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With this year’s Internal Communications Conference just a few days away, we’ve decided to sit down with some of our world class industry speakers for a “Speaker in the Spotlight” interview to hear more about their role, responsibilities and what they are most looking forward to about the event. Today we are joined by Nicole Bearne, Internal Communications Manager at Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team…

Can you provide us with an insight into a ‘day in the life’ of your role?

Like most Internal Communications professionals, I would say my role is incredibly varied!  The Internal Communications function within Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team has a wide remit, much of which is not strictly IC activity. With my Comms hat on, I’m responsible for the content on all our internal channels, our senior leadership communications and for partnering with managers across the Team to support the communications requirements of each department.

However, in addition, I manage employee events, look after some of our employee rewards, our relationship with the local community and also the Team’s charity work. That means that each day is very different! I may be hosting a live Q&A with our race drivers Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas, launching an employee wellbeing initiative, showing charity guests around our factory, planning our annual Summer Family Festival or writing articles for our weekly Team e-newsletter ‘Inside Line’.

Within all of these activities the key focus is always on our Team members. Our aim is to ensure that everyone feels connected – to each other, to our leadership and to the Team’s vision and values.

How has Covid affected your internal communications strategies?

As a sports team, we recognise the value of face-to-face interaction. Traditionally this was a key element of our internal communications strategy – we took every opportunity to bring our entire Team together. Our quarterly ‘state of the nation’ briefings were hosted live and in person by our leadership team; our briefings after each race were held as a Team gathering in our Race Car Assembly Bays; our F1 drivers dropped in to visit departments across the Team whenever they were in the factory.

COVID-19 brought a halt to that of course. Our factory operation closed for an extended shutdown last spring but we kept communicating through weekly email updates, Q&A opportunities and regular videos from the leadership team. We established a COVID Task Force, with first daily and then weekly updates on Government guidelines and the Team’s risk management plans. With the support of our IT team, our IC activity moved online. We built a new SharePoint intranet, we moved to MS Teams Live Event for our briefings and even used SMS texting for quick updates.

We have a large manufacturing operation which means many of our Team members are not desk based and can’t work from home. Many work across shifts, so now that things are opening up we are starting to reintroduce an element of ‘in person’ interaction in those areas where possible. Our race debriefs for the Night Shift Operations Team members are now being held in person again, for example. Other activity is still taking place on MS Teams or SharePoint, but our target is to enable face-to-face interaction as soon as we can.

What do you think the future will look like for employee engagement?

I don’t think that there can be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to employee relations in the future. The last year has demonstrated more than ever that employees are unique individuals who can no longer be treated as a homogenous ‘human resource’. Where one person was keen to get back to the office and a sense of ‘normality’, others felt a high level of anxiety about their personal health and safety. Some discovered they worked better from the quiet of their homes where others missed the buzz of a busy office. In many cases, the freedom offered by remote working has led employees to reconsider their work/life balance entirely.

This will be felt directly by employers as they try to navigate this unchartered territory. To move forward, I think it will be important therefore to focus more closely on the individual. The psychological contract between employers and their employees is shifting and each employee will have a different vision for the future so, more than ever, businesses need to engage in dialogue and listen carefully to what employees are saying. Effective communication will enable leaders to identify these individual differences and ensure all employees can remain connected and engaged.

We’re very excited about hear your thoughts and opinions on the panel discussion! Any chance we can get a sneak peek about what you will be specifically discussing?

I’m convinced of the value of listening to employees and I’d like to see that becoming integral to the way that companies operate, so I’m keen to look for ways to encourage employee voice as a means of enhancing the employee experience. For this to happen, though, it is critical that a strong sense of psychological safety exists within the workplace. I hope that we can touch on that during the panel as I firmly believe that Internal Communications has a role to play in creating the right conditions for employees to feel that it is safe and worthwhile to speak up.

What are you most looking forward to about the event?

I don’t usually get to attend industry events, so I’m really looking forward to taking time out to meet and hear from fellow Internal Communications professionals. I’m also curious to understand what challenges other comms teams are facing and how they are adapting to this new environment that we find ourselves in.

Nicole will be taking part in the exclusive panel discussion focusing on “The Role of Internal Communications in Transforming the Employee Experience” on Thursday 16th September – you can register your FREE ticket to the event and catch Nicole’s discussion live here

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