HPE CCO Emphasizes Internal Communication as Half its Workforce Plans to WFH Post-Virus

working mom at home distracted by kids
Jennifer Temple
Chief Communications Officer

[Editor’s Note: It’s difficult enough for internal communicators to maintain a corporate culture when employees are on site. For Jennifer Temple, CCO at HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise), internal communication now means connecting with homebound employees. And that’s likely to continue indefinitely. Half of HPE’s 62,000 global staff will continue to work from home after the pandemic, she reckons.

Temple believes basics, such as transparency and cadence, have facilitated communication with a segmented workforce during the pandemic. “Transparency is what matters most,” she says. “Even when we don’t have all the answers,” staff want to hear from leaders. Her remarks are lightly edited.]


PRNEWS: What have you learned about internal communication during COVID-19 so far?

Jennifer Temple: We had to create ways to provide more opportunities for employees to be heard as they adjusted to a remote work life. Working from home full-time eliminated the hallway conversations and impromptu encounters that can foster workplace relationships.

Right as offices began closing, we called on all our leaders to reach out to each team member, individually, at least once a week to check in and see how they’re doing and to offer any help they could provide.

The call isn’t to talk about work; it’s to discuss life. This helps not only from a communication standpoint, but also a mental wellbeing one.


PRN: That’s tremendous. What else did you learn?


Temple:We’ve proven we can work from home effectively, and that the pandemic will change what the future of work will look like in the long-term.

When surveyed this summer, our team members said they like the flexibility to work at home or outside the office, and that they prefer to leverage offices for social connection and collaboration. With this in mind, we see the role of the physical office shifting to culture and collaboration hubs with fewer team members at dedicated workstations.

This has major implications for internal communication, and how we reach team members and continue to support our culture and connections among our teams.

The world is ever-changing. What seemed to make an impact in the workplace before, may not work tomorrow. That’s why it will take sustained, thoughtful engagement to drive real change as we continue to navigate life for our employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s highly likely that up to 50 percent of [HPE’s] workforce will never return to the office to do their job on a daily basis.

Last, one of the main lessons...is that transparency is what matters most. Even when we don’t have all the answers, our team members want to hear from us, connect with us. So, frequent engagements that allow them to ask questions and hear what we know will remain a key priority for us.


PRNEWS: What’s worked and what hasn’t with internal communication during the pandemic?


Temple: What’s worked has been the cadence of communication and frequent, authentic engagement from leaders. In times of crisis, people want leaders to be visible and vocal. We have made every effort to ensure that level of high-touch engagement throughout the organization.

The flip side...is that crisis also causes people to demand immediate action. And in a situation as fluid as this pandemic, that’s just not always advisable or possible.

So, while we’re communicating openly and often, many of those messages are about things that we’re planning for or debating–such as what the long-term view of our work experience will look like. We want to take the time to get critical decisions right, but that’s admittedly not always the most satisfying thing to hear when you’re under stress.


PRNEWS: Did the pandemic change your approach to internal communication?


Temple: Yes, the pandemic changed a lot. We’re not just communicating with team members, but also fostering connection and engagement with a more remote workforce.

At the outset of the pandemic, we committed to open and transparent dialogue and updates with team members. We increased the cadence of global, all-team-member meetings from quarterly to weekly, then every other week, and now monthly as conditions relaxed a little in the crisis.

We are using regular pulse surveys to gauge work experience satisfaction. Our most recent results found that most (87 percent) feel that culture remains strong at HPE. Additionally, a majority (89 percent) shared that they can still collaborate effectively with peers despite working remotely.


PRNEWS: Are you using dedicated platforms?


Temple: Yes. We supplement our all-team member meetings with content and resources on our company-wide intranet. It is updated every day. HPE Insider provides the latest information on HPE’s COVID response as well as business-as-usual updates. Part of that is a COVID-19 Resource Center, which provides the latest updates, policies, and resources.


PRNEWS: The pandemic has fragmented employees. How are you addressing that?


Temple: From the outset, we recognized that team members are in different circumstances. And they’re struggling with different realities…Some are balancing working from home with schooling children from home. Others are caring for or are concerned about aging family members. Some live alone and are struggling with isolation.

To ensure we support employees, we built virtual communities leveraging live digital platforms, podcasts and Yammer, which connect team members facing similar struggles.

This offers an opportunity to discuss how they are coping and share practical tips. They can also connect with HPE leaders and medical experts, which creates a global buddy system and support network.


PRNEWS: Are you tailoring communication to employees depending on where they live?


Temple: Our communication strategy has been global, but executed locally. For example, as we prepare to re-open certain offices, our global Crisis Management Team (CMT) has created a Return-to-Work playbook, which provides guidance on returning to the field and the office–and communication tools to share updates with team members.

However, the decision as to when to return to the office is made at the country or, in the US, site level, based on the local COVID-19 situation. The approach does not rely simply on whether a government permits reopening, but a broader set of recommendations from our corporate CMT.


PRN: Many PR pros say communicating with empathy is critical today. What’s your view?

Temple: Two things people are looking for in leaders now are visibility and empathy. Employees want to hear from trustworthy leaders…They want them out in front of issues, sharing what they know. But they also want their leaders to know how they feel, and we are making progress on that.

For example, 92 percent of our team members said in our recent employee experience survey that their direct leaders have shown a genuine interest in their well-being.

Our team members want to know that leaders are listening, that they really understand what people are going through, and are acting with everyone’s best interest in mind.

That’s why the role of communication has never been more important. Whether it is through direct conversations about the challenges our employees face, more frequent virtual team meetings and public statements expressing our personal experiences and company actions, we’ve committed to providing that balance of action and humanity that employees expect from their leadership team during this crisis.

BLM and Internal Communication


PRN: How did you factor BLM into your internal and external communication?


Temple: One of our key cultural beliefs is to be unconditionally inclusive. We know unconditional inclusivity is critical to capturing the ideas and perspectives that fuel innovation and enable our workforce, customers and communities to succeed in the digital age.

But in this moment, we can’t just commit to a universal notion of inclusion. We know we have to prioritize the issue of race when speaking about inclusion and diversity.

Very soon after George Floyd was killed, our CEO Antonio Neri issued a memo to team members, which was also shared externally, committing to speak up on inclusion and to advocate for racial equality–within and outside HPE.

Even for companies were focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I), it was clear that we were entering a new chapter, and it had to start with listening.


PRNEWS: So, what actions did HPE take?


Temple: Our leadership team began meeting with Black team members to hear their stories and experiences. While we received some praise for our corporate culture and DE&I efforts, one of the recurring themes was that there are more subtle issues that are causing pain and preventing progress.

Following our initial listening tour, we hosted an all-team member meeting to share what we heard and outline near-term actions, including launching a global HPE Inclusion and Diversity Council, an integrated advocacy program, enhanced leadership training and support for student scholars at Historically Black Colleges and universities over five years.

Our D&I Council is reviewing goals and programs to see how we can use the feedback we heard. We won’t be able to solve everything at once, and we won’t always get it just right, but we will press forward. The time is now. It starts with us and the only way to succeed is to be all-in.

Contact: [email protected]