Building belonging in a hybrid world: the role of internal communications

With extensive experience in communication and engagement across both the private and public sector, Chloë is passionate about the link between highly engaged employees and better business results.

At her current organisation, innovative housing provider RHP Group, her expertise has helped them place in the top ten of the Great Place to Work list twice (including the number one spot) and gain Investors in People Platinum status.

Last year, Chloë led on the development and delivery of a hybrid communication and engagement strategy, which focussed on making sure people are connected, informed and engaged no matter where, when or how they work.

The strategy has had a tangible impact on both employee engagement and productivity, and in September last year, helped RHP win ‘Best Hybrid Communication’ at the Institute of Internal Communications Awards.

Chloë has a love for storytelling which crosses over work and pleasure – she is an avid theatre and gig goer.

How we work has changed significantly over the past few years, with most organisations moving from the office to remote working, and now to a hybrid model. These changes have meant we’ve had to work even harder as communicators to keep people connected, informed and engaged.

In this podcast Chloë delves into the concept of organisational belonging, why it’s important and the role of internal communicators in building it. She also discusses changes she led on at RHP Group to adapt their communication strategy to meet the needs of a hybrid workforce. The strategy has not only enabled people to stay connected and informed, but it’s also helped to foster a sense of belonging no matter where, when or how someone is working.

Listen for some practical tips on how you can adapt your communications strategy for a hybrid world, and in turn help build organisational belonging.

 Chloë Marsh

Head of Communications and Engagement

Podcast questions:

  1. What do we mean by organisational belonging?
  2. Why should building belonging be important to organisations?
  3. What can we do as internal comms professionals to build belonging?
  4. And is this more of a challenge in a hybrid world? How do we overcome those challenges?
  5. What are your three top tips for listeners to take away?

Podcast transcript here:

Disclaimer: this is an automated transcript. Please don’t call the grammar police on us. You never know, we may have ChatGPT writing our next one…

Asif Choudry (00:07):

Hello and welcome to another episode in the You’re my CommsHero podcast. And I’m your host, Asif Choudry. Today my guest is Chloe Marsh, head of people Communications and Engagement at Richmond Housing Partnership or RHP Group. With extensive experience in communication and engagement across both the private and public sector. Chloe is passionate about the link between highly engaged employees and better business results. At her current organization, innovative Housing provider, RHP Group, her expertise has helped them place in the top 10 of the great places to work list twice, including the number one spot as well, and gain investors in people platinum status, fantastic achievements all around there. And last year, Chloe led on the development and delivery of a hybrid communication and engagement strategy, which focused on making sure people are connected, informed, and engaged in no matter where, when, or how they work. And that’ll come into play as we go through the podcast. That strategy has led a tangible impact on both employee engagement and productivity. And in September last year helped RHP when the best hybrid communication at the IOIC awards. Fantastic achievements again as well. And Chloe has a love for storytelling, which crosses over work and pleasure. And she’s an avid theater and gig goer. So Chloe, it’s a pleasure to welcome you on the podcast.

Chloe Marsh (01:31):

Thank you. Asif it’s an absolute pleasure to be here.

Asif Choudry (01:35):

So I said there’s so many accolades and we’re gonna go into hybrid working, which is, I’m gonna come onto that later anyway, but you are an avid theater and gig goers, so post pandemic, what’s the kind of highlights in terms of gigs or festivals that you’ve been to?

Chloe Marsh (01:50):

Yeah, so it’s been absolutely brilliant to get back to being able to go and see some live music. So, um, I was lucky enough to go and see Florence and the Machine just before Christmas at the O2, and she’s always a, fantastic performer. So that was great. I’m also, um, really looking forward to this year, going to see Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park. He’s someone on my bucket list, so, um, that’ll be June. Yeah,

Asif Choudry (02:14):

<laugh>. I wonder if any of the listeners are, are going to that all, um, envious that you are, but , yeah, we’ll have to keep an eye on your socials for, um, , for updates on that one as it happens. So we’re gonna get to know you a little bit more, , over and above the gig going and festival going there, Chloe, so I’ve got a few quickfire questions for you. Are you, um, apple or Android?

