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In this post, CTSEW reflect on how they communicate as an organisation and share some of the work they’ve been doing over the last few weeks to work in the open.

Since kicking off our project to look at user centred service design and how digital can help us deliver better services, open communication has been a key principle.  We wanted to share as much as we can internally with our staff, and externally with others.

As well as keeping everyone up to speed with the work we’re doing, we want to get people involved and share ideas, progress, learning and conversations.

We’ve worked on the principle that learning comes from trying new things and sharing that learning is a great way to encourage others to try new things and get involved.


Establishing the status quo

Effective communication is key to any change or transformation and was a priority for this project. Our first step was to get a clear view of what communication worked across each part of the business.

The team from Perago who were supporting us on the project spent time face to face with people across the business. They had a chat and a coffee with individuals and teams, those working in the office and those in front line service delivery, and had some really honest conversations about what worked and what didn’t – or even what came to mind when we talk about the word ‘communications’. It meant different things to different people.


So what did we find?

Email – email is a core comms channel for us to reach the whole organisation, but from our conversations we found that unless they were from their direct manager about operational topics, there was inconsistency around when (or even if) they’d be read.

Intranet – we don’t have a central place to publish any news internally. We do have a SharePoint site, but it’s not configured to be easily accessible and so for some was difficult to access – leading them to request a link via email – which then made email the easier form of communicating once again.

Relevance – communications about change was often thought of as irrelevant. Unless people knew exactly what this change meant for them or if they needed to do anything differently, there were probably more important things to be getting on with – like caring for people or supporting those that care for people.

A need for conversations – we also found that since the major adaptations made to the way the business was run to cope with the pandemic, our teams have had to learn a lot about new technology which had, in many ways taken the place of regular face to face team meetings and catch-ups. Many felt that this opportunity for discussion and 2-way conversation with their peers and managers had been lost and needed to be reinstated.

Role of the line manager – Whether it was about finding out what to do if your laptop had broken, to how they were to carry out a specific piece of work, often their line manager was the sole source of information.


The challenge of line manager communications

On one hand it was reassuring to see how people benefited from communications from their managers across the organisation, but this also meant we need to rethink how we engage with managers to support our communications.  We were aware of a number of challenges around line manager communications:

  • When we’re embarking on change, there needs to be a clear mechanism to provide managers with new information about that.
  • Managers may not be clear on why or how it’s relevant to their areas.
  • Managers may not have the time and resource to take responsibility for such a large chunk of communications
  • It may lead to inconsistency across the organisation as information is left open to interpretation.

So, we needed to think about how we could build some communication foundations and principles in to our ways of working to position us well for the changes ahead.


What we did

The need to share early… and accurately

It was really important to us that this work didn’t feel like something happening behind closed doors.  It can be a real challenge when digital teams are seen as ‘exclusive’ working outside of the rest of the organisation.  Real digital change is about whole organisations, users and people as much as it is about the technology.  We wanted to start our project by engaging as widely and as openly as we could about what we were doing and why.  So in week one we took several key actions:

  • We launched an external blog – to make it easier for us to talk about our work and share information. Since week one we’ve been using our blog to share progress, highlight successes, share things we’ve been learning and provide a voice for teams to get involved. We also hope to reach other third sector organisations who have either started their own digital transformation or are thinking about it.  We’d love to be part of a wider community looking at this in the sector and sharing challenges and learning.
  • We created a service design group – bringing people from across the organisation together to learn more about user centred service design and the project. This gave us a platform to have conversations about the work, engage beyond the group through the team’s networks and test some of the thinking with the people who work in the front line of the organisation.
  • We shared through social media – we were already on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook so we used these established channels to share what we’re up to. These were also really helpful later on in the project when we wanted to recruit carers to be part of our user research.
  • We developed a manager brief – this was designed as a new channel to empower our most trusted communication channel, our managers, to relay information in a way that was relevant to their teams. The Brief, sent out each other Friday, would be a single page and include a note from the CEO, 4 key points about what’s going on, and then 3 or 4 calls to action. Managers were then encouraged to discuss with their teams and feedback and questions or views to the CEO.
  • We developed a basic intranet homepage – we built a new communication site on SharePoint and included a news sections, a ‘how do I’ section to centralise advice about how to report things or get things done, a people section to share social news and it also housed all our policies and procedures in one place. One big reason for doing this was to show people that’d we’d listened to what they had said, but also to help get a team of people to come together to own a digital project that would deliver value across the organisation.
  • We also held several open teams sessions – we invited everyone from across the organisation. It really was open. We had no agenda but just booked out an hour and gave everyone the opportunity to just come along, ask questions, share concerns or barriers. It was about generating conversation. Getting other people’s views and incorporating them in to the work that we were doing.


What happens next?

As the initial phase of this project comes to an end, the need for open, engaging communications is greater than ever.  We’re currently trying to recruit for a Head of Communications to build on the work we’ve already been doing and we’ll be continuing with the new channels we’ve built over the last 6 weeks, evolving them as we get feedback from the teams and people using them.