Podcast 86: Covid-19 The future for organisations and for technical communication

The COVID-19 coronavirus is having a huge impact on people and organisations. With so many things that could be about to change, how should technical communicators respond?

In this episode of the Cherryleaf Podcast we look at:

  • How organisations might change during and after the Covid-19 lockdown
  • What that means for technical communication
  • Comments made by others on LinkedIn
  • What changes we’ve made at Cherryleaf


Auto-generated transcript:

This is the Cherryleaf Podcast hello and


welcome to the Cherryleaf Podcast in this


episode we’re going to look at Covid-19


the coronavirus and what it might mean


for the future of organizations and for


the future of technical communication my


name is Ellis Pratt I’m one of the


directors and Cherryleaf what we’re going


to look at is how organisations might


change during and after the lockdown


what that means or might mean for


technical communication some feedback


and comments from others about this


topic and a little bit about how it is


changing some of the things that we do


so we’re not going to cover


issues around individuals who may have


been furloughed or laid off so in this


we are going to be looking at outcomes


some of which could be positive and some


of which that could be negative and


there has been some feedback saying, do


you really want to go there? and perhaps


this is rather a worrisome topic to


investigate or to discuss well I hope


that isn’t the case the Germans have a


word called Sachlich which means to


be objective to be frank sure and that’s


our objective our goal here the things


that we’re going to describe are


possible outcomes so we’re going to make


an assumption and that is that Covid-19, the coronavirus won’t be


eradicated immediately that it’s going


to affect the world effect asks for at


least six months until hopefully we can


get to the point where there’ll be a


vaccine that will be available to


everyone so let’s start by looking at


some of the impact that coronavirus has


had and will have or might have on


organizations this is a time when there


are fundamental changes to organizations


there was an interesting podcast I


listened to by Donald Miller about how


business models will change that we’re


in a situation where we’re experiencing


10 years of history in 10 weeks and that


there are opportunities for some


organizations we’ve seen with Zoom for


example how an organization can make


rapid changes in the amount of market


share and sales that they can make at a


time like this


and so for some organizations where they


see opportunities there’s an opportunity


to stake a claim to become the leader in


a particular market sector to act


quickly and seize those opportunities


for some companies it will be a case of


prioritizing cash and cash flow over


profits that there will be a focus on


realigning the operational side of


things so it is as efficient as possible


and as good as possible


at this moment in time we talked about


leadership and communication in episode


82 and it may be during this time that


there needs to be consideration as to


whether the tone that you use in your


communication needs to change where the


readers the audience are nervous and


uncertain there’ll be a preference for


clear authoritative trustworthy


information so funny content


light-hearted content may not be the


appropriate tone at this time people


will favour information provided by


experts organizations that are seen to


be competent and trustworthy and there


may be a desire from the audience to


understand what’s happening to make


sense and meaning of it all and normally


we can predict the future by knowing


past actions and by what we do today


having a predictable effect in the


future in this current environment that


may not be true and people may want


assurance that the direction the clear


intent the goals of what an organization


wants and the motive as to why it’s


important to do something in a


particular way may need to be explained


in a clearer way so that the audience


can understand the future direction by


doing certain actions now it will lead


to certain events happening in the


future what we’ve seen from governments


in the UK and the USA and elsewhere has


been big projects rapidly thrown


together to deal with the crisis to


manage the crisis for example in the USA


government relief for small businesses


and in the UK the advice on the


coronavirus that’s been posted to the


Gov.UK website for those projects


where governments are sending out money


in particular to organisations and to


people there has been some teething


troubles some confusion particularly


with the small business relief scheme in


the USA and a need for clear policies to


enable organizations to adopt these


projects quickly and rapidly so that


these small businesses for example can


get the money quickly and importantly


for those clear policies to exist so


that the organisation’s hoping these


small companies get these loans for


example for banks know who is able to


make a claim and who is not able to make


a claim there has been a need for clear


policies and for clear communications so


one of the biggest impacts of the virus


is the potential for people


to catch it and the consequence of that


is that team members staff may not be


working all the time they may be absent


from work because of them catching it


and having to recover from the virus so


there may be an impact on the ability to


provide a continuous service within


departments or by organization to


customers so people may need to take


sick leave to recover from the corona


virus they might need to take sick leave


to support relatives that catch the


virus and unfortunately there’s a


estimated mortality rate of three


percent and that’s also a consideration


that may impact on organizations as well


hopefully that will happen to as few


people as possible so there is this big


issue within organizations of ensuring


continuity of service on LinkedIn Paul


Ballard who runs a technical writing


company in the UK posted some thoughts


about this aspect and he said that there


was an article in The Economist that


provided some evidence to his company’s


analysis that companies are needing to


get creative about how to replace once


reliable customer contact centres and he


wrote that enabling self-service online


