Hi, I’m Lisa and I’m a creative communications professional. I wear a lot of hats. Both literally and metaphorically (and I’m always on the quest for magnificent millinery to fit my sizeable head). 2022 was an interesting year, personally and professionally.
International travel opened up once again – and I took full advantage. The nature of my work meant I could spend a little more time with friends and family, and I’ve been spending more time hanging out with fellow artists too!
10 highlights from my year include:
Devising the user-centred content strategy for a manufacturing company’s new website – I interviewed a diverse range of users including someone running the lab at a nuclear power plant in Canada!
I also visited Red Hat Towers, went out and about solving an immersive puzzle in Swansea, joined a photographer’s walk with photographer extraordinaire Danny Jackson, took part in a fantastic retreat run by Laura Brunton, filled a pub with friends and family for my 40th, ran a Taskmaster-style game event for ~35 people and more.
Independent consultants don’t operate in isolation, and 2022 feels like a year where I’ve properly (re)found my tribes – and I’m looking forward to seeing what 2023 has in store.
I help organisations improve the way they communicate. I’m usually the techiest person in a comms team, or the commsiest person in a tech or product team – or am brought in to advise teams on the best way forward.
Over the years I’ve worked in-house, vendor and agency-side, freelance, as a contractor, consultant and associate. I’m often found working in and around intranets and internal comms, as well as managing digital products and projects for large organisations.
I bring an artist’s perspective to visualising business processes and customer journeys and help connect people and ideas. If you’d like to connect with me, drop me a line at lisa [@] lisariemers.com or find me on LinkedIn.
I miss people. I thrive off bouncing ideas off others. I miss having random conversations which then lead to ideas. I miss feeling relaxed in the proximity of actual humans. Video calls can be brilliant, and they can be overwhelming.
There are ways to make video calls not quite so terrible, and in some cases brilliant. I’ve compiled some of my thoughts about what has worked for me during 2020, in the hope there may be a thing that works for you, too.
Talking shapes thinking
We’ve been watching a lot of House recently. I mean the TV show, not the building that we’re watching it in. Although we’ve been watching a lot of that, too.
Greg House needs someone to argue with him. Someone to agree with him, someone to back him up. It reminds me of the fact that talking can help shape thinking. It certainly helps me.
When lockdown-1 lifted, and we met in a socially distanced pub, our conversation led to all sorts of brilliant ideas. Well, at least we thought they were at the time. Maybe it was the beer. But it certainly filled me with joy.
According to constructivist learning theory, people make meaning out of experience.
The reference may be dusty, but is from Bruner’s 1990 book “Acts of Meaning” which I learned about when I originally trained to become a teacher.
While they may not have the same weight as a face to face chat and a hug, it is possible to make meaningful experiences via the interweb.
Time to think a bit differently
Time to talk is important. And making time to pause and think is valuable too.
But if you’ve been spending all your time on back to back work calls (or haven’t spoken to anyone for a while) talking socially can feel daunting.
You could, as we all know, try going for a walk. If that feels like too much, having a lie-down, listening to music, or a podcast, or audio book can help. Particularly if you’ve developed a visual migraine from all that doom-scrolling.
Lockdown means I’ve finally found a way to listen to podcasts, as I’ve always got my headphones on. I’m enjoying Matt and Chris Weston’s WB-40 podcast. And, the corresponding WhatsApp group, nay, community is brilliant.
When I need to develop my thinking, or decompress, bouncing ideas off other people can be invaluable. Whether it’s via Slack, WhatsApp, a spontaneous call, SMS, or a voicenote.
I’ve also rediscovered a love of letters. Well, digitally-printed postcards. I signed up to Touchnote a while back and have a whole bunch of credits just waiting for me to use them.
Make your lockdown circle a little wider
In the past I have introduced people who may have something in common. Over brunch, at parties, meetings or conferences like Intranet Now.
How about bringing someone new to your next video call, or connect via WhatsApp? Maybe you have friends with kids of a similar age who might get on? Or like reading hard science fiction. Or are fans of imperial stouts. Or live in the same area. Or, well, they know *you*.
