Sometimes, communication can truly be a life or death concern. As local and national authorities struggle to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and businesses tackle the myriad issues it raises on every front, good employee communications can fall by the wayside. Yet, what employees need more than anything right now is to know just what is going on, how it might affect them, and what they are expected to do.
In other words, clear, candid, and ongoing communications are essential. Much of the content will be unique to the concerns of your organization, of course, but it will almost certainly be critically important to address employees’ basic questions about policies and protocols for:
- calling in sick or self-quarantining
- working from home
- travel and meetings
- colleague and client interactions
- work-space and common area hygiene and hand-washing
- dealing with personal life factors such as school closings or an at-risk elderly relative
In addition, few employers will be unaffected by the economic ramifications of the pandemic, and this can be a huge stressor for employees, who will be worrying about their jobs and, in many cases, their retirement funds. As much as possible, you’ll want to share how the situation might affect (or is already affecting) your organization, what is being done to address it, and how this might impact employees. It is nearly always the case that knowing the truth, even if it is bad or uncertain news, is better than being kept in the dark. And who knows—front-line employees might come up with some solutions that hadn’t occurred to senior leadership!
Remember, however, that any communication can only work if it succeeds in getting its message across. That means that even though we are going through an extraordinary time, the ordinary rules of strong communications still apply:
- Be candid. Employees know when they are being lied to or information is being sugar-coated. Share as much as you can. And don’t hesitate to say not just what you do know, but what you don’t, if possible letting them know when the information might be available.
- Be consistent. Employees need to trust leadership now more than ever, and inconsistent messaging quickly sows distrust. Every people manager needs to know the policies in order to inform employees, reinforce messages from senior leadership, and answer questions—without sending mixed messages.
- Be timely. Especially in a situation like this, communications need to be ongoing and information needs to be regularly updated.
- Be audience-aware. Who is your communication intended for, and how does it apply to each employee it reaches? If you are focusing heavily on teleworking, what information do you have for receptionists or lab techs or service staff? If you are urging people to stay home if they feel sick, what about new or part-time employees, or anyone else who might not have much in the way of paid time off?
- Be interactive. To the extent possible, give employees avenues to ask questions and receive specific, precise responses. (Here’s your opportunity to invite ideas or feedback, as well!) This is one case, however, when allowing too much employee-driven content can backfire: moderate internal social media forums carefully to stop the spread of rumors and misinformation.
We are going through an intensely challenging time. Strong, thorough, open and ongoing communication can make a huge difference in how we all get through it. Don’t let your employees down.