Findings from GlobalWebIndex indicate people regard their employers as one of the most trusted sources of information right now. Many companies are asking how they can best leverage internal communications and maintain company culture while their staff is either working remotely or facing the coronavirus on the front lines. During our most recent Real Talk Webinar, our panel of JS experts – Whitney Ott, Chowning Aguilera and Pam Sawyer – weighed in to answer this very question and more. You can watch the full webinar or read some of their practical takeaways below.
Is this an opportunity to evolve into a more collaborative, healthy culture?
We’ve repeatedly heard two phrases – unprecedented and uncharted – but COVID-19 is a crisis, and like all crises, this is an opportunity to measure yourself as an organization. The care and transparency people are craving is a perfect inflection point to reestablish culture and a sense of belonging across your organization. By actively listening to your employees, you can use this time to level up internal communications, connect with people in new ways and appreciate their efforts to support the business.
What are tactical strategies for keeping team members motivated and engaged when goals seem virtually impossible to achieve in this climate?
It is important to recognize businesses are faced with a multitude of different experiences and varying expectations. Essential organizations, like hospitals and grocery stores, are being pushed more than ever before, while some non-essential businesses have gone quiet given the nature of their industry. With that said, both have equal challenges in keeping engagement and morale high. We have found three key strategies that work for both essential and non-essential businesses:
- Acts of kindness: For frontline employees, create opportunities for virtual care packages to be sent from their families, friends or remote teammates; or consider providing meals, free childcare, or mental health and well being programs.
- Recognition: Highlight a co-worker for exemplifying cultural values via the company intranet or internal newsletters; leverage external channels to honor groups of employees; and if possible, extend retention and referral bonuses.
- Sense of team and togetherness: Find ways to connect people across your organization, keeping in mind personal and professional needs and concerns. For example, we have a JS Parents group, a Wellness team and a Diversity & Inclusion team that are all working to engage our employees in different ways.
How do you engage staff when technology isn’t consistent across the organization?
This can be a challenge for businesses during normal times, but in this difficult season it’s especially important to focus on two areas:
- Leverage all modes of communication to deliver a consistent message to your team in a timely way. This will take more effort and resources, but it is key to engaging your staff and aligning them to your purpose during this critical time. One tactic to consider is pairing the messages with an incentive to ensure they are being received and align your people with the call to action.
- Utilize your influencers within the organization to test and draw attention to your messaging. That might be through social media instead of through traditional means. Try to choose and activate at least three influencers in your organization who can help promote your key messages or provide engagement advice.
Knowing we can’t see or interact as well with body language, how can we be more effective with our communication on calls and video chats? What kinds of tips can you share on tone, volume and how we speak?
We’ve outlined our best advice to clients for media interviews here, and the principles remain the same when you’re meeting with your team. Some key things to remember:
- Don’t step on each other’s audio – pause
- Acknowledge the awkwardness
- Give grace
- Listen for silence
- Act like the person is in the room to guide your tone
- Watch for subconscious gestures (nods, tilt of head, fidgeting)
For companies whose cultures are partly based on relationships that are built in the office, how can you effectively transition to a distributed workforce model?
You can’t do it alone, so let your people lead. By fostering a team environment, you can naturally build community among your remote workforce. At JS, two of our eight core values are “we work together as a team” and “we have fun.” With those values in mind, we listen and collaborate with our people and let them tell us where there are needs and gaps and let them execute their strategies. For example, at the beginning of the crisis, we were fortunate to have one of our incredible leaders step up to say she and other members of our Leadership Team would love to personally reach out to multiple folks in our agency each day until everyone received a personal phone call.
How do you balance business needs with employees’s emotional needs?
Focus on sharing both factual and inspirational messages with your teams. There is a wide range of emotion among your employee base, whether your organization is large or small. Balance fact-based internal communications that appeal to the skeptics with emotion-driven messages targeted at more sensitive types for a well-rounded approach.
What would you recommend on how best to manage the potential conflict between frontline workers vs. support workers?
At the end of the day, you need to protect your employees and audiences you serve in the best way you can, while maintaining business continuity during this time. Delivered with compassion and transparency from your CEO or team leaders, messaging should communicate what your company is doing to protect each employee in your organization and reinforce that business continuity requires that some must be on the front lines while others support from afar.
What are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind for internal communications at this time?
- Do: Recognize that in this period of disruption and uncertainty, employees are relying more than ever on straight talk and inspiration from leaders in their organization. There has never been a better time to realize and focus on your people as your number one priority.
- Don’t: Forget that this is first and foremost a public health crisis. Don’t try to put forth an opinion or become a healthcare expert if you are not. Rely on staff members who are or external sources, like the CDC or World Health Organization, who can provide that insight to your business.
- Do: Follow the advice of “Dare to Serve” author Cheryl Bachelder, and do whatever it takes to get to know and love your team – likely spending more time with the very people you want to influence – so you can genuinely believe in them. Once you do, determining how to communicate effectively with them becomes clearer, less daunting and more rewarding. It may still be a labor of love, but it’s a love language worth mastering.
What’s around the corner? How are you planning your return to the office?
Our guiding philosophy is that safety comes first and allowing people to care for their loved ones is key. We’re now moving into a phase of planning for a return–to–office life might be very different than it was two months ago – different office configurations, new expectations for sanitizing, mental health support and increased flexibility for childcare. This planning will also vary and be impacted by local conditions and policies. It’s a work in progress, but our HR Lead Pam Sawyer ([email protected].com) is happy to discuss further if you have any specific needs to troubleshoot.