I’ve been thinking about the people I’ve not seen for ages. People who live further away – who I can now see more of as distance is meaningless.
People working on similar, but otherwise unrelated projects to me. People who I’d speak to in the office and have a good natter with around the coffee machine. Or even go for a coffee or lunch with, but haven’t been in touch with since. (Hi if you’re reading this!)
And the people who I either forget, or never knew the names of that I’d have a natter with on the way.
Join a virtual meet-up
There are lots of great (currently virtual) events and communities available on web apps like MeetUp and via EventBrite and Twitter. I’ve joined events which boost my creativity and help connect with like-minded people. I’ve particularly enjoyed participating in the NHS Make For Tomorrow programme.
In the game of lockdown life, who are your NPCs?
Who do you miss from the before times? Are there people you forgot you missed, until reading this now?
An NPC (non-player character) is someone who may not feature heavily in a game, but may have an influence in how it turns out. And can take on an important life of their own.
Andy the Talking Dog, from a game of Over the Edge I played in a few years ago, is exactly the sort of character I mean. His image weirdly persists in my brain.
Out-of-game, I miss the regulars at the pub (who I may know by face, if not name), I miss the conversations about art exhibitions in the sandwich shop near my old office, I miss chatting about the latest TV shows with people I don’t directly work with.
Some people, like John Callaghan, are brilliant at weaving stories and running RPGs. In his words, “the notes in the [surprisingly detailed] book are the start-point for the group to spring off from, and they change and evolve”. How about providing some notes, or starter questions, for your next call?
Think like a gamer on your next video call
Asking questions – especially ones that don’t highlight how little people have actually been up to recently, can help people escape.
Kinda like playing a role-playing game (RPG). In an RPG you have a group of people, essentially telling a story together, but you don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy some good old fashioned storytelling.
Video calls can feel a bit chaotic without someone “in charge” – although often someone will step in. Like a GM (Games Master).
Assign one or two people as hosts to help bring the best out of your participants!
You cannot overdress on the Orient Express
I recently ran an evening event which ended up lasting 5 hours. Five! It ended up feeling less like an RPG (or terribly long meeting) and more like an informal panel show, like Alan Davies’ “As Yet Untitled”.
I read once that “You cannot overdress on the Orient Express” – what better subject for night of virtual escapism? Can you picture yourself in this scene?
Ahead of the session I provided a short write up and found a video setting I liked to help get people in the mood. You could also prepare a playlist to share with people ahead of time, or during the event.
I found a suitable background image, wrangled with some green towels, a canvas and an easel to make an almost passable green screen on Zoom. (I’m amazed at how much better MS Teams is at substituting background images).
I donned my fave vintage jacket and played hostess, asking a few prompt questions which can also work in less elaborate set-ups.
If we were dining on the Orient Express (and money was obviously no object) what would you order off the menu? Where would we be going next?
Questions to ask in your next Zoom call
Which 3 actors would play you in a film of your life? As a child, younger and older adult. You can pick actors from any age. And if someone gets stuck, others can chip in with their suggestions and look-a-likes.
Desert Island Discs– what songs have a specific meaning for you, and why? We’ve played this within our household casting YouTube to the telly, but you could share playlists remotely.
Are there any films that have a special meaning for you? Are there any that you can personally relate to? What about movies that you go back to again and again?
Snacks! Have you discovered any good biscuits / crisps / snacks recently? Or made any recipes that you’re particularly proud of? Snacks feature heavily in pretty much every channel I’m part of right now, and probably rightly so.
Play actual games!
There are lots of resources available to help you connect with virtual or physical props.
I’ve been enjoying a virtual poker night where we use a combination of the PPPoker App and Jitsi for video calling (other apps are available). We play the game on one device, and see other players’ faces on another.
I’ve also seen (but not tried myself) setting up boardgames to play remotely via an elaborate webcam set-up. Gloomhaven works particularly well for this, apparently. As the GM, you need your players to print a few things out, and two webcams – one pointing at whoever has ownership of the board, one at your faces. But once set up, it can work as a regular session!
