As a local market consultancy, we connect with a lot of people on a regular basis. We work with our clients onsite, volunteer with them on professional boards and associations, perform community service with them at non-profit organizations, and even run into them at the grocery store.

COVID-19 has changed much of that. We’re not seeing our clients and colleagues in offices, in the community, or at our neighborhood store. Because we feel so ingrained into our clients’ lives, we often feel like we are an extension of their employee workforce. Not seeing our clients live and in-person lately has made us wonder: How are they doing? What are they hearing? How are they handling the COVID-19 environment? Do employees feel safe? To answer some of those questions, we reached out to some in our network to understand their employee communications and what’s working well. 

What we’ve learned through our company and yours:

You are communicating frequently (daily, weekly, as needed) to address direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 including shifting policies, how you are supporting the response to the global pandemic (producing essential supplies) and most importantly how you are taking care of your people (employees and customers).

What are companies communicating?

  • Safety and well-being of employees is front and center. There’s genuine concern for employees and their well-being, whether it’s physical or mental wellness. Examples include tips and tricks on remote working and wellness and company policy changes about benefits, leave, etc.
  • Policies are ranging from optional work from home environments to mandatory office closings. Each business is deciding how to best proceed with BAU while keeping employees safe.
  • Most of our clients are developing strategies and plans to weather the pandemic and recovery periods. Their plans don’t have all the details as the pandemic is still fluid but they have enough structure to show and tell employees and stakeholders how the organization is planning for best-case and worst-case scenarios. These scenarios provide a framework for making decisions; we all understand we’re not in either case yet in some portions of the country.
  • The most positive employees we’ve talked with have leadership that is transparent and not afraid to say, “I don’t know yet.” Lastly, and most importantly, the “why” needs to be clearly stated. Some decisions may seem obvious but in times of uncertainty the “why” can be a driving force to follow and support organizational decisions.
  •  HR groups have developed training videos on COVID-19 create a reliable source for factual information on the virus.

How are companies communicating?

Leaders are using a myriad of channels to help them virtually connect with employees across geographies and time zones. Channels include company-wide emails, virtual townhalls, short videos from the CEO and other senior leaders.

  • Organizations are communicating at every level, not just the very top. Front-line supervisors are using virtual platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Citrix WebEx and more to check in and stay connected with their teams. These forums are typically smaller (fewer than 10 participants) and allow for two-way communications where employees feel comfortable to share questions and concerns.
  • Cadence and structure are key right now. Establish and socialize a cadence of communication for your employees. For example, “Updates will be released as necessary but no less than daily at [a specific time] until further notice.
  • Some organizations have an employee app to make announcement or give updates right to employees’ mobile phones. A well-oiled communication development and approval process has help organizations disseminate key updates quickly and effectively.

What you/we can do today?

  • Build a communications plan and campaign for both the senior leadership team and the supervisor level, complete with talking points for consistent and aligned messaging. Take advantage of all of the channels available to you. Now more than ever, a well-honed and aligned set of messages will help to assure your employees and customers in this trying time and reinforce your core values and guiding principles.
  • Develop a plan for working through the pandemic. Then build a plan for the recovery period. Share as much about those plans as you can with your employees so they can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Be thoughtful and deliberate in who you are communicating to, what you are messaging, and the channels used. Use a planning tool to map your employee segments to content topics to delivery channels.
  • As the leader of a team, ask how each of your direct reports want to be communicated with most often. Encourage them to ask their direct reports the same question. Once you learn that information, use it!
  • Connect with employees through video coffee breaks and/or happy hours. Look out for the ‘quiet’ employees and make sure they are adjusting. Pop-in with a quick video chat instead of a back and forth text or email conversation, like a virtual fly-by in the office.
  • Connect on video, often and from the very top. One of our client CEOs webcasted from his living room with updates – and even with non-updates. Be visible an do this often!
  • Create forums where employees can talk about balancing work with kids’ virtual learning, new recipes they are trying, and “stay-at-home” best practices and play trivia (for example).

What you/we can do next week, next month, in six months?

We’re likely to be working in this environment for an extended period of time, which will take its toll on morale and engagement.

  • Capitalize on the strength, innovation, and resilience of your organizations to get through this pandemic. As a leader, it’s important to remember that your teams will reflect your mood. Be appropriately upbeat and optimistic and try to avoid projecting a down or dour mood – do this only if you can remain authentic and genuine with your feelings. If you need to, step away from your desk for a while to re-ground and re-gain a confident outlook.
  •  Consider hosting a team-based book club. Choose a book that is relevant for the team and work your way through it with video-based discussions. You may even find authors to make guest appearances or host a book club for you to help keep your team engaged. If a book seems too big, start with an article and invite the author of the article to join in the discussion.
  • Revisit how you engage your employees. What have you learned from the pandemic that can help you improve the employee experience/engagement? Perhaps, it’s more transparency, more communication?
  • Remember to connect live and in-person when we all get back to our office-based lives.

We regularly help our clients solve their toughest problems; if this article has prompted any questions that you would like to discuss further, please know that Jabian is here to help. You can find other COVID-19 related articles and tools at https://jabian.com/planahead.