The types of internal comms your remote workforce needs right now
With the clamor for information, guidance, and advice getting louder, has there ever been a more critical time for internal comms than right now?
The past few weeks have seen changes to internal processes and organizational structures in businesses globally. As a result, comms professionals have had no choice but to rewrite their entire internal comms strategy.
It may be a few months, it may take a lot longer, but we can safely assume that the world, post-coronavirus, will look and feel a lot different to how it does now. Which is why, not only must we guide our employees through this current period, but also ready them for the next ‘new normal’ – a landscape that remains entirely unknown right now. With so much uncertainty, how can comms experts begin to achieve this?
All over the world, businesses have drawn up defenses to get through the foreseeable future: forecasting sales, restructuring departments, reducing any possible overheads. Internal comms departments have been deployed as the foot soldiers helping to lead their organizations through the crisis and reassure the employees who have been forced to stay at home.
For the workforce, there have been many challenges to face: the care of dependents, getting the right hardware, battling with home WiFi, dealing with the stress and uncertainty of the situation. Employees need guidance and support from their organization more than ever. So, as internal communications departments the world over scramble into new operating modes, it is imperative that we communicate the messages that our people want – and need – to hear.
Internal comms and the coronavirus
Many of us have had to implement crisis comms at some point in our career: an organizational restructure, severe weather, a departure of a senior member of staff. We’ve all had plans in place for drastic events, we’ve rehearsed them, adjusted them – but nothing has quite prepared us for COVID-19 and its impact. This has been a battering ram to the public’s health, to the economy, and to society. It will affect every person, in every business, to varying degrees.
Very quickly, workplaces began to fill with fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and stress. This is where internal comms have had to step up and take the weighted responsibility to inform, update, and where possible, reassure.
As the initial shock subsides, the work of internal communications isn’t over. We’re still in a state of unknowing, but still need to provide guidance to our workforce.
Internal comms experts don’t have the answer to what the world will look like in six months, but the very least we can do is act as mouthpieces – for the government, for HR, for our leaders – to support our employees.
What employees need from their organization
For many, the future is on hold. People are anxious about their jobs, their health, their loved ones, and their future. As a business, you’re responsible for the communication you supply your employees. And this information needs to be truthful, up-to-date, and if, possible, reassuring. Workers are looking to their leadership for guidance right now, and as an internal comms professional, it’s your job to provide it.
While a lot of comms are direct and no-nonsense, a degree of empathy in your communications with your workforce is needed right now. When addressing your workforce, ensure that your messages are sensitively written. Avoid cut and paste texts in order to deliver communications that are more thoughtful and appeal to the human element of the crisis. An anxious workforce will struggle to perform in their roles – your comms should reassure them.
Don’t gloss over the facts: people already have a good understanding of the damage that this pandemic might wreak, and know this period will be tumultuous for many businesses. Areas of the company may see some redundancies; spending will be reduced, belts tightened. Your employees need to know what challenges you are facing, and will face, in the next twelve months. People will be focusing both on the national news and their company information to keep themselves updated on the situation. Ensure your people are made aware that they will be the first to be informed of any organizational changes, news, and updates.
In times of crisis, people need continual updates. During this period of isolation, make sure your comms are regular, using the same medium – perhaps setting up a customized part of your intranet. In the words of Jonathan Hemus, founder and director at crisis management consultancy Insignia, ‘People are hungry for information. So, it is almost impossible to communicate too much or too frequently.’
“63% of people want daily updates from employers about the coronavirus.”Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report
When you’re addressing your whole organization, you must ensure that all messages are clear. You need to broadcast facts, and you need to use language that is understandable, avoiding initialisms, acronyms, and niche phrases. Layout your comms in a clear, comprehensible way and always get a second opinion before publishing.
5. Two-way comms
A vast bulk of your COVID-19 response comms will be top-down information. But dispersing facts, plans, and information will be addressing only a part of what your employees need. Enabling two-way comms should be an integral part of your approach and will allow workers to ask questions and for you to answer them promptly. These can form an FAQ section on your intranet, to encourage users to self-serve.
The areas that employees need internal comms coverage
Several topics need pushing over this period. Employees’ lives have changed almost overnight. They need to be reminded of the resources and advice your organization can offer them. Here we’ll outline what types of communications your workers need right now.
1. Health and wellbeing
Of course, being amid the worst public health crisis in living memory, concerns over health will be a major distraction to your employees at the moment. During this period, where most countries are in isolation and working from home, workers will want to know more about HR protocol and how their organization can help. This will be a collaborative effort with Internal Comms and HR.
Many businesses offer employees private health insurance. It will be worth detailing what services are on offer if employees start to experience COVID-19 symptoms.
If employees do feel ill, what assurances are in place that they can take a leave of absence. Does your company offer sick pay or paid leave? How long does this period cover? If they are unable to return to work for a sustained period of time, what are their rights, and how secure is their job? Different workers have different rights, so these comms will need to be tailored to each person.