Board Game Arena has lots of licenced digitised boardgames available to play. And there are lots of board games which have great apps available to play on your mobile, too. I particularly like Ticket to Ride (although Splendor and Tokaido work well too).
If you’re lucky enough to live with other people, you could buy some physical boardgames, too. I’ve found that Azul, Roll for the Galaxy and Isle of Cats work particularly well with two players.
Board Game Geek has brilliant reviews of All of The Games (particularly useful if you spot any lurking in The Works and want to see if they’re any good).
My friend Glen runs The Mug and Meeple shop and game cafe in Gravesend, is very knowledgeable about games and gives great advice if you’re not sure what to buy.
And, If you want to lose several hours of your life / have a filler game then I can recommend the Doctor Who Thirteen game. It’s browser-based and fiendishly addictive. And you can play while listening to a podcast, too!
These are my experiences, how about yours?
This year, I’ve trained over 1,000 people on Microsoft Teams, played virtual host for ministerial webinars, participated in meet-ups and virtual coffees, and socialised on calls that have gone on for hours.
I’m in an incredibly privileged position in my lockdown set-up and am luckier than lots of people. I’ve also wanted to unplug every device under the sun and tried to shut myself away, only to start crawling the walls.
So, how are you doing? Do you have any tips to share?
2018 was a very interesting year indeed. Both in the ‘participation in fascinating projects’ sense, and ‘interesting times’ proverbial way.
Worked with some brilliant organisations as a content designer, making web content easier to access
Brought my experience training as a teacher to work – I’ve facilitated workshops for central government departments and edited teaching resources on the British Red Cross website to make them easier to access for teachers
Worked on video and web content for a big four professional services firm to help recruit the best young people
Ghost-written for (amongst other things) charities, big pharma and an org who supports responsible drinking
Photographed, sketch-noted and live-tweeted events and written up post-event reports
Proofread some interesting documents including the Step Two #IDWawards which showcase great practice in intranets and digital workplaces
Participated in panel discussions about content design, branding and intranet technology
Helped small businesses improve their web presence
Written a byline on how much I love headphones which help me get more work done wherever I’m based, and commented elsewhere in Voice, the IOIC magazine
Co-organised and co-hosted Intranet Now – the best independent conference for comms and intranet people with Wedge Black
Oh, and this is the year I went freelance, did my first ever speaking gig and have been finding my way through it all.
This means I have also:
Been delighted at the lack of office politics although I can be an awful boss who has had to learn how to set boundaries with my employee. Setting up a separate space to work, where I can close the door at the end of the day has been brilliant and long-overdue.
Missed having the IT support of a large organisation, having to navigate the joys of selecting your own tech, setting up inboxes and remote working processes, with the pitfalls of having to be the first and second-line support when it goes wrong.
Not missed picking up every bug my helpful colleagues bring into the office, but missed the sick pay when rendered immobile with a broken foot.
Reminded myself about the power of networks. Most of my work has been directly or indirectly through recommendations, and people I know. I’ve worked with some brilliant people this year, who have helped me get to where I need to. I’ve long been a fan of finding your allies, inside and outside your organisation but when you’re physically on your own (rather than just feeling that way in a large org) it’s more important than ever.
Navigated the minefield of switching registers; there have been times this year when I’ve had three clients at once. Each project comes with its own standards, processes, rules of engagement and controls – switching from one to another has caused a little friction at times.
Been surprised at my lower incidental spend, with reduced travel costs, random ‘treats’ at the shops while waiting for my train or spending £10 a day on coffee and lunch.
Spent a considerable amount of time questioning my judgement, my sanity, and wondering where the next contract might come. It’s not all flat whites and co-working spaces; keeping your mental health, particularly when you’re working from home and seeing people less often means it can be easy to forget to leave the house for days. It’s been particularly challenging at times when I’ve been unable to get out and about, but I’ve also been delighted by catching up with friends and colleagues at home.
Next year I want to:
Do more of the good work. My favourite contract this year, working with Methods for Public Health England’s #everymindmatters campaign, involved content I am passionate about, great colleagues to bounce ideas off (hi Rob Finch), a great team that did Agile really well and a mix of working on-site and at home.
