While your office may reopen soon, the pandemic is not over for many employees. Return-to- office communications should help employees feel safe, seen and supported. Their needs have shifted during the long work from home period. That’s why effective communications can go a long way to build trust and let them know their health and well-being is important to you.
Whether you’re moving to a hybrid work arrangement or expect employees back at their workstations in-house, the way you communicate will impact employee engagement. We’re counseling our clients to focus on the Big Three for re-entry communications: safety, well-being, leadership.
Make your commitment to safety visible
Employees can’t perform if they don’t feel safe. Be clear about steps undertaken to maintain a safe in-office experience, including the deep cleaning of the facility, protective equipment availability, or health checks. Are masks required? What changes are coming to the break rooms? Set up an online Coronavirus Info Hub where employees can get information, news or policy changes. Being specific about this is more important than ever before.
Many companies are broadening their wellness programs to focus on mental health maintenance and self-care. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), often an under-utilized resource, are being more urgently promoted within benefits communications. Consider providing access to guided meditation apps like Headspace or Calm. Mental health apps, like Sanvelo and Moodfit, provide support for stress, anxiety and other issues.
Train and support front-line leaders
Train your managers and front-line supervisors with a comprehensive workplace re-entry plan. Ensure they understand any key changes in policy as well as safety protocols. Equip them to support team members with empathy. Supply guidance on regular check ins as well as fun activities like safe team bonding experiences, virtual happy hours and curated playlists. And don’t forget to praise good work and say thank you to managers. This group has been through a lot too.
One of the key takeaways of the past 16-months is that work from home is no longer a perk, but rather the future for many businesses. The hybrid workplace, where employees are co-located and have the ability to work remotely, is a hot topic, particularly with employees. A recent survey from SHRM revealed that 52% of respondents would like to continue to work remotely forever while 35% would accept a pay cut to work from home.
The shift to hybrid working means that companies have the opportunity to reset the workplace culture in many ways. But the tenets of pre-pandemic employee engagement have not changed. Communication continues to be the key to ensuring alignment and building company culture. Here are four recommendations we’re making to clients.
Conduct a health check for online collaboration tools
When the pandemic hit, businesses moved quickly to stand up collaboration tools that would keep employees connected and working productively. As hybrid workplaces evolve towards permanency, now is the time to assess how these tools are working and if remote workers have the right support and infrastructure for the long haul. If you don’t know how well they are working, survey employees now.
Create consistent person-to-person connections
Whether through group or individual online sessions, every remote employee should have a regular touchpoint with his/her manager. This ensures understanding of expectations and opportunities for feedback. Engagement lags when employees think their manager does not know, or care, what they do. Consistent interaction helps to build pride and performance.
Reimagine employee onboarding
The first 90 days in a new role is a pivotal time that can set up an employee for success or failure. Learning a new role while working remotely can feel isolating. Put practices in place to ensure the new employee understands the role, who to go to for support, and where to learn about the mission and culture of your workplace. Show your team personality with online Welcome party or a Hi There kit with company swag. Most importantly, give the new hire something to do and help prepare them to contribute.
Make recognition visible
The days of bringing everyone together for cake to celebrate a win or a milestone may be gone, but don’t skimp on saying thank you. Research indicates that when employees feel recognized and valued, they tend to be more satisfied, are more productive, and are more likely to engage with the rest of the team. Reevaluate your company recognition program with a lens on remote workers so that everyone knows their contributions are celebrated.
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.
As a communicator there are several key dates each year that
you must be prepared for. One of the most important is Open Enrollment.
In recent years healthcare costs have risen and plan designs have become
more complex. Open Enrollment communications have become more challenging
and more sought after by employees. To effectively communicate your
company benefits you must create a clear and consistent communications plan.
With that in mind here are a few best practices to consider
when planning out your Open Enrollment Communications:
Know your audience
The best way to find out where your communication gaps are
is to go to the source. Design a simple survey (through Google or survey
providers like Survey Monkey). Determine the level of awareness, what
employees need more information about, and what you are doing well. This
information will give you a good foundation when you begin building your
Get a head start
Going from no information for 11 months, then lots of
information all at once when decisions must be made immediately can be
overwhelming. Rather than overloading your employees with a massive
information drop, spread your Open Enrollment communications out over the
year. Create a 12-month communications plan that delivers small bits of
information every month. A consistent flow of communications about your
benefits will increase understanding and engagement.
