Join us as we grab a cuppa and settle in for a virtual chat with some amazing IC experts

In the third instalment of our series, we caught up with Amy Holmes, Internal Communications and Engagement Consultant at Marshalls about how they’re paving the way for more diverse communications channels in the future.

How many people do you have at Marshalls?

We have around 2,500 people across multiple sites and multiple countries. I manage all internal communications with the support of my colleague Sophie Hill. We also work hard to provide the tools and resources for some areas of the business to create and manage their own communications – a stealth way of creating comms champions!

What was your initial reaction to the COVID-19 situation?

We were aware of the potential impact fairly early on, and went quite early with our comms response to it, but even then it was impossible to predict what would happen. The uncertainty continued throughout, especially during lockdown, and so our priority was to provide up-to-the-minute communications that very clearly stated the course of action for Marshalls and our people.

The biggest proportion of our workforce is in the UK, so that’s where our comms focus was, however we have colleagues in China, Belgium, America and Dubai and advised them to follow Government advice and communicate accordingly as many things differed by country.

How have your communications had to evolve?

We were already on a journey of communications and channel development. We had some digital channels but a very unconnected population – around 1800 people don’t access a computer as part of a day job. We had to accelerate and alter some of the plans we had overnight to be able to issue communications that reached everyone.

Before lockdown, we were communicating to managers every morning for them to discuss with teams in person, followed by a copy of the relevant communications to everyone in the afternoon.

As we got into lockdown, around 80% of our workforce was furloughed, which meant our people were at home with no manager interaction or access to business communications. We needed to find the quickest route to communicate with people, and for us that was a closed Facebook group. We sent a text out to every number in our HR system (this took a good few hours of testing and approving), telling them we’d set up a closed Facebook group as the easiest way to keep everyone posted. We had 1400 people join the group within a couple of weeks, and more followed.

People had to put in their employee number to be able to access the group, and it became the go-to place for information. There are now loads of posts and thousands of interactions. The level of popularity of the group has been better than anticipated and we have been using the platform for other communications.

We also set up a top 100 leadership call every month, where our Exec team could talk directly to the leadership team, giving them time in advance to absorb comms, to help their teams.

What have your main communications objectives been?

People have been following the news closely and want to know how it relates to them. I was very conscious of government announcements and the need for us to clarify the Marshalls position following each announcement – we had a duty to create clarity when there was much to be confused about. Whenever there was an announcement, we’d always follow it within a couple of hours, even at a weekend, which was appreciated and worth the hard work.

There was a lot of mandatory information to get out to people around support, health and safety etc. A lot of this was for people still working and returning to work.  It was equally important to keep everyone’s spirits lifted, especially those who were on furlough or shielding, so we did our best to put a focus on mental health and wellbeing as well as sharing content about the support we’d provided by donating PPE to local hospitals or concrete to the Nightingale Hospitals. We involved our Mental Health First Aiders who set up a newsletter called The Furlough Times, full of recipes, jokes, puzzles etc. to mix the content up so it wasn’t all about coronavirus.


What have your main challenges been?

Making sure everyone could access our communications was the biggest challenge, as well as keeping the information straightforward so that everyone could understand what was happening in the business.

People were worried, so they needed a forum to ask questions and express themselves. This is where the Facebook group came into it’s own, it gave people a space to do this and also to support each other.

What positives can be taken from this? 

As a business, we’re 130 years old but this has proven that we’re not afraid to try new things.  The amount of interaction with the Facebook group proves this. It’s driving change in communications at Marshalls – the pace at which my communication strategy was developing has definitely accelerated.

It’s been great to see us grow into this new communications space and to realise the value that timely and clear communications can have. I have had support and input from across the business and I’ve really valued the team work.

What lessons will you take from this? 

It has proven that people are willing to use technology, so we need to provide them with more digital channels to make the most of this. I think we also recognise just how important the line manager comms channel is, they’ve always been a part of our channels matrix but this has highlighted how much of a vital part they are. Also, it’s shown how resilient we can be; we wrote and sent out comms faster than we ever thought possible, which is something to be proud of.