Get better at introducing myself. I wear a few hats, and am a few different things to different people. A portfolio career makes it more important than ever to know how to say “hello” depending on who you are speaking to. I read a great blog from Rachel Miller featuring Janet Murray – both comms professionals who are brilliant at telling their story. I’m improving how I do this in writing, but when it comes to in-person I’m definitely a work in progress!
Put myself forward for more speaking opportunities. I’ve had some really interesting experiences this year and it’s something I’ve enjoyed – and I’m looking forward to what next year has in store.
If I sound like someone you’d like to work with, let me know – lisa [@] lisariemers.com or get in touch with me on Twitter.
How do you write in the now when tomorrow already came?
If someone finds a piece of content, is it immediately clear if it is in the past, present or talking about the future?
And with weighted timelines throwing content all over the place, how can you make sure it still makes sense? (I’m looking at you, Instagram and LinkedIn).
It’s particularly relevant if you’re promoting an event or time-specific giveaway. If readers see your content bumped up their timeline three days later, how do you make it work?
Whether it’s social content, web copy or intranet news, it’s unlikely people will see it right away. How do you make sure your copy stands the test of wibbly wobbly time-y wimey?
A tense situation
Have you ever reached a sign-up page to find the event’s already full? Or worse – has already happened?
Wedge once gave my meet-up an excellent talk featuring a tense discussion about intranet content. If you write in the present where possible, you’re far less likely to confuse or disappoint your readers.
Suggesting something will happen in the near future is a sure-fire way to put a shelf-life on your copy. Unless you’re planning on updating it. And who has the time for that?
At least on a news article, content usually has a date stamp. But it’s not always clearly displayed. And as pages get reformatted or archived, historic content becomes less easy to navigate. Getting rid of out-of-date content is probably a subject for another post, but less is usually more.
What about links to other relevant info if the date has in fact passed?
If users find a web page from search, social or serendipity, make sure it makes sense on its own.
A timely call to arms
It’s communications 101 to give people the information they need, when they need it. If you have a time-specific call-to-action (CTA), be clear about what you want your reader to do, whatever time it is now.
It might be a personal preference, but I find including the day of the week can help too – whatever your official style guide says.
Listen online from 6pm, Thursday 14 September is clear to understand. And reduces the cognitive load for people who need to go find a date of posting, and check whether Available tonight from 6pm has passed.
Keeping your pictures on the shelf
You might find that any graphics you do make have a longer shelf-life on social media, or appear fleetingly, but out of sync. Thanks, algorithms.
Using something that counts in real time is great. But I wouldn’t waste too much time (and budget) on count-down pictures on social.
Keep that tense-specific context to the surrounding post. That way you can also re-use that image in the future. And can help keep the word count on your pictures down, which is particularly useful on Facebook (not to mention from an accessibility point of view).
Well, here we are
I am here, NOW, writing this. But you are reading this in the future.
I’m not having an existential crisis (I don’t think).
But I DO have some availability for content design, web projects and digital strategy. Or at least I did at 2pm on Friday 12th March 2021.
What about you? If you’ve got a tip to add, bugbear to share or want to meet for a coffee and chat about how I could help your organisation, I’d love to hear from you!
Last week I went along to a meet-up called Intranetters, which is an awesome, predominantly London-based way to speak to other people involved in intranets.
It’s the first Intranetters meet I’ve been to and it was really rather good. Led by Richard Hare, it was a great opportunity to see a brilliant case study from Barclays and hear from the chaps at Twine.
Barclays LMS case study
It’s rare to get the chance to get an in-depth review of someone else’s intranet site. I really enjoyed hearing how Iain Trundle and Simon Thompson worked with a crack-squad to create a great-looking learning management system overlay for Barclays.
Three themes I took away from the talk:
Bridge the gap rather than build a barrier
Add value to, rather than seek to replace existing management systems by providing connections and in-document search – SharePoint can be used to create an attractive interface, whilst using the back-end LMS and other systems for administration.
Hone your craft
Take the best bits from elsewhere online to make user-friendly, engaging style, and take the time to write micro-copy to be as engaging as possible and add real value for your employees.
