Internal communication and staff networks: a perfect match

For internal communicators, staff networks are a valuable resource. Janette Wolf from the Department for Education (DfE) offers her thoughts on how to make the most of working with them.

At their heart, staff networks are devoted to enhancing diversity and inclusion but they are also a means to get people talking about things that matter. All of them allow voices to be heard and stories shared in a mutually supportive and nurturing way.

Your networks might reflect what your department does or maybe an expression of what your people care about, anything from looking after a sick relative to parenting and promoting mental wellbeing. Networks are especially important in offering solidarity in times of stress – pandemic anyone?

Here at the DfE many of our staff networks touch on what our department is here for. So diversity, social mobility, racial and gender tolerance are not only woven into the fabric of what we do as civil servants but the services we provide to our wider communities and stakeholders.

But it’s no use being able to walk the walk if we can’t talk the talk too and this is why internal comms has such a vital role to play. It helps make those conversations happen.

DfE gives each of our networks its own 15 minutes of fame. Or rather, it’s one whole month of awareness-raising. By theming months we can provide our staff networks with a chance to shine in the spotlight.

This will be aligned as much as possible to any national or internal events, so that network months can piggyback off wider national campaigns. The themed months are also championed at senior level, with SCS members actively promoting, taking part and cascading them through their teams to raise awareness.

I have mentioned in a previous blog how our Perm Sec’s regular team chats connect our entire workforce with leadership in an intimate and relaxed way. These chats also have a member of the network of the month on hand to answer any queries and add a further layer of legitimacy.

In terms of channels, our IC team has the intranet at its disposal but for those networks that are less familiar with the technology or means of getting a message across, the IC team will also help with blogs and podcasts or other promotional devices.

Abstract illustration of network of people with lines connecting each heads in circle illustrating people's photo,

So do themed months work?

The biggest indicator of all is DfE’s Inclusion scores which were one of the highest across government in 2020 at 86%. It is also to be found in the increasing volume of comments which show rising levels of engagement. Men’s mental health month saw a 222% increase in sign-ups to Headspace, a wellbeing app, showing how the power of talking about mental health can inspire colleagues to take action.

Mike Pettifer is chair of DfE’s Social Mobility Network. He says that the themed month helped build on what the network already does, from changing recruitment practices to outreach work in local schools.

There were also more measurable results with internal membership of the network soaring. “People wanted to know more, what do we do, what does it entail, that kind of thing,” he says. “We ran lots of events, including presentations and sessions and thanks to the internal comms team, these were very well attended. People asked lots of questions and that’s always a good sign.” Mike has now been invited to share more of the network’s learning with other directorates.

We have been living through extraordinary times and the work of networks has never been quite so valuable in offering reassurance and help. The need to keep people talking is as important as ever, even as life begins to return to something we all recognise as normality.

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