Chris: Hi, I’m Chris Lukianenko and this is The Intelligent Workplace brought to you by LiveTiles, my chance to speak with the industry experts and explore the new ideas and technologies that are shaping and transforming the modern workplace. Secure collaboration is a real challenge for The Intelligent Workplace. We work in globally dispersed teams on mobile devices with data stored in the cloud. The risk of exposing company information without disrupting the collaboration workflow is high. Our strategic alliance partner, Nuclear Cyber, not only identifies but dynamically protect sensitive information across all collaboration channels. To find out more, click on the link in the show notes.
Chris: Joining me on this episode of The Intelligent Workplace is one of my colleagues here at LiveTiles. It’s funny really when sourcing guests for this podcast, I’m always working my external networks, firing off messages, and chasing up leads, or sometimes it just to look a little closer to home. Paul Conneally is Head of Global Communications here at LiveTiles. A role he recently assumed to assist us through the disruptive times we are currently faced with. Paul’s CV is impressive. He led the Public Communications Team for the International Red Cross Crescent and was on the ground in dozens of challenging contexts with conflict and disaster affected communities including Afghanistan, Sudan, Haiti, and most recently Iraq and Myanmar.
Chris: Paul is passionate about empowering people to collaborate and tell their stories, harnessing technology for positive impact, and advocating for greater diversity and inclusion in the world of tech. With the growing number of people now working from home due to the Coronavirus, I thought it would be interesting to talk to Paul about strategies to ensure employees experiences in their homes are not isolating. So welcome to The Intelligent Workplace podcast, Paul Conneally.
Paul: Thank you very much, Chris. Delighted to be here.
Chris: Firstly, mate, I need to apologize for not having you on this podcast earlier and only took a worldwide pandemic for me to realize that I had an expert right under my nose.
Paul: No problem at all. No problem at all. These are challenging and strange times. I think there’s a lot of lessons, love, experience that ourselves in LiveTiles and a lot of our listeners will be able to bring together to make the best of this and maybe even get some positive opportunities and the benefits out of it.
Chris: Of course, the topic today is very current. You and I both are working from home currently. We’d love [inaudible] making a decision to have this staff work out of their home offices just for the greater good. So, let’s get into it, I guess. We’ve got a fair bit of ground to cover, but how about you give us a bit of background on your time and your career where you were dealing with conflict and disaster affected communities because you have experienced a lot, haven’t you?
Paul: Yeah, I mean I have a long and exciting career, both of the International Red Cross and with the UN, primarily around working with communities to engage them in disaster response and in conflictual response, working with communities from different cultures to try and understand the best ways to share and use information. That was a benefit for them, and ultimately bring people as partners into defining the better outcomes that humanitarian work strives for. With the United Nations, that evolved into working very closely with private sector and technology companies, really along the lines of digital inclusion and ensuring that the benefits of technology were shared by all.
Paul: So, you come across a lot of different experiences and a lot of different countries. It’s been a very privileged experience for me personally to be able to learn from these communities but also underpin and underline the notion and passion that I personally hold, that tech can be used for good. So, I think that’s something that would really bring forward into this current experience as well.
Chris: Were you passionate about this from a young age? Because I think back to career fairs in my teens, I can’t remember any sort of humanitarian international type booth there which said, “Hey come and work for the Red Cross, and go and help out in disaster ravaged areas.” So how did you get into it?
Paul: Yeah, I mean I was always a bit of a news junkie. I remember being fascinated about the role of reporters and journalists in the midst of war zones. Coming from Ireland where neutrality is part of our constitution, I was always very curious as to whether you could really sort of live and breathe neutrality, how that would actually function in an area of conflict for sensitivities are running so high. That brought me to the International Red Cross. But also, on the way when I was studying communications in college, I worked with a lot of disadvantaged groups, so on young offenders in particular and really learned a lot from them.
Paul: That in the sense that you’ll get the best work when you work with the community whose stories you’re trying to tell. If you really empower them to tell their stories, that will be the most powerful communication you can do. That’s something that’s sort of taken through me right through my career.