Clarity is key
Keep your messaging simple. Your job is to break
through all of the confusing technical details and answer employees’ most basic
questions. What? When? Where? How? Provide clear information, dates,
checklists, and decision support tools that are easy to follow. Once your
employees have an understanding of the process, they will find it much easier
to come to a final decision.
Give them the cold hard facts
Your employees are intelligent. Be open and honest
with them. Communicate any challenging news such as increased health plan
premiums or rising deductibles. Messaging that is meant to conceal this
information will be seen as a negative and will impact employee morale.
On the same note, highlight the value of your benefits plan. Promote
wellness and have your employees share their stories of personal wellness with
Being prepared for Open Enrollment will make the entire
process easier. Get out in front of the issue and have a plan that
simplifies the information with a clear and consistent message.
A recent conversation with a smart, successful corporate leader has me still shaking my head. He was reflecting on the lack of urgency and so-so performance of some of their teams. “They just don’t get it,” he said. “I don’t know how we can get through to them.” It doesn’t take the investigative powers of Sherlock Holmes to identify a disconnect between the business strategy and employee performance. The failure here is not on the part of the employees, it’s the communications strategy. Sustained communications remind everyone of what you’re trying to achieve together. Here are three frequent internal communication fails and how to fix them:
No consistent communications Without communications, employees create their own narrative. No matter what channel works best for your business, choose a communications timetable and stick to it. Ad hoc doesn’t work. The message doesn’t need to be long, or over-produced. Sometimes an update, or a checklist or outlook for the next 30 days is enough. When weeks and months go by without a message from the leader, don’t expect employees to think things are OK.
No clarity on the big picture According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 44 hours per week, or 8.8 hours per day. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was focused on the same goals? A survey by Weber Shandwick found that only four in 10 employees can describe what their employer does and only 37% know the company’s goals. Ugh! Leaders must be relentless in connecting people to purpose by clearly communicating the company purpose, mission and goals. Just when you’re sick of talking about it, you’re reaching someone for the first time.
Relying on email as your go-to channel We’ve been talking about the death of email as an effective internal communications tool forever, but the dominance of millennials in the workplace should finally do it in. Every generation has a communication preference and the future is digital. If you’re relying on email to communicate with employees, you’ve got a problem. Add other channels to your communications mix and consider cloud-based products like Slack, GSuite or Microsoft teams.
Looking forward to some time off this summer? While you’re relaxing at the beach or enjoying an early start to the weekend with Summer Fridays, make time to sharpen your skills. Each of these books listed below will help you become a more effective communicator and leader.
Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace and the Will to Change, Jennifer Brown
This book could not be more timely. Every successful business must ensure that all employees experience a welcoming work environment where they can perform at their best and are challenged to grow. Jennifer shares best practices and business cases that inclusion is an opportunity to make your business better. Share the book with peers at your business and start a conversation.
Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy
You may know Amy from her viral TED Talk where she contends that adopting a power pose, like Wonder Woman, can actually make feel more confident. Her book expands on this premise with practical tips for anyone who has to pitch themselves or their ideas. If you think of a witty retort after the moment passes, this book is for you.
Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Great Presentations, Nancy Duarte
Raise your hand if you’ve sat through presentations that include 50+ slides. For years I wrapped this book up as a holiday gift to clients, hoping they would read it and realize you don’t have to put paragraphs on slides. Nancy Duarte has carved out a unique niche as a presentation expert. If that doesn’t seem very exciting, consider that within corporations, presentations are the most used channel for delivering information. This book will help you strategize the story, content, and flow to impact and influence your audience.
Sell with a Story, Paul Smith
We can all agree that storytelling is a powerful communications tool. But it takes practice to create stories that instruct, inspire and ignite action. Smith provides fascinating examples on you can take even the most technical, data-driven content and fashion a memorable story.
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.
This month as we focus on Thanksgiving, consider the power of gratitude in your workplace. Before your thoughts turn to friends, family and football, spend a few minutes thinking about how appreciation can make a difference to your business.
Tom Peters was so right when he noted “People don’t forget kindness.” It’s the same with gratitude. The power of a sincere thank you cannot be overestimated. In a recent study on employee engagement, the top factor of job satisfaction was respectful treatment of employees at all levels. Second on the list was trust between employees and management. If you practice the first item, you achieve the second one.
It takes conscious effort to build a culture where every employee feels appreciated. We all like to be noticed for the good things we do. People who feel appreciated believe their work makes a difference. They are more willing to go the extra mile because they know someone notices.
