As businesses across the country begin to reopen following Covid-19, employees will need to feel safe and understand what to expect in new ways of working. While some businesses have extended telecommuting through the summer, that’s not an option for everyone. If you decide to reopen your business, here are some strategies to keep in mind.
Make Safety Visible
For employees to focus on their jobs, they must feel safe. Federal and state agencies have issued guidance on safe practices, including social distancing, frequent hand washing, and cleaning and sanitizing of workspaces. But these are mostly voluntary. Show employees that you care by communicating safety procedures at your business. Make it inescapable: posters, signage, emails, intranet pop-ups. Provide personal protective equipment at no cost to employees. Review and update your telecommuting policies. Ensure your managers practice and encourage uptake of new well-being processes.
The new normal is going to be confusing for a while. That’s why it’s so important that the business leadership is aligned, communicates proactively, and walks the talk. Train front-line managers on new working practices and talk about what you expect from them. The manager who doesn’t comply will be very easy to identify. Ensure there are two-way communication channels so that employees can surface issues and obtain rapid responses. Use pulse surveys to identify issues that are creating concerns. Now is the time to be visible, encouraging, and also transparent about the business challenges and what how employees can help.
Support Mental Health
Six months ago most people could not imagine daily life during a global pandemic. Unfortunately, now we all can. Your employees may have experienced the virus themselves, lost a loved one, know a friend or family member who is unemployed, or struggled with isolation or family issues. Now is the time for empathy. Show it in your leadership communications and encourage managers and supervisors to do the same. Emphasize the availability of counseling benefits or Employee Assistance Programs. Make it easy to ask for help.
There is not one prevailing roadmap through these challenging times, but employees want to hear from you. Communicate and manage sensitively. Be human.
By now, some of us have been working from home, sheltering in place for six weeks and it’s not clear when we’ll return to work as we experienced it before. Unprecedented is too small a word to use to describe the toll: 2.7 million coronavirus cases globally and 26 million Americans have filed jobless claims.
Now more than ever, communications from company leadership is key to building trust and maintaining focus. In many businesses, leaders are working around the clock to determine a path forward. Proactively communicating with employees must be part of that strategy. Here are some practical tips to keep your team members connected and focused.
1. Start with Compassion
Many of your employees have been affected by the virus. Whether impacted personally by illness, caring for family or friends, supervising home schooling, or taking care of children, everyone is dealing with something. Be concerned about employees’ and health and safety. Direct them to Employee Assistance Programs and other company-sponsored benefits. Provide a sincere thank you to everyone keeping things moving for the business and your customers. Be human and sincere.
2. Be Clear about the Way Forward
Things are bad everywhere and everyone knows it. Communicate the steps being taken to preserve the health of your business. Identify the biggest challenges and what the leadership team is doing to address them. Be positive about what is working well. Ask everyone to encourage and support colleagues and customers, in ways big and small. Show pride and share stories of how your people support the community and each other.
3. Empower Two-Way Communication
People consume information in different ways, so use all the channels available to your business. Resources like blogs, email, video, and the company intranet are effective, but also provide a way to collect and encourage feedback from team members. Make it easy to access. Ask for ideas on redeploying resources, increasing efficiency, and creatively solve problems. When employees feel heard, they perform well.
4. Lean on Line Managers
This is the time for your line managers to shine. While online town halls and video conferencing from leaders are essential to provide clarity, the most credible source is the manager. Prepare managers with talking points so the message is clear and consistent.
When iTunes debuted 18 years ago, it was a radical concept. Don’t buy the whole album; pay 99 cents for
the one song you like. Get a thousand songs in your pocket!
Apple made the announcement this month that it would move to
three individual dedicated apps for music, podcasts and TV. Users can maintain
their iTunes libraries and choose to subscribe to Apple Music. Pundits agreed
it was the right move, even though it’s the end of an era.
Think about your business communications: what channels or practices do you need to put
the brakes on?
Sometimes we stick with a communications process or channel
because it’s comfortable. It’s worked in
the past. It’s a no brainer to produce
it. But it takes a bit of courage to
realize that what worked before isn’t working now or is not sustainable in the
future. Change can be unsettling, but
it’s also troubling to find out your newsletter or intranet or CEO blog is
ineffective because it has no audience.
According to the National Weather Service, 2017 was a “hyperactive and catastrophic hurricane season”. With over 3,000 deaths and $282+ billion dollars in damages it was the costliest ever in death toll and destruction. We all remember the three major ones – Harvey, Irma and Maria and the harm they caused.
Just this week it was announced that another major storm will make landfall. Hurricane Florence is expected to hit the coast of North Carolina this weekend and with its arrival many millions of people will be displaced and there is potential for major damage to countless homes and businesses.
It’s important that in times of crisis your business is prepared with a plan of action to communicate with employees and stakeholders. Whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, blizzard or other natural disaster always ensure the wellbeing of your employees as they are your company’s most important asset.
Develop an emergency response plan with information for business offices with evacuation routes, emergency contacts, and safety procedures for your employees
Close your offices well in advance
Set up a crisis hotline or contact page where employees can get updates and stay connected
Make sure data backup systems are operational and fortify your office area before the disaster hits
Form a relief group to help recovery efforts or set up a relief fund for those effected by the disaster
I was watching a movie the other night (Jurassic Park III, underrated movie in my opinion) and there was a conversation between two of the main characters that stood out for me.
Billy “You have to believe me, this was a stupid decision, but I did it with the best intentions.”
Dr. Grant “With the best intentions? Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.”
Now in this case, Dr. Grant was talking about building a dinosaur theme park that ended up getting hundreds of people killed. On a smaller scale, businesses sometimes make decisions that end up backfiring with undesired consequences.
Business Insider published an article recently highlighting a perfect example of this. United Airlines announced they were making a change to their employee incentive program. Rather than using the existing quarterly performance and attendance-based bonus program they were moving to a lottery- based bonus program. Eligible employees would be entered into drawings for various prizes if the company hit performance goals during that quarter. The news did not go over well. Very shortly, United President Scott Kirby announced that they would be “pressing pause” on the new system after negative feedback from employees.
“Our intention was to introduce a better, more exciting program, but we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you. So, we are pressing the pause button on these changes to review your feedback and consider the right way to move ahead.”
There was an obvious disconnect between the decision makers at United and their employees. In retrospect, this is something that could have easily been avoided. When introducing a new internal program, particularly one that employees are passionate about, be sure to understand what your employees value and take steps to prepare them for the change. Seeking input and instituting change management best practices will help ensure that new initiatives are launched successfully.
Conducting an employee survey is a low cost effective method to gather information on employee priorities and areas that need work. Conduct an employee survey annually or use spot surveys for immediate input before launching a new program.
Before rolling out new programs, test the concept through focus groups. This will give you a good idea of how new programs will be received and identify any potential problems before launch.
Institute a Soft Launch or Pilot Program
Test the concept in one functional area or with a user group over a specified period of time. This will give the pilot group time to ask questions and give feedback before the full program launch so the program can be tweaked before full launch.
Sometimes an idea looks great of paper but simply doesn’t work in practice. Being prepared will make the entire process easier. Get out in front of any potential problems and create a plan that simplifies the information with a clear and consistent message. How does your company communicate new programs? Please share your ideas and stories with me: email@example.com
In the wake of widespread media reports of sexual harassment, what is your business doing ensure a safe and accountable workplace? Consider this: the #MeToo hashtag was shared more than 1 million times in just 48 hours after being posted to social media. The public debate continues as others are empowered to share their stories.
This is not a new issue. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 94% of U.S. companies have harassment and/or bullying policies that outline conduct that is prohibited. But if you think having a policy is enough, think again. A 2016 EEOC study of workplace harassment revealed that policies alone do not encourage appropriate behavior. The study reported that approximately 90% of survey participants who experienced sexual harassment never file a complaint.
This is a unique, timely moment to be very clear about workplace harassment. It benefits everyone to make this a priority in your business. When employees experience a safe and welcoming workplace, they perform at their best and drive business performance. As you review this issue internally, consider these communication best practices.
