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

 

Media

 

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

 

roof

 

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

 

while

 

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

 

perform

 

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

 

assistance

 

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

in

 

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

said

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

 

patio

 

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

 

us

 

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

 

Content

 

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

 

problems

 

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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