Chloe Marsh (02:37):


Asif Choudry (02:38):

A resounding apple? Any particular reason? Yeah,

Chloe Marsh (02:41):

, do you know what? I’ve just been sucked in. I, it, it just seems too complicated to move away from, from them. Now sometimes I think I’d like to be brave and not just follow the crowd and try something different, but I have to say I’m, I’m playing it safe and keeping with Apple for the moment. <laugh>

Asif Choudry (02:57):

Do, I’m sure you’re in a, in a majority there for sure. And um, do you prefer an ebook or printed book?

Chloe Marsh (03:06):

I prefer a printed book. I did, I did get a Kindle and I tried it out, but I think we spend so much of our lives on digital devices. It’s nice to just have a paper copy still.

Asif Choudry (03:18):

Yeah. Anything on the current, , reading list for you? Um, is it fact or fiction stuff that you go for?

Chloe Marsh (03:26):

I mainly like fiction, um, stuff. Um, I’m really into books by Sally Rooney who wrote, um, normal People and Conversations with Friends. So I have um, got her latest book kind of on my bedside table at the moment, ready to tuck into,

Asif Choudry (03:44):

Yeah, so fresh printed book that, that smell of print and you digital, um, not detox, but like you say, the world of work, which is what we’re gonna be talking about shortly, is changed so much that printed books have kind of become more important to people now again to get away from screens because the work has changed completely as well. So, , final one then, Chloe, we’ll ask you, um, are you an early riser or do you love a lion?

Chloe Marsh (04:12):

I am an early riser, so I find that I’m at my best first thing in the morning. Um, I also don’t really have much choice in it either cuz I’ve got a dog who would come and get me up if I tried to have a lion anyway, <laugh>.

Asif Choudry (04:27):

So early riser, as many guests, , enforced as though it may be.

Chloe Marsh (04:32):


Asif Choudry (04:33):

So the title of this podcast is Building Belonging in a Hybrid World, the role of Internal Communications And just a bit of an overview before we get into some of the questions and and your expertise on this, Chloe. So how we work has changed significantly over the past few years with most organizations moving from the office to remote working and now to a hybrid model. These changes have meant we’ve had to work even harder as communicators to keep people connected, informed and engaged. And then this podcast, Chloe’s gonna delve into the concept of organizational belonging, why it’s important and the role of internal communicators in building it. She’s also gonna discuss that she’s, um, share with us that she’s led on the R h P group, , to adapt their communication strategy to meet the needs of a hybrid workforce. The strategy has not only enabled people to stay connected and informed, but it’s also helped to foster a sense of belonging no matter where, when or how someone is working. And Chloe’s gonna share some practical tips on how you can adapt to your comm strategy for a hybrid world and in turn help build organizational belonging. So I’m gonna kick off with straight into the first question there, Chloe. So what do we mean by organizational belonging?

Chloe Marsh (05:50):

So for me, organizational belonging means that people feel included and valued as an individual and for the uniqueness that they bring, whilst also feeling part of something bigger than themselves and connected to an organization’s purpose and values and what they’re trying to achieve.

Asif Choudry (06:11):

And is there a difference because they’re inclusion and belonging? Are they two different things guys? It’s important to make that distinction, isn’t there?

Chloe Marsh (06:20):

That’s a really good question because now a lot of research is saying that if you are gonna be truly an inclusive workplace, you need to have organisational belonging. Um, so I would look at belonging as being kind of the highest pinnacle of inclusion.

Asif Choudry (06:41):

Okay, great. And I think it’s important to make that distinction, so thanks for clarifying that. So Chloe, why should building belonging be important to organisations?

