May 25, 2020

Communicating with teams during COVID-19

With COVID-19 disrupting businesses and causing both financial and personal anxiety, good employee communication has never been more important, particularly from a human resources perspective. In this article, I look at how you can get still the message through effectively and efficiently even during these uncertain times.

Follow these main elements: inform, reassure, direct

As someone that works in human resources, I understand the power and the need for clear communication with teams. According to BDO Canada, effective communication always has three components – to inform, reassure and direct. These are especially important during times of uncertainty and should be the focus of every communication you make.

  • Informing. This means relying on accurate sources and formal internal policies, not on opinion or word of mouth. Misinformation and vague responses only serve to increase anxiety, not alleviate it.
  • Reassuring. Where possible, you should recognise employee concerns and try to reassure them. Demonstrate your understanding of the facts and issues and communicate in a transparent way to build trust.
  • Direct. Do what you can to show your people how the business plans to get through COVID-19 and let them see a path back to full productivity.

Develop a communication plan

Now that you have the elements of good communication understood, it’s time to weave them into a formal communication plan. This plan should look at what you’re trying to achieve more broadly through your communications. For instance, is it to let employees know what’s expected of them while they’re working from home? To raise awareness of your COVID-19 or other workplace policies?  To communicate the next steps in your return-to-work plan?

Whatever it is, make sure you identify a target audience then work out what you want them to take away from the communication. You should also be careful to include specific and measurable goals.

Be open and honest with teams

Much of the news you may have to communicate at this time won’t be good news. You may have to break news about people not getting this year’s bonuses. Or ask people to reduce their hours or take leave. You may even be forced to make people redundant. Few things undermine a workplace more in times like this than obfuscation or dishonesty.

Where data is missing people often make up their own explanation for events. Good leaders explain why they need to do something and then presenting the facts to explain why they’ve made that decision. By being open and honest you get to control the narrative and prove that you’re dealing fairly with the current circumstances. This goes a long way towards boosting morale and keeping your team onside.

Read more about how to have difficult conversations in an interview I gave for Macquarie Bank.

Provide regular updates

In the face of uncertainty, there’s simply no such thing as over-communication. The situation with COVID-19 is changing rapidly and so are it’s effects on the economy and on businesses. Keep up the lines of conversation and let people know where both you and the business are at.

When you do, again stick to the facts, stay on message and don’t engage in speculation. Without naming names, you only need to look at some of the world’s politicians to see examples of constant communication done both well and poorly.

Think outside the (in)box

Many businesses rely on email almost to the exclusion of all other forms of communication when it comes to interacting with teams. But while email can be a good forum for communicating formally, it shouldn’t be the only – or even the main – way you speak to your employees.

Often there’s no better way to communicate than over the phone or via video chat (although the Zoom call shouldn’t be your default). There are also so many different apps and tools you can use to share information and communicate across a team in ways that email simply won’t let you do.

You can read about some of the apps I’ve seen used to good effect here.

Communication has never been so important

During tough economic times, communication takes on a whole new importance with teams. These are just some of the ways you can make yours more effective. If you’d like help building a strategy, delivering bad news or crafting the perfect messages for your team get in touch with the Catalina Consultants team today.

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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