Following our recent panel, where we discussed how to create connections and keep culture alive during the current pandemic, we took the opportunity to speak to Stacie Malek-Wood, Comms Manager of the Watches of Switzerland Group.

When the Watches of Switzerland Group had to close all their stores at the start of lockdown, over 90% of all staff were put on furlough, making Stacie’s role more important than ever. When chatting, Stacie detailed the work and effort that’s gone into regular and transparent communications, with a focus on treating furloughed and non-furloughed employees the same.

Please keep reading to hear more about how the Watches of Switzerland Group have been keeping their culture alive; including live gigs via their virtual pub – The Cog & Carat!

Q. How have you been approaching communications in the current crisis?

The key has been communicating regularly, being transparent and using a reassuring tone of voice. There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment, and we don’t want to add to that by not communicating, even when we don’t have the answers! And when it comes to keeping in touch with those on furlough, which is a significant majority of our employees, we aren’t separating the comms. Everyone is receiving the same information, at the same time. It’s crucial that furloughed employees still feel like part of the business, and so we treat them as such. To keep things engaging, we’ve added video updates and have started doing director Q&As, which are rather popular!

Q. Have you been using or adapting existing comms channels, or have you had to adopt new ones?

We’ve continued to use email and ONE (our internal platform), backed up by a robust cascade process – with email and WhatsApp groups in place for managers to send on any announcements and updates. As we’ve strengthened the cascade process, we probably have a more accurate record of people’s contact details than we ever have!

We’ve also introduced ‘Keep in Touch Tuesdays’ to not only communicate out but set fun activities for people to do! When it came to creating a place where colleagues can interact, the Cog & Carat was born; a virtual pub that sits on a closed Facebook group with events like quizzes, live piano sessions and more!

It’s created a place for colleagues to interact with each other and create new connections; our CEO, Brian, even created a Facebook account to join in, and it means a lot to everyone that he and other directors are taking the time out to have a chat!

Q. How have you been keeping your company culture alive? What activities are you most proud of?

We’ve certainly been keeping ourselves busy, especially in finding new ways to engage with people. Something we were keen to do was to use the current situation to demonstrate what we’re really like as a business; to both our colleagues and the outside world. There are so many great things we’ve been able to do in this space, including; a clap for carers video in which colleagues and directors recorded videos of themselves from home.

We’ve launched ‘Gems of our Community’ whereby employees can nominate their loved ones who are current key workers to win vouchers. On VE day, we had a full schedule of events taking place, including an exclusive premiere of the recording we’ve done of ‘We’ll meet again’ with lines sang by different employees (Band Aid style).

I think we’re most proud of the success of the Cog & Carat; we launched this to keep in touch with people, but don’t think we expected it to take off as much as it has! It’s given employees an outlet to share their creativity; running live sessions, quizzes and performances! So, there’s been lots of great activities that have helped us bring people together and bring our culture to life; we’ve always been a people business, but somehow that feels more genuine now.

Q. Would you say the current situation is making it easier or more challenging to keep your culture alive?

With most of our colleagues having been furloughed, the situation has been a little less complicated for us as almost everyone is in the same boat. The key thing is that the leadership team have stepped up and made people and comms a top priority, which is reflected in the togetherness and community spirit we’ve achieved. We have also been mindful of how we communicate anything related to furlough, and not make people feel pressured to have to do things with the time they have.

Q. Have you been collecting feedback from colleagues at this time?

We haven’t done any specific listening pieces; more just comments we are receiving through social media channels. For more formal listening, we are keen that it’s timely. It would be interesting to get feedback on how we’ve handled this situation, specifically on what we’ve done well and how we ensure we keep that alive moving forward. However, we’re on a journey, and there’s still a long way to go, so we’re trying to figure out when it would be suitable to launch something that feels right and will have maximum impact.

Q. How are you preparing for the return to work as lockdown is eased?

We’ve been scenario planning since we closed stores on 22nd March, but there are lots of things to consider and whatever we do will rely heavily on government guidance. We’ve been getting insights from the British Retail Consortium for considerations (like PPE, hygiene and social distancing measures, reduced store hours etc.), and it’s been advantageous to see what the open essential retailers have been doing to adapt.

We’ve also been keeping colleagues in the loop as much as we can, and when we have a formal plan, we’ll communicate it along with a clear timeframe and the measures being put into place. The challenge will be in bringing people back who are scared to come back; we’ll need to provide reassurance and build trust in that we are doing all that we can with their safety in mind. We’ll also provide opportunities for Q&A sessions for colleagues to raise their concerns.

Q. As people start returning to work, what do you think will be the most significant changes to ways of working and the positive learnings you’ve taken from this situation that you’ll want to implement moving forward?

For us, everything we have done has reinforced our company values and what we stand for, which we can, and should, build on going forward. We’ve found out what can be achieved when comms is made a priority and put at the forefront; regular updates, leadership visibility, engagement and, most importantly, fun! We need to keep this alive; the Cog & Carat might have a part to play in that, although it was only ever intended for lockdown it’s shown us that we can involve more colleagues in more things. We need to learn from and build on the engagement we’ve created in our virtual pub and understand how we can use technology to be more inclusive going forward – it’s undoubtedly broken down a lot of our geographical barriers. We don’t want those to go back up!

In retail, the key will be in clienteling and how we build up those relationships with less emphasis on being in the store. Since clients will have to book appointments, there will be more reliance on the pre-sell and having the tools and resources to get clients excited and engaged in getting the most we can from those appointments.

In the support office, flexibility will be key; pre-pandemic, there was no flexible working culture, but now we are set up to work from home and know people are just as productive, we need to look at how we keep some of that flexibility to the benefit of both the colleagues and the business.

Want to hear the full conversation? Watch our latest webinar on creating a connected culture or get in touch!

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