According to a Ragan report on the state of corporate communications during COVID-19, right now, employees want to hear about plans and information about returning to the workplace.
With 42 percent of the U.S. labor force working remotely full time (as of June 2020), you’re likely working on updating work from home policies and considering a return to work plan for your organization. How will you communicate your new policies and plans? Here are a few things to consider.
Form a return to work team. If you haven’t created a multi-disciplinary team to inform and create your return to work plan, now is a good time. Beyond HR and health and safety managers, consider adding representatives from other departments like IT/engineering, and front line personnel who have not had the option to work from home. By gathering team members with unique perspectives and various understandings of your organization and COVID-19, you can achieve a diversity of ideas.
Approach return to work communications with empathy. Essential or non-essential, every person’s work from home experience has been different. When creating and communicating a return to work plan, and updated remote work policies, consider these differences. At this time, it’s important to uplift employee morale, without making light of the situation—some employees may be experiencing grief, others may be struggling to coordinate at-home care, while others have struggled to continue to work on the factory floor. Whatever the case, one size does not fit all. Make sure your communications are inclusive, professional and not tone-deaf to certain segments of your audience.
Consider an early feedback loop. With good representation on the return to work team, individual team members can take concepts back to their colleagues to solicit broader feedback from a statistically valid sample. By describing the plan as a work in progress, and requesting feedback to consider in your final plans, you can expect to gain more buy-in when you roll out policies.
Clearly communicate your return to work approach and remote work reasoning. Details are important. So are rationales. What does your return to work process look like from a logistical standpoint? Whichever path your organization chooses, it can be helpful to not only communicate the logistics of this plan, but to also provide a fact-based explanation describing why you chose this approach. For instance, if you made certain decisions to reduce the burden on your cleaning crew, communicate this. If you’re implementing a rotation system based on recommended capacity limits, explain this.
Be specific. It’s easy to be vague in your messaging amid ongoing uncertainty—especially when the information seems to change each day—but be as specific as you can. If you can’t confirm details yet, just tell your people that. If you are waiting on more information, try an if-then-else construction so people know what to expect. Some specific changes you may want to highlight in your communications include social distancing guidelines, adjusted expectations or customs, or updated cleaning protocols.
You want employees to feel comfortable and confident with your updated work from home policies and when returning to the office. With their basic health and safety needs accounted for, you may then strive to help them feel motivated and excited. Approach your communications plan with empathy, clearly communicate the logistics of your approach, and be as specific as you can. Returning to the office is a pivotal time for your organization. As an internal communicator, you can help make this transition as smooth as possible.