Chloe Marsh (06:51):

So there’s been a lot of research over the past few years about the importance of building belonging and how it can increase people’s contribution and commitment among many other things and in turn, business performance. So some people might think it sounds a little bit of a fluffy concept, but it actually makes absolute business sense. So in a study by Deloitte for example, in 2021, they found that organizational belonging can increase job performance by up to 50%. It can decrease turnover by up to 56% and it can reduce six sickness by, um, up to 75% as well. And as I just mentioned previously, it is a really important factor in becoming an truly inclusive place to work as well.

Asif Choudry (07:44):

So some really powerful stats down the reasons as to why organizations should consider belonging to be important. So do you think a lot of organizations then Chloe, are are they getting it, are they getting it right?

Chloe Marsh (08:00):

I would say that most organizations either haven’t thought about belonging or they’re only just starting to think about it. I think it’s becoming more and more apparent as most of us now work in a hybrid way that actually people are feeling more disconnected from organizations. Yeah. And therefore I think lots of, lots of organizations aren’t putting the energy and effort they should be into helping bring people together for wherever they’re working from and fostering that sense of belonging. I think in the past we relied too much on it, um, growing organically because people were largely in the same physical space together, but we have to be a lot more purposeful now about building belonging. Um, so I think definitely, , people need to start thinking about it a lot more.

Asif Choudry (09:00):

Yeah, no, absolutely. So, and the, and this as the Comms Hero podcast is there’s gonna be some tips and practical advice come from Chloe as well. So watch out for those as we get into these questions. So what can we do then as internal comms professionals, Chloe, to build belonging?

Chloe Marsh (09:18):

So there’s lots we can do, um, as internal comms professionals, um, to help with this building that sense of belonging in a, in a hybrid world. Um, the strategy that I led on last year had belonging at the core of it, and actually because it’s quite an intangible concept, what I did was break it down into what I call the three Cs, which I believe are three of the biggest factors that contribute to building belonging in the workplace. So what I’m gonna do is talk through each of those three Cs in turn and give um, an example of an internal contact we’ve used connected to that. So the first C is connection and that is all about helping people feel connected to an organization’s purpose and values as well as each other and the people that they’re working with as well. So over the last couple of years we’ve put a lot of effort into developing a range of different channels that people can access wherever they are working from and whenever they’re working as well, um, that help to really increase that connection and bring people together as one big team.

Chloe Marsh (10:37):

And they’re a mix of both digital and face-to-face channels. So an example of one of those channels that’s really, really effective and highly valued by our employees is an all company briefing that we introduced right at the start of the pandemic. It’s just 50 minutes once a week via teams and it’s led by our chief executive, it’s actually called Dome TV because his name’s David do. And the reason we launched it to start with was mainly to keep people up to date on all the changing restrictions with Covid and how that impacted them and us as an organization. But what we found is that we get really high attendance and people were given really good feedback at how much they valued that time every week. So we actually kept it going and it’s still going now and we tend to to keep it going. Um, and people said they didn’t just find it useful about hearing the latest news or a chance to ask senior leaders some questions in the moment, but more than that it was a chance once a week, but everybody to feel connected together no matter where they were working from.

Chloe Marsh (11:43):

So we have people tuning in from the office, from home, we have caretakers out on site, you might have pulled their vans up to tune in or out out of their hubs. We have , scheme managers at our retirement schemes tuning in and people all have a little chat on the comments function, have a bit of a laugh, have a bit of fun as well. And you feel the energy even though it’s digital, of people leaving with that little booth because they’ve had that connection, , for the week. That’s the first example in terms of connection. Then a face-to-face example is something we call meaningful moments, which we introduced about a year ago when all restrictions were listed and we were able to meet more freely face-to-face. Um, and these are events where we ask everybody across the organization to come into the office on the same day.

