In the recent past, having too many conference calls and meetings to attend was an ongoing general complaint from the office-based workforce. It’s a topic regularly converted into humorous memes that elicit chuckles from anyone who has ever spent their days in an office environment.
With the sudden onset of COVID-19 and unprecedented work-from-home mandates now the new normal, that same workforce has replaced groans about yet another meeting, with cravings and appreciation for any and all communication from the home office.
Employees we’ve talked to are placing a very high value on communications during this quarantine period. Overwhelmingly, many companies from a variety of industries including software, insurance, sales and marketing have really raised the bar on connectedness and creativity - and employees are taking notice.
For companies who are doing everything possible to frequently communicate with their employees, it is an investment in both their talent and the overall company. Boosts to morale, clarity regarding the organization’s health or challenges, and camaraderie that retains team bonds, are all benefits of maintaining consistent communication with employees during shutdowns related to the COVID-19 crisis.
Communication for the Win
Communicating with employees during a crisis is really a win-win situation as the company-employee relationship is a symbiotic one. What is good for employees, is ultimately good for employers. Valued employees are more motivated and reliable and therefore, will do their best to help their companies successfully navigate through this challenge. This is not a situation affecting only one division or department in a company – or even one industry – everyone has a stake in this crisis. To ensure your employees maintain their productivity and dedication to your organizational mission and vision, consider different communications strategies to help their work feel less remote at a time when every other area of their lives is isolated.
How you choose to communicate with your employees is entirely up to you and what feels right for your organization based on resources available and your organizational culture as a whole. If you are not sure how or what to communicate, consider the following insights as you craft your messages to employees.
What Not to Do
In the first week or two of national social distancing protocols, a few companies including a well-known nationwide retailer, endured an onslaught of bad PR based on little communication and guidance for their public-facing employees. When the retailer finally did communicate with employees, the messages were insensitive and failed to address employee concerns.
During this crisis, some company leaders and managers might resent stay-at-home mandates and feel like they are giving up control of their operations. They may also suspect that some employees will abuse a work-from-home arrangement or worry that less disciplined individuals, new to working from a home office, may find it hard to focus. These are valid concerns. Company leaders need to clearly convey their expectations. Likewise, employees must understand their employer’s perspective, they still have a business to run.
However, it’s important that managers remember that employees were thrown into this situation nearly overnight – just as they were. Most employees would much rather be working in their office buildings away from their kids and pets. Some have even restructured their home layout and are utilizing personal resources to make sure they are conducting business as usual in a not business as usual economy.
Simple touchpoints with your employees go a long way. For internal communication, it’s ok to lighten things up and ease regular formalities. Like you, employees are going through a lot at no fault of their own. Worries about their investments, job, immediate finances, how their kids are performing in virtual school, their own health as well as their loved ones, are weighing on their minds. For those working from home, they want their employers to trust that they are still performing at a high level despite their environment. Some employees feel like a fish out of water right now. Regular positive messages and feedback keep them swimming forward.
Because the pandemic situation is rapidly evolving, many companies are communicating with employees daily. Most of the employees that responded to an informal survey we conducted indicated that they are being addressed at least once a week by a company leader (CEO, CFO) and on average, nearly every day by a manager or other coworkers. At the minimum, once-per-week overarching communication from corporate leaders about the state of the business or shifting strategies due to pandemic influences is recommended to keep employees informed and on-task. One employee we spoke to reported that their company hasn’t communicated with them at all. It’s adding to their already heavy stress load and morale is low at the company. The consensus among employees at that company is that they are unappreciated, feeling uneasy and left in the dark.
Employees are taking note of any type of communication now. With several weeks of virtual communicating under our belts, preferences for communication channels are emerging. Eighty-six percent of corporate, nonprofit and government employees recently surveyed by Ragan, publisher of Ragan’s PR Daily, cite e-mail as the most effective channel for crisis-related messages. According to the study, video conferencing comes in second, but not far off from other channels such as team messaging apps like Slack or traditional teleconferences.
Some employers want to be transparent and communicate better with their employees but are not quite sure what or how to communicate – especially when there may be a work slowdown or they simply are not sure what is around the corner with each new week of quarantine. A simple conference call on alternating days, or weekly, to inquire how everyone is doing and sharing team updates may suffice for some workgroups or smaller companies. There might not be much to share during some calls but at least the lines of communication are open. Besides weekly leadership calls, blog posts or e-mails about the state of the business, employees of some larger corporations we talked to have reported creative approaches that really demonstrate supportive empathy and appreciation for employees. These workers have reported home deliveries of office supplies, gourmet popcorn baskets or new corporate swag, as well as stimulus checks from their companies. Some enterprises have distributed surveys to employees to ascertain how management can help make this period better for employees as well as emailing support tips for remote workers. Almost everyone we talked to has participated in morale boosters such as quarantine photo contests, virtual company spirit days, coffee breaks and happy hours. We are in a whole new world where worktime may be the only social outlet for some people, so these activities are engaging and exciting for them to participate in.
Bottom Line Impact
Employers who execute a strong communications effort with their workers during this unprecedented downturn will find that these employees will remain loyal and productive long-term. Well-informed employees will understand what exactly is needed from them in order for their companies to have the best chance at a successful recovery. It is not lost on them how lucky they are, when so many across the country are either not working safely or not working at all. Employees who feel communicated with and valued by their companies will keep working their hardest to ensure there is a profitable company with a job remaining for them when the dust settles, and the masks come off.