By James Franklin
Chief Customer Officer
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a mystery in so many ways. Scientists are diligently working on a vaccine, but there’s no timeframe for when it will be ready. Ebbs and spikes in daily infections cause shifts in guidelines on what seems like a whim.
But there’s one certainty: people need to work to pay the bills, regardless of the anxiety and uncertainty of returning to their workplaces. That’s why it’s crucial for employers to maintain clear, consistent communication as back-to-work strategies kick in. The goal is to make every step an employee takes toward the workplace a confident one.
Here’s a look at 10 effective communication tips regarding COVID-19 and how company leadership can keep employees grounded and informed.
1. Communication channels
Pair medium with message when talking about COVID-19. It’s unprofessional to send a Slack message to someone to notify them about a possible exposure. Similarly, it’s overkill to send push notifications through mobile apps every time there’s a scheduled workplace cleaning. Assess your various messaging mediums—email, phone, messaging apps, video, posters/placards, mobile apps, in-person—and decide on the appropriate channel for your communication based on content. What are you trying to say? Who is the message going to? How urgent is it?
2. Communication frequency
According to human capital solutions provider Alight, effective communication is the No. 1 expectation employees have during the pandemic. Meet this expectation with consistent communication in regular intervals and through the right mediums.
There’s daily news about COVID-19. Stay on top of verified, breaking news and share it with employees—especially if it’s significant to them. Weekly recaps are effective for less-urgent developments. Communicate on a private, personal level when necessary, but try to keep everyone on the same page with regular company memos, all-hands meetings, or a dedicated messaging channel.
3. Communication tone
Stick to your guns and reinforce your values as you communicate with employees during these uncertain times. Lean on company culture to not only show its strength, but to give employees the familiarity and normalcy they need to feel grounded.
At the same time, embrace an empathetic tone and adopt cues that show employees you’re situationally aware. Be mindful of the terms you use—flexibility, collaboration, support—and make sure your message is one that inspires confidence, calm, and pride.
4. Employee special circumstances
Coronavirus affects every person differently. Communicate with employees on a personal level to show them you understand its widespread impact. Be prepared to address questions and special considerations regarding everything from children and childcare, pre-existing conditions and at-risk individuals, and commuting or alternative work schedules. Take these and other unique considerations under advisement and follow up with definitive answers. Letting employees languish without a response will only make them feel unseen and unappreciated.
5. Exposure and infection concerns
There’s anxiety and fear about picking up coronavirus in the workplace. Employers should address these fears head-on. Discuss face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), and procedures and expectations for wearing them. Talk about transmission of COVID-19 and how employees can lower their exposure through handwashing and sanitization. Inside the Serraview platform, you can view your locations mapped against local COVID-19 data to better understand the severity. Roll this into a discussion about the steps you’ve taken to reduce workplace risks and protect employee health and wellness.
6. Building and workplace hygiene/sanitation
Send memos and emails with regard to workplace sanitization: new sterilization standards, cleaning schedules, and best practices for cleanliness. Make clear your intent to introduce new cleaning standards, but also the expectation for employees to maintain them. Detail what new facility cleaning protocols address and what the benefits are. For example, don’t just say “weekly electrostatic spraying.” Explain how and why this is better than general sanitization.
7. Personal health and hygiene
Offer tips on staying healthy—everything from personal health screenings to proper hand-washing technique. Go deeper, where possible. Provide information about where and how to get tested, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), telehealth services, and other health-related resources, programs, and incentives. Set up a repository for this information—be it on the intranet or pinned to the company message board.
8. Collaborative feedback
COVID-19 warrants discussion. Don’t just tell your employees what you’re doing to combat the virus and help keep them safe. Give them an equal chance to voice their questions, concerns, and ideas. Take employee feedback and make it actionable, then circle back with policies, programs, and resources that reflect these contributions. As employees see their voices manifested in company action, they’ll feel heard and appreciated.
9. New workplace structures
There’s a high likelihood your workplace has changed to accommodate social distancing guidelines. Don’t simply rearrange the workplace and expect employees to figure it out. Outline the changes, explain new policies, and even create tutorials—especially if concepts like hotel desk reservations and one-way walkways are new to your workplace. Stay attuned to how employees settle into their changed workplace and provide updated guidelines or policy reminders where required.
10. Contact tracing
Whether you ultimately need it or not, create a plan for contact tracing. Set up channels for employee reporting, as well as tracking possible exposures. Then, establish means for discretely alerting employees of potential exposure, while maintaining the privacy of infected individuals pursuant to HIPAA and ADA laws. Practice contact tracing with expeditiousness, discretion, and as much transparency as you can offer to maintain employee trust.
Communication is a top priority for employers right now and for as long as COVID-19 lingers as a threat to public health. Whether they’re in the office or working from home, employees need the affirmation and solace that comes from frequent, open, honest, and responsible communication with their employer
Keep reading: COVID-19 Workplace Management Resources