Chloe Marsh (12:34):

Um, and we hold a session where we bring business messaging to life, um, in a fun and engaging way. And these have proved really successful in helping to nurture our culture, keep people feeling connected, engaged and informed and build that sense of belonging. It’s also been really key in us helping to welcome new starters as well because we were finding that sometimes we weren’t meeting people face to face for a few months after, after someone started. Um, and again, we’ve received really great feedback about those two. So those are a couple of examples of the first C, which is connection. The second C, um, in terms of building belonging is contribution and that is helping feel people feel that they’re all working towards a shared purpose and common goals whilst also them wanting to feel like they contribute to meaningful outcomes for an organization as well.

Chloe Marsh (13:39):

So as internal comms professionals, I think we have a really key role in creating that golden thread between people’s individual outputs and then in turn achieving our organizational goals and then ultimately our purpose as well. And over the last 12 months, we’ve actually launched a new set of values and a refreshed organizational purpose, which has been a great opportunity to build that belonging and that connection with those things as well. Um, and we will take every opportunity we can to keep coming back to that purpose and reminding people about why we are all here and that shared goal that we all have. So an example of that is that before Christmas we ran something called a 12 Days of Purpose campaign and that was featuring stories from people across the organization where they shared how their day-to-day job role was helping them fulfill our organizational purpose.

Chloe Marsh (14:47):

Um, and that really brought it to life for people and helped them to connect with actually what their job was doing. All helped contribute, , to that same thing and we got lots of lots of engagement with that as well. The same goes for your organizational values as well. So as I said, we developed an launch of new set of values over the past year, which we got high levels of input from from across the organization. Um, and I really see our jobs as internal comms pros as being the guardian of those values and always keeping coming back, reminding people and reinforcing them as well. And one way you can do that is through physical cues. So for example, when we launched them, we gave everybody a goodie bag that had some really practical and sustainable items in there that reminded people about each of the values.

Chloe Marsh (15:41):

So there were things that people could keep at their desk, either either at home or work or take with them out on site as well. Then we’ll always keep reinforcing them in the digital world as well. So an example of that is if people share a great story on Yama about a piece of work either they’ve done or a colleague has done, myself or the team will always reply to that and connect it back to one of the values that they were demonstrating. Also, when we launched our new internet earlier in the year, um, on the homepage we put something which we call Raising the Roof, um, and people can go into it and nominate someone and give them a shout out for living one of our values and they actually get what we call a thank you award, um, and a little voucher, um, to kind of positively reinforce living those values as well.

Chloe Marsh (16:36):

But just to end kind of the, this section about contribution, one thing I would really say is that I think as com professionals, sometimes we feel like we are repeating the same thing so much and think everyone will have heard this before, people are gonna get bored about hearing this, but when it comes to things like your purpose, your values, your vision, you cannot repeat these things too much. I think it’s in the advertising world, they say that you have to hear something at least seven times before people remember it. And I yeah, totally concur with this. So repeat it again and again and do that in different ways across different channels. So no matter how someone is consuming that content, they’re gonna be exposed, um, to that really important messaging. Yeah,

Asif Choudry (17:24):

And I like the fact that you’ve, um, , they say certainly in in creative agency world that um, when you are getting bored of the message, that’s usually when your end customer is just starting to get it. So it’s really important from a comms perspective that you are repurposing and engaging with that content because otherwise if you don’t, people just think, oh, why am I saying this? Cuz nobody’s even listening. Um, especially in the digital platforms where they can’t see an acknowledgement of a nod of a head or something like that. So it’s really important you’re doing that and it’s a great, a great tactic for sure.

Chloe Marsh (18:01):

The third C is confidence and that’s all about giving people the confidence to bring their whole self to work and that no matter who they are, they will feel valued, included and listened to. And an example of how we build that confidence is through employee-led storytelling. Think in a hybrid world where you don’t see people as often, it’s more important than ever for us to unearth and share those human stories. Um, and I think we all know that hearing from peers rather than kind of corporate communication is a lot more powerful and helps to build that trust and increase that emotional connection as well. So one example of how we have used, um, employee led storytelling is through something called a sunflower spotlight case studies. And this is a campaign where people from across the organization shared stories about, um, having an invisible disability or health condition. So the people who shared these stories were really courageous because they were quite personal. Um, however, they got a really huge amount of engagement, people really connected with them and I think that was either because people said it helped educate them and understand other people better or if actually someone had an invisible disability or health condition themselves, it helped them feel understood, um, and seen as well. So more and more we’re just trying to get these different stories out there through case studies, um, or videos or different campaigns as well.