with easy to find information is part of


the solution and that would lead to a


growth in delivering clear content and


information portals let me read out some


extracts from this article in The


Economist it was called “Please hold” call


centres are overwhelmed understaffed and


overhauling how they work good luck


trying to get in touch with a company


these days those calling British Airways


about a refund will find themselves hung


up on an automated system immediately


after they hear the words “we appreciate


your understanding at this time” Virgin




emailed its cable and broadband


customers to ask the


to avoid calling banks insurance


companies and this newspaper have issued


similar requests to customers seeking


support directing them online instead


while cool numbers have shot through the




call centres are closing coronavirus has


put the industry which employs some 1.3


million Britons or about 4% of the


workforce in a particularly tight spot


only 10 to 20 percent of call centre


employees typically work from home


Riggins and Maurice Tank of CCMA an


industry body many call centres take


payments making home working risky from


a legal perspective yet if an on-site


employee catches coronavirus hundreds


more may be taken offline at least for a




one Sky call centre in Cardiff was closed


for a day after one worker was diagnosed


with it in March other operators are


reconfiguring their processes often


overnight Serco a big contractor for the


public sector has moved more than 1/3 of


its call centre workers to home working


a census a Scottish firm with 1200


employees in Britain had 210 such


positions last month ago now 600


employees work from home Miss Thang says


several insurance firms she has spoken


to are preparing for 100% home-based


call centres even if it means providing


fewer services over the phone they are


having to make the choice to give no


service or do we give some service she


says the future of the industry is on


the line


so we’re likely to see a move away from


live support lines to more self-service


self-support knowledge-based systems


where customers can find the answers for


themselves rather than having to call a


support line and that we are likely to


see more of people’s knowledge that’s


currently in their heads documented so


if they’re unavailable to work that


people have information they can refer


to too


continue doing that work without them


being there another change that we’re


likely to see is more people working


from home and the proof that it is


possible even when people are trying to


juggle working from home with other


House members also doing the same and


home-schooling and the like that it is


possible for more people to work from


home than have done prior to the


outbreak of the corona virus a


consequence of that may be that if it’s


possible for somebody to work from home


in London equally is possible to engage


somebody who could work from home in


Bangalore or Bogota or somewhere else


however the opposite could also happen


that there’s a desire to move away from


having a globalized supply chain and to


bring it closer in to have it more local


and therefore there may be a desire to


have people who are working from home


but within the country that the


organization is operating in and that


can also have other benefits like


everybody being on the same timezone so


there may be a move towards having


people working from home but close still


to the organization we’ll have to see


which way it goes on that it’s not easy


to onboard and train new staff if


they’re not in an office obviously it’s


a lot easier for them to find the


toilets in the kitchen but actually


onboarding and understanding the systems


can be trickier when you don’t have the


opportunity for being guided through


that information by somebody so that may


lead to more onboarding information


being documented so that people can


onboard themselves it may also mean that


there is more e-learning based onboarding rather than once one or


classroom sessions another aspect of


working of home mentioned in The


Economist article is the issue of cybersecurity


so there are limitations to certain areas


where people can or can’t work from home


so what other changes have we seen are


we likely to see with a lockdown for


some countries we’re seeing they return to work and that that


is being phased in for certain types of


shops or certain types of industries and


it may also be the case that people who


are of a certain age perhaps under 30 or


those that have had the virus and have


established some antibodies against it


are allowed to go back to work before


others a downside of that may be that


certain groups are discriminated against


unfairly we have also seen changes with


training, training in a classroom at the


moment is no longer possible and so what


that’s led to has been adaptation of


classroom courses so they can be


delivered over platforms such as


Microsoft Teams GoToMeeting Zoom Jitsi


Skype and the like and that training


split rather than being a solid 9 to 5


or 9 to 4:30 block of time that that


live training split into sessions of


perhaps two or three hours delivered


over a series of days and for some


courses it may be that it makes sense to


deliver it as recorded e-learning videos


rather than lined sessions all two did a


hybrid between recorded training and


then have maybe office hours when


students can ask the trainer any


particular questions or there are


exercises that people do having done


some pre-course learning


another obvious one has been with


conferences and with the lockdown it’s


no longer possible to run face-to-face


conferences so we’ve seen a number of


conferences switched to being online so


that you can view the conference view


the speakers remotely and this may


become a more permanent feature it may


be that conferences are a hybrid of both


in attendance type offering and also the


ability to view and attend remotely


however there may be some limitations to


this in terms of time zones in that some


people may be flowing in to attend a


conference because they want to


acclimatize the timezone that if they


were in their own local country they may


have to stay up until maybe 3:00 or 4:00


in the morning okay so let’s move on to


what does this mean


for technical communicators from what


we’ve seen in the more general scheme of


