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Putting colleagues at the heart of Covid-safety

How do you help colleagues adapt to fast-changing requirements, while keeping people and values front of mind?

Here's how we worked with Co-op Funeralcare to respond to Covid, in a way that is completely aligned the 'Ways of Being Co-op' values that are at the heart of Co-op's culture.

2020 was a difficult year for most organisations, but for Co-op Funeralcare it was one of the toughest.

Colleagues had to find new ways to support families at the most difficult of times, funerals were conducted on Zoom and pressure on frontline services was extreme.

Co-op has always put colleagues and communities at the heart of everything they do, so when they needed to train people in staying Covid-safe at work, it seemed natural to start by talking to the very people they needed to protect.

Click here for ‘Tips for making your covid-safety messages land well’

National guidance, local application

The first wave of Covid was totally unprecedented, and Funeralcare had to move quickly and develop new safe ways of working. Colleagues worked tirelessly to deliver funerals and support families, all whilst following the ever-changing guidance.

Co-op came to Acteon for help designing a piece of e-learning on Covid-safety at work, that could be assigned to all Funeralcare colleagues no matter what their role.

They needed learning materials to be flexible enough to cope with rules that were frequently changing, and that varied across different regions and nations of the UK. So creating one e-learning module to train colleagues around the UK was never going to be easy.

Flexibility, human-centred design and rapid production were going to be key.

Design thinking and collaboration

To address the challenges, Acteon suggested running a ‘Design Thinking’ workshop. This co-creative approach placed frontline colleagues at the heart of the design, using their knowledge and experience to directly shape the solution. It focused on finding specific behaviours and actions that would have the greatest impact on preventing Covid transmission in Funeralcare workplaces.

"We wanted to hear directly from our colleagues – how they were feeling, what ideas they had, what was really happening in our workplaces around Covid". John Paul Hooper, Senior Operations Manager at Co-op.

Working in an industry like Funeralcare, colleagues have a strong social identity.

"People had very different attitudes, depending on their role and their perception of risk. But there was an overwhelming sense of identity too. We’ve been through a lot already – and we’re in this together.

We understand each other. Being there for people, at the most difficult time – that’s our day job. We’re always looking for ways to support each other". Daniel Goodwin, Co-op Funeralcare’s National Health & Safety Manager.

Specific behaviours that make the difference

It was clear that the fast-approaching Wave 2 meant that Co-op needed to create learning and communication materials that urged colleagues not to become complacent.

What were the actions that could make all the difference? Colleagues from across Funeralcare came together in the workshop, and using a design-thinking framework they collaboratively decided on three specific colleague behaviours that they wanted to focus the learning on: 1) regular handwashing, 2) keeping socially distant and 3) having positive conversations about Covid-safety.

The online workshop was a chance to discuss what colleagues should be doing to stay safe and what were the real barriers. For Co-op, this wasn’t just about telling colleagues what to do – it was about empathising and starting from a position of understanding the challenges their colleagues were facing. Once those issues were discussed openly, only then could real solutions be considered.

The group suggested and voted on ideas for overcoming the barriers to action – with the most popular ones being taken forward for developing further.

John-Paul said “We came away with so many ideas – not just for learning and communication interventions, but lots of operational tweaks that we could make to improve our colleagues’ experience. Having real frontline colleagues in the room – albeit an online room! – was so worthwhile.”

Aligned with existing values

Co-op has a set of values used across the business which demonstrate the 'Ways of Being Co-op'. These values are based on the original values of the Rochdale Pioneers, the group of founders who created the world’s first co-operative.

Having them means that colleagues can articulate what it means to be a Co-op colleague – they are asked to ‘Do what matters most’, ‘Succeed together’, ‘Show you care’ and ‘Be yourself’.

It was clear in the workshop that the desired Covid-safe behaviours were closely aligned with these Co-op values

Dan Goodwin explained: "When we were talking about what we needed to do in order to be Covid-safe, colleagues kept referencing the Ways of Being. Because never have those values seemed more apt – we totally need to do what matters most and succeed together to get through this pandemic.”

Co-op decided to use their existing values to bring the Covid content to life and make it meaningful – and as one colleague pointed out in the design workshop, “Being Co-op means being Covid-safe.”

Bringing learning, communication and neuroscience together

Based on the insights from the workshop, Co-op chose to create a flexible blend of materials that worked as a piece of mandatory learning, drove a communications campaign and provided a toolkit for local activities.

A vital piece of the blend was that Co-op wanted all colleagues to commit to certain behaviours at work – around handwashing, distancing and conversations. This promise was known as the ‘Covid Colleague Commitment’. Co-op employees were asked to agree to this commitment via the online learning, which enabled the business to have that compliance recorded at an organisational level. But Co-op knew they needed to have a social element too.

“We knew that people are more likely to behave in a specific way if they see that their colleagues are doing it too. We know role-modelling and setting social norms are important for any behaviour change to land,” said John-Paul.

“We’re using that natural programming to our advantage with our Covid-safety campaign– colleagues will not only make an individual declaration on the LMS, but they will be making a group commitment at their workplace too.”

Public commitments are more likely to affect behaviour so using Yammer and other internal comms channels, each workplace will be publicly committing to these three key behaviours that Co-op know have an impact – handwashing, keeping a safe distance and having good conversations about staying Covid-safe.

Modular content, campaign approach

To accommodate the varied and changing lockdown guidance, we needed a flexible solution. Acteon built the blend in a modular way, so that chunks of content could be easily updated and replaced if needed.

“We chose to build four separate animations that would form the basis of the e-learning, but that could be used individually too” says Rebecca Trigg, from Acteon. “We built the learning module in Storyline, using plenty of interactivity and relevant examples, but the stars of the show were really those animations.”

Having separate animations about why it was important to protect each other, the value of handwashing, the importance of social distancing and the need for good Covid conversations meant that Co-op could create an accompanying communications campaign.

“We had the learning module which really doubled as a comms toolkit. We had a visual identity that both linked to a familiar structure (the Co-op Ways of Being) yet felt fresh and modern.” said Daniel Goodwin.

“This meant we could launch the campaign to our colleagues in a coherent way – the messaging was used on posters, in emails, on Yammer, the intranet. It wasn’t just about expecting people to complete a module on the LMS – this needed to make a splash.”

Neuroscience magic: Rhyme as reason

The animations had an extra bit of neuroscience magic too – they had fun rhymes to make them more memorable.

“Rhyming has been shown to make content more engaging, but interestingly it’s also shown to increase trust in an idea” said Rebecca Trigg. “The ‘Rhyme-as-reason’ effect is a cognitive bias that make people more likely to remember, repeat and believe sayings. We think that using those rhyming phrases in communications or even just in team meetings will increase application of those behaviours.”

Co-op wanted to make good use of the toolkit. The flexible nature of the animations and associated language means they have a suite of content that can be deployed to support local activity in response to Covid levels.

“What we’ve got works as both mandatory compliance training but also a pick-n-mix style collection of resources for us to use as operational needs change. And best of all, it was designed in conjunction with frontline Co-op colleagues.” said John-Paul Hooper.

A commitment to Covid-safety

The programme launched in November, with the backing of senior leaders from across the Co-op. People are sharing their Commitment on social channels and managers are using that public commitment to drive Covid-safe behaviours in their team.

“I keep hearing the rhymes being said by colleagues – and every time I stop for a cup of tea, I hear in my head ‘Having a brew? Hand wash too!” says Dan Goodwin. “It certainly sticks!”

Job done, we’d say.