Top tips for communicating with your employees during a crisis

Top tips for communicating with your employees during a crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought much uncertainty to the world in the last several months. 

Almost every facet of daily life has been disrupted – from the fallout for businesses and the economy, both here at home and around the world, to having to get used to the new normal of self-isolation and physical distancing. Companies, and their workers, have had to adjust to a new way of working and conducting business. Many meetings are now conducted online using tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts, and everyone from business leaders to their employees have had to adjust to working remotely.

Everyone has been affected by the COVID-19 crisis in one way or another.

This has left many business leaders looking for the best way to communicate with their employees during these unprecedented times.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) reported earlier this month that TINYpulse, a Seattle-based business that aims to help companies keep tabs on what is going on in the workplace through anonymous weekly employee surveys, created a 12-question assessment measuring employee satisfaction with an organization’s interactions with them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HBR sent the assessment to employees in 10 organizations, including for-profit, not-for-profit and government. A total of 830 responses came back between March 24 and April 22.

Here are the top five takeaways for business leaders:

Communicate frequently

Communicate with staff more often than you think is necessary. Frequent communication can help reduce fear and anxiety during times of crisis and uncertainty, and ensure that the message is getting through to all employees. Using different ways and channels to deliver the same message can also help ensure everyone is getting the message.

How leaders communicate can make or break employee commitment to an organization. One respondent reported, “[Our leader’s] calls with us and reassurances that the company has our back are inspiring. I even used it as a humble brag on social media to make sure people know we are still hiring and that this is the sort of company you want to work for when the going gets tough.”

Provide safe channels for giving feedback

Employees need to be able to feel free to express their concerns to leaders without fear of retribution, or information getting out. Organizations can offer a number of ways for employees to communicate concerns – reaching out to the human resources department, talking to a senior leader or manager one-on-one, or setting up an anonymous channel for suggestions.

Having a variety of options for providing feedback can help ensure employees will, in fact, do so.

Lastly, leaders should periodically report on the feedback received, sharing a careful summary of the questions and concern raised, as well as any follow-up. Doing so will help build trust in leadership.

Help employees work at home effectively

The HBR assessment found that employees who feel that they have what they need to remain productive while working remotely are more likely to feel satisfied with their organization’s response to the pandemic.

Maintaining productivity could mean investing in some work-from-home equipment – headsets, second monitors, comfortable office chairs and desks. Try to keep things flexible, many employees may need to adjust meeting time expectations due to family dynamics and childcare situations. And managers may want to use phone calls rather than video meetings when connecting one-on-one, or for small group discussions, to avoid the dreaded “Zoom fatigue.”

Address concerns about job security

With millions of Canadians laid off during the pandemic, many workers are, understandably, worried about their jobs.

When possible, leaders should reassure team members that their employment is secure, if this is indeed the case. When it is not, let employees know as soon as possible so they can plan ahead.

Provide a plan for the future

Given the uncertainty around the economic fallout from the pandemic, leaders should look to emphasize what is going well for the organization. Share as much as possible about the strategy for the future, and highlight employees who have gone above and beyond to help drive business or help co-workers during the pandemic.

In these uncertain times, effective communication is more important than ever. The online Bachelor of Arts in Business Communication at University Canada West (UCW) provides the knowledge and skills you need for a career in communications, public relations or advertising.

Published on August 5, 2020.