Deliver nice things and get more money
Echoing a theme I took from Shaula‘s award-winning lightning speech at Intranet Now, take opportunities for funding that come your way!
If you are interested in finding out more about this case study, you can view an overview presentation delivered recently by Martin Pope at the Intranet Now Conference .
Twine – making Agile work
I was interested to hear about Twine‘s work with graduate scheme participants to create a useful self-service portal for the NHS.
The case study was a fantastic example of working in a truly agile way, with two weeks on, and two weeks “off” for measurement, with fortnightly workshops to get feedback and plan the next sprint.
In my experience, it can be difficult to get that level of commitment from business stakeholders, who may have time to do that for a fixed period of time – say 3-4 weeks, but are unlikely to be able to commit for a longer period of time.
I am sure that this work on the portal had a positive impact also to the graduates’ experience of their learning scheme. With a defined reason to regroup, the discussion forums then become a natural extension to, and way to solidify and expand on conversations that have happened offline.
I have had similar success stories for much smaller projects or sub-groups; the successful use of a team site to cope through an enormous business change process with the implementation of a new finance system springs to mind.
Having a defined, discrete audience of interested stakeholders looking to solve a similar problem will definitely help drive better adoption. Which sounds entirely like common sense now I’ve written it, but finding a team that actually *wants* your help is one of the best ways I’ve found to generate success stories for my intranet.
It was also good to discuss just how integrated you should aim to be with other systems – depending on how often your data updates, a manual upload/download of data should suffice.
We also looked at an interesting case study of Shell’s Ideation project. With a robust process in place to receive, feed back and develop ideas, it was a great example of how well ideation programmes can work when the appropriate systems (as in business processes, not necessarily IT) are in place.
In the pub
So one of the best parts of these sorts of events took place in the pub next door. I got some great advice from industry experts (and hopefully was able to share some of my learnings too). I’d definitely recommend going along to the next event – find out more @Intranetters!
I have enjoyed going back through the presentations, trying not to forget the many things I heard, digesting things to become things I’ve learned and connecting with attendees over on the Twitter and on LinkedIn
I already wrote about 42ish things I heard there – with a morning full of lightning-quick talks and some longer debates, there are obviously MANY more than that – here’s a few more!
43-47ish We, like He-Man, have the POWER
While at times it may feel like our business systems are terrible aren’t up to the standard that we would like them to be, we as digital communicators, intranet managers, enablers of change, webmasters and/or portal wizards play a vital role in the success (or failure) of the projects we are part of.
48-52 Design adds value
It’s not about making things look “pretty”, but great design can be the difference between users loving, or grudgingly tolerating your site. Worry less about the technology and more about what you’re trying to achieve, make sure it works, and remember: good design saves lives*
*accidentally revealing sensitive user data
53-58 Work together with other stakeholders to make a trustworthy intranet
For me, a common theme of the day was making sure you get the right stakeholders involved at the right time – I think it can be easy to retreat behind a PID/backlog/*insert other projecty term here* without getting out and building your gang.
59 – 64 – Do not build unless they bang on
Possibly the most beautiful story of agile I’ve ever heard, Shaula’s award-winning intranet shows what happens when you prioritise only what is wanted, and delight people by keeping their expectations low but delivering wonders!
65-70 The further from base, the less they comply
A great talk on the challenges of dealing with hard to reach workers. As well as discussing the ways of building a perfect business case, which hits the needs of employees at all levels of your organisation, Sara discussed an interesting study about compliance. The further away an office is from HQ, the less likely they are to comply with your rules. So make the time to get out there and see the outliers!
Reasons to be cheerful – Seventy One, Two, Three
Tailor your use-cases for the types of adopter to build your advocates network and drive adoption at all levels throughout your organisation.
74-78 Be more like Taylor Swift*
There will always be doubters, so getting your advocates on side is vital. There will be a point where you become curators, rather than curators of the majority of content on your site.
79-84 – Fortune favours the bold – turn off legacy sites
Assumptions, like cooked frozen peas, rise to the surface pretty quickly – make sure you identify the real pain points. Tom did a great presentation on the many tools available to help make your intranet a success…. be bold, and turn off old tools to get users on your site!
