As the world continues to grasp how the global COVID-19 pandemic is changing our reality, internal communications professionals are confronted with an extraordinary situation – with the majority of the workforce required to work from home, one of the most important internal communications channels has gone quiet: face-to-face conversations.
In small and large organisations alike, a simple chat at the coffee machine can be highly valuable to get a sense of the mood within the wider workforce and to understand what staff is struggling with. With these informal conversations missing from the daily routine, a critical piece of intelligence about employee perceptions is no longer informing management and communications decisions.
So how can internal communications functions compensate for the sudden shortfall of personal interaction among the workforce? Here are seven tips to keep in mind when navigating this new environment:
1. Follow the data
Take a look at how your employees’ use of internal communications channels has changed over the last few weeks. Are they opening all-employee emails more often than before? Is the HR hotline ringing non-stop? Can you observe changes? Use this data to see how employees’ preferences for types of information and where and how they want to find it has changed.
2. Find alternative ways to listen
In the absence of face-to-face communications, make an effort to identify the connectors in your organisation and find out what they know. Has your colleague in finance, while discussing invoicing, picked up on concerns people have? Speak to your connectors and consider creating informal focus groups around them to uncover additional nuances.
3. Ask the audience
No one knows better what employees think than employees themselves. Ask your staff directly how they would like you to adapt internal communications, how often they would like to hear from the company, and what topics they are most interested.
4. Change your routine
If employees don’t seem to connect with the topics you deem most important or don’t favour the channel that always worked in the past, accept that and adapt your content and channels approach.
5. Make it personal
People want to see that their leaders are humans. This begins with putting your company’s leadership at the centre of your communications and having them share updates in a personal, human and authentic tone.
6. Tell me about it
Encourage your employees to share their personal stories. Ask people to share their perspectives and be honest and vulnerable – it will make employees feel more involved, create content that others will find relatable, and provide practical advice to drive employee satisfaction and productivity.
7. Listen and adapt. Listen and adapt. Don’t stop
If one thing is certain, it’s that the crisis will evolve and, with it, people’s behaviour and interests will change. As communicators, we need to be open to that change. Let’s listen to what our employees are interested in or concerned about and pivot accordingly. Don’t stop listening and adapting – it’s a basic communications rule but has never been truer than in this rapidly changing crisis.
Let’s learn from one another and tackle this extraordinary situation together – as a unified collective, we will overcome this crisis.