Again, this might be the right moment to remind staff of your organization’s illness reporting strategy. Set out who they should contact, and by what method, to report sickness and leave.
With your workforce working from home, provide guidance to minimize the threat of contagion in the household. Reiterate the importance of isolation and social distancing. It is also recommended that you detail the symptoms of COVID-19, and at what stage the employee should be seeking medical assistance. Make sure what you publish is in line with information from the government and the WHO for this advice.
Mental and emotional health
One of the consequences of the COVID-19 lockdown and working from home has been isolation and mental health concerns. Organizations can support this by offering advice, arranging “buddy” support care with another colleague, and keeping in touch through phone calls and video chat.
It’s so essential that amid the widespread fears, you continue to address the state of the business. Employees need to see that the wheels are still in motion, and leaders are still at the helm. At this point, transparency and honesty are critical, and it’s important to give a clear picture to workers of the future of their workplace.
Weekly financial reports
A weekly bulletin, from CEO or senior leader, updating the workforce on the health of the organization. Explain any downturns, include any good news, and, if possible, provide some form of forecasting for the next six months.
News from across the organization
Working from home can be isolating, and employees may feel cut-off from the central hub of the business. Inviting blogs from all departments to update workers on news is a great way to create some unity.
What procedures does your organization have over the next six months? Whether it’s good or not so good, provide your workers with a plan over the foreseeable future, how you intend to ride out this period of instability, and what government assistance you might be calling upon.
Detail the protection set out by the government in the event of a reduction in hours or redundancy. Some of these will be relatively new concepts so ensure your language is clear and in accordance with the official advice.
3. Working from home
For many members of staff, working from home will be a novel, and not entirely welcome, experience. There will be a period of adjusting whereby employees will get used to their surroundings, and radically different working environment.
During the COVID-19 crisis, many employees will need to be juggling dependents as well as their jobs. This situation will require your organization to communicate with individuals singularly, and concessions allowed to every individual’s unique circumstances.
Everyone should have left the workplace with everything they need to carry out their role at home. If this isn’t the case, address this issue by setting up procedures in place. Equipment can be delivered or collected at a location that doesn’t undermine safety precautions.
In terms of working from home, everyone is in the same position. You may have staff members who have always worked from home. Direct staff to forums where colleagues are sharing tips and advice on maximizing productivity during this period.
Working away from the office may cause a few teething issues initially. Help employees to solve these by providing them with procedures in flagging technical problems with contact details of the support desk.
Remote working en masse is an excellent opportunity to hold video town hall meetings, so everyone can log in remotely and join a group-wide conversation. Workers can put forward questions, raise concerns, and share news with their colleagues.
Now more than ever, your employees need to be able to see their leaders. Being in isolation shouldn’t prevent senior managers from being visible to the workforce. Using vlogs and video calls, leaders can present a united front, provide information, and mitigate rumor and speculation.
Using your intranet to blog is a great way for senior leaders to establish a presence, particularly in a time of upheaval. Promoting the intranet as a valuable resource for company information, blogs from the CEO, and the team can help to inform and reassure.
Senior leaders are busy, and usually, their time is stretched. While blogs are a great way of putting down any thoughts, vlogs can be a quick-win when time is of the essence. A simple recording can be executed in minutes and uploaded to the whole workforce, and can help you condense your thoughts into a quick broadcast.
Video town halls
These are more likely to be used on occasions that require a work-wide gathering, a big-news event. CEOs can host these and live stream them for those members of staff who can’t be there to watch at a time that suits them.
A more personal video communication for CEOs to practice is the dropping in on team talks. While daily team talks while working from home are standard, senior leaders can ask to be invited on to a session. This can be warmly received by team members who can enjoy a more direct conversation.
Bosses don’t need to stick to big announcements. The use of social media, particularly Twitter and LinkedIn, can help them retain a level of leadership visibility that can be reassuring to users.
Internal comms will remain our one constant
There is a lot to digest. The huge upheaval in our personal and professional lives is affecting us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The updating news and fast changes to how we should conduct ourselves are dizzying. And while we adjust, we’re also mindful of the things that still need attention: feeding our families, carrying on with our jobs, looking after ourselves. We’re overwhelmed, and organizations need to be mindful of this, allowing some space for people to rearrange their roles and responsibilities.
There are not many constants right now, and internal comms should act as the guiding light in the darkness. When people are staying home, working, and living in a confined space, they look to their workplace and leaders for guidance. It’s never been more important to intensify your duties and collectively gather your employees closer to the heart of your organization. Ensure your communications include everyone, answer all concerns, and be as pre-emptive as possible. Build a steadfast comms response and you will provide your organization with much-needed resilience, helping pave the way for the next ‘new normal’.