Pandemic Fuels Communication Innovation in 2020: Astellas

Despite battling big problems related to COVID-19, communicators at companies around the world deployed new, innovative approaches and utilized solid crisis communications skills to break through and engage their key audiences. This is part of a series of articles taking a look at the pioneering programs Page Up members deployed to drive change in their orgs. Contact if you have a great story to tell.

As a global pharmaceutical company headquartered in Tokyo, Astellas quickly mobilized to support its patients and employees, while mitigating anxiety and uncertainty. The challenge: how to keep Astellas US employees engaged and informed while continuing to serve patients during a time of radical disruption. This was also an opportunity for Astellas to strengthen its connection with employees, wherever they worked.  

The Astellas US Corporate Communications & Events team came together to seamlessly empower, inform and guide employees throughout the pandemic. Instead of backing away from the challenge, as a company, they pushed to think differently and open up new avenues for engagement. 

The Challenge
With more than 3,000 employees located in Astellas’ Northbrook, Ill.-based U.S. headquarters and throughout the country, the company needed to balance communicating with its office-based workers, while simultaneously guiding those on the frontline interacting directly with healthcare professionals. 

That meant needing to find new ways to communicate with its employees, to keep them constantly informed of evolving safety and health regulations, while building a virtual community of support.

The Approach
The team actively managed the pandemic by issuing timely information to employees, while adapting many of Astellas’ channels and creating new platforms to help employees remain engaged. 

  • Timed urgent issue response communications to major health and safety milestones to sequence with local government press briefings. 
  • Quickly mobilized new and existing channels, enabling multiple leaders and employees to share their efforts to support patients, people, and performance. 
  • Developed a comprehensive communication campaign to support the optional facility and field re-entry process, including employee and people manager toolkits, a facility registration site, training, signage, PPE kits and a re-entry video and infographics. 

New Communications Methods
The team debuted two digital firsts for the company: a U.S.-wide digital group viewing of a pre-produced talk show called, “Astellas One Future TODAY,” which was extremely well-received. On the same day, Astellas hosted a virtual awards show that recognized outstanding achievements for the year.  

The team also introduced a story-sharing series, including an “Everyday Heroes” column, which profiled employees going above and beyond, as well as engaging Yammer campaigns.  Many employees stepped forward to share stories—from an employee who officiated a driveway wedding, to employees volunteering on the front lines in clinical situations, to another who created a meal delivery program to feed frontline workers in Chicago.

To tie together the different elements of this communications approach, Astellas adopted a theme that would permeate all materials and resources and speak to the resiliency of all employees, Working Well Together, Wherever.

Astellas saw ongoing, strong productivity from its employees, who remained actively engaged and committed to the mission of supporting patients’ needs: 

  • 98 percent of attendees at the “Astellas One Future TODAY” talk show reported feeling very or extremely informed on how employees are supporting the Astellas culture.
  • 130 virtual events were created to continue to engage and inform employees on how Astellas is advancing the business.
  • Weekly news digests were emailed for 16 weeks with 200+ articles, memos, and guidance documents published to Astellas’ internal COVID-19 hub.
  • 300 employees actively engaged in COVID-19-related Yammer campaigns with creative hashtags (#ThankfulThursday, #PhilanthropyFriday), and 65+ employees submitted community support stories.
  • The “Everyday Heroes” profiles generated significant engagement from employees (avg. 33+ likes / story).  

A November COVID-19 pulse survey found 98% of Northbrook-based employees were very satisfied/satisfied with the company’s overall response to COVID-19 and 96% were very satisfied/satisfied with communication efforts.