85-89 – Get thee behind me, satan team
It can feel like a pretty lonely job, where you’re constantly writing your own job description, trying to deliver change in the face of adversity. Susan Quain gave some excellent advice about making the project yours, and demonstrating its value and importance to the organisation you are in.
90 – Enter the UNconference – it’s ok to ask your peers how they cope
I found Susan’s speech so inspiring that I ventured up on stage to ask an audience comprised of friends, peers and complete strangers about THEIR coping mechanisms, for the unconference break-out sessions.
91-98ish Governance, training, workflows, find your family, wine
There were so many things we covered in the afternoon sessions, though my top takeaways:
have a governance policy, but actually a process to follow it up, with people that are empowered to do it.
make connections with people in and outside of your organisation and see them often, to remind yourself why you’re doing this
try and get someone to have a look at your search logs and make some recommendations
steal lovingly from other people – most intranet-types are happy to share what they can to help you
one word search doesn’t have to be a problem
always make time for wine
99-100 – Have the wisdom to know the difference
Now James Robertson is a pretty inspirational chap, and gave me some great advice in the bar afterwards. I managed to reel off a list of challenges, many of which are completely outside of my control, and he pointed this out and reminded me that there are things I DO have power over, and that we can achieve great things when we focus.
I hadn’t realised, until my first write-up was retweeted by Francis Rowland, that there’s an official term – sketchnotes – for scrawling visual notes.
I’ve seen them around, usually created by skilled illustrators, but didn’t realise they were, in themselves, a medium. So there’s an unexpected takeaway too.
Phew. Thanks for reading this far! I found the day was probably one of the most valuable conference/events I’ve ever been to, albeit packed with so many top-level learnings that I’m still compiling my own internal code of it all.
This week I had the joy of going to an event filled with a very specific kind of geek. Whether your term of choice is the digital workplace, intranet, portal, gateway, hub or dumping ground, I got to speak, listen and learn with people inordinately passionate about improving the way people communicate online at the Intranet Now conference.
Now, I’ve been told off in the past that doodling in my notepad doesn’t look all that professional, but I actually find it’s a great way of retaining knowledge. For example, I can still tell you that Jerome Bruner, that great educational constructivist type (ok, that’s getting a little rusty) wrote at length about scaffolding childrens’ learning, as I once drew his name into a large wall, covered in scaffolding poles.
How do you eat an elephant? One bitesize piece of learning and development content, delivered just in time, at a time.
20-24: Start small, but scaleable to make loveable content
Or why iterative, cloud-based development may in fact be our future. I also love cranes and lego.
25-30: Remember the ubiquitous laws of the interweb.
In my humble experience of managing online communities, the biggest challenge for a workplace social network can be to get people to participate in the first place; once you DO have that critical mass of people using the site, remembering these four rules will stand you in great stead for building a positive network!
Don’t draw unnecessarily large levels of attention to things that would otherwise go unnoticed
Step in where necessary so debates don’t descend into anarchy
Take time to understand your audience – tone doesn’t travel
Anonymity transcends all moral decency – make promises not threats to deal with dissidence appropriately.
31-35ish: If you succeed, you’re a statistical anomaly
Apart from following the above rules, transparency is key. Listen to your community, make sure there are clear rules for governance and ownership.
36-42: Colonel Mustard, in the library, with the RFID-enabled candlestick
There’s a beautiful, connected future at our fingertips. Imagine that you could use YOUR intranet to play a massive, multi-player game of Cluedo, using your building information management system, RFID tags, wifi beacons and smartphones. Invotra, I’m looking at YOU to make. this.happen.
Or, perhaps you’d find it more useful to know if a meeting room was available, or who turned up to a training session, or where in the building hotdesking Fred is sitting today.
Either way, there are practical ways to connect our online and physical worlds – I’m sure Paul would love to talk to you more about it.
Such learn. So doodles. So wow. Hopefully more to come…
I’ve been wrangling with whether to create a separate “work” and “play” Twitter account, but there’s often so much crossover between the two. If you found this, you may already follow me on the Twitter. Come and join the puns…