At the start of the pandemic, businesses without flex work arrangements were pushed into the deep end. Those companies that already leveraged online collaboration tools were better prepared. Now, as we close in on one-quarter of the adult population vaccinated, businesses are preparing for the new normal. For many of us that means returning to an office environment for the first time in many months.
WFH isn’t for everyone
A new Fortune/SurveyMonkey study of office workers shows that remote work will no longer be viewed as perk. But not everyone wants to work from home. Among the findings is that twice as many respondents prefer to be in the office than to work from home once the pandemic is over.
36% of respondents say they prefer to be always in the office
18% of respondents prefer to always work remotely
42% of respondents prefer a hybrid model with some in office/some remote work
These findings suggest that the future of flexible work arrangements will be a priority communication. Employees need to feel safe and appreciated. Leaders will need to make the case that culture and connection is continually evolving. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s well worth the time to examine and update corporate policies and the employee handbook now.
Involve employees and communicate
As you push reset on flexible work arrangements, be sure to involve employees. Surveys and online focus groups are effective tools to gather input as you finalize the business strategy.
And remember—if you ask for feedback from employees you must always thank them for the feedback and let them how their input helped to shape decisions.
February is Black History Month, a time to reflect, celebrate and learn about the heritage and significant contributions of Black Americans. Although many businesses are operating in work from home settings, there are many ways to engage employees in programming and spark meaningful conversations about racial justice that extend well past February.
Educate and spark dialog. Host a conversation series with guest speakers on topics such as Black culture, trailblazers and social justice. Encourage all employees to live your corporate values by educating themselves on racial injustice. Invite Black leaders within your company to share their career stories and talk about leadership development.
Connect and engage. Establish Employee Resource Groups, employee-led organizations focused on fostering an inclusive workplace and aligning with business objectives. ERGs are a powerful tool in employee retention, engagement, and development of future leaders.
Involve employees in brand and internal storytelling. Do your communication channels, recruiting and marketing materials look as diverse as your employee population? Employees are the most credible brand ambassadors, both internally and externally. Create new ways to showcase your employees and their stories.
Start a Leadership Book Club. Use the Lean In model as a template for a Company Book Club. Select at book, and create a company-wide reading event culminating with a moderated discussion with a company leader. Looking for inspiration? Here are some amazing books:
How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson
“Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement” by John Lewis and Michael D’Orso
The NAACP offers guidelines on what brands can do for Black History Month . This includes focused recruiting efforts of diverse leaders, supporting diversity and inclusion programs within your business and engaging with local social justice organizations.
Over the past decade, technology has facilitated a major shift in how we do business. Many workers have moved from office settings to remote working. In 2020 this shift accelerated even more rapidly due to COVID-19 and the need to adopt social distancing for the health and safety of employees and their families. Companies are adapting on the fly in the ways they communicate and conduct day-to-day operations. While this shift has helped businesses stay productive, the sudden change has left some employees feeling less engaged.
Managers are suddenly faced with the question, “How do we support our employees who are now forced to work remotely?” Sudden changes like this can be overwhelming if you don’t have a plan in place. In order to make sure you are doing all you can to support your remote employees here are a few internal communications best practices to keep them engaged:
Keep in Contact
This seems simple but it’s easy to miss the mark. Make sure your employees feel supported and connected to their peers and managers. Host virtual team meeting and check-ins multiple times a month. Keeping employees in the loop about the company’s big picture and their role in it helps them feel valued and included, promotes a healthy attitude toward otherwise stressful changes, and ensures everyone is aligned and headed in the right direction.
Celebrate your Employees
People want to feel that they are valued. Introduce an employee recognition program to celebrate when your team members go above and beyond. Everyone appreciates a pat on the back for a job well done. Also small things like calling out work anniversaries and birthdays will make your employees feel appreciated and let them know that you’re thinking about them.
Ramp up Training
Give your employees the tools to be successful. Employee training in any business is an investment, not an expense. When employees are well trained, they perform with skill and confidence. Make sure your employees feel prepared to work remotely and promote continued growth and development. Implementing training programs for video conferencing, webinars, and any new programs will help employees feel assured.
As we enter the fourth month of the global pandemic, employees seek more communication and connection with their managers according to a new survey from Gallup.
The survey, conducted in June, shows that employee preparedness and alignment is down 20% from the previous month. Key findings include:
41% say that my employer has communicated a clear plan of action in response to the coronavirus.
41% say I feel well prepared to do my job.
41% say my immediate supervisor keeps me informed about what’s going on.
42% say my organization cares about my overall well-being.
During this time of uncertainty, let your employees know what they can count on at work by purposefully dialing up on communications with these three actions.
Prepare managers to coach
The best managers know their role is to support others through change. People are different, and will have different reactions in the workplace to this challenging issue. That’s why maintaining dialogue is so important. Train managers to connect and check in with employees and provide resources and tools to use when coaching team members.
Share and update your workplace safety preparedness plan
If team members are working on-site, they want to know that their safety is important to the company leadership. Communicate your COVID-19 preparedness plan, ensuring it is specific to your workplace, includes control measures to reduce exposure, and maintains a safe and healthy work environment. Provide an update in every communication from leadership. For those working remotely with an upcoming return date, spell out the plan so that they know what to expect. This issue will be top of mind for your team members throughout this year, so one and done communications won’t be enough.
Activate two-way communication channels
What process do you have in place to gather feedback from team members right now? Some companies have rescheduled or shelved employee surveys during this period. Employees still need to feel valued, heard, and engaged. Consider online town halls, message boards and group chats, or polls and QR code surveys for immediate feedback. Then, and this is important, act on the feedback. Share what you heard and let it guide your communications.
Looking for communications support for your business? Insight can help. Get in touch with us.
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.
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.
We recently prepared a presentation for a client that had more than 100 slides…for a one hour meeting. Do the math: If you calculate time for introductions and leave even five minutes at the end for questions, that’s a pace of two slides per minute during the presentation. A blistering pace.
Then consider the content on the slides: lots of words, tables, and occasional graphics. Typeface size was 18 to 28 point. You get the picture. The intent was to hammer home thousands of ideas and facts. The client could not be swayed. They needed every one of these slides to deliver a successful presentation. They just wanted us to “make it pretty.”
I wish I could say we used our magical powers of persuasion to enlighten them to use a strategically messaged, visually compelling presentation. Didn’t happen. I did wonder what it was like in the room for the audience… and the presenter. I imagine they were both exhausted when it was over.
Presenters often start with a bunch of slides and try to cram them into a narrative—and it shows. The most effective presentations look simple because they were planned that way.
When your objective is to communicate, educate or influence, the most important work starts with the result in mind:
What is the point you’re trying to make or what must the audience learn?
Why is it important to the audience?
What story can you use to bring the material to life?
What do you want them to do with the information?
Every presentation should tell a story or take the audience on a journey. This applies even if you’re sharing quarterly returns (some of the most important stories). Once you identify your objective, develop the slides that are clear and compelling. Be concise. Use as little text as possible. Because you don’t want them to be reading your slides, you want them to be listening to you.
Then practice, practice, practice. The more comfortable you are with the information, the less you’ll need to rely on slides. Your audience will be grateful.