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Making a Case for an Office Newsletter: Part 1

By SRAI News posted 12-09-2021 09:28 AM


Making a Case for an Office Newsletter: Part 1

I started writing for, editing, and publishing newsletters in the final years of high school. In those days, it was done with a typewriter, white-out, blue grid paper and a lot of invisible tape. Four friends managed to fill the bi-monthly Caliopea with fantastical stories, musings, cartoons, and poetry - all expressions of teenage angst. 

In my first year at university, I joined a scuba diving club, and a few years in, I set up a newsletter for this club in the form of a double-sided A4. While on the club’s committee, I blew new life into a regional federation of dive clubs, and for this association I published a monthly magazine.

In 1995, I moved from the Netherlands to the UK, and then onwards to Australia in 1997. My extracurricular activities in the next 20 years, at James Cook University (JCU) and Victoria University (VU), consisted of organizing training events and sharing my experiences and insights through presentations. 

In November 2016, I started working for King Abdullah University of Science & Technology in Saudi Arabia. There were five units in the Office for Sponsored Research (OSR) at KAUST: Research Services (Pre-Award, Award & Contracts, Post-Award), Competitive Research Funds, Integrative Activities, Research Evaluation, Operations and Shared Services; in total close to 40 staff. I quickly learned that these five units were silos, and although office-wide meetings and workshops tried to bring some cohesion and collaboration, they failed in this aspect due to either set-up or lack of follow-up. 

In comparison, the research offices at JCU and VU were lean and efficient machines (roughly a dozen staff), with fortnightly and weekly meetings, respectively. In these meetings, everyone reported on both progress and plans and everything including rumors was up for discussion. As a result, all staff knew what their colleagues were doing and why, and many were ready to help their colleagues in stressful weeks. 

Towards the end of a two-day Working across Cultures workshop for KAUST OSR (in November2017), five groups with members from different units were asked to share on a piece of butcher paper the kind of initiatives they thought would benefit the ‘collective intelligence’ of the office. Three groups listed a similar idea: ‘an internal monthly collective newsletter’ … ‘with updates on all OSR teams, both work and personal’. 

I decided to build on this idea and formed a small team to find out, first of all, if we as a group could agree on the feasibility of such a newsletter (taking into account the format, content and frequency).

To get broad acceptance for the office-wide newsletter, it is important to get a person from each unit on the editorial team: I managed to get a representative for four units, as the manager of the fifth unit did not allow their staff to join the editorial team. 

We designed and created a dummy with a full layout, and under each header, a description of the item with the full story made up of lorem ipsum filler. Based on this ‘look and feel’, the director gave us the green light. 

An office newsletter is one way to stimulate colleagues to be happier at work. It is a tool to keep colleagues, who don’t (get a chance to) socialize, in the loop on policies, activities, services, initiatives, social events, and other office news. A well-designed and appealing newsletter can help improve the overall efficiency of an office. Healthy communication lines between management and staff and between departments are crucial to the success of every organization. An internal newsletter can support achieving this goal, especially when colleagues work in different locations or are otherwise not in close contact with each other. 

The short-term objective of a newsletter is communication, while the long-term target is audience engagement. In order to achieve these objectives, newsletters need to share the activities of the various units plus anything that should concern or interest most office members. This can be a way to break down silos in the workplace. 

That being said, most of the content should be about colleagues and the things that are important to them and the issues they care about: they will more keen to engage if the content touches them. Most people crave some form of recognition. Hence, articles about new projects or great results should highlight or even exaggerate the contributions of the colleagues involved. Any award, recognition, and any other way that individual or team performance is acknowledged should find a place in the newsletter. 

When you plan to (re-)start a newsletter, aim for an editorial team that represents all units of the office, and choose your release frequency carefully, so the project stays manageable. 

Create your own fun and be ready for praise, silence and nitpicking! 

Affect change by starting with the early adopters, the majority won’t just go along, they will demand to be included” - Simon Sinek. 

Look for more in this series on newsletters and communicating efficiently.

Authored by Floris van der Leest, Manager, Research Information
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology