Many HR executives’ last few weeks have probably been spent leading non-stop business-continuity planning efforts and then getting the word out to employees: checking on travel restrictions, handling office closures & hygiene guidelines, managing the reductions in force, setting up work-from-home arrangements, and answering to IT security & privacy questions.
This list can go on virtually forever and this is one of those times in history where so many different issues and topics need to be addressed super quickly and at the same time: as states debate opening their economies, businesses are busy preparing return-to-work plans for every possible scenario, in every location, for every employee preference.
And it definitely won’t be easy.
CEOs planning to reintegrate back into their regular business premises need a plan that maintains safety, manages resources, and rebuilds morale. And whatever your company’s plans eventually look like, one key variable could decide success or failure, influencing whether employees buy-in or opt-out
Start at the top, but don’t stop there. Your senior leadership needs to establish the credibility for all your pandemic communications beginning with clear messages about enterprise health, overall philosophy amidst crisis and company-wide policies.
From there, regional, local and functional leaders can drill down with more details at lower altitudes, including which offices are opening when, how, and what changes are expected. Weekly messages going out from senior leaders discussing the impact on specific parts of the business are easy to implement and can become essential. This strategy aligns the leadership of the organization and instils trust because of the alignment!
But communicating about the new realities should not be top-down only, it should also be bottom-up and organic from within your organization.
With so many negative headlines hitting us these days, offer employees open communication platforms and channels to express themselves. Providing a safe space to relieve pressure and anxiety is definitely the right move. People may be stressed out by the idea of having to get back to the office and they may not feel safe after all: a safe space where they can share their thoughts & feelings might make a big difference here.
Also, building communication channels led by peers that reinforce the positive via online forums or video sessions can be a great idea too!
Style’s nice, but the content is king!
HR managers should focus on creating content that addresses employees’ number 1 concern: when it comes to getting back to the desk, “What does this mean?”. Rumours flourish in the absence of credible information, so be as candid, factual, and specific as possible. If you don’t have all the answers, say so. But be sure to follow up.
You may think of implementing several online pulse surveys to better understand employee’s concerns and ultimately design better policies.
This way, a listening component can turn your employee communication into more of a two-way conversation than a one-way lecture: all employees then become part of the solution!
And at the same time, you’re communicating the “need to know” stuff, be mindful to communicate the “nice to know” one too.
For example, if an employee is sewing masks for doctors and nurses, donating blood, or cooking for elderly neighbours share the news: don’t just tell them you care – show them you care by acknowledging their hard work and generous spirit!
Millions of us have practical concerns about the return to the workplace, some of them are exaggerated and many reasonable, but comms and HR manager should be distributing comprehensive communications messages which address THE MOST basic levels of must know info to their employees.
We’d suggest sectioning out your guidance content into specific addressable concern areas
- Premises – points of hygiene, new footfall practices, desk or workspace policy etc
- Personal – handwashing practice, toilet etiquette, new lunchtime norms etc
- Group/workflow – meeting norms, distancing practice, queuing etc
- General – overarching corporate messaging which binds the reintegration policy together
Be super clear here, align the clarity of message with clarity of access. Make it available on an employee app like Beem, or your intranet
During times of non-stop change like these, it’s understandable that employees are seeking as much stability and predictability as humanly possible. One way to establish at least a fraction of control is by creating a regular communications cadence so people know when to expect information and look forward to it.
Message repetition also helps. And to be truly effective, it’s important to vary how employees hear that repetition.
People consume information differently: some are more visual, others prefer the written word, while others trust numbers more. It’s important to vary communication mediums with emails, blog posts, infographics, and short videos. And it’s better to have one message that’s communicated via three different channels than three different emails!
A well-planned communications cadence—promised and delivered—can not only help create a much-needed routine for employees but it can also help build institutional trust.
Oh, and by the way, at a time when we’re all taking virtual meetings from our kitchen or home office, no one’s expecting Hollywood-level video production! A simple, from-the-heart video message recorded on your mobile phone will go a long way and be far more authentic.
Finally, as companies conduct their return-to-work planning, we’re all learning that the future of work will likely involve a blended mix of flexible work-from-home plus work-in-office solutions. And, although we still don’t know the specific policies that companies will likely enact, we do know this: this isn’t a time for mere management, this is a time for HR leadership!
The difference will be communication and that will never change.
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