Employer Brand in the Age of Remote Work

What’s changed, what endures, and what to think about for the future

The idea of an employer brand takes on new meaning in the era of remote work during a global pandemic. While hiring was booming just over a month ago, the priorities of companies, employees, and candidates now look very different.

For business leaders, recruitment and retention may hardly be on the radar in the face of so many other pressing concerns. Everyone is trying to suss out how to do their jobs well in the face of uncertainty.

Despite these changes and frustrations, businesses have soldiered on and so have their employees, leaders, and values. For one, it’s crucial to maintain the business and people you have during uncertain times, and do all that you can to support retention. A strong employee value proposition aids not only in retention and satisfaction, but can also impact business outcomes — increased quality of talent, lower hiring costs, lower turnover rates, even revenue.

Read on for a glimpse into how employee value propositions, internal communications, and employee outreach strategies are manifesting during COVID-19 — and what you can do to enhance them going forward.

Your EVP is still thriving (you might just have to look harder).

We all miss tangible workplace perks, from the flashy (dogs in the office, foosball tables, catered lunches) to even the once-mundane (chatting in the kitchen, after work drinks, elevator small talk). And it’s true that it might be hard to woo potential candidates or boost employee satisfaction without any of these things — who wants to take advantage of that great vacation package in the era of social distancing and travel restrictions?

Although these benefits are attractive and often emphasized in recruiting materials, a strong employer brand is about far more than perks. The reality is that snacks and dogs aren’t what make your business a special place.

For more than 15 years, we’ve helped a range of organizations with their employer brand and recruitment marketing strategies, and one thing always stands out: a compelling and differentiated employee value proposition (EVP) is fueled by the company’s values and culture.

That could mean that employees are genuinely inspired by and believe in the organization’s unique product or approach to doing business; it could be that employees across functions are united by a commitment to rigorous problem-solving at all costs. Once you’ve distilled your values, it’s easy to spot and reinforce them across communications.

Fortunately, while they may be harder to see, these values won’t vanish during periods of remote work. If your company values transparency, your leaders are probably hosting frequent office hours, live streams, or town halls. For those with lively and exuberant cultures, happy hours and spirit days might have shifted to video, but still exist. And those who place a high value on close collaboration have likely found new ways to continue to inspire each other and stay connected, from creative teams embracing tools like Wake, to product teams having more frequent huddles, to an abundance of organic group chats or affinity groups (for working parents, for example) on instant messaging channels.

If you notice there are certain parts of your EVP that you aren’t able to honor during this desperate working environment, it could be a good time to take a step back. Reflecting on creative ways to make your company feel a little bit more like your company right now could go a long way for morale and motivation.

Centralized communication really does bring people together.

While video calls (not another Zoom!) and tools like Slack are excellent for keeping work moving and staying connected to colleagues, there’s a lot we miss about stopping by someone’s desk or sitting down to lunch. And coming together over large-format conference calls can still feel distant when most people are on mute or less comfortable chiming in organically.

A pivotal way that large companies have been maintaining both productivity and culture is through their intranet. Not only does it provide a central repository of up-to-date information about teams and processes to ensure people can work effectively, it’s also a living resource center for protocol and communications during the pandemic. It provides leadership with a clear and designated communication platform and creates a less formal, community-oriented space too — think uploading photos of work from home setups, highlighting team accomplishments, creating user-generated content.

Intranets are most successful when they’re guided by a thoughtful, employee-centric strategy and grounded in the attributes of your brand. Anyone can create a space to house information; people will adopt it widely when it’s based on their needs and can be useful; when its tone, look, feel, and features are evocative of your values and culture; and when it creates authentic and on-brand opportunities for employee engagement.

In fact, after working with Sullivan on the strategy and development of their new intranet, one financial services firm saw an 86% adoption rate in the first month and expressed how it was a huge factor in “helping to bring the firm together” during the early stages of the pandemic.

Rethinking employee outreach can meet short- and long-term needs.

As disrupted routines, personal stresses, and the rippling effects of a global crisis continue, it’s only natural that employees will feel strained. They will look to their leaders for a lot: practical information and updates, continuation of their company culture, and empathy and comfort during upheaval.

Internal communications strategies will have to shift, to show employees that leaders are responding to concerns and charting a clear path forward. It’s important to stay in close contact with teams to understand their specific needs and situations. Only then can you choreograph communications plans across touchpoints that effectively address employee needs.

For example, after surveying your employees, your organization may determine that a major barrier is adjusting to remote technology setups. So a priority need lies in facilitating tech support. This need can become a pillar of your communications strategy, allowing you to plan for content that will be useful to your employees. As you plan, consider what touchpoints will help meet your goal, and remember to balance the timing and cadence of communications within each pillar to avoid content overload.

And while we can’t physically be together, the surprise and delight of in-person touchpoints go a long way. Leaders and managers who send handwritten notes, inexpensive care packages, or birthday surprises to their teams can celebrate people and culture while adding some tangible manifestations of your brand and values to their lives.

Rethinking your communications won’t only help with employees’ hurdles; it will demonstrate the flexibility and understanding that’s crucial in this high-stress time. Moreover, it will have long-term effects for your brand. People will remember how they were treated during this time. It could change the criteria people have when they look for jobs in the future — and your employees could come out of this as your biggest advocates.

This article is part of our ongoing content around marketing during COVID-19. For more ideas, research, and support, visit our Resource Center.