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Managing Internal Communication During A Pandemic

13 Apr 2020
Ewan Anderson

Internal communications is often a discipline that is taken for granted and even overlooked. The is an expectation that it is information people should already know or don't need to know.

As with anything, those that get it right make it seem effortless. While those that don't quite grasp it, or give it the importance it demands risk impacting on company culture and their brand, especially when it comes to situations such as COVID-19.

There cannot be a more critical time to get your internal communication right than during a pandemic with a number of your staff either working from home or on furlough. Or, if your business is fully operational and your team are working incredibly hard to support society with essential services.

Keeping people informed with as much information as you possibly can, making them feel part of the process and supporting their mental state is vital.

Here are a few top tips to make sure your strategy is helping your staff.

Open and honest

Taking an open and honest approach to your internal communication is vital to success. Decisions will be made at a senior level based on complex and potentially highly confidential information, the details of which don't need disclosing to the full company.

However, when the decision is made, especially when it concerns the staff, as a business owner, you need to communicate this.

When it is a situation such as COVID-19, when there is no playbook or set of guidelines to follow, and it can change on a daily business, openness and honesty is crucial.

Your team will respect you when you say, 'I don't know, but I am trying to find out'. Your open approach isn't a sign of weakness or incompetence, instead of a leader dealing with a challenging situation and aware of the concerns.

FAQs

A 'Frequently Asked Questions' section on your intranet or on an internal drive where all staff can access it is vital.

To those making the decisions, this might not seem important as it is information you already have. However, if you have a sizable employee base, perhaps based in several different locations, you will find the same questions will come up, around the same topics as a result of the same concerns.

This is normal. Your staff will all deal with the situation in a different way. Their priorities will vary depending on their personal circumstances, and therefore, their questions will reflect this.

However, you will find that there will be general themes that you can address quickly and easily through a well laid out FAQs.

When you face a situation such as COVID-19, your FAQs will remain a live document, updating based on broader environmental factors.

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Communicating with staff still working

If your team are still working during COVID-19, they will likely be feeling the pressure. They have probably had to take on extra responsibility to cope with increased demand or to cover those who may be off sick.

Regular communications

Regular, positive, daily contact from a senior business leader will help them stay the course. If you can deliver the message in person (obviously at a safe distance), then take the time to walk the floor and chat to your team. Inspire them, reassure them that their contribution is valued and vital.

If you are all working from home, make sure there is some daily communication going out to the team. For less experienced team members, the dining room table or home office can be a lonely place. So a regular update will keep them in touch with the business.

This could take the form of a daily email or if you have the time and the capabilities then make a regular call with your team member. You would be chatting to them every day in the office, so why not pick up the phone or video call them.

Communicating with your furloughed team

Keeping up communication with your furloughed team is just as crucial as with the staff still working. These employees remain a vital part of the team. Regular business will resume eventually, and they must understand what has been happening, that there is a business to return to and that they still feel part of the company.

Under furlough rules, your staff can't engage in any work-related activity. However, they are an employee of your business and should be kept up to date. So find ways to communicate non-business content.

  • A weekly CEO update would add value.
  • A regular call from a line manager to catch up would help stay in touch.
  • You could coordinate a team Zoom quiz or another activity that will maintain the relationships that existed in the workplace. 

It will feel strange as many of the relationships that existed at work were built on work-related discussions. However, these are not standard times. You need to get beyond office chat and work on those personal relationships.

Address the news

A final point is concerning the daily news. We live in a 24/7 news cycle with news channels on every device we own. With so much airtime and a vast digital landscape to fill it is inevitable, stories will appear that are unsubstantiated.

We are not suggesting you have a team member sitting trawling the news sites, but there will be updates from trusted sources, such as the government that will relate to your team that will pose questions. Keep on top of the daily news cycle and use your updates to address them. And if you don't know, have the confidence to say, 'we don't know, but we are finding out'.

Staying in touch

None of this is easy. Striking the right balance with internal communication can be difficult at the best of times so during a global pandemic it is important to keep putting yourself in the shoes of your team and asking what you would like to know.

Be honest and open and stay in regular contact, and you will be fine.

Author

Ewan Anderson
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