Chris: Well that’s interesting stuff, mate. Great stuff. Look let’s flick over to what’s going on right now. During times of conflict and disaster and being part of the recovery efforts, what are the key strategies that you sort of consider you have within your playbook?
Paul: I mean, the overarching lesson learned, if you like, our best practice would be really to work from a sense of wanting to truly engage with communities. In order to do that, you got to know your community, and you got to be able to have that trust in place where you can really learn from them. Like I can think of situations for instance, when we worked in Somalia. We had the sort of light bulb moment where really the Somali diaspora could be massively important to supporting our efforts in Somalia, including our security and building that trust. The best channel that we found for this was to run radio programs on BBC World Service and reach literally millions of Somalis around the world. To this day, that program is still running.
Chris: Oh, wow.
Paul: We’re doing all sorts of things, like tracing family members. It’s even helping people to understand how to safely send money home and all these sorts of issues. So, you learn from that community and you go to where the community is. So that’s like an essential part of the playbook, which is of course very relevant in the corporate world as well. And then another one I think is to be technology or channel appropriate in your solutions.
Paul: So, don’t come with the assumption that some great tech that works in Dublin or Melbourne is going to work in a particular scenario, like we find ourselves in today, working remotely. If you’re in a country such as Iraq or Venezuela or wherever, you have to have a channel that’s appropriate to that particular context. In order to get that channel, you need to understand the local ecosystem, the technology ecosystem, and how people are using the tech.
Paul: I think another one would be the importance of two-way dialogue. I mean one-way communication is easy. It’s fine. It checks a couple of the KPIs maybe for some communicators, but it’s essentially useless. You have to strive for two-way communication and two-way dialogue. That was really a massive challenge, but also a massively important realization in the humanitarian context. That once we really made those efforts to establish a real two-way dialogue with communities, then the impact of your work was not just far greater, but far more sustainable as well. It lasted for much longer and you’ve got that ownership of the community.
Paul: I’d say another one that would come to mind would be around sort of influencer groups. There’s always groups that you can really partner with or uncover that will help you to reach your end goals. Of course, the term influencer group is obviously more associated with social media. But if I think of my time in Bangladesh for instance, where we were working with the Rohingya community that had come over the border from Myanmar. We’re talking to all sorts of different groups in that community. It was a group of young men, from a distance would have seen very sort of idle and not much to do, and bored and potentially up to no good.
Paul: When we got talking to them and understanding how that community worked, there were extremely important channels of communication to elder groups because they were watching, they’d found ways to watch YouTube videos. They were the guys who are gathering the news. They were passing it onto the older groups that didn’t have these connections.
Paul: So, we really partnered with them to communicate to a much broader audience. So that type of identifying those influencer groups I think is important. If I think of even our own company today, the way we’re all working remotely, I think, it’s probably real opportunity for certain colleagues or teams to shine because in a way the remote working is a sort of an equalizer in the sense of that voice that we all have and that ability to connect. So, I think that’s something to be very aware of as well in these times that we can really help others find their voice in the remote working model.
Chris: I’m writing a few notes here as you’re breaking down these key elements of your playbook. I’ve got stakeholders, influencers, channels, tick and partners. You make this sound not simple, but quite a pragmatic approach to helping solve these issues during these times. But then, I think the thing that’s missing out of that that does completely make sense. But then you throw in panic, fear, and all these sorts of things, all those human emotions as well into it, it doesn’t become quite so simple, does it?
Paul: Not necessarily, but did having that ecosystem in place really helps you to, first of all, ensure that your message is adopted for the community that you want to receive this message and act upon it, right? So, the information has to be trusted. It has to be credible and it has to be actionable, right? So, these are really the key elements of having this sort of life saving information in disaster prone areas or in disaster affected areas for instance.
Paul: So once the information is trusted, once the channels are trusted, once the relationship is trusted, you really mitigate the risk of creating a vacuum, which would be filled with rumor or misinformation or disinformation. That’s something that has been really very much on the agenda of humanitarian groups in recent years, trying to battle that constant misinformation particularly with the proliferation of social media channels in certain contexts. Let’s say that sense of digital literacy or understanding the difference between misinformation and credible sources of information might not have been as clear.
