EngagementHow to communicate with workforces during a crisis

How to communicate with workforces during a crisis

Wendy Dailey, HRD Thought Leader, gives her 8 tips for effective communication with your workforces during a time of crisis.

Right now, we are in a time that none of us expected to ever be in. Many HR professionals are just punting, not sure what to do, what to say or how to help.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of answers to give. I’m not here to give you any answers, but I do want to encourage you to communicate. Now more than ever we need to be sure we are communicating with our staff, sharing what’s going on and any plans we have.

Here’s the big secret: most employees don’t need all the answers, but they do need to know you are aware of the issues and are working on them. I can’t tell you what to say, as every organization needs to make those decisions for themselves.

We have employees in many different states. Some of you still have employees coming to the office every day, some have employees on varying schedules to keep things going while still practicing physical distancing, some have furloughed employees, and some have, unfortunately, had to let some employees go. How you communicate with your employees is what will keep you in business. If you are watching social media at all, you can see the employers who are doing it well and those that are not. There are many ways for you to communicate with your employees, so choose wisely when you are getting ready to deliver a message.

Here are my top recommendations for how to communicate with your employees during this crisis:

  1. If possible, in person.

    Bad news definitely needs to be delivered in person if at all possible. I get that it can be more difficult now, especially if you have had to send employees to work at home or be furloughed at home.

  2. One-on-One phone calls.

    If you can’t talk to your employees in person, a phone call will work. When I was laid off after 9/11, my boss was in Chicago and I was in Denver. This was the early days of the internet, so it was via a hard phone call that I heard about my furlough and eventual lay off. It wasn’t easy, but better than what many employers are doing today.

  3. Don’t lose touch during furlough.

    It is highly likely that all of your employees have email, either work or personal. You are probably very used to communicating with your staff via email anyway. It’s kind of been the go-to for HR professionals since we started giving it to everyone. And unfortunately, sometimes, it’s the ONLY way we communicate with employees, and we tend to depend on it too much and don’t use other methods of communication available. If you are planning a furlough and expect to call employees back to work, be sure you have their personal emails and share ongoing information with them during the furlough.

  4. Use your website to show employees you are there for them.

    Be sure you have a couple of pages on your website dedicated to your employees; if possible, an internal-only site just for employee related communication is ideal. Be sure you are updating it often, especially now! As decisions are made or even as you are working through decisions, an single place for employees to go to for an update is a great way to have a consistent message.

  5. Instant message

    This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised. Especially if you already used this in the office, be sure your staff have access at home.

  6. Share on social media.

    If you have social media accounts and the information you want to share is something you are willing to share publicly, share it there. You should encourage your staff to follow you on social media anyway, as this is another way to get information to them.

  7. Prioritise virtual meetings.

    There are many free options for a virtual meeting: YouTube, Facebook, Skype or Google Hangouts are also pretty easy to figure out and you can even record the meetings for people to review later. You can also get more features if you pay a small fee. Check out this list from Medium, most of the analysis is for webinars, but the concept is similar to a virtual meeting. This is a great way to see your employees.

  8. There is always the postal service.

    I have heard some chatter on Twitter about the difficulty of connecting with employees because of tech challenges. We are likely going to see some issues with internet access simply because people are going to be accessing from home, and their kids are going to be on and likely streaming something. If time is not of the essence, sending snail mail is a great way to send a message to your employees. If you can, maybe include a small gift card that can be used for a drive thru service. Even if you can’t, your employees will appreciate that you are thinking of them and taking the time to put pen to paper (or printer to paper) to let them know you are thinking about them at this time.

For the most part, it doesn’t really matter what medium you use to communicate with your employees (and potential employees), but you do need to communicate with them. This is not the time to ghost!

There is one message that needs to be delivered face-to-face – if you are furloughing, laying off or firing your employees, you need to deliver that message face-to-face in whatever manner you can. Do not deliver this message by email, instant message and definitely not postal service. Get in front of your employees in person, on a webcam or on the phone. This is the one time that the medium matters.

Communication is key right now. I would encourage you to use all the above methods to communicate as you never quite know which is going to best serve your employees right now. And those are the ones that matter most. Stay safe and keep your employees healthy.

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