If you’re not openly communicating with your employees on the impact of COVID-19 you’re making a mistake. Frontline managers and business leaders are in a position to build trust, establish a culture of support and show empathy during this pandemic. The benefits of good communication now can payoff for years to come in strong employee engagement and trust.
Employers as trusted sources
Employees are relying on their companies as trusted sources of COVID-19 information according to an annual Edelman Trust Barometer. The global communications firm surveyed about 10,000 people from 10 countries including the U.S. on virus-related communications March 6-10.1 Employers rose to the top as the most credible source of information employees are receiving, over non-government organizations, the mainstream media, the government and social media.
Many companies took the lead to increase their communication to employees once businesses started shuttering offices and plants—reassuring employees their health and safety were of utmost importance; providing them information, resources and equipment they needed to work from home if possible; and furnishing updates on the business impact of COVID-19.
Return to work communications
Another shift is taking place in the content of communications with planning the return to work (physically), what the new normal for work could be and how to protect employees in the office or plant environment.
The physical workspace will change. Employers are talking about rotating in-office workers—one week in, one week at home; shortening the work week or the exact opposite–allowing the flexibility to work any of the seven days of the week; retrofitting common use areas like collaboration spaces, restrooms and conference rooms; rethinking building HVAC; reconsidering travel. Employees are concerned about these changes and want to hear more.
Frontline manager communications is changing
Many companies are reviewing their work from home stance now that it’s been proven that working from home can be done effectively. In addition to working from home, leaders are realizing the importance of flexibility for their employees’ work priorities, family circumstances and mental health issues. Many companies are placing more emphasis on communication and interactions between the frontline manager and his/her employees. Consideration is being given to equip managers with the skills to accept the fluidity, and what may be considered personal nature, of their employees’ circumstances.
Whereas many managers were trained to keep discussions about their employees’ personal lives to a minimum, they are now obligated to ask about their health, family and mental health situations as it relates to their work. This can be uncomfortable for managers whose focus has always been on the work relationship. Managers’ flexibility will be tested from the ever-changing daily situation of an employee who may have everything under control one day and then be unable to perform their duties the next. Daily, meaningful touchpoints are necessary. Long gone are the times of checking in once or twice a week if businesses are to shift work and priorities to accommodate what is taking place in the employee’s life.
Rely on your employees
Employees will tell you what they need given the chance and when they feel you can be trusted. Feedback mechanisms should be a major component of your communications plan. Focus groups, short surveys, virtual suggestion boxes, feedback from managers’ conversations should all factor into the direction your communications are taking. Employees can be your greatest resource to problem solving the issues your business is facing to get back to growth. Involve and listen to employees, customers, suppliers, and others in and outside your industry.
Basically, the way we work will change. And communicating these changes clearly and in a timely fashion is critical to a smooth-running business and a well informed employee.
3 take aways
Everyone is operating in the unknown right now.
- It’s the perfect time to talk with employees and other business owners to get solutions.
- Get on calls, hold virtual meetings, show empathy and compassion, get to know your employees on a deeper level.
- Listen with your ears, listen with your heart, listen with your eyes.
Engage your employees now and build a bond that is hard to break.