Why make employee communication more human during COVID-19?
— July 2nd, 2020
In many corporate cultures, personal lives are treated as something distinct and separate from the professional sphere.
On a normal day, professional communication focuses on work responsibilities with little acknowledgment of the lives people lead when they leave the office.
But we’re not experiencing normal days right now. For as long as COVID-19 continues to re-shape our lives and culture, that division between the personal and professional is no longer practical.
Employee wellbeing during COVID-19: What we can learn from Behavioral Science[
Personal life directly influences job performance
This isn’t new. People have never been able to leave their personal lives behind completely when they come into work, particularly when dealing with something stressful or emotional at home. But the inability to separate the personal and professional spheres is heightened when everyone’s working from home during a pandemic.
Not only is your workforce facing news every day that inspires anxiety and fear, but many of them are also juggling work responsibilities with having kids home from school or senior loved ones that require caregiving.
At businesses that had to rush the shift to remote working, employees are dealing with the extra stress of learning how to use new remote work tools and collaborate with colleagues in a new way.
And at any organization that had to resort to layoffs or furloughs, the employees left behind are dealing with survivor’s guilt, often on top of an increased workload in their colleagues’ absence.
Across the board, people are going through a lot. The strong emotional challenges of the times will inevitably seep into your employees’ work performance.
Take care of the whole person
On Poppulo's recent webinar about managing internal communications during a crisis, one of the main takeaways was this: you can’t care for employees without caring for the whole person. No one working for you is an employee only. They have full lives outside of the office. And now that offices are mostly out of the picture, those lives are happening all around them as they try to do work.
For your communication to be effective during this time, you need to think about all that they’re going through.
- Check in on how people are doing.
Don’t keep your communication to work topics only. Make sure you’re also checking in how employees are feeling. Asking the standard “how are you,” tends to get the automatic response of “fine” rather than a genuine answer, so consider approaching it another way. In our webinar, Roxanne Martinez of DentaQuest recommended using weather-inspired language like “Are you feeling pretty sunny, or are you feeling extra stormy?”.
- Be aware of non-work responsibilities people are managing.
An employee that’s taking care of multiple kids while working from home will face different challenges than one that lives alone. But both situations bring issues. One might feel overwhelmed and the other lonely. You want to be aware of the unique challenges each employee faces and how it will influence their ability to get work done.
Consider resources you can provide to help employees with various problems they may be facing right now, such as financial anxiety, loneliness, or family distractions. If you can help them manage the responsibilities they face in their personal lives better, it will make it easier for them to address their work responsibilities as well.
- Shift to more one-on-one communication.
For large businesses, a lot of internal communications go to the entire workforce. While that makes sense for some types of information, during a pandemic people benefit from a more personal touch. As much as possible, shift your strategy to include more person-to-person interactions, rather than top-down communications that push the same message out to everyone.
By communicating with each person as an individual, you can more successfully address what they’re going through. If your business is too big for your internal communications department to interact with everyone one-on-one, then focus on personal exchanges with managers and urge them to do the same with the employees that report to them.
Professional communication must evolve
Even the most seasoned internal communications professionals are having to learn new strategies for managing communication effectively during this time. Remembering the human side of your employees is a big part of doing so, but it’s just one aspect of building a communications strategy that makes sense during a pandemic.
For more information to help you get through this rocky period, download our free guide on managing internal communications during a crisis.