COVID-19 caused many employers to reconsider their onsite work requirement for many job functions. As the environment changes, are you finding it hard to keep up communications to your employees on your company’s plans for how (or whether!) you will return to onsite work?
AJC recommends several tools that employers can use to provide clear, consistent, and timely communications with Employees during the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19
Virtual Coffee chats with employees
Commonly asked questions document (FAQs)
Emails from Key Leaders
Emails from direct mananagers
Intranet site to publish FAQs and other newsletters / email repository
Posters on site, for those who are in person already
AJC Change Management and Communications Consultant, Robin Gervasoni, has recently worked with two quite different clients in these two very different environments. Robin found that there are many similarities in how each employer is assessing and addressing the change involved with having their employees return on-site vs. working remotely. In this case study, we highlight Robin’s discussion of the pros and cons of in person work, and tips on various options companies may consider not only in what they offer, but also how to best message that to their workforce.
Just when employers think they have a “handle” on what is allowed and advisable with COVID-19, things change. When the pandemic first hit in the United States in March of 2020, most employers sent all non-essential employees home to work remotely. However, many essential employees remained onsite.
In the early summer of 2021, it appeared that bringing “everyone” back to work onsite – whether full-time, or in a “hybrid” remote situation, was feasible.
However, the Delta Variant has thrown many employers for a new loop, and caused them to re-think their plans. The inconsistency and constantly changing nature of these plans leads to a hesitancy to communicate, for fear of changing again and confusing employees.
A complete lack of communication back to employees presents its own challenges, though, and employers are left with even more decisions to make.
What is the right thing to do? How to keep my team in the loop and engaged?
We have to teach (our employees): we’re just going to have to learn to deal with uncomfortable until we know more.
Figuring Out the Solution
What are the key goals for any strong Communications Program?
Ensure employees are comfortable enough to continue to perform their jobs during ambiguous times
Some people are very comfortable with ambiguity, and can perform well despite (even because of!) it. Others may be quasi-“paralyzed” in their jobs until they feel confident in the future.
With any large change, it is vital to collect input from your audience, which in this case is your employee base. Consider holding a simple, casual coffee chat or sending out a short survey to capture input from your employees. It is vital to get a pulse check on what is and is not important to them and learn what impacts may surface as a result of your decision.
We learned from some participants, that employees who appear to be “tone deaf” about what employees want (for example – sharing desk space on alternate days is no longer very appealing), can result erode confidence in management.
Project a level of consistency, even if the messages seem to be “flip-flopping”
Employers are afraid that if they constantly changing their COVID response, they will appear to be “flip-flopping” in front of employees. This is tough, because often the bottom line *is* changing!
For this, Robin recommends the following:
- Remind employees the COVID situation is ever-evolving, as they can easily see in the news.
- Your organization is closely monitoring the situation and will keep employees updated as the requirements change.
- Reconfirm your commitment to your employees’ safety and that it is a top priority and that you are putting measures in place to allow for social distancing and a safe work environment.
- Thank your employees for their flexibility and patience.
Also, some employees have been onsite this whole time, so be sure to thank them and their role throughout the pandemic as its own unique situation.
Ensure the messages are being understood by all employees.
Even with the input of employees, an great messaging content for your Communications and that projects confidence and competence, how do employers know whether their messages are not only being read, but being understood by their employees?
This is where direct managers and supervisors play a vital role. Managers are the most trusted resource from a communications standpoint. A well thought-out Communications Plan will pre-notify managers and supervisors, enlisting them to reinforce messaging and decisions.
You can watch the entire video Lunch and Learn below, or read the take-aways from Robin’s blog article here.
Communications in an ever-changing environment can be especially tricky. A well-thought out Communications Plan that takes into account employee feedback, projects consistent values even amidst changing tactics, and is reinforced by trusted managers will go a long way in reassuring your employees that you are all in this together, and that they can continue confidently in their roles, and that the Leadership Team has their best interests at heart when making and communicating information and decisions.