With hybrid work environments becoming the rule, not the exception, it’s time for a reminder about what’s appropriate to put in writing. The informality of email and digital channels permits communications to be fast, funny, and even sarcastic. Most of us would never take this approach in a formal letter or document.
Content shared via email, texts, or through team collaboration channels like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Chat, can become problematic in litigation, particularly if it involves an employment situation. There are countless stories of people who thought their business emails were private. They’re not. They may be discoverable if relevant in a lawsuit.
Here are five tips to ensure a quick and “harmless” message doesn’t become a future problem.
1. Choose the correct channel. Would a call or an in-person meeting be better? Emails can be forwarded to individuals they were never intended for and anyone with a smartphone can take a screenshot.
2. Watch your tone. Email is eternal. Business communications should be appropriate, safe for work, and inoffensive. Don’t write anything that you’d be uncomfortable with others reading. Including your grandmother.
3. Is it clear? Read it over. Could anything be misconstrued or taken out of context? If you enter litigation, your intent will be analyzed closely by the other side.
4. Don’t begin or continue an argument. If someone shares incorrect information, it’s OK to clarify and provide the facts, but don’t debate or argue through email.
5. Avoid irony, sarcasm, and exaggeration. A message dashed off in a hurry often falls into this category. So does humor. But these are exactly the communications that can be problematic if a lawsuit occurs.
The office setting may have changed, but the risk has not. It’s even more important now to raise awareness about appropriate workplace communications so everyone understands what’s at stake.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Erin Andrews’ civil suit against the owner and former operator of the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt, and the resulting award of $55 million, should set off alarm bells for every business. In raw, gut wrenching testimony, Andrews recounted the emotional impact of being videotaped in her hotel room by a stalker. While the verdict assigned 51% of the penalty on her stalker, the hotel was found to be at fault and liable for 49% of the amount.
The verdict may be reduced or overturned on appeal, but the reputation damage is done. Guests don’t make the distinction between a company-owned or franchised business. They know the brand. In this case, they know that Andrews’ privacy, safety and security was violated at a Marriott hotel.
The individual who videotaped Andrews has already been convicted. The heart of this case was Andrews’ contention that hotel personnel gave out her room number to the stalker and did not tell her that he had asked to be put in a room next to hers.
That sounds like a training issue.
Well trained hotel personnel know to never say a guest’s room number out loud. They do not honor requests for rooms adjacent to members outside their travel party. Was the hotel employee who provided information to the stalker trained? We’ll never know. But the monetary penalty for the error is evident and the impact to the brand’s reputation is evolving.
Employee training in any business is an investment, not an expense. When employees are well trained, they perform with skill and confidence. They treat customers well and create an experience that builds brand love. Productivity and efficiency improve and turnover declines. Sure, training requires time away from operations, but that’s time well spent when employees understand their role. Knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do.
Companies that support employee training and development make an investment in business success.