Best Practice

How to continue communicating effectively effectively through COVID-19

There are so many unknown right now but one thing’s for sure: your workplace community craves communication it can trust.

When the coronavirus crisis first began, there was plenty of information to share.

Much of this was about new policies and technologies for remote work. As the crisis continues, you still need to effectively communicate, even if there aren’t any clear updates.

So, what information should you share? Who should share it? How often should you give updates? What if there aren’t any updates?

In a recent Poppulo webinar Karmon Runquist, Director of Web & Digital Communications at Wentworth University, offered ideas on how to effectively communicate through the ongoing crisis.

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Runquist is responsible for communications for a university with 4000+ students, 500 full-time and part-time faculty and staff, and 45 email managers with access to Poppulo.

Karmon shared some of her insights on how to effectively communicate during a Poppulo webinar, COVID-19 & Remote Working: How to Make it Work When We’re Not Together.

Present an authoritative and reassuring voice

You’re not expected to have the answers, but during times of uncertainty, community members look to their leaders for advice and support. That’s why you should continually present an authoritative and reassuring voice in your communications with your audience.

“Acknowledge that you don’t have the answers. Who has all the answers in something that’s never happened before? Acknowledge that you’re working for the community and that you’re open to hearing from your team.”

That doesn’t mean making up answers. In fact, it’s good to acknowledge that you don’t know how things will proceed. Leaders, such as CEOs, presidents, and those in the C-Suite, should deliver important messages.

Only share information that directly impacts your audience

Since the coronavirus began, we’ve all been inundated with messages in our email inboxes. We hear from an unfamiliar business that it’s open, now it’s closed, and now it’s selling goods online. It’s exhausting.

No matter your organization, your audience will want to know if there are updates that will impact them. But you should be strategic in how often you’re sending updates and making sure that the updates you send are helpful.

For example, sending out reminders to wash hands isn’t necessarily an effective use of internal communication.

“Addressing specific concerns via targeted communications has made it so people get the information they need when they need it without engaging the entire university.”

Runquist shared that groups within Wentworth’s audience had different concerns. For example, students taking classes were concerned about how they’d receive their grades, while those out on internships needed support navigating the situation with their company.

These two groups receive the information that’s most relevant to them.

Be consistent with communication

No matter which channel you use to communicate with your team, it’s essential to be consistent. Be sure to share information in the same way, every time, preferably in regular intervals.

This helps your audience know what to expect, relieving some of their uncertainty. For example, a weekly email may be good practice.

To consolidate information, Karmon and her team began putting together weekly update emails that go out to the entire community. These emails include any new updates, as well as any virtual activities that are happening.

“We use the same communications tools to share information with our audiences. To reduce overload, we send a weekly newsletter to try to consolidate important information.”

By being consistent with your communication, you reduce uncertainty by setting expectations. Plus, if you don’t say anything at all, a vacuum is created where team members may guess as to what’s going on.

Have regular standing meetings with your team

There will obviously be meetings for specific projects, but it’s also important to have regular standing meetings with your team to check in on how things are going. These meetings can build comradery and are good mental health check-ins.

“We have set up regular standup meetings via video. It’s an opportunity to see into everyone’s lives– everything from seeing somebody’s cat walk across the keyboard to what artwork they have on the wall.”

These regular meetings should ideally happen once per week. Their purpose is to check in with everyone. Use this as an opportunity to find out what everyone is working on, what’s going well, and what they’re struggling with.

Take the time to assess what’s working

Now that you’re working remotely, you can’t go out into a workplace hallway and ask a group what they think of a new idea or initiative. Even so, you can listen on social media, send out surveys, and have conversations.

This is a good time to use analytics to assess which parts of your messaging works best. Do so in a flexible manner, as things are rapidly changing and there’s often not much time to perfectly plan.

But, as a leader, you want to make sure your community is benefiting from your internal communications plan. Don’t be afraid to ask if they’re getting too many updates, or not enough. No matter what, don’t forget to offer an authoritative, reassuring voice.

You’re positioned to provide much comfort during this time.

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