By Emily Cooter, Internal Communications Consultant, Specialist
In times of crisis, it’s only natural to look to authority figures for reassurance and direction, and often our employers are our closest and most trusted source. So how can business leaders ensure they live up to this position of elevated responsibility as the Covid-19 lockdowns continue? Here are some guiding principles:
- Know your audiences
Think carefully about the impact of Covid-19 on your employees’ work and home lives and speak directly to their concerns. These concerns will vary of course depending on the subsets of your workforce. For example, you might have a mixture of frontline essential workers and those working from home in the virtual office – these groups will be experiencing the current crisis very differently, so you’ll need to adjust your positioning in order to make top-line messages relevant and convey appropriate empathy.
- Be as visible as possible
Keep comms as close as possible to face-to-face interactions. A short video message is preferable to an all staff email; consider options for live broadcast or virtual townhall meetings; prioritise regular video 1-2-1s with your direct reports and strongly encourage them to do the same for the people they manage. If you have frontline essential worker teams, think carefully about how you might safely ‘show up’ for them to demonstrate your support.
- Make it personal
Nothing unites people like a common enemy, and right now leaders have a unique opportunity to strengthen relationships and dispel feelings of ‘them and us’. Even if it’s not your normal style, consider making your messages more human by referring to your own feelings or family situation – the challenges of home schooling or your concern for an elderly relative, for example.
- Respond swiftly in line with Government directives
As the situation unfolds, you and your business continuity team will be planning ahead and anticipating likely developments. Loop your internal comms people into these discussions – they can then prepare internal messaging in advance so you are able to follow up Government briefings and breaking news as swiftly as possible. In an always-on world, where situations are changing by the hour, speedy communications from the very top of the organisation will reassure employees that you have a handle on things.
- Keep communicating
Whatever happens, don’t be tempted to pause communications, especially if you have established a regular channel for crisis comms. Employees left wondering will fill the silence with their own guesswork, leading to mistrust and greater uncertainty. No one will expect you to have all the answers in these unprecedented times, and it’s ok to admit this. Offer the caveat ‘Based on what we know today…’ at the start of your comms, use holding statements, and repeat previous messaging if they still hold true.
- Keep two-way communications flowing
No matter how clearly you communicate a company-wide position, there will always be grey areas and exceptions to consider. Ensure your leadership comms specify how people can ask questions, get advice or make suggestions. This could be as simple as a ‘speak to your line manager’ directive, or perhaps there’s a need to set up a HR/wellbeing helpline, particularly if you’re dealing with sensitive contract issues for example? Publishing an updated FAQ on your intranet is also a good idea.
Efforts to excel at employee communications, and indeed to support employee wellbeing, have never been more important. Even if you have difficult messages to deliver, being a prolific, open and compassionate communicator through Covid-19 will help to establish your business as an employer that really looked after its people through an unprecedented global crisis. Not a bad reputation to take into the post-Covid-19 world.