Chris: Well, speaking of tech, I know you’re very passionate about including the use of tech and media to assist if it’s within this space. What kind of assistance has tech provided you in your efforts in the past?
Paul: Look quite a lot really. I mean from mainstream media always operations, like the BBC World Service and Deutsche Welle were always really important and interesting channels. But again, you had to struggle to get that two-way communication. It was really with the evolution of mobile communications, opened up a whole new opportunity. The first real an opportunity to leverage that came with the Haiti earthquake in 2010. We were in a country where 80% of the population had access to mobile phones and the only way to really use that opportunity for good was to partner with the tech companies, both the telecoms companies and some of the software companies.
Paul: So, to make a long story short, we partnered with a local telecom provider, the main one called Voilà, and also with a software development company, which used developers from the region. They were called Trilogy International and developed an app which allowed us to have this two-way communication with the community. The first time we use it was for a vaccination program. The usual response was about 65% when we did it in the traditional ways. We had 110% response. We have way more people coming for vaccination than we needed. So, we knew we were onto something but that partnership with mobile companies because of course, they were key to this.
Paul: While it provided massive opportunities, there was also challenges there in terms of managing people’s data and all of that. But these challenges are there to be overcome and we always managed to overcome them. So, they were really, really important partnerships with tech. In other contexts, with Vodafone, we partnered in Kenya. With Cisco, we did a really interesting digital inclusion and digital literacy program for young girls in East Africa particularly. So, we’ve had a lot of really interesting partnerships with tech companies-
Chris: There you go, ticking off another one of the elements of your playbook. Do we need to be careful though that when we’re getting involved with tech that we can’t assume that tech is going to fix everything?
Paul: Well, that’s definitely a danger. You become too evangelical or too sort of focused on the tech. I mean, we all know it’s an old adage that it’s not about the tech, it’s about the people. It’s always about the people. I hope you know what I was saying earlier about knowing your community, and that two-way dialogue, working with influencer groups, et cetera, That’s all about the people really. It’s about how the people are using the technology. There’s a direct line with challenges, companies such as ourselves have today in terms of, yes, it’s not always that the technology, it’s not always the challenge for our customers. It’s the adoption, right?
Paul: It’s how people perceive the change, how they handle the change, how they integrate the tech into the legacy or our future systems. So, it’s far more complex than just a technology solution almost in every instance. So I think people are always going to be the most important and fundamental part of any discussion on technology in a conflict affected area, or in a company that’s trying to go through digital transformation, and drive adoption, and acceleration of new technologies in their ecosystem.
Chris: So, if it is all about the humans, how do you ensure that there’s human accountability and they’re not then just blaming the tick for any filings?
Paul: I mean, again, a lot of that comes down to, first of all, in very, very essentially having accountability already established as a KPI before you ever set out to implement any plan of action in the first place. That the accountability is part of the engagement of the community. So, it’s inherent in the principle of on which you work. The two-way systems are extremely important for this. I mean, I mentioned the Rohingya community. When I say that community, it was over 1 million people that were just on the border in Bangladesh. This is just two years ago when I was there before joining LiveTiles.
Paul: We identify, we analyze the whole media ecosystem and how people were getting their information, so that we could establish an accountability framework. Really getting to the people that mattered most to ensure that the work that was being done was having an impact on the people that needed it most. It ended up with different radio programs for instance, for people who could call in. There was listening groups. There was a YouTube channels under those. There was a two-way SMS service and a couple of other channels in the mix as well.
Paul: And then again, very specific to that community because this is a community that had no written communication. It was all oral and verbal. So, there was a lot of audio messaging, for instance. In the SMS service was mostly audio messaging. All of them being put together into an accountability framework that was being followed up with those very members of the community and leaders from the community to ensure that in an evaluation process that we were making the targets that mattered for them.
