Welcome to the first in a series where we grab a cuppa and settle in for a virtual chat with some amazing IC experts.

We caught up with Jen Lock, Senior Internal Communications Manager at Direct Line Group, on all things communications and COVID-19.

How many people do you have at DLG?

There are around 11,000 people working for DLG. They’re based across 15 different offices and over 20 Repair Centres in the UK. Our IC team is made up of eight people, so we’re a pretty busy bunch!

What was your initial reaction as an IC team to the COVID-19 situation?

It all just happened really quickly, one day we were in the office and the next we were gone – I feel sorry for our office plants that got left behind!

We had a feeling lockdown was coming, so we made some big decisions early on to move people to home working as soon as we could, although initially we thought it would just be for a few weeks. We have a business crisis group that’s well established and are involved with this from an IC point of view, so we tried to prepare as much as possible.

How have your communications had to evolve?

Since day one we’ve been providing as many updates as we can. We set up a COVID-19 hub with loads of guides and information for people to access all in one place. Now that we’re out of the crisis phase we update it less, but we were putting new content up several times a day initially. We went from not sending any newsletter style comms out, to sending daily email bulletins to everyone, so we had to put things in place very quickly. Alongside the operational information we’ve been communicating, storytelling has also become more important as it allows us to add more personality to our content and make everyone feel connected.

What have your main communications objectives been?

We introduced a new vision last November, and this situation has given us the chance to really cement this internally. It reinforces the care we have for our people, the planet and the communities we operate in, and we’ve really focused on wellbeing to help bring all of this to life. We’ve been able to introduce things that we weren’t brave enough to do or didn’t have time to do before – it’s made us re-evaluate our internal comms strategy.

What have your main challenges been?

People are, understandably, looking for certainty and answers, and we don’t always have that. There is a lot of information to put out there, but it can be challenging to make sure it all aligns and comms fatigue is a real thing, too. We’ve tried to strike a balance between keeping people informed and overdoing it.

In the beginning, because people weren’t used to remote working, there was an expectation that people were available 24/7– but that’s not sustainable. I feel like we’ve moved out of this phase – the challenge now is post lockdown, how do we get people back into office and working in ‘the new normal.’

What positives can be taken from this?

As a team I feel like we’re more connected than ever, despite not working in the same place everyday. We’ve had to have such a clear plan, and work in an agile way, it’s really focused our minds. I feel like we’re being braver with comms and reacting more quickly. Our language has evolved a little bit too – we’re more straight talking, and have introduced more two-way communications to connect people with leaders, who are being really open.

What lessons will you take from this?

It’s a work in progress but I think we’ve learned that we need to use people more to tell stories. We’ve done this over the past couple of months and we want to take this forward. It helps us to be more open and honest in the way we speak to people.

As a team, we always worked well together, but this has definitely taught us how to work better – we’re now working towards one group vision and everything is joined up. I actually think we’ve learned a lot and we’re in a good place now to take things forward.