Women in Comms: Esther Smith: "There's a lot of pressure on line managers at the moment"

An employee experience, IC & change expert, Esther explores the challenges facing employee experience post Pandemic, keeping sane in comms & line management.

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Get to know Esther

Pros of being in comms: It's interesting, varied and there's an opportunity to make a difference. You are reaching people with messages that have the power to create a positive impact.

Cons of being in comms: It can become a reactive role where you could lose control of your diary. You need to be able to crisis manage situations.

Favourite film: The Bond films! Especially the Pierce Brosnan ones.

Favourite food: Marmite, always has been. I use it as stock and with scrambled eggs.

Favourite holiday destination: South of France- it has a lovely cultural blend. I grew up in Belgium and love most things french. 

Future prediction for comms: There will be more focus on behaviour change and enhancing the employee experience to meet this goal.

Watch the full video here.

Hollie Munday

What inspired you to start your business?

Esther Smith

I went self-employed after the birth of my first child and that was largely because I wanted more flexibility and to be based from home. It's quite a good fit for me personally.  I don't maintain things very well. If you put me in a maintenance role I'll start poking things and looking for something to improve or change. Having figured this out at some point earlier in my career, that's what prompted me to move from in-house roles to employee engagement consulting, which is what I did for a while before I had my eldest daughter. 

The need for flexibility, wanting to take back a bit of control and also not travel was the driver behind the decision, and I guess what's kept me here is the fact that I really enjoy the type of work that you do when you do contracts, gapping roles, assignments and change projects- the variety is really interesting. 

Hollie Munday

What are the challenges facing employee experience post Pandemic?

Esther Smith

There's been a huge change to the employee experience because we've gone from "normal" mostly working in an office pattern with the technology and the culture that is bred from being in a physical space to being dispersed and being fully remote. For many people in many cases, what we've got now is a return to the office situation where not everybody wants to go, so suddenly the challenge that businesses have on their hands is how do you get people to come back to the office? 

 How do you design the best employee experience and make the best use of what an office space looks like and how people work together in it?  I also think another one of the main challenges that have come from all of this is actually in the role of the line manager.  The line manager's role has just got bigger and bigger because we know that in internal compass employee engagement, about 70% of someone's engagement generally it's said to come from how good that their manager is, they're the person that they go to find out what's going on, the person that they should trust, the person that they take direction from for their role there and the trusted source of information from the company.

 There's a lot of pressure on line managers at the moment, in the face of all of this, for them to push for a safe space and a good employee experience for people.

Hollie Munday

What are your solutions to these challenges?

Esther Smith

It's about designing an employee experience that amplifies your brand and that builds your culture so that people can perform and build the business. And it's ultimately the most important thing is that you've got people performing and pushing the business forward and impacting the bottom line.  Yes, you've got people who are coming back to work and maybe they're unsure. They don't know quite what they're doing- is it going to be three days a week in the office or two days a week in the office? It doesn't really matter. It's about line managers being empowered to have the right conversations and figure out what's right for them. Are they informed and empowered to have the right conversations and make the right decisions?

Hollie Munday

What are your top tips for staying sane in comms?

Esther Smith

Sometimes comms can be a lonely role if you're in a stand-alone type position, it really depends on the type of business. I've worked with, both very, very small businesses and big ones and everywhere in between, and I do think that ultimately the way to stay sane is to find your people, find a network and find people you can have a laugh with when you've just been working towards a particularly pressured deadline. 

I also find that to stay sane it often helps to have a mentality of a bit of 80/20, you can't afford to be a perfectionist,  because when you're working with senior stakeholders to sign things off that come out from their name, they have to be happy with your work. So it's almost more important to care about whether your stakeholder is happy rather than are you happy and to sort of emotionally step back from some of your work. You might feel like it's some of your finest, but if they don't agree with you and it's coming out from their name, that's the most important thing. And a gin and tonic at the end of a particularly bad day is always a very good way to stay sane!

Hollie Munday

What are the benefits of going freelance?

Esther Smith

For me, there are so many benefits in stepping out of permanent employment. I like the variety and the freedom to consider a new assignment, client piece of work or contract. I also like the freedom to say that I would largely prefer to work remotely and from home and pop in and see clients when that comes up and that suits. But I mean on a practical level, when you're dealing with schools and nurseries and things like that, it's very difficult to coordinate annual leave calendars with the calendars of when your preschool is closed as well, and then your husbands leave calendar. I just found that going freelance took some pressure off the family.

I think that once you've got to a certain place where you're well connected and you know a lot of people and you're not afraid of going out there and finding more work, it's a very rewarding path to take and it can get you a lot of variety and a lot of challenges in a good way. It can expose you to things that you didn't expect as well.

Hollie Munday

What advice would you give to aspiring employee experience experts?

Esther Smith

For people wanting to break into employee experience, there really isn't a set career path, It's one of those things that didn't exist when I was at school, it's come about really from employee engagement and employee engagement.

So if you're for an HR background, your induction and your touchpoints with HR through the employee lifecycle will help to define your employee experience. If you're in facilities or building management or you're an office administrator, office manager, real receptionist, you're part of the employee experience because physical spaces is a huge part of it as well. You have to be a people person who can step into other people's shoes and think, well, how would it feel to receive this? How would it feel to work in this space? How would it feel to be exposed to this? 

Watch the full video here.

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