Managing the communication complexities of easing coronavirus lockdown
— May 25th, 2020
Lockdown easing and a return to the working world, whatever that may now look like, is the next COVID-19 chapter unfolding, and communicators remain firmly at the heart of it.
Dealing with change and managing the ever-evolving complexity of government guidance and translating that into employee communications that resonate, are timely, and are relevant is becoming our new norm.
Translating and sharing business communications to re-engage a workforce, allay their safety fears, support them and their Managers with job changes or even layoffs is our next Internal Communication challenge.
As many companies across Europe and the US start returning to work what are the factors internal communicators need to take into account to manage the complexity of helping return the furloughed workforce back to work successfully?
Our employee audience segments appear to have changed with each company department having different employee requirements for work return.
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Countries are phasing back to work in different waves, and lockdown easing guidance, and therefore employer and employee requirements appear more complicated and confusing than lockdown itself. It could be easy to react to the seeming chaos and run in the opposite direction hoping it all just sorts itself out.
But is it REALLY that complex? The audience segments are different, yes, perhaps. But we have done this before… just think back to starting a new communication campaign or even back to when you began your current comms role.
That was all new and overwhelming too, but you navigated and persisted, were curious, and got on with the job. You applied your skills and knowledge then, so you can do this too.
If you need some guidance (which honestly is just a reminder of what you already know), then read these five pointers.
Go back to basics
Audience segmentation and communication planning always stand us in good stead when it comes to delivering relevant and timely comms. Treat this new COVID-19 chapter as a whole new communication campaign and use all your tried and tested comms skills to develop a robust and tailored plan for each audience.
While you don’t know what the mid-term messages will be, you know what needs to be said now, by whom and how best to communicate it. Start your plan with that. The future details will become clearer day by day.
Network, network, network
Great communicators know the power of their company networks (and I’m not talking IT systems and platforms here). Our colleague connections are our best assets and now is the time to leverage them to understand the needs of each audience segment.
Your holistic comms plan will likely be one of consistent messaging from the C-Suite, but the varied needs of each department, country, or whatever segmentation you’ve defined needs to be tailored to the needs of your audience groups.
And you can only deliver timely and relevant comms if you know what each group needs. Ask your network of comms champions.
Partner and prioritize
Partnering with other leaders and key decision-makers in the business, which I hear on the grapevine is a welcome outcome of this crisis for IC, will enable you to prioritize the focus of communications, targeting efforts where they’re needed most and at a time that feels relevant and supportive for those employees returning to work.
Let’s be clear… you cannot do everything. Efforts need to be prioritized. If you haven’t already done a prioritization exercise within your Comms Team, now is the time to ditch or postpone some of your business-as-usual workload.
Leverage line managers
We know that year after year, employees cite their Manager as being THE trusted source of information. And year after year Managers, according to Gatehouse’s State of the Sector report, are one of the biggest blocks to successful, effective communication within a business. If you’re not getting the message, Managers are your golden ticket to improving comms.
Returning to work will elicit a plethora of emotions in staff and those front-line Managers need your support in order to support their people. NOW is the time to give them the communication tools they need. There are hundreds of Managers who can do your work for you, if only they have the right tools.
Be honest and empathetic
We know that workplace practices, working behavior, government guidance, and business decisions will all most definitely change as we take further steps back towards a new normal.
As good leaders and communicators have already shown us, honesty and empathy are the most important elements to building trust and respect. Alongside a regular, open pulse of communication between staff and leaders, this approach will help to keep your workforce community united and your reputation intact.
As I said, you already know this stuff. But I hope the reminder helps take you from overwhelm to optimism and from complexity to confidence.