2021 calendar

Delivering for “different” in 2021

This year’s been longer than usual and mostly awful, but it’s given us all some time to think. 

One of the things we’ve been reflecting on is the immediate future of work, whether the “new normal” just becomes “normal” for millions of workers, and how unions should adapt to this.

For so many, the pandemic has made going to work riskier and more stressful than ever before. In doing so, it’s exposed new strengths and weaknesses in workers’ relationships with their employer. For many others, who have been asked to stay at home, it’s meant working from a kitchen table, endless Zoom calls, a blurring of work and home life and a loss of the social bonds normally formed through the casual interactions of the workplace. For everyone, it’s been different – very different.

While we might see the good news about vaccines as heralding a “return to normal” sometime in 2021, many employers – and employees – will want things to change. Moreover, the economic picture is likely to continue to be very bleak for several years to come. We might want to go back to something like normal, but it might not be wholly up to us.

To think about the adaptations unions might make to account for these vast changes in work, we need to understand precisely what’s changed. And we need to do that quickly, or we risk falling behind the changed circumstances our members find themselves in. 

In the TUC Digital Lab, when we talk about digital transformation of unions, we try to think about our members’ journey to think about how we can best serve and support people at work. While the pandemic has changed this journey for nearly every worker, it remains an incredibly useful tool to help us identify how unions can better serve current and prospective members.

Here are some ideas for working it out, and how to use it to develop and test some new ideas:

1. Start with research

  • Talk to lots of members. Surveys can play a role, but the key tool is an interview or conversation. Try to understand their situation and how they perceive what they need, rather than introducing any of your own ideas. Even a small number of in-depth interviews will give you useful insights.
  • How has work changed for them? What do they need from a union now? How do they feel? What patterns do you see?
  • (Some unions represent workers who all do very similar work, while others are more diverse. This means you need to try and talk to as many of them as possible).

2. Map the member journey

  • What do members’ needs and interactions with the union look like now? 
  • Try making a sketch (from left to right) that includes distinct phases: becoming aware of the union, joining, getting more involved, accessing help and advice and supporting the needs of staff and officials. The way people interact with you vs. a year ago will have shifted – are you offering the right things?
  • Think also about how it all happens. Can map the direct interactions you have with members, as well as the underlying processes that allow those interactions to happen at all? 
  • Try and identify – where are the gaps? What haven’t we spent enough time on? What opportunities are there? 
  • What are our ideas for taking advantage of them?
  • Take a look at our write up from last year’s “Service Design for Unions” session for some further tips and inspiration.

3. Think about recruitment

  • Many unions who recruit in person, use paper forms or check-off, will have found that harder this year. How can you find people where they are? 
  • Take a look at our posts on joining online and organising and how to make these as easy as possible for new members (short answer: make it short, don’t ask things people won’t know off the top of their head).
  • By the end of Q1 2021, the government furlough scheme will likely end. Many employees whose jobs are currently supported will look at this moment with anxiety. Who are they? How might you reach them and talk to them about joining the union?

4. Check whether your information and services are working for you

  • Work out the interactions that matter most for you and for your members. Audit how these are currently working.
  • What are people searching for on your site? Which services are they accessing? Which pages are they viewing? If they’re calling, are they doing so because they failed to find relevant information elsewhere? How can you help them get what they need?
  • Create new pages in your CMS to give people the information they need, paying particular attention to your content strategy and design.

5. Plan how you’ll measure everything.

  • You can measure at least *something* about every step of the member journey. For example, the rate at which people ‘convert’ to being a member or their satisfaction with a particular web page of information (use analytics software to see how they discovered it, how long they spent looking at it and what they did next).
  • Look back at our post on union data for some thinking on this.

6. Look at your own team and resources for delivering new projects:

  • What can we do ourselves?
  • What might we do in collaboration with other unions?
  • What tools do we have right now?
  • What skills do you need more of in the union, both specialist expertise and digital skills you need to make more mainstream?
  • Run a simple prioritisation of all of your ideas (for example, on a simple chart, put ‘ease’ on the x-axis and ‘impact’ on the y-axis, then add all your ideas in approximately the right place. Start with the items in the top right area of the chart!).

The pandemic has often been personally and organisationally overwhelming. Though the end appears to be in sight, it’s likely to only be the end of the beginning. However, unlike with a vaccine, there’s no shot in the arm that’ll make our unions ready for the digital challenges we face. We have to set ourselves up to be always vigilant and to be adaptive to the always changing needs of members. 

By following some of the steps above, you can find sensible, affordable, practical ways to get started.