Chris: Wow. This is absolutely fascinating. I feel like you and I could talk about this for hours, maybe over being [inaudible 00:17:58], we get to see each other, but let’s hit it now to the current situation with Coronavirus, which is rapidly just taking over the world. It seems very different to some of your previous experiences with war, floods, and famine. Many of those events affected more sort of underprivileged areas. I’m sure that that will be affected by the Coronavirus, but Corona is predicted to affect a much wider population. In particular, sort of what I want to talk about, the ones affecting the top end of town, the corporate entities. Do you tackle something like this a little bit differently?
Paul: Well, I mean, to answer the last part of the question first. Yeah, I mean obviously it will have to adapt to the community, let’s say that you’re dealing with to the intended impact that you want to have. But the essential strategic truths are still there. It’s still about knowing your community. So, let’s say in this sense, your community of remote employees, it’s still about ensuring that there is that two-way dialogue, that there is that engagement of colleagues, of leaders in the company. That we don’t lose that very important human elements to communication. That’s maybe a more tangible in the physical environment.
Paul: It’s about also identifying those influencer groups, which I think is an important thing, particularly in the corporate world, to really help people to find their voice. Identify who are the people that are maybe really greasing the wheels of the online conversation and call them out, acknowledged them, engage them more, empower them.
Paul: So, I think all of that is still extremely important, and relevant, and applicable to the corporate world. But also, I mean fundamentally, I have been involved in a number of sort of epidemics and similar health crisis situations, particularly on the sort of information as an essential part of the aid, even as a human right in different contexts, be it for the Ebola outbreak or for HIV AIDS as well, particularly in the Americas. You’re really talking about understanding communication as a key tool for behavioral change or to help people to adapt to new situations. I mean, a big part of both Ebola and HIV, one of the biggest dangers there was… Medical staff used to often say it wasn’t the disease itself, it was the stigma of the disease.
Paul: Stigma is a massive issue, which still the WHO was calling out. In this current crisis that people who are affected by the disease, that they’re treated in a humane way, that they’re protected, that they know their rights, that they’re not sort of called out in any way that’s inappropriate. So, I think all of these lessons can be directly beneficial to helping us understand how to cope with the current disruption and the current crisis
Chris: Right. As Global Head of Corporate Communications for LiveTiles, what thoughts are racing through your head about how to tackle this in terms of things external to our immediate business?
Paul: Yeah, I mean, for me the lines are very, very clearly linked. First of all, we have a large customer community. We have over 1000 B2B customers around the world. So I think one of the first things, and I know our colleagues are doing this in different parts of the world, but reaching out to our customers, seeing how they’re getting on, how we can help them, what do they need. Is there anything in the short term we can do that will help them to get through to the next phase until there’s more certainty, more clarity? Being good partner and a good support mechanism for our customers and really working with our community. I think something definitely has come to mind and that we are all working on together.
Paul: Looking at the tech specifically, in the business that can alleviate the current sort of burden that many companies might be facing that aren’t maybe as agile as some other companies or as small. That they can immediately switch to a remote way of working. I mean it does come with its challenges. Some of them are tech. So, there are solutions out there which we can advise people on and help them with because at the end of the day, the business needs are still there for our customers. The economy needs them. This is ultimately a very important thing that we can do. To really ensure that people have access to the solutions they need to keep their businesses afloat and keep the economy humming along until there’s brighter cloud on the horizon for everybody.
Paul: And then I think, also promoting the sort of tech for good. There’s an opportunity there to also be philanthropic and share some of the solutions cost-free to clients that could really benefit from them. I know there’s some conversations happening around that. There’s a mobile app that has been made available free of charge as well that helps employees stay connected. So, all of these things I think are really, really important and can be acted on, at least in the short term until we have more certainty around the world.
Chris: Oh, that last point you made. Just kind of looking after your neighbors or your community isn’t really, but on a global scale.
Paul: Yeah, very much. Knowing what they’re facing as well will help us to support them more because having 1,000 B2B customers, which I believe represents almost 10 million end users of our tech. That’s a massively important segment of the population right there. It’s not hypothetical. They’re directly helping to drive the wheels of the economy, which is a vital aspect of helping us to get out of this mess. So, I think, we can all do our best. From our side, I think we’re well placed to really make an impact there
Chris: In Australia right now, it’s all about the shortage of toilet paper. They’re talking about giving your neighbors a roll of toilet paper as a sign of goodwill. So maybe this is [inaudible] on a tech scale to help out our neighbors with their toilet paper.
