COVID-19 has brought sweeping changes to the way we work. Here, we take a look at how organisations can best communicate with people during these unprecedented times.
The COVID-19 pandemic means moving fast and decisively; it also means the quick implementation of difficult decisions for businesses.
And with the UK lockdown, that’s meant many have been thrust into enabling remote working, as well as furloughing a proportion of their employees: a concept new to many of us.
Others will have people coming into a workplace that has drastically changed, and rightly so, with social distancing measures firmly in place.
The employee’s perspective
This will be an entirely new way of working for many people. And individuals will cope and approach that in different ways.
Teams that ultimately work well together in this “new normal” of COVID-19 are likely to be more effective. They’re also more likely to be those who felt supported and trusted, even in these difficult times.
In short, an organisation’s thoughts and efforts need to be on supporting employees, as well as on business continuity. Doing that well now means loyalty and trust from colleagues and clients longer-term.
This is, ultimately, a test of an organisation’s values. After all, how many of us say we put people and their safety first?
Be clear and concise, open and honest — people are likely to be worried. Worried about the present situation; worried about what happens next.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the key to managing this well is communication.
And that communication has to be clear, fair and ‘human.’
Be consistent — Regular communication is exactly what’s needed right now. Let your workforce, furloughed or not, know where and when they’ll be able to get the latest updates from you in the coming days, weeks and months.
People will be missing the regular social interaction.
So aside from the necessary corporate updates, more informal communication should also include regular get-togethers virtually using technology such as Slack, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Subject to social distancing, these should happen in the workplace too if there are employees still there.
Be clear and concise, open and honest — people are likely to be worried. Worried about the present situation; worried about what happens next. So consider what information you’d welcome access to and include that in your communication.
Give people the information you have, in straightforward language (ditch the jargon and corporate speak) and make sure people know who to go to with questions, and that they know how to pass those along.
You’ll need to adapt to suit your people too: making sure all levels of the organisation — including those on furlough — know they have your support through means that work for them including email, closed social media pages, phone, and even post.
A buddy system could be useful here as well: encourage supervisors or line managers to keep in touch with specific individuals who need support during this time.
Of course, if teams are furloughed, line managers will need to be briefed about what’s OK to share.
Encourage engagement — your people will have questions around the business’s response and how it affects them. Encourage this discussion through things like Q&A forums and staff surveys.
Remember too, it’s OK not to have all the answers right now, and the straightforward act of inviting people to contribute to the discussion means they’ll feel involved and valued.
An important part of your communication plan is looking ahead.
What are the likely scenarios for the business as the COVID-19 lockdown eases and ends? How will this affect people on furlough? Feedback from your team will be crucial for determining the best route forward and will be a crucial part of your plan.
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