Thanks to the Livewire Strategy team for their insight and guidance.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we all suddenly find ourselves in a very different world than the one we were used to. For organizational leaders and communicators, we are called to be our best for our people. Whether they are on the front lines keeping society functioning, working from home while they practice social distancing, or are being laid off pending a return to normalcy, they need to see and hear us, know that we care about them, and that we’re capable of guiding our teams through this.
Trust is crucial right now. It’s the foundation of engagement and leadership. Show vulnerability and humanity. While this may not be your preferred leadership style, this is a moment when people are reaching out for connection and empathy.
Employees will remember their leaders’ and their organization’s response. Share what you can honestly and transparently. Be mindful of the different ways people are processing this unprecedented event. There are a range of reactions we expect including anxiety, activism, avoidance or just having a hard time focusing. Allow some time for people to catch up.
Keep it brief and reliable. You need to decide on the right volume and cadence for your organization, but short, daily briefings can ease anxiety and reassure employees that they have the most up-to-date information. Commit to a frequency of communications that gives visibility and attention to vulnerable groups. We are all reacting, day by day. Communicate what needs to be done right now and reassure that you will share the next action steps at the next touchpoint.
Take care of yourself. Be conscious of the way you yourself are feeling. How you show up for yourself and others will be mirrored back in your employees. Find a trusted partner to share with and get your thoughts straight. This will help you stay calm and clear with your team despite the uncertainty you may feel.
Employees need three types of information right now:
1) Requirements around keeping healthy and staying safe
2) How the organization is responding
3) Direction for now and moving forward
Working remotely will be challenging for many at first. This is an opportunity for people to share their challenges and differences while working together to problem solve.
Set up a go-to location for all policies, memos and documents for employees. Ensure they know how to access it and include all external messaging as well so employees see the full story. Mirror company policy on the intranet to official government advice.
Use your digital channels. Whatever they are – Teams, Yammer, Chat – to build community and spirit.
Implement “Community Builders”. Anyone can play the role of “Community Builder” and start conversations that connect the team. Identify these emerging community leaders, connect with them and discuss their perspective and direction in their community role.
Make time for each other. Set up daily informal meetings, like virtual coffee chats in the morning, to help people connect in a personal way. Focus on increasing the traffic and flow of information but reduce the volume at any one time.
Remote workers and front line may be having very different experiences. Involve members of these groups directly to resolve the challenges they’re facing. Hear their concerns, discuss which solutions are available, ensure they are part of the decision-making process and that those making the call are equipped to do so.
Create a channel that can be used by all groups. Invite them to share their experiences and break down barriers around perceived notions about what it’s like to either work on the front line or be isolated at home.
If you’re temporarily reducing your team and intend to bring them back after the lockdown period is over, consider ways to stay connected with them. Show them you care and that you’re looking out for their friends and colleagues through e-newsletters or information pages.
Leaders need to be visible and set the tone for their teams. Most leaders are now in uncharted territory and need support. In partnership with HR, Internal Communications needs to ensure messages and channels align with and enable the values and culture of the organization.
Now is also the time to be very direct around what is required from leaders. Be clear – these are the messages you must get across to your employees. Provide leaders with a guide to host meetings including these key messages, and direction for leading a Q&A session. Be clear that team leads must be responsive to their members and raise any concerns employees may have to someone who can give them the answer.
For regional teams, follow up on any corporate message with a message from the regional head. Hold conversation sessions with the regional heads to give people a chance to discuss what it means for them.
Provide regular updates, and send accurate, succinct information from reliable sources.
Deliver information in plain language supported by facts and a consistent tone that’s right for your audience.
Adapt your language to be appropriate for a family member or neighbor. Ask yourself, “Would this explanation help them understand?” Resist using jargon or overly emotive language.
Your voice as a leader is critical in this time to reduce anxiety and to give context. Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer reveals that people trust their employer more than the government and their media.