Asif Choudry (19:49):

So that’s, um, the 3, 3, 3 C’s connection, contribution and confidence and really great examples of how you’ve implemented those in the organisation. Then Chloe, tell us, has this been more of a challenge in a hybrid world?

Chloe Marsh (20:06):

Yes, I think it’s definitely more of a challenge in a hybrid world, um, linked to what I mentioned earlier, um, I think when people are largely in the same physical space together, it that sense of belonging builds a lot more naturally, it’s a lot easier to keep people connected, so you’ve got to be a lot more purposeful about it. Also, we’re not only competing to cut through internal noise, but more and more we’re competing with external distractions that people are experiencing due to their day-to-day work. Um, and it’s actually said that, , the human attention span is now are only around eight seconds, so you have to work really hard, um, to capture people’s attention. I do think there’s things we can do though to help with that as internal communicators. Um, so one thing I would say is to refine your channels, um, because one thing that our employees told us, , during the pandemic is that they actually were experiencing information overload.

Chloe Marsh (21:18):

And that’s because some channels had organically kind of emerged and they were diluting our existing channels. So actually there was too much out there. They didn’t know where to go to for what and therefore they weren’t engaging with anything at all. Um, so what we did was carry out an internal channel audit, um, and that helped us establish what channels were effective and where our gaps were. Um, and from that we actually retired some channels. We enhanced some existing ones and we had new ones. Um, and we refreshed our channel matrix to make it really clear where to go to for what. The second thing I’d say is to really look at the quality of your content. So now we really focus on bite size content that is easily consumed across any channel, however anybody is working and where they’re working from. So that’s looking at things like video photography, infographics. We’ve also been exploring, , using content that people would consume outside of work. So, , putting together really short TikTok style videos or, um, using things like reels that you would find on Instagram. So

Asif Choudry (22:40):

Chloe, just to wrap up these questions and what are your three top tips for listeners to take away?

Chloe Marsh (22:46):

So the first one would be linked to what I was just saying and it is if you haven’t done an internal comms channel audit recently, I’d definitely recommend doing it and it’s absolutely essential that you get employees feedback within that. So we went around everybody’s huddles, um, to ask some different questions really to get what, what channels and content they really valued and where perhaps there were frustrations as well. Um, and from there when you’re putting your refresh channel mixed together, make sure your channels are not sitting in silos so that they are working together, um, and really complimenting one another as well. And final thing connected just to those channels I’d say is make sure there’s some rhythm and routine to your comms as well so that they become really ingrained as part of your culture. So for instance, as I said, we have an all company briefing, it’s every Tuesday at 10:00 AM People know that’s the time they’re get together.

Chloe Marsh (23:46):

Our e-newsletter comes out every Friday at the same time. We have our meaningful moments monthly and people then come to expect when they’re gonna get that, that content and that information that they can engage with. The second tip would be, as I said, around storytelling. So try and uner as many of those human stories as you can. But I’d say one important factor in that is, um, influencing external people in your organization to role model sharing their stories. So for instance, our chief executive has been absolutely amazing at sharing stories around his experiences with mental health and that has helped others feel that it’s a safe space to share their own personal experiences as well. And then the third tip I say comes back to my point about repetition. So repeat, repeat, repeat. A lot of the things I’ve been talking about in terms of the importance of building belonging do link back to people feeling connected to your organization’s purpose and values. Um, and as I said, you cannot repeat these things enough, so make sure you’re doing it different ways across different channels, um, and keeping that messaging fresh as well.