Paul: That’s a pretty good analogy.
Chris: Seriously, this thing has disrupted our operations at LiveTiles internally. I’m sure it has in many other companies, but it’s all about how we manage it now, isn’t it? Because we can’t solve this straight away. We have to sort of sit it out. It looks like it’s going to go on for a while. So, we just have to manage our way through it to the best of our abilities. Is that how you see it?
Paul: I think so. I think, the human spirit is very much set up like that where people really are coming together in solidarity. I mean we’re seeing some very inspiring stories being shared on social media from Italy and Spain. Even today in Ireland, I saw people singing from their balconies in their homes for St Patrick’s day, doing all sorts of virtual parades. Here in Sligo where I am, there was a virtual concert and a fundraising concert with the money going to COVID-19 research. So yeah, the human spirit will dominate.
Paul: I mean myself, I’m certainly a pragmatic optimist. I’d be very solution-oriented and like to work in that frame of mind. I think people will find new ways of working, to find new ways of coping. Even in our own company in LiveTiles here in Europe, there’s a group as pumped up on our Yammer, which is a just for sort of social drop-in groups. It’s all sorts of hints and tips about working from home and people are sharing their photos from their remote working. Somebody I’ve seen as invited me to a fitness class tomorrow morning at 7:00.
Chris: No, thanks. I’m all good.
Paul: There’s all sorts of… People are incredible at the end of the day. So, yeah, I think we need to be positive and we need to understand that it’s not about social isolation because while we might be isolated physically in our homes or whatever, we are connected through technology. We can use that for really great human connection and for getting our jobs done, maybe even with more impact. It’s definitely a moment in time which has, I think, we’ll look back on where things have changed in terms of how we work. Remote working will maybe have moved from a nice to-have to a need to-have. There’s a lot to be learned from it. So hopefully that’s the path we’re going down now.
Chris: Yeah. I think it’s just so important to remember that whole human element in this and that’s going to help us get through. Another example in my Hobart team held a virtual cooking class yesterday to try and get everybody together for our normal morning tea times. So, it’s funny. Life does find a way, doesn’t it?
Paul: Absolutely. I mean, another example which I came across today. We were running a discovery workshop in London, working with a client to sort of assess their requirements in terms of tech for their digital workplace challenges. That was to take place over the next couple of weeks in a building in London. Obviously, necessity is the mother of invention and all of that, but everybody has flipped to digital. They’ve already put a system in place which gives it a really good sort of framework to do it in a digital and remote way of working.
Paul: So, people are finding solutions and they’re finding new ways of working. I’m sure when we come out the other side of this, most likely there has been a lot of innovation driven by this crisis and companies that are agile and solution-oriented will be rewarded, I think, in terms of how they learn from this crisis.
Chris: It’s currently St. Patrick’s Day where you are right now. We probably could’ve had a virtual Guinness except it’s breakfast time for me right now. It probably wouldn’t go down too well.
Paul: Well actually, I’m having a virtual Guinness with my, my, my sister and my brother in law and my wife after this interview. So yeah, I’m looking forward to that.
Chris: Lovely stuff. Lovely stuff. Now let’s take another look at external. How do we work out the pecking order in terms of prioritizing dealings with those external parties we’ve been talking about? I mean, everyone that we deal with is important to us, but obviously resources are stretched, so there always needs to be priorities placed in activity. How do you handle that?
Paul: Well, yeah, there’s different means of handling it again, really understanding the community and their needs and the best channels to communicate with the communities in question, which itself requires a lot of understanding, and research, and outreach, et cetera. But I think things like right now because of the remote nature of how people are working, crowdsourcing is one obvious way that we can really help us understand the sort of underlying trends and priorities that that might guide us or that might help us prioritize our decision making. So, I think that’s one way.
