2020 has been a stressful year for everyone around the world. Regardless of other news-worthy events, this year will be remembered for the pandemic. Words like lockdown and quarantine are part of the global vocabulary. For organizations, 2020 has highlighted the importance of communication yet again.
Communication – both internal and external – has always been crucial to businesses. But with the ongoing lockdown, employees working remotely, and the added stress of financial concerns, it’s even more vital for offices to manage their communications.
Unfortunately managing company communication during a lockdown is challenging for many reasons. Many people have lost their jobs as companies lost contracts or otherwise stopped working. It means organizations are not fully staffed and the remaining employees have to work from home. How can you communicate effectively when you can’t even meet face-to-face?
Working from home can be detrimental to productivity and the mental health of employees, especially when it happens unexpectedly in the midst of a crisis. Not everyone can work remotely, and even if you can do it not everyone will like it. Remote working makes communication and collaboration much more difficult.
It does not mean there’s nothing you can do about it. While the lockdown situation is ever-changing depending on where you work, leaders can still manage company communication with existing tools or find new ones to fit the need.
Communication strategies will differ based on who you are talking to. For instance, messages targeted at customers will be different from what you circulate internally. This aspect does not change during a lockdown. Here are four key areas to focus on when managing company communication:
Larger organizations often have decentralized communication as do companies where employees are spread across multiple locations. But during any crisis, it’s important to centralize the communication team. The organization needs a focused team who can create the message and disseminate it in the right manner. You do not want misinformation, rumors, and lies to circulate during this time.
Who should be a part of this communication team? It often varies, depending on the company. The team should consist of a senior leader, a person from HR, a domain expert, and a communications expert at the very least. Ensure that the team does not become a committee of a dozen or more people though, it is detrimental to your goal of managing company communication.
Once you have your team in place, it’s time to consider your audience. Who are you talking to and what do they need to know? The pandemic has affected everyone from shareholders to customers and employees. But you have a duty to keep your staff informed about many things during a lockdown. Employees will have a lot of questions such as:
Company communications should focus on addressing these concerns as well as any other questions your staff may have. Also, make sure that you communicate with employees at least once every other day. A lack of clear communication can make people feel isolated especially as they work alone through a lockdown.
Talking to your customers is also a part of managing company communications. Organizations communicate with customers in two broad areas:
The pandemic has affected not just individuals, families, and businesses but also communities. There are many ways you can communicate with them including using the philanthropic arm of the business to give aid. Open a dialogue with local civic leaders or other businesses to explore avenues of help. It can be as simple as offering time off for your employees to volunteer or donate supplies such as face masks to healthcare providers.
Now that you know who you are talking to, you should consider what you need to tell them. As written earlier, almost everyone is going to have questions about the lockdown in general. Employees will also have specific concerns you should address.
These messages can be similar for different audiences with the primary difference being in how much detail you should include. For example, customers may not care if you are sanitizing the computer equipment but they do need to know if your business hours will change.
While external messaging is important, remember that your employees will need information on the current situation as well as updates when things change. Are you changing the office configuration while everyone is working from home to prioritize distancing? Tell your staff about it. In a crisis, timely information is perhaps more important than waiting until you know everything about the situation.
Many businesses have had to change how they work, their policies, and make plans to keep up with changes in the future. But is this information confined to only the executives in charge? Make sure employees know what is happening across the organization. If you make any policy changes that affect them directly or indirectly, they should know about it.
Changes in policy can also affect staff in unexpected ways, especially if they live and work in different places. Perhaps you have set a date for some people to return to the office but the state has enforced a stay-at-home order. Remember to update staff when the situation changes along with your response.
Working remotely during a lockdown can be harmful to mental health, especially when it goes on for a long time. Some offices may not have enough work for everyone, even if they have furloughed staff members. So how can you help your staff feel motivated and productive when they can’t work?
One option is to use this time for training and other learning opportunities. Conduct virtual seminars or meetings to update staff on their skills and knowledge. Use this time to make sure all your staff are trained and learning. There are several benefits to this approach:
The final piece of managing company communication is to consider the methods of delivery. Communications have always relied on technology, now the reliance is more readily apparent. When you eliminate in-person communication, you need to use other means to achieve the same results. But not all channels are appropriate for every message. So you should consider the audience, the message content, speed of delivery, and other factors when making a decision.
Regardless of the channel, make sure your systems are working correctly. When something goes wrong, try to fix it as soon as you can. An employee’s laptop is malfunctioning? Replace or repair it. Video calls are choppy or have bad audio quality? Upgrade your data network or internet speeds. There is nothing worse than hearing unwanted background noises or watching someone speak without being able to hear them during an important meeting.
Video calls have skyrocketed during this lockdown and for good reason. It’s as close as you can get to colleagues without meeting them in-person. Video calls are great tools to conduct a meeting, weekly status updates, or simply catch up with teammates socially. You can also use video calls for training sessions, virtual learning seminars, and impromptu meetups. However, they are not ideal for communicating with customers unless you are meeting one on one with a client.
Video calls are not your only option though. Use voice calling, text apps, email, internal messaging platforms, and email to keep in touch with everyone.
For instance, important information about the pandemic or policy changes should be sent out via email. But you can follow up with conference calls or video chat to answer questions about it from staff. Social media is also a good avenue to use, especially if you and your employees were already using it before the lockdown.
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