Before the COVID-19 pandemic, working from our offices had been the norm at Schusterman Family Philanthropies. The proximity to our colleagues was efficient—we enjoyed the ease of slipping into a conference room for a meeting or stopping by someone’s desk with a question. Sharing a physical space also helped us foster authentic, trustworthy relationships with our teammates—giving us the ability to swap stories over lunch, celebrate birthdays with cards and well wishes, and chat in the kitchen about our favorite books and podcasts.
But in March 2020, waves of employees across the country—including our team at Schusterman—shifted from an in-person work experience to a remote one. From across computer screens in make-shift home workspaces, our organization questioned how to keep over 150 employees engaged in a remote environment.
After mulling over a variety of options, we chose to prioritize our existing staff newsletter as the primary method for staff communication. We increased the cadence, revamped systems for sourcing content and tested out new structures to solicit engagement.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Nearly all team members who completed a recent staff survey shared that our newsletter keeps them informed of the work happening across our organization, and more than three-quarters expressed that the newsletter helps them stay connected to their colleagues. Notably, staff expressed that the newsletter has been particularly helpful for staying connected during a pandemic—especially for team members who started with our organization remotely.
As remote work solidifies as a trend rather than a temporary solution, organizations must prioritize staff-centered communications to build cohesive and trusting team cultures. Whether or not your organization commits to in-person, hybrid or remote work options, a staff newsletter will help streamline information while serving as a virtual gathering place—uniting colleagues working across multiple departments, offices and time zones.
Based on our experience iterating on a staff newsletter for nearly three years, here are three key lessons for implementing a staff newsletter of your own.
1. Source content collaboratively—and measure the results.
Especially for larger workplaces, it can be difficult to ensure that your newsletter shares information from every corner of your organization and is relevant to employees of all identities, backgrounds and job levels. Our recommendation is to use multiple channels for collecting submissions and measure your impact by regularly tracking engagement and collecting feedback through tactics such as surveys, focus groups or link click tracking.
At Schusterman, we seek voluntary submissions through an open submission form while simultaneously soliciting content from team point people. This provides every staff member with the option to submit while ensuring that we receive content from across our teams and offices. To evaluate our newsletter, we track bit.ly links to gauge what percentage of our team members engage with specific content and circulate staff surveys to collect feedback. For example, through one of our recent surveys, we learned that staff members felt that some sections of our newsletter were redundant with other internal updates. This feedback helped us create new submission guidelines to make our newsletter content more relevant.
We have found that multiple submission methods and avenues for regular evaluation help ensure that every staff member feels that their work is represented and that they feel better connected to the organization’s work as a whole. One staff member shared in the survey, “Sometimes I feel separate from the entire organization, but [the newsletter] helps me realize our collective impact.”
Bonus Tip: Collaboration can mean it's difficult to turn submissions away. Be as specific as possible about the purpose of your newsletter and the content you are looking for.
2. Reinforce your team culture and values through community-building.
Any forum where staff engage with one another is an opportunity to ensure that an organization's culture and values are present. Especially when staff work remotely, it can be difficult to gauge and internalize an organization's unique culture without being physically immersed. Your newsletter is an opportunity to build community and encourage professional relationships that model the organizational culture you want to build. This can be done in various ways, from announcing new hires and departures, to featuring 1:1 interviews with individual departments and colleagues, to engaging staff through polls and contests.
For us, the most popular sections of our newsletter amplify individual staff members and departments. These include a milestone section where we share engagements, weddings, births and awards, spotlight sections featuring individual teams and staff members, and a “Question of the Month” section where staff respond to prompts ranging from, “What is one song you are listening to?” to “What are you feeling grateful for?” (Here’s a list of our favorite prompts.) In addition, we feature notes of gratitude from and for staff members to recognize collaboration and individual contributions.
One survey respondent shared with us, “For an organization like ours with offices in multiple locations, I feel the publication helps staff get to know and connect with each other.”
Bonus Tip: See if your organization is already using collaboration software that has a commenting feature and try it out as a delivery platform for your newsletter. Encouraging interactivity can help your newsletter come alive, allowing staff to connect and engage with the content—and each other—in real-time.
3. Set the tone for clarity by including leadership.
Consistent communication from leadership is critical for every organization; Culture Amp reports a direct correlation between the amount of communication from leadership and employee engagement. By using your newsletter as a vehicle for regular updates from your leadership, you will see an increase in clarity from the top-down, setting the tone for clarity across all facets of your organization.
At Schusterman, our Executive Team sends our internal newsletter and includes an introduction with high-level organizational updates. This introduction is where staff first learned about our staff-wide journey to Alabama and our involvement with major partnerships such as Project 100 and the Equality Can't Wait Challenge.
In our recent survey, staff overwhelmingly identified the letter from leadership as the element of our newsletter that keeps them most informed.One respondent shared, “For those not directly reporting to the top level of leadership, this insight is crucial.”
Bonus Tip: Put announcements from leadership at the top of your newsletter to ensure that these updates are never missed.
Communication with outside stakeholders is often treated as a priority when assessing communication capacity. But whether your team is working from the office or at home, a staff newsletter is one of the most effective strategies to strengthen your organization and live out its mission.
Staff are the core of every organization’s success—and a newsletter is one way to keep them informed, connected and ready to work.
Rachel Sacks is a Communications Associate at Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.
Have your own tips for creating a staff newsletter? Share them with us at [email protected].