By: Liz Sheffield
The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a lot of uncertainty for everyone, including your employees and teams. Health concerns are paramount, routines are lost, and remote work has become a necessity overnight. Social distancing isn’t something we’d considered before, but it’s now a mandate that will save lives. At this time, the role of communication in crisis management is of critical importance.
Amid these challenging times, organizations may think employees can’t be productive. But that’s not the case. Now more than ever, employees are adapting at a rapid pace and navigating new territory. These skills are useful now and will be helpful in the future—during better times, as well as if another crisis arises.
“Our research on the effectiveness of organizational responses to dynamic crises indicates that there is one variable which is most predictive of eventual success – preparation and preemption,” according to Harvard Business Review. “Preparing for the next crisis (or the next phase of the current crisis) now is likely to be much more effective than an ad hoc, reactive response when the crisis actually hits.”
With the right approach and systems, your organization and your managers can help make lemonade out of lemons that will help you during this challenging time, as well as for years to come. To enable productivity, communication, crisis-resources, and a healthy organizational culture are critical.
Enable Productivity through Communication
The key to ensuring workplace productivity—even when your workforce has suddenly become dispersed—is to provide a workplace environment that enables effective team communication, regardless of location. When operating during a crisis or disaster, internal communications software is an essential tool you need to have in place to help employees work through uncertain times.
As you develop and implement a crisis communication plan, the following six tips provide suggestions for how to support employee productivity during unprecedented situations:
1. Communicate often. There’s nothing worse for an employee than feeling like they’re not in the know about what’s happening related to work. Even if the updates aren’t positive, employees appreciate transparency. Whether it’s good news or bad news, you need to keep the lines of communication open. Don’t inundate employees with messages, but ensure you’re doing everything you can to provide regular updates. Use your communications as a time to reinforce your values and engage employees.
2. Reinforce the benefits and resources that are available. There’s no denying that this is a stressful time for everyone around the world. This stress has an impact on employee productivity. Use your communications to reinforce the benefits employees can use during this time. If there are employee assistance plan (EAP) benefits, or telemedicine options, remind employees about these resources. Use your internal communications software to remind employees of the resources and support available.
3. Focus on making meaningful virtual connections. During uncertain times, meaningful connections are also important. Managers and colleagues should be encouraged to use your systems to connect with colleagues. Whether it’s via a web meeting or instant messaging app, encourage people to check in on each other. If your workplace hasn’t been operating on a remote model, it’s even more important to reach out and make meaningful connections. Make sure employees are aware of how to replace the “watercooler conversations” with other opportunities to connect.
4. Recognize employee efforts. During difficult times, employees often rise to the challenge. Your team members may have made heroic efforts to keep operations running or to meet client needs during COVID-19. It’s vital to recognize these efforts now and reward them for their commitment. Communicate your appreciation and let them know their efforts made a difference.
5. Prioritize what’s most important to complete. From canceled events to delayed product launches, most businesses are facing a significant amount of upheaval during this crisis. That can lead to confusion for employees. They may be unsure of what to work on during a change of changing priorities. It’s up to managers and supervisors to help employees prioritize what’s most important to complete. With this direction, they’re empowered to be productive, even during a time of considerable uncertainty.
6. Demonstrate productivity. Working alone and away from their colleagues may be a new experience for employees. Leaders should communicate and demonstrate how they are managing to be productive. In some cases, that may mean they’re taking time to exercise or meditate at home. It might mean they set up web meetings so they can collaborate with colleagues, rather than solve business problems alone. Highlight the productivity wins when they happen so that employees can borrow what works and implement it in their daily work routine.
Whether it’s a manager sending an email to their team, or a message sent by the crisis communication team, the way you engage will serve to encourage or discourage your workforce. Long after COVID-19, how organizations communicate to employees and support them during this crisis, will have a long-term impact on the employee experience.
Uphold Your Organizational Cultural
Even if you’ve worked to build a strong workplace culture, it could be shaken by the current situation. As employees navigate the “new normal” and adapt to working remotely, it will test your culture. Can the culture exist outside the four walls of your organization? Can people uphold the cultural standards, even during times of crisis?
“You find out what your culture’s really like,” one CEO told CMSWire, regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. “It’s about business continuity. You need to listen to the fact that people are suffering and feeling isolated and scared, depending on where they are. And I would say everybody’s got a certain level of fear. You’ve got to become empathetic. Thinking about this concept of the human side of remote work, it’s about understanding and building relationships with the people you work with.”
The way managers adjust to leading distributed teams, and people who are working remotely, is essential to demonstrating your cultural commitment. Likewise, the organization’s willingness to support employees who face unprecedented challenges at work and home will have a lasting impact on engagement and employee perceptions. With the proper communication strategy, and the systems to enable your employees to connect with your organization, you can demonstrate the compassion, understanding, and empathy they require in order to be productive.
These may be intentional changes you’re making to enable productivity during a crisis. But they’re essential at any time. Everything you’re learning and applying to improve communication, to provide crisis-resources, and to reinforce a strong organizational culture are important during the COVID-19 pandemic but will continue to serve you for years to come. These are foundational shifts that will enable your organization to come through the crisis stronger and more productive than you previously thought possible.