Review and update the existing Harassment Policy
Start by examining the current policy. When was the last time it was reviewed and updated? If it’s been more than five years, it’s too old. The policy should, at a minimum, list examples of prohibited conduct, detail the process for reporting objectionable conduct, and be signed by the current CEO. Then ensure that the policy, and the reporting process, is accessible. Bottom line: let employees know where to go for help.
Time for leaders to speak out
Every leader must be accountable. Let employees hear directly from the C-Suite that harassment will not be tolerated. Human Resources can support this endeavor, but can’t shoulder it alone. Executives must step up and commit that when allegations are brought, they will be investigated immediately and that appropriate actions will follow. Convey that retaliation is prohibited since many cases are unreported due to fears of job loss or reprisals.
Train. Train. Train.
Most companies provide online harassment training, but do you mandate that training is completed? Is harassment addressed in new employee orientation? Training will ensure a better understanding of the behaviors that comprise harassment. Additionally, the HR team must be prepared and ready to conduct prompt, objective and thorough investigations.
Amplify the message through internal communications
If an employee experiences sexual harassment–or witnesses it–do they know what steps to take? Make it easy for individuals to report. Use multiple channels to share the harassment policy and reporting procedure. Talk about it in town halls, blogs, create a video from the CEO and put a link to the policy on the home page of your company intranet. Make it loud so that everyone understands that harassment is unacceptable in your company culture.
“Please take some time to familiarize yourself with the contents and policies of our Employee Handbook and feel free to contact your HR representative if you have any questions.”
Does that sound familiar? Probably not, because in all honesty, who actually reads through their entire Employee Handbook?
Most of the time your Employee Handbook is distributed, put in a drawer and then thrown away when the next handbook is distributed. They are often an afterthought to both employees and employers that are only brought out in when someone wants to check company policies.
I recently read an article about one such extreme situation. The company, Quicken Loans, was summoned to the National Labor Relations Board offices this past December. The case against them alleged that the Detroit-based company had violated the First Amendment rights of employees and their protections under the National Labor Relations Act to discuss salary and benefits information. The allegation claimed that company policies in their Employee Handbook restricted discussions to the formation of a labor union.
Whether or not Quicken Loans is found in violation, this is a perfect case of why it is important to know what is in your Employee Handbook and why companies need to periodically update and revise it. Attorney Daniel Schudroff made a great comparison when he said “It’s like taking your car to the shop every six months for a checkup, the preventative maintenance could save an employer a costly event.”
An incident this week strengthened my opinion that social media has a purpose beyond Kim Kardashian’s latest selfie or Taylor Swift’s love life. Used effectively, social media should become a plank in every internal communications strategy.
On October 5, the management of Here to Serve Restaurants in Atlanta announced that their ten restaurants would close immediately, putting 1,000 people out of work while the company explores reorganization. No notice, no severance, no return date.
By the next morning, the word spread through the Atlanta restaurant community. Social media became a life raft for impacted employees to connect with restaurants that were hiring. Open positions for back of house and front of house roles appeared on Twitter, trending under #H2H2WORK. Here’s just a sample:
“Lots of ATL resto folks are out of jobs today due to the H2S closings. Resto group—post your opps and I’ll retweet. #H2S2WORK” @ATL_Events
“H2H2WORK come get some fried chicken @WhiteOakAtlanta. We got enough for at least 15 of y’all.” @ChefTRichards
“As much as it hurts to see @H2SRestaurants going away, it’s awesome to see the #ATL food community coming together #H2H2WORK” @Christopherbw
The Giving Kitchen, a restaurant community non-profit, established a fund for Here to Serve employees and there were online job fairs on Facebook.
Think about this: These efforts mobilized within 24 hours of the announcement. Atlanta restaurants belong to a geographically dispersed community with none of the traditional internal communications vehicles (emails, town halls, presentation decks). Yet the response was fast and effective.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. Is your social media plan established and robust? Would your employees go to your social platforms for information or in a crisis? Have you marketed your social media channels to internal audiences?
2. If you have an existing Crisis Communications plan, when was the last time you tested or updated it?
3. Does everyone with accountability in the plan understand their role? If there are new hires in key roles, do they know their responsibilities in a crisis?
You can bet that nearly 100% of your employees have access to their phones. Build internal traffic to your social media sites and then use social in your internal communication strategy.