Writing Effective Change Communications amid Ongoing Uncertainty

Whether an organization is announcing new workplace protocols or rolling out new work-from-home technology, workplace change can seem constant—something only magnified during this pandemic. As an internal communicator responsible for implementing change communications, how can you be successful when the information seems to shift one day to the next?

First, remember that the objective of change communications is to help stakeholders modify their thinking, behavior, or tool use. The key is to help employees understand what is changing and why, and how it specifically affects or applies to them. If the future is more uncertain than clear, you can present options. “Explain that the situation is fluid and manage expectations by noting that when new information becomes available the plan will be updated,” recommends SHRM. You might consider using ‘If-then’ statements to give people defined paths as situations evolve.

As you write change communications, keep timing and emotions in mind. Let’s dive into each of these.

Writing and delivering change communications in a timely manner. Communicating ahead of the change is always important, but even more so during extended periods of uncertainty. For example, informing employees of a potential COVID-19 exposure may require shifts in work locations. According to the CDC, “If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).” Your ADA-compliant messages must be ready at hand, along with subsequent follow-up. The more prepared and proactive you can be, the better. Here are a few documents to prepare before you actually need them: return to work guidelines for employees, employee screening procedures, quarantine or test procedures, hiring or salary freezes, furlough and layoff FAQs.

Writing change communications with emotional intelligence. Beyond timing, the actual messages must be written with emotional intelligence to respect the complex and varied emotions of your recipients. It is your responsibility to name and alleviate fears, build trust with your audience, dispel rumors and misinformation using evidence, and communicate a clear path forward. While this sounds like a big task, it comes down to one thing: organizational empathy. Here are two examples of empathetic messaging:

  • Aritzia, a women’s fashion boutique writes: “All of Aritzia’s profits while we get through this challenging time, will go to the Aritzia Community Relief Fund to support our people and their families.” 
  • In an email regarding employee reductions, AirBnb writes: “To take care of those that are leaving, we have looked across severance, equity, healthcare, and job support and done our best to treat everyone in a compassionate and thoughtful way.”

As both of these examples illustrate, beyond emotional intelligence, it’s essential these change communications are then substantiated by empathetic actions.

Uncertainty and change are both stressful. When combined, your communication challenge only increases. Your responsibility is to keep people informed and connected. By delivering clear, accurate communications while recognizing the uncertainty—and providing optional paths written with emotional intelligence—you will minimize your audience’s stress while maximizing your effectiveness.

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