Businesses are taking unprecedented steps to stop the spread of COVID-19. Some organizations are deciding to close while others are changing the way they operate by asking employees to work from home, reducing hours of operation, or by introducing new safety measures to keep employees and customers healthy.
Communicating with your employees is one of the most important things that you can do at this time. Your employees are on the front lines and are likely interacting with your customers. What they know, or don’t know could impact how your customers perceive your business. Just as important, your employees are looking to their leaders and managers for information during these stressful and uncertain times. You can bet, they have a million questions.
Here are some important tips for communicating with your people:
Establish Communication Channels
To say the situation is evolving quickly is an understatement. You will need to provide your employees with updates on an ongoing basis – daily, if not more frequently. Let them know how you will be communicating with them. Will you be calling them, sending them an email or text, or do they need to check the company website? Establishing this upfront will make your job a lot easier for everyone in the end.
Be Clear and Factual
It is amazing the difference a few words can make. Try to stick to the facts and be specific. “Everything will be fine” is vague and is open to a lot of different interpretations. It may sound reassuring, but it is out of touch with reality and dismissive. Instead of saying, “we are watching the situation closely” say, “we are checking with government officials like Ottawa Public Health twice a day and meeting as a management team every morning. We will have an action plan available first thing every morning.”
Share ‘The Why’
Tough decisions are being made by everyone. Share the reasons why you made the decisions you did – it will deepen employees understanding and will help get everyone on board with your decision. When people understand the reasons for your decision, it helps them understand how they are expected to behave so that their own decisions are aligned with those you have made.
When you communicate with your employees, make sure you invite them to ask questions or offer suggestions. Your staff will be looking to you for answers and you should let them know you are available to answer questions, no matter how busy you are. It’s okay not to have all of the answers – “I don’t know,” “I will find out a soon as I can,” or “we will have to see how the situation develops,” are much better answers than nothing at all. When you don’t say anything or are not open to questions, people feel that you are hiding something, and the rumour mill starts filling the void. They may also have great suggestions and ideas that you can use to help manage the situation.
Don’t Promote Fear
We’ve all seen the stories about hoarding toilet paper or maybe you’ve even seen how empty the shelves are in local stores, despite the fact that Canada has one of the best supply chains in the world. This natural human reaction to hoard has been driven by fear. I’m not talking about avoiding the bad news or making light of the situation but what I am suggesting is not to invoke fear with words like: impossible, deadly, devastating, immeasurable and collapsing. These words are emotionally charged and worse, they are not specific, and can be open to misinterpretation.
Find the positive for your business – and focus on that – will employees have time to finally clear out that storeroom, will you be able to spend some time thinking about new products or services? Shifting mindsets from fear and uncertainty to more positive and proactive will help everyone. Choosing to focus on the positive has been proven by researchers to fuel success.
Don’t Try To Be The Expert
You are probably not a medical expert so connect your employees with the accurate information available out there. Provide your employees with links to trusted information sources such as The City of Ottawa and Health Canada for the best resources and guidance. Stick to providing employees with information about what is happening with your organization and what it means for them.
Embrace New Ways Of Working
If you have decided to work remotely, start to develop some new communication channels and tools. My team works remotely all of the time and we deal with clients and partners across Canada and around the world. There are fantastic tools out there for online meetings like Zoom and Go-to Meetings. We also use an online project management tool called Monday.com to manage our work – it saves hundreds of emails and allows us to collaborate like nobody’s business online. There are other tools out there as well that offer similar features and they are all inexpensive.
If you implement new ways of working – whether it is new policies or having people work from home, it’s important to be clear about expectations. If someone is working from home, does that mean they can work anytime, or should they be at the computer between 9:00 – 5:00? If you are implementing new handwashing policies or social distancing, then be clear about the specific behaviours you are expecting from people.
Show You Care
The impact of COVID-19 on people is far-reaching and you never know what your employees are going through in other areas of their lives. Now is your opportunity to step up and show that your employees’ matter. Check in with your team to make sure everyone is okay and find ways to show that you care – these gestures will go a long way towards building loyalty and connection in your workplace.
We are here to help – no charge!
If you have specific questions about communicating with your employees at this time, please give us a call and we would be happy to answer your specific questions about how to communicate with your employees at this challenging time. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Submitted by: Andrea Greenhous, Vision2Voice Internal Communications
Resources (official websites)
Here are the two best resources for information if you are located in Ottawa Canada. If you live elsewhere, track down the official sites and share these with employees.