By Steve Campbell, Chief Human Resources Officer
Employers are navigating uncharted territory when communicating to their workforce regarding COVID-19. From managing your newly remote workforce to announcing policy updates and next steps for workplace re-openings, these quick tips will help you reach your employees while demonstrating care and compassion.
Keep an Open Dialogue
Your employees have likely been working from home for weeks now, but many are still adjusting to the challenges of this sudden move. Some are getting used to the routine of virtual work, while others may find it difficult to balance their family and work responsibilities while at home. Meanwhile, the isolation, anxiety, and general stress caused by COVID-19 can take a toll on your employees’ mental health.
Company leaders can help ease some of this stress by keeping a consistent and open dialogue with their employees. With so many employees working from home, it’s more important than ever for your HR team to flex your communication muscle. This experience is also good practice for the future (post-COVID-19) where we can expect more employers and employees to embrace remote work than ever before.
Right now, your employees are seeking reassurance and transparency. Although there’s no crystal ball to predict when this will all be over, providing regular updates about the state of your business can be enough to help keep employees from feeling like they are in the dark. Be as transparent as possible about your company’s future plans and expectations, while also acknowledging the uncertainty surrounding this situation.
If you haven’t done so already, make sure to establish a single source where employees can access all of your COVID-19-related information. Leverage technology: This can be as elaborate as a dedicated mini-website hosted on your intranet, employee benefits portal, or workplace forum, or as simple as a shared folder on your company network drive.
In addition to publishing regular updates from your leadership team, encourage your employees to join in on the conversation. Offer ways for employees to share how they and their families are getting through this time together. And as you develop your return-to-work plans, make sure your employees feel heard and included in your planning. Surveys can be a quick and easy way to gather feedback regarding preferences and concerns for those returning to the office, as well as those considering a transition to a full-time remote status.
Communicate without Overwhelming
Right now, it’s imperative that you strike the right balance on timing when reaching out to your employees. Too few messages and your communications can fall flat. Conversely, sending too many communications out at one time can leave employees feeling overwhelmed or your messages overlooked.
You hear about COVID-19 everywhere you turn: on the news, at work, and even during commercial breaks of your favorite show. And with so many families at home, employees are facing more distractions and barriers to engagement than ever before. Avoid having your communication efforts lost among the noise by keeping your messages impactful, consistent, and concise.
First, determine the right schedule to provide updates to your workforce. Your needs may vary depending on multiple factors, such as sudden policy or workforce changes, impacts to your benefits, and the needs of your various employee populations. However, as a general rule, consider providing operational updates to your employees at least every two weeks.
Of course, you’ll also want to connect with your employees beyond just business updates. Whether sending out a message of encouragement, reaching out to gather feedback, or sharing WFH success stories, you will want to craft these “softer” messages with compassion. The communications you send during this crisis should be a natural extension of your workplace culture and values, even while employees are working away from the office.
Create a content calendar to organize and get a big-picture view of your publication schedule. This calendar will help your team coordinate your efforts and keep you from under- or overwhelming your audience with too few or too many messages.
Make sure you’re sending emails and other messages at the right time of day to garner the most effective levels of engagement. You’ll want to reach your employees when they have the time and bandwidth to give your messages their full attention. For employees working typical office hours, start by scheduling your communications to be received first thing in the morning or in the early afternoon. This will help avoid having your messages lost among the mid-morning rush.
Of course, with so many people sharing a space with family and kids, the “typical” work day at home is anything but typical. You may find that you need to adjust your schedule to better align with the unusual circumstances due to COVID-19. Stay open to making adjustments to your approach as you work to stay in regular contact with your employees.
Also remember the role of your vendors in communicating to your employees. As an extension of your HR team, your benefits administration partner should also be aligned with your COVID-19 communication strategy. Connect with your service team to ensure you are aligned on every facet of your approach, including the latest updates to your benefits programs and policies, employee resources to leverage, and even culture-focused aspects like wording and tone.
Make sure your benefits portal is updated with the latest relevant information regarding your benefits during this period as appropriate. If utilizing a benefits service center to support your employees, you’ll want to also be sure that your partner is prepared to manage the potentially higher call volume and specific employee questions that may arise as a result of the pandemic.
COVID-19 has brought about tremendous change in the way that companies engage with their employees – and the impacts of this experience will no doubt shift the way we work moving forward. For now, Human Resource teams must sharpen their communication skills across a variety of channels as this situation unfolds, and prepare for future of work post-COVID-19.
Check back soon for part two of this post – and for more tips on reaching your remote workforce, take a look at Empyrean’s At-A-Glance Guide, “Engage on the Go: Mastering Benefits Connectivity to Support Your Mobile Workforce.”