How Do You Communicate Employer Branding in a Post-COVID World?

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The world has changed a lot since the start of 2020, and employer branding has been forced to change with it. In some ways the expectations of both candidates and employees are barely recognisable from what they were pre-COVID, as they have been adjusted to reflect not only the realities of remote work, but also a renewed global focus on social issues.

Here I’d like to take a closer look at these changes, and how employer branding teams are working to adjust to the new normal.

Adjustments in candidate messaging

The rise of remote work has in some ways made employers more responsible and accountable in their EB messaging. There was previously a tendency to lean on the flashy office, the social perks and other exciting things that in truth were quite superficial, and didn’t offer much of a view on company culture or day-to-day realities at all. These messages have been stripped back to the most important bits during COVID, focusing instead on things like culture, support and flexibility.

There was previously a tendency to lean on the flashy office, the social perks and other exciting things that in truth were quite superficial, and didn’t offer much of a view on company culture or day-to-day realities at all.

COVID has also resulted in employers reflecting on their EVP. Did the EVP translate to a remote work environment, or was it equally superficial? What does the EVP look like when you take out the nice office, the funky team room, the free meals and the Friday drinks? This has proved to be a revealing experience for many organisations, who quickly realised their EVPs didn’t have much substance at all.

Adjustments in employer branding strategy

How employers think of talent acquisition has changed too. Previously the focus was almost exclusively on external messaging: talking to potential employees and trying to get them on board. But this outward focus tended to leave current employees feeling a little jaded.

Knowing that retaining good employees is far more efficient and effective than constantly finding new ones, employer branding teams began to concentrate far more on internal messaging. Between COVID and social justice movements, employees now look at their companies with a keener eye, expecting them to take stances, to set examples and to provide support. Top talent is also looking for these things, so by pleasing your current team, you organically work to attract candidates.

Social justice causes have had a massive impact on workers, who increasingly want to be able to say that they work at an organisation with integrity.

Organisations may have previously been able to operate in a bubble, but in the last few years, and particularly the last 12 months, they need to show that they’re doing active good in the world. And the fact that employee and candidate expectations are growing is a good thing for forward thinking employer branding teams, as it grants endless opportunity to set yourself apart.

How to develop and distribute messaging

I and every other employer branding leader has increasingly worked with employee engagement and employer branding teams to get the messaging right. Employees are expecting higher levels of communication and greater transparency from their employers, which can be difficult in a remote work situation. You have to be clever in how you communicate – you can’t just call endless Zoom meetings.

COVID has forced employer branding teams to work smarter and think deeper. It has forced us to reevaluate our strategies, asking things like is our EVP still relevant? Are we talking about the things that employees and candidates find important? Does our strategy need to be reworked?

Creating video content has become a unique challenge too. It was easy in the office, but with your team spread across the city, country or world, you can’t just quickly put together a nice employer branding piece. We’ve asked employees to film themselves at home using their phones, which has proven to be a really effective strategy, perhaps because it offers a sense of authenticity.

Building a cohesive culture of remote workers

It can be easy for us employer branding professionals to get caught up in the optics of it all, but we all know that good EB is built on a foundation of truth. So how do you build a good company culture – one that you can brag about – when your entire team is working remotely?

So how do you build a good company culture – one that you can brag about – when your entire team is working remotely?

Two words: show support. Proactively showing support is about being real and authentic, demonstrating leadership in relation to social justice, being candid and open about past failings, and working to address them. Unfortunately some organisations have gone in the totally opposite direction during COVID: I've heard horror stories of organisations firing people via email, and generally demonstrating a total lack of empathy.

Ask employees to talk about what they value, because you might be surprised at the answers you hear. At the beginning of COVID we might have felt that we were doing something amazing by offering free mindfulness apps or yoga classes to help employees cope with the stresses of remote work, but in many cases people would’ve been far happier with something as simple as greater flexibility, so that they could work around their home lives.

You can’t expect people to share these thoughts off their own back – many simply don’t feel comfortable. Employer branding teams have to be empathetic. People want to share, they might just need encouragement and guidance to do it.

Avoiding innovation theatre

Avoid ‘innovation theatre’: the new and shiny stuff that looks like it would enhance your company culture, but actually adds little or no value. This was a problem pre-COVID, with a new coffee machine or some cool art on the walls expected to bring cohesiveness and fulfillment to the office.

A truly cohesive and fulfilling culture can be built by focusing, at least initially, on the small stuff. Offer flexibility in when and how your team members work. Recognise good work and personal milestones. Offer real and meaningful support. Lock in a Friday afternoon get-together, whether in person or on Zoom. Show your appreciation to your workers by sending out care or thank you packages to their homes. Celebrate the fact that they are working hard and giving their all, in both their work and personal lives. These are all small and simple things that can make a huge difference to company culture.

Building a cohesive team is about showing your humanity. We should be trading the innovation theatre for an atmosphere of vulnerability and openness.

We shouldn’t glaze over the stresses and anxieties that everyone is feeling – we should create an environment where everyone feels comfortable putting these things out there, because once that happens, we can work to fix the issues.

The world has changed, and if we as employer branding professionals are to acquire and retain the very best talent for our organisations, we need to change with it.

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