If you ever needed a reminder that the best-laid plans often go awry, the COVID-19 pandemic provided a very stark one. Ushering in a world of new norms, the pandemic has necessitated a re-evaluation and re-boot of every business’ communications strategy. When employees were situated in the same location, working alongside one another, internal communications was easy to master. But in today’s remote working world, physical proximity has become the exception rather than the norm. Businesses need to refresh their internal communications strategy to be fit for these times yet continue to be effective in building the trust and productivity of their people.
In normal times, effective communication is a catalyst for long-term success. In the pandemic-age, it is even more critical, possibly the difference between surviving or not. Organizations need to re-invent and find new ways to connect and support an increasingly diverse and dispersed workforce.
Following are four tips for continued engagement with your employees in the new normal.
1. Clear and Inspiring Communication
Under the cloud of a pandemic, employees would be understandably fearful for their health and job security. Transparent, open and inspirational communication helps employees feel engaged, supported and respected. While leadership visibility is always important, in a remote or dispersed workplace environment, it’s even more critical as employees look to their leaders for direction and inspiration. Using an appropriate platform to re-emphasize the company’s strategy and mission – and, importantly, how employees can contribute to that mission – can help keep employees focused and engaged on advancing business objectives. Communicators should however, stress organizational flexibility and be mindful that employees may be dealing with personal issues at home (childcare, elder care, etc.). Empathy is the order of the day.
When communicating new protocols and guidelines, reducing clutter, improving timeliness of communication, distilling relevant content have all taken on an added urgency. Clarity and consistency are important. Make full use of the ever-expanding suite of digital tools available today to help cut through the noise and deliver tailored content with clarity and timeliness
2. Empower Staff
The word empower means “to give power” in the context of decision-making. Particularly in the remote working environment, physical meetups for discussions and consultations are rare. Employees have to be empowered to make decisions about their work as well as people around them. Pushback against empowerment often centres around insecurities due to diminished control and oversight. However, in trying times, you will be surprised to discover just how capable your people can be when suitably empowered. Many will actually rise to the challenge and produce work whose quality surpasses those produced when they were in the office.
Give them the latitude they need in their jobs and be pleasantly surprised. Empowerment is liberating, both for the employer and employee.
3. Increase and Expand Communications
Communications teams should ramp up the cadence of communications and expand the channels and platforms used by their organizations during any difficult situation. In the face of an unprecedented health crisis, there is no established playbook for guidance. Things can turn on a dime. Agility to respond and react to changes will be imperative for any business. Previously standard mass communication formats such as executive-led quarterly town halls will be less relevant today. Instead, more frequent, briefer check-ins with employees can be expected.
Besides written communication, internal communications teams can also leverage on various touchpoints simultaneously, including email, employee portals, social channels and even digital signages. eg. video snippets (10 to 15 minute) featuring leader Q&A sessions can be useful as a bite-sized soundbite for quick updates.
4. Communications is a 2-way Street.
Communications should be bi-directional. Communications teams need to monitor how workers are coping and encourage two-way dialogue both person-to-person and via technology. Employees should be encouraged to provide feedback to managers and/or executives, either directly or anonymously. This is even more critical when opportunities for face-to-face meet ups are curtailed.
The pandemic has necessitated leaders taking a step back and re-evaluating their entire communications strategy. Despite a changed business landscape, a firm’s communications strategy must remain relevant and effective so that businesses can be kept running effectively and people stay safe, healthy, well-informed, motivated and productive.