Paul: The discovery shop I mentioned earlier, definitely that’s something that… The polling and surveying of a customer’s entire business is one of the mechanisms that will be doing that. They may not have done so readily on such a scale world in a physical room for instance. I think above all, the most urgent needs need to be addressed. That’s straight from the humanitarian playbook. When you go into the sort of the beginning of a crisis, it’s the sort of known knowns, the most urgent needs that you address first and foremost. You then start to really engage and understand the underlying needs that might be there after that. I think it’s a pretty similar scenario that we’re in.
Chris: Obviously one of the underlying needs during all of this is people’s wellbeing. I know it’s something that we’re really considering here at LiveTiles, because we all are working from home for the foreseeable future, which our business has set up work from anywhere. The technology parties isn’t an issue for us, but the wellbeing of staff. It’s something we really going to have to work at if this does go on for a period of time.
Paul: Yeah, I agree. I mean, when lots of people would have experience of working from home and over the years, if you’re just doing it or a few of your colleagues are doing, it’s relatively easy I think to handle your schedule. But I’m already seeing two days in, when the entire company is working from home, there is a new rhythm that we need to find, particularly when you’re at home with the entire family. So that is-
Chris: Yeah, that’s the next bit, isn’t it? When the kids come home.
Paul: Absolutely. I mean, I have three boys and they’re all here. They’re pretty, pretty good at the self-isolation, I guess. But even them, they need to be entertained. They need to be engaged. You need time for them. They’re not spending their days in school. I’m normally at work. So yeah, all of that rhythm has to be sort of reset. That’s definitely that work-life balance is something we really need to work at. Taking time out for our own mental wellbeing and our own physical wellbeing.
Paul: So, I’m personally going to try and, get out every day and have a good bit of exercise in the middle of the day. I do what I can and just be there for others as well. Check in with colleagues. If there’s colleagues, we haven’t heard of from a while, just give them a call. Just that human connection is still possible. It doesn’t need to go away.
Chris: Yeah. I’m only three days into this and I think already I’m starting to be a little bit cranky because my wife said to me this morning, “Make show you take a lunch break today. Make sure you get excited, make sure you’re moving.” I think she was trying to tell me something this morning.
Paul: Yeah. It’s crazy to fall into that. So, yeah, I think getting that schedule in place, which may not be a 9:00 to 5:00, when all the kids are at home. But getting that schedule in place is important and yeah, we’ll find the rhythm, we’ll find the rhythm. We’re a bit solution oriented. I’m sure we will, but it’s a very important part of it because nobody would really voluntarily choose to be at home all the time working and living. So, these are unprecedented times in many ways.
Chris: Some companies haven’t made that move just yet. So, for those that are considering it, what do you think some of the biggest issues they need to consider when deciding to flip that switch to send all of your staff home during this crisis?
Paul: I think, going back to which is becoming the team, I think at our talk, Chris is the people. Think about the people. We’ve got our own company call this earlier this week with our CEO and other C-suite on the call. It was really good to hear that it’s sort of about people, it’s not about commerce right now. It’s really about making sure we’re all okay. Our families are okay. Maybe some of our colleagues are worried about parents or loved ones. For sure there’ll be colleagues whose lives will have been touched by this, like literally. That’s really the important first step. And then we need to think about how colleagues can stay engaged and obviously productive as well, because everybody wants to be productive.
Paul: So, to have those tools in place and to avoid the sort of the chaotic approach to us. Of course, we know that’s absolutely possible. Remote working is not a new phenomenon. So, there’s plenty of good practice out there and plenty of good technology out there that can help companies to make that switch and to do it smoothly and painlessly, and maybe even more productive.
Chris: With those words, mate, we might just wrap this up tonight because as we said St. Patrick’s Day. It’s time for you to go and enjoy that Guinness so. Paul Conneally, mate, thank you very much for joining me tonight to have a bit of a chat about the current situation where with Coronavirus and some of the issues affecting workers as a result. So, enjoy that Guinness, mate, we’ll talk soon.
Paul: Thanks very much Chris. It’s a pleasure talking to you.
Chris: Cheers. Thanks for joining me on The Intelligent Workplace podcast brought to you by LiveTiles. If you have any feedback on what to suggest a guest for a future show, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening. I’ll catch you next time.