Asif Choudry (25:09):

Excellent. Thanks for all that Chloe. There’s loads of things that um, our listeners will be able to take away if they’re thinking of or they’re in the middle of a program or well along the way in building belonging in a hybrid world and in particular the role of internal communications. So Chloe, you are here because you’re part of the coma community and , a longtime supporter of Coma as well. And indeed and indeed that included chairing one of our events in London back in 2016 where the theme was Dare to Fail. So tell us why is Comms Zero important to you, , as a community and what do you recommend people in comms and marketing to be part of it?

Chloe Marsh (25:52):

So I would say becoming part of Comms Hero is one of the best things I’ve done in my career and it’s because you immediately become part of a community and it’s a community of people that do a similar role to you. They might experience similar challenges, but everybody brings a different experience and perspective and I think it links back to our conversation today about belonging. You really feel that sense of belonging and that you are part of something and that you are understood. Sometimes it might feel a bit lonely if you are out working the comms world and that maybe people in your audience organization don’t understand or value what you do. So you, you get connected with, with brilliant people that you can share and learn from. Have some fun along the way too. I’d also say that the Comms hero events are brilliant.

Chloe Marsh (26:46):

They’re not only a fantastic way to learn and hear from a really diverse range of experts, but one of the things you do so well at those events too is helping people network and build connections with other people as well that can really, you know, not help them just professionally but personally as well. And you’re just doing a brilliant job of keeping those conversations, connections going all year round, um, as well. So I would absolutely recommend anyone who works in comms and marketing to connect in with the comms here community, go to the Coms hero event because you are definitely gonna get a lot of value from it.

Asif Choudry (27:26):

Well thank you Chloe for sharing that and it’s , it’s appreciated. And um, what’s it like chairing one of the events then?

Chloe Marsh (27:33):

Oh, it was brilliant. I felt really honored that I got to, I got to share the event and it was a great topic with with Dare to Fail. So I have to admit I was a bit nervous beforehand, but I just, all I have is brilliant memories of the day. Um, it was a lot of fun. There was a great, great group there. Um, and we had some, yeah, absolutely fantastic speakers. So, um, loved sharing it but also loved being a delegate as well and, and hearing from all those speakers, getting involved in the activities and kind of making connections with um, lots of people I’ve never met before.

Asif Choudry (28:05):

Yeah, and I totally echo your points that you mentioned earlier in, um, the tactics and comm strategies that you’ve employed within R H P group about repetition because that’s the whole point of getting that message. You know, nine years into the Comms Zero journey that um, , we’ve had to keep engaging with people. We’ve wanted to keep engaging cuz to keep that sense of belonging, community going, people need to know that they’re being responded to or listened to, um, and putting events on whether it was, um, , virtually because of the pandemic or going back to in person now it’s an absolutely crucial part of keeping any campaign going. You’ve got to put the time in and, um, if the messages are right and they’re kept fresh over the years, then community will grow and people will want to, you’ll, you’ll, you’ll keep attracting people to that community and retaining the people who are in it from the beginning as well, like yourself. There’s a lot of people who nine years on are still very much part of the, , community as well, which is always great to see. And you mentioned connection and connecting in your three Cs, but also what you’ve benefited from, , being part of the network we’re, I’m always keen to encourage people connecting to our guests. So Chloe, tell us where will the, um, listeners find you, what the best social handles?

Chloe Marsh (29:31):

Yeah, so, , people can find me on Twitter and my handle is at Chloe Alexandra seven. Um, and you can also connect with me on LinkedIn as well.

Asif Choudry (29:42):

Amazing. And you’ll find this podcast on Spotify, apple and on our website com and you can follow us on twitter @CommsHero. If you do listen on Spotify and Apple, please do leave a rating and review. So Chloe, it’s been a fascinating conversation and it’s been, great to catch up.

Chloe Marsh (30:00):

Thanks so much as if I’ve really, really enjoyed it and yeah, great to have a chat.