things for organizations there’s likely


to be more knowledge wisdom information


policies procedures documented rather


than it being left in people’s brains


so more policies and procedures more


knowledge portals more content into


knowledge portals as well and in this


environment where people may not be


clear what they should do where there


may be some confusion that there will be


a need to make sure that things are


clear and that things are communicated


quickly and clearly to customers


stakeholders or internally to staff so


time to market the ability to create


content and to get it published quickly


will be important so how efficient you


are able to publish your tool chain will


be one factor


and it could be an opportunity for


technical communicators to lead to take


the initiative by creating some proof of


concepts to show to people about how


information can be communicated and


resolve some of the issues they may be


facing so what types of proof of


concepts could you be developing well


one might be to create some process


flowcharts some big picture type


information that helps people access and


find existing content that might be


buried in a massive loosely structured


hard to find information so one approach


could be to use a tool like Visio or


Draw.IO and create process flow


charts with hotspots for people to


navigate you could create templates for


people to use if they are writing


policies and procedures or documenting


things so it’s easier and faster for


them to create good consistent content


you could offer an editing service to


review and improve content that your


team members are creating moving on from


that we’ve talked about that there could


be an opportunity to create self-support


Help systems for people to build or


create or extend knowledge bases so


there’s things that you could do in that


environment you could create a simple


process where people can create content


in tools that they’re familiar with


today like Word and to ingest them to


take them into tools like Flare or offer to


help to restructure them and generate


HTML websites or portals from those


particular tools or you could set up a


simple installation of a web-based tool


like Confluence or Notion and we talked


about Notion in the podcast episode with


Jen Lambourne you could create some video


walkthroughs to explain common tasks or


offer yourself as a resource


to support department or other


departments to create simple


walkthroughs on how to do certain


actions beating the accounts department


or some other department or develop the


walk me type of videos that can be


connected to an application itself shows


you where to go within particular


screens within an application if time is


available there may be scoped for using


metadata to tag information to make it


easier for other tools to filter and


link data together so those may be


opportunities where you can create a


little proof of concept or a pilot show


people something that’s concrete that


they can grasp and see that can benefit


them benefit the organization and for


the content itself that will be on these


self-service support systems in your


help content it may be a good time to


liaise with the support line staff look


at the analytics and see what are the


common questions that are going to the


support team and saying whether that


content has been documented so that


customers have an alternative route to


phoning the support line and that that


information is easy for customers to


find we posted some messages on Social


Media saying we were going to be looking


at this topic on one of our episodes of


the Cherryleaf podcast and asking people to


share their thoughts on this and we had


a number of responses from different


people particularly on LinkedIn so what


I’d like to do is just read out some of


the comments


so Liz Gregory

said I’ve been blown


away by the number of emails I’ve had


from companies imploring me to use their


online Help rather than calling them


Sarah Feldman who was on one of our


recent episodes on the podcast said


perhaps there’ll be an increased demand


for technical communication that enables


distributed or remote workforces to




James Hansen a content development and


migration experts said self-service help


platforms would require well-organized


and indexed basis of knowledge which is


something I’ve been dreaming about for


as long as I can remember


imagine if users could find answers to


90% of their questions without agent




Amanda Lindsey director & pre-launch


technical author said one trend I’m


seeing now is the requirement for


documentation of better documentation


about remote payments as small


businesses such as restaurants switch to


a takeout delivery model to


survive this includes the security


aspects around a remote payment where


the cardholder isn’t present


cybersecurity is of course always


important but sadly we’re seeing an


increase in our tanks especially


phishing scams so there’s a need for


comms around that Florimond Alemps



France who has a job title Responsable de projets says many individuals


leave companies every day since baby


boom when things were slower many


employees learnt tons of things as they


quit their job voluntarily or not


because they retire because they want to


change context companies various


knowledge companies get some results


brackets files with a few clues on what


led to them


whenever can get higher changes might go


faster some can temporarily experienced


or anticipated it’s more than time to


get told to manage knowledge differently


for those using a software-as-a-service


application are more resilient less


dependent from geography local or global


more collaborative and scalable for sure


desktop is dead who is ready for the


worst is comfortable in normality


technical writers should focus on


knowledge or immaterial assets of


companies not on the font of headers and


footers delegating to a platform the


knowledge of a company is a choice


Suzanne Marshall


I’m finding that off


your teams are referencing the knowledge


centre I’ve created to create better


documentation and are much happier


contributing to make the guidance better


than they seem to be before Covid-19


Tanja Lorber senior technical editor of


Stegman systems said with so many people


working from home virtual training and


the processes around these trainings