Making gratitude visible is a step you can build into your internal communications. Here are three ideas:
Appreciation by senior leadership—Create a year-end video of the senior management team thanking team members for their service this year. Get out of the office and film it with front line workers. Switching the wardrobe from suits and ties to ugly Christmas sweaters and elf ears will create smiles for years to come.
Appreciation by managers—Write a thank you note. It’s low tech, but more effective than a gift card. Be specific about how the individual contributes to the team. Not only will your employee appreciate the gesture, they will know that you are paying attention.
Appreciation by team members—It feels great to say thank you. That’s why peer-to-peer recognition programs are motivating to employees. They strengthen a culture of support, collaboration and achievement. Peer recognition programs should tie to your company values. Tailor the program to your business, but make the recognition defined, public and fun.
The power of gratitude is a multiplier. When you recognize people for their contributions, they perform better, trust grows and so does your workplace culture.
As an internal communicator there are several key dates throughout the year that you must be prepared for. One of the most important is Open Enrolment. In recent years healthcare costs have risen and plan designs have become more complex. Open Enrollment communications have become more challenging and more sought after by employees. To effectively communicate your company benefits you must create a clear and consistent communications plan.
With that in mind here are a few best practices to consider when planning out your Open Enrollment Communications:
Start with a survey
The time to start gathering information for Open Enrollment is now. The best way to find out where your communication gaps are is to go to the source. Design a simple survey (through Google or survey providers like Survey Monkey). Determine the level of awareness, what employees need more information about, and what you are doing well. This information will give you a good foundation when you begin building your communications plan.
Reach out early and often
Going from no information for 11 months, then lots of information all at once when decisions must be made immediately can be overwhelming. Rather than overloading your employees with a massive information drop, spread your Open Enrollment communications out over the year. Create a 12-month communications plan that delivers small bits of information every month. A consistent flow of communications about your benefits will increase understanding and engagement.
Keep it simple
Keep your messaging simple. Your job is to break through all of the confusing technical details and answer employees’ most basic questions. What? When? Where? How? Provide clear information, dates, checklists, and decision support tools that are easy to follow. Once your employees have an understanding of the process, they will find it much easier to come to a final decision.
Don’t sugarcoat the news
Your employees are intelligent. Be open and honest with them. Communicate any challenging news such as increased health plan premiums or rising deductibles. Messaging that is meant to conceal this information will be seen as a negative and will impact employee morale. On the same note, highlight the value of your benefits plan. Promote wellness and have your employees share their stories of personal wellness with their colleagues.
Being prepared for Open Enrollment will make the entire process easier. Get out in front of the issue and have a plan that simplifies the information with a clear and consistent message.
For many corporate employees, this is bonus season. In February, when year-end results are being finalized, the buzz builds. Will we make bonus, and by how much? In March, the anticipation is unmistakable.
Whether the news is good or bad, bonus season gives leaders a spotlight to connect individual performance and business results. While the architecture of bonus plans vary, most include a performance-related reward with a pay out when the company’s financial results and the individual’s performance meet set criteria. For example, when Apple missed sales and profit goals for 2016, Tim Cook saw a cut to his performance-based cash incentive. Don’t worry about Tim. Overall, he still did pretty well.
Whether the news is good or bad, the way you tell the story will impact employee engagement. Let’s look at communication strategies for both scenarios.
When the incentive target is achieved
Explain how it works. The only people who truly understand the bonus system work in Compensation. Prior to bonus announcement, send out a review of the bonus program with visual examples. Provide an online bonus calculator.
Celebrate. Good news should never be buried in an email. Create a brief video from the senior leadership team thanking employees for their contributions last year. An authentic thank you is always appreciated.
Set expectations for the current year. High performance cultures innovate, collaborate and continuously improve. Now is the time to be talking about 2017 stretch goals and aligning performance and priorities so bonuses are achieved in 2018. Create talking points for managers to cascade.
When the incentive target is missed
Explain how it works. See above. Talk through the plan structure. If thresholds were not achieved, clarify how that impacted pay outs. Remind employees that the bonus is just one component of a comprehensive rewards package and it’s performance-based. It’s extra pay for exceptional results.
Pre-announcement preparations. Prepare for this like you would for a customer or shareholder meeting. Compose key messages, draft FAQs and ensure managers are informed and prepared. Set up a channel for employee questions.
Hold town hall meetings. Where did the company fall short? Talk about it. Listen, answer questions, and discuss priorities and opportunities for 2017.
Proactive communications help connect the dots for team members. Businesses win when everyone knows, understands and lives the company’s values. Show them their contributions make a difference.