse audience and create content to engage different markets, given cultural and language challenges.
In April, PPG had temporarily closed many of their EMEA factories and were coordinating the closure of several more or at least reducing their capacity in response to the COVID-19. A lot of consideration had to be put into the communications strategies within the different countries in EMEA. In terms of plant closures specifically, they considered the following:
“First and foremost, many of our challenges were dictated by local government legalisation, so if the country went into complete lockdown such as the early cases in Italy and Spain, we would close factories in accordance with their guidelines. Secondly, we had to adapt our operations to reflect the changing demands in our markets. Some were flourishing in support of the pandemic and some were suffering as a result of the economic downturn around the world. Another driver was absenteeism, so if people were taken ill or just suspected to be affected by the virus or shielding in isolation, then those plants were also impacted.
“Some of our business were experiencing an increase in demand due to their supply chain involving essential goods. Our packaging coatings business experienced increases in demand, which was being driven by higher demand for packaged food and beverage products. There were also higher levels of demand from DIY stores for paint, due to people being in lockdown and the increase in homes and garden DIY. So, we had a mixed range of impacts but the positives not compensating sufficiently for the negatives.
“Furthermore, we experienced many dilemmas at the time. For example, we have over 200 stores here in the UK and the customers were desperate for us to stay open and support their business, whereas we needed to follow government guidelines and protect our staff, so we had to take into account the situation and opinions of many stakeholders.”
“In early April, we were really driving home the messaging around hygiene, social distancing and protecting staff in a work environment. We then moved to a second phase of communications whereby employee engagement became another key driver for communications. By mid-April, we had many employees working remotely, some on furlough and others still working. We were sensitive to the fact that we were running the risk of leaving some employees disconnected. For example, our shared services team of around 600 employees in our Brno, Czech Republic, facility were all suddenly working from home, so we started engaging with them through our digital channels and proactively supporting their remote working capability and well-being.
“We were running various competitions such as best remote working photos with the funniest caption and baking competitions to keep morale going across the team in Brno. However, in the UK we had some people who couldn’t be connected digitally, so we created weekly postal deliveries of newsletters to keep them informed and engaged. We had to adapt slightly to different countries, profiles and people.
“In April, the signs of recovery in China did create a sense of optimism in our messaging, because when we were going through some really tough weeks, China was beginning to emerge on the other side. So, we would relay positive messaging around how their facilities had returned to nearly full capacity. China also helped us in the sense of best practices when it came to minimising transmissions in the work environment.”
The team utilised a wide range of communications channels to ensure they could reach all employees to drive home the health and hygiene messages and maintain high levels of engagement. Below are some of the channels used:
- Hard copy documentation – Old school hard copy news bulletins worked well for the manufacturing sites in the UK, where news and information was delivered by post.
- Email – For those based in office facilities and with good remote connectivity, like the team based in the Czech Republic, email was the most effective solution.
- Social Media – The team leveraged company social media channels to drive engagement and enable employees to interact with content.
- Posters – For sites that remained open, poster campaigns were used primarily to drive home the key messaging around health and safety guidelines, hygiene and social distancing.
- Video Conference Calls – Every Tuesday morning the regional leadership conducted a conference call involving the top 250 leaders of the EMEA region. This ensured everyone was working in synergy and were kept informed on international changes. priorities and the business impact.
“We aimed to use as many different channels as possible to connect to people regardless of their circumstance. I also think the employees have acted very resourcefully, for example, I have seen plant managers that have been forced to work from home and creating video content for their staff.”
Rachel Tolhurst, Head of Corporate Communications, Amey
Amey is a leading supplier of consulting and infrastructure support services in the UK and internationally. They have been in business for nearly 100 years and have over 16,000 team members across the UK.
“I would say things were starting to settle at this point and we were working on pieces around remote working and wellbeing, asking employees through pulse surveys how it has been working from home and how they would feel about returning to the office, which included around 6,000 employees.
“We started to notice that remote working was affecting people’s wellbeing, they may be living in a shared house, trying to home-school children, or may be living on their own and missing the work environment. We found that 15-20% out of 2,500 respondents were really keen to get back to work and the rest were not interested in going back to work.
“We were also looking into what would need to be done to prepare the offices for re-opening and how it would operate in terms of social distancing, it’s like setting up in a new world.”
The team at Amey delivered messaging using a combination of platforms to gain as much coverage as possible, alongside conducting surveys to gain insight from employees.
- Web Portal – They set up a web portal which every employee could access, it included a COVID-19 section which contained:
- Remote working information
- How to manage a team during a pandemic
- Wellbeing & safety
- Community volunteering section
- Educational resources for those home-schooling children
- Q&A section
- Yammer – They used the internal social network platform, Yammer to relay messaging to employees but also to conduct Q&A sessions with chief executives.
- Pulse Surveys – They are conducting monthly surveys to gauge how employees felt around working from home and the possibility of going back into the office. This was published on the intranet, Yammer, text and their portal.
- Emails & Text – Both these communication forms were used to inform employees of any updates and redirect them back to the long form content that was hosted on the portal.“During this period, the engagement across all channels increased. It was a very immediate topic that people genuinely wanted to know about and understand how it impacted them. In the first three weeks, the portal received 25,000 hits, our CEO video call received 4 times the usual amount of people dialling in and our Yammer usage went up by 4,000%.”
At that point in time, there was a range of messaging being relayed to employees. Some of the core topics were:
- Testing – “Information around testing came out that week, but it was incomplete and some details were unclear such as, would the individual arrange it themselves or does the company organise it for them? Also, in terms of evidence for sick notes, you were only able to obtain a sick note from a doctor. It was a case of catching up with the government which wasn’t always easy and communicating it back to employees as clearly as possible.”
- Positivity – “We were continuing to deliver positive stories across social media and internal comms. For example, our waste collection team experienced a dramatic increase in demand. In a sense, it was like doing the Christmas collection every single week. There was also a lot of positivity from the public; messages or rainbows in windows and a lot more gratitude and kindness towards the front-line workers, which was lovely.“We also shared many stories around our community impact, where our people were going above and beyond to do extra things in their communities. Our parent company Ferrovial started the ‘Ferrovial Together COVID-19 Fund’ which donated millions globally. They donated money to numerous charities such as the Trussel Trust and a research institute in Oxford working on a vaccine. This developed positive stories for both external and internal purposes and really gave our people a sense of pride in our public service. “We were monitoring the positive stories across social media and our benchmark for engagement is around 1.7% and we had been getting an average of 6% (over 42% for a Facebook post thanking our frontline workers!) and over a million impressions on the content we have put out so far.”
- Business as Usual – “We did an online award winner announcement for an internal engineering design award. We also have an initiative called ‘Directors’ Hotline’ which is where for each business unit, two hours a week an executive member is on duty to answer calls.”