will also be impacted in my opinion


getting started with a software when you


don’t have colleagues around you to


guide you is definitely something we


have to consider as a use case and John


Mowat wrote many organizations and


businesses are anxious to get back to


in-person interaction there will be many


who realized benefits by pivoting


towards self-serve computer augmented


offerings and will continue to build on


those into the future and on LinkedIn he


provided a link to an article he’d


written about chatbots and their


application within the retail sector


Larry Kunz wrote will probably never


return to the old paradigm of co-workers


located in the same office space


interacting in meeting rooms and less


formally in the break area or on the




those interactions have long been away


for technical communicators to build


collegial relationships both with each


other and with a subject matter experts


now will need to find new ways to assert


ourselves demonstrate our value and earn


at least in the eyes of the SMEs our


place at the table the introverts among




it could be daunting fortunately many of


us already work with remote teams often


in different countries and time zones


we’ve learnt skills for building and


sustaining those working relationships


without sharing the same physical space


now we’ll need to apply those skills


more often and more intentionally and in


tcworld magazine Corinna Melville


wrote the coronavirus will neither


exterminate humankind nor permanently


stamp out our most characteristic traits


our yearn to travel and explore every


corner of our planet our drive to


advance the technologies we have


developed and above all our desire to


socialize and engage with each other


face to face not just app to app there


is no VR headset that can even remotely


replace the beauty of the real world


there is no artificial intelligence that


can substitute the face-to-face


conversation with her childhood friend


Anita Dekanic wrote working from home


provides you with an opportunity to be


creative and develop new approaches and


new solutions for your daily life as


well as for your work Smita Menon a




architect said Covid has highlighted


how remotes working infrastructure is


sadly not optimal and the lack of


digital and automated processes to


ensure complete BCP -being I presume business continuity


planning but we can look forward to


organizations learning from their


shortcomings and implementing remote


working as not just an interim measure


but a long-term enablement strategy this


will increase the demand for techies IT


experts and technical communicators or


communication across digital channels


social media and messaging platforms is


at its peak due to social distancing and


lockdown precautions the post lockdown


period will also ensure that


communicators are kept busy after all


while all organizations and businesses


try to rush back to full scale


operations and efficiency can the


experts who showcase this to the world


at large through their writings be left


behind Colum McAndrew wrote one question


I’m hearing more and more is do we need


to be office based although this isn’t a


question directly related to technical


communications it is an interesting one


perhaps it applies to tech firms more


than other verticals but this pandemic


has Illustrated that it is possible to


work from home with some planning and


thought and Mario Chavez wrote there are


types of knowledge that are very


difficult to document like the so called


tribal knowledge or knowledge that


consists of habits personal and


collectivised experience and wisdom


brackets although some people keep


confusing experience with wisdom and


artists and knowledge just like the Open


Office fad can actually be a good


solution for some teams and some


companies working from home works


wonders if we recognize it is not a


panacea or a universal technology-based


solution we are human beings we crave


physical and emotional contact


perhaps different kinds of working from


home can evolve from this pandemic


experience and Craig Wright wrote I hope


it has opened up some organizations eyes


to the reality of home working I have


worked from home for years without any




communicating with others so I said I’d


mention some of the things that are


happening at Cherryleaf like all


organizations we’re having to adapt also


project work is still continuing and


we’ve seen an upturn on the training


side of things but we’re still needing


to make changes and adapt the types of


things that we’re doing for the


classroom courses that we offer we now


are able to offer those over the


internet with a live trainer using tools


like Microsoft Teams for the e-learning


courses we’ve as I’ve mentioned on a


previous podcast episode we’ve been


asked to make it possible for


organizations to make group bookings for


their staff so they can take the courses


and we’ve done that and we’ve had a


number of organizations booked up their


staff for different courses we’ve made


some changes to websites and offerings


relating to policies and procedures and


we’ve added on to that page a quiz a


policies and procedures readiness quiz


that people can take and in terms of the


future one of the things that we need to


do that’s clear from the feedback that


people have said about the opportunity


to push the idea of self-service


information to help deal with the issue


of shortages of staff on support lines


that’s something that we need to push


and promoters and offering or solution


to that particular problem so most of


the changes relate to marketing and the


way in which we deliver training the


mechanism by which we do project writing


services and recruitment they have


stayed or are staying at the moment


essentially the same


so what do you think we’ve looked at


quite a bit there in terms of the


implications and effects of the coronavirus how it’s affecting organizations


in general and some aspects in terms of


telecommunications opportunities for us


to work you can share your thoughts by


contacting us via info at Cherryleaf.com


or you can add your comments to the


threads that we’ve posted onto LinkedIn


if you look for my name


Ellis Pratt you should see the chat the


discussion that’s been going on with


different people commenting so again


thank you for listening


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