As COVID-19 continues to majorly disrupt “business as usual,” organizations need to stay in close contact every day, if not several times daily. As the pandemic unfolds and impacts organizations of all kinds—from institutions of higher education and healthcare companies to nonprofits and food companies—recommended communictions practices, while universally essential, may vary.
Regardless of industry, the following are proven internal communication strategies to consider during this tumultuous and stressful time—and beyond:
1. Your People Are Not Mind Readers
Make internal communications your top priority. Communicate with your staff proactively and often. Consider having a check-in at the beginning of the day, a focused strategy session among managers in the early afternoon, and—if warranted—a re-group at the end of the day either via phone, email or video conference call. Be sure to review with your team first any major announcements, operational changes, supply chain issues, customer service updates or other important details to avoid such internal and external communication blunders as information leaks, rumors, or inflammatory social posts.
2. Demonstrate Candor
Several years ago, I had the privilege of spending time with Jack Welsh, the iconic CEO, whom I wrote about on our blog when he passed earlier this month. He was very direct and prided himself on “no surprises.” He believed that candor is indispensable and a “winning trait” of the best managers and leaders.
In times of crisis, as we are experiencing with COVID-19, it is vital that leaders and managers hone this skill and muster the courage needed to communicate—ongoing and without delay—to their people.
3. Embrace & Communicate a “Never Give Up” Attitude
While demonstrating a positive outlook is essential, stick-to-itiveness, or dogged perseverance, is required to maintain a team’s collective spirit. This spirit can determine whether an organization prevails. It starts with your chief executive and should be cultivated amongst managers before being authentically communicated to staff. Consider making “never give up” your mantra.
4. Get Creative
Sales meetings, board meetings, C-level executive retreats, nonprofit galas, conferences and other meetings occur year-round across all industries. Some will obviously not be practical to conduct at this time, but do consider hosting and attending select virtual events. For example, webinar attendance has skyrocketed in recent weeks, making it a channel to strongly consider. Encourage your staff to get creative and make your virtual events stand apart and stand out. Your best people will be thinking not only about surviving but thriving; so, build creativity into your ongoing meetings and discussions and reward individuals for their contribution when you are able.
5. Invest in Tech
With so many people working from home, many technology services and tools, such as free conference call services, are strained and not functioning properly. Using a reliable teleconference solution, such as Zoom, GoToMeeting or Skype—which enables voice conferencing, screen sharing, and video conference calls—is imperative. Expect even the best tech to crash occasionally and, if budget permits, set up redundant systems. Also, confirm your team has trouble-free remote access/VPN capabilities, so they can obtain important documents without delay.
Strong technology boosts productivity but often requires some training. To maximize efficiencies, invest in smart tech tools, have your staff train others, and videotape trainings within your organization for future use.
6. Don’t Micromanage… But, Manage
Ensure that your managers are communicating with their direct reports on a daily basis. On your daily touch-base calls with managers, ask about progress, results and roadblocks. Managers should constantly be identifying where their people are stuck or making progress—and how they are achieving that progress. Collectively, they should be working to foresee obstacles, notice opportunities for operational improvements and efficiencies, discuss finances, and review optimal techniques for achieving results.
7. Adjust Internal Comms as Required
Look to make ongoing adjustments to your internal communication strategies and tactics. For example, if you know that key stakeholders are not opening and reading emails, consider deploying one-minute video updates. Compare open rates of traditional emails to those using video. Also consider changing daily priorities and reworking your daily work routines. Be flexible and open to your team’s insights and recommendations.
Keep in mind that some of the information you share with your employees can also be shared publicly (e.g., with your customers or stakeholders). So, think about how your internal communications best practices can benefit those beyond your (virtual) four walls.
Encourage innovation and deploy these strategies and tactics to turn this crisis into an opportunity—one that improves internal communication, team member satisfaction, and productivity.
Chris Rosica is president of Rosica Communications, a crisis communications agency and thought leadership/PR firm headquartered in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. He is the author of The Authentic Brand and The Business of Cause Marketing.