Building our startup during a pandemic. How we design for a post-COVID19 world.

7 minutes

Employee communication is breaking down. At least, that’s what company leaders are telling us. There’s at least seven challenges that they say will linger long term.

At Pyn , we’re building an employee communication platform. That’s why we’re so obsessed with these new communication challenges companies are facing. We know that, for those companies that are increasingly complex and distributed, the status quo isn’t working.

Who are we? Jon Williams , Co-Founder of Culture Amp and me (Joris Luijke ), former People Chief at Atlassian, Squarespace, and Typeform.

We started Pyn shortly before the world was hit by COVID-19. For startups like us, every challenge equals an opportunity. Below, I’ve summarized the pain-points leaders shared:

Leaders smell opportunity. But they also feel the pain.

Just like many of you, we’re adapting and pivoting to help address the challenges we now face. And, there are lots of them.

Perhaps the most pressing is that the workplace is fast becoming more distributed and more complex than ever before.

Over the past 2 months, we talked to over 50 CEOs and HR leaders. Many said they don’t plan to go back to ‘normal’ post-Covid. Some will at least adjust their in-office attendance rules. Others are more bullish and plan to trial for part of their team to keep working remotely.

But almost every leader acknowledges that it hasn’t been easy:

Problem 1. Out of Touch

“I don’t really know what’s going on with our people”

Do you feel out of touch with what your people are feeling or how they’re tracking? You’re not alone!

Companies find it hard to get a pulse of what’s happening in the teams.

It’s hard to know which teams are humming or to sense people’s energy. You start to rely on emojis and gifs to sense emotions but it’s hardly a substitute.

Guess what - walking through the office gives us more information than we may have thought.

Problem 2. The Black Hole

“I don’t know if what we send to our people is even being read”

Employees receive a lot of communication.

With a move to more (or entirely) remote work, it’s likely that messaging will skyrocket and our Slack channels and inboxes will be filled to the brim.

Ironically, even though people crave more communication, they’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume.

And the readership is dropping. Did you know that, based on the early data we collected, it’s likely that only 30-40% of the messages sent out by your HR team are being read? Such low readership is scary. And a big waste of time.

Problem 3. Institutional Knowledge

“Information on ‘how we do things here’ is being passed on less frequently”

Spontaneous questions and quick hallway conversation are missing from our new stilted digital life. It’s becoming clear just how much easier communication flowed when we were all in the same office.

Let’s say an employee wants to know the process of ordering a book. We used to turn to our colleagues sitting next to us to quickly ask the question.

Even though it seems like a small hurdle, people are much less likely to ask such small questions via Slack or Email. And trying to find the answer buried in Confluence or Notion isn’t much better.

It’s harder to pass on institutional knowledge and bits of culture digitally.

Problem 4. Communication Fatigue

“Our weekly newsletters have become a bore”

A lot of enterprise software isn’t designed to grab and hold our attention compared to the apps we may use privately - like Facebook or TikTok. These tools compete for people’s attention even at work - even more for those of us working from home.

The difference isn’t just that these apps are more ‘addictive’. These consumer apps have also raised the bar on how content is presented. We expect similar stimulating communications at work and current enterprise software is still far away from that goal.

Unless the software we use in companies is on par with the apps we use privately, we’ll always be losing the battle for people’s attention.

Problem 5. Communication Skills Gap

“Some people are not great communicators. And that is more painful now”

Fully remote companies like Invision , GitLab , or Webflow , where people work asynchronously (in different time zones), are used to every process and decision being written down clearly. One of their selection criteria is to hire people who are great communicators, especially those with great writing skills. Their business success depends on it.

But while those remote companies have hired strong communicators from the start, this isn’t necessarily true of the rest. If ‘regular’ companies try to move their existing workforce to work remotely, only a small percentage of the workforce will be particularly strong in that skill.

Many people will struggle, and so will the business as a result.

Problem 6. Lack of Timely Support

“Amidst all the change, we miss normal events and changes in the employee lifecycle”

Take a growing and distributed ~1000 employees company.

During an average workweek - 5 newbies are onboarded, 3 people are promoted to manager, 3 people change roles, 1 person returns from parental leave, 2 support staff experiencing a drop in customer response times, 3 people do a first interview, 1 engineer submits their first pull request, 3 people should have a career development conversion, and much more!

We’re talking about hundreds of touch-points: Every. Single. Week.

Throw in some communications about local holidays, the prep for performance reviews, and a new product release. Oh, …and a pandemic crisis.

We hear people say it’s a lot. And that they are forgetting important moments when they missed the opportunity to provide guidance and support to their people.

For some reason, just sitting next to each other makes it easier (still difficult, but easier) to manage all this. In a remote environment - we’ll need to find a way to be there for people when they need support and when they are the most vulnerable.

Problem 7. Personality Mismatch

“Some of our people say they feel increasingly miserable working remotely”

People who don’t mind to be physically apart from their colleagues, self-select to apply for a remote roles.

But now we’re all remote, even if it doesn’t suit our personality or preference. The lack of connection and face-to-face interaction is taking a toll on the employees and organizations who normally thrive on in-person work.

What’s next for us?

Everything we build must be tailored to help an increasingly complex, distributed, or remote workforce.

Despite these new challenges, our mission at Pyn has remained the same:

We want to create calmer companies.

We believe one of the best ways to do this is to only send information to people who need it, when they need it. This personalized and just-in-time approach to communication will help combat information overload, reduce stress, and save time.

We know these challenges are anything but simple. But we’re also hopeful there are solutions that can help and that the innovations born during this time will bring us towards a better way of working.

We will help organizations:

  1. Track what’s happening in your teams
  2. Know if your messages land, or not.
  3. Help you send less information and make what you do send, more effective.
  4. Help you to be there for your people at important moments throughout their employee journey - which are the moments they will need your support most.
  5. Make employee communications easier, stickier, actionable, and delightful.

As the world of work changes before our very eyes, we need solutions that can change along with us. We’re excited about what lies ahead.

Come see for yourself:

Credits: Photo by @anniespratt on Unsplash.