In times of crisis, the importance of your team shines through. That’s why you spent so much time choosing the right employees for your small business in the first place. Earlier this week, we brought you a post on communicating with your customers in times of crisis. Today we look at communicating internally.
Now is the time to continue to prioritize your team’s health and safety. You’ve likely already implemented safety procedures, as this COVID-19 pandemic crisis continues it is important not to loosen up. You’ve also likely created virtual ways to regularly communicate with them, but are you? Are you looking for creative ways to support your team and keep them informed about the latest laws and resources in your area? Are you checking in on them, and creating work flexibility and more paid time off if you can?
Now is the time to double down on employee communication. Understand the fear and anxiety your employees are also going through and communicate early, often — and transparently. As the business owner, you set the tone. It’s a win-win: Informed and engaged employees are empowered and dedicated.
In your communications, let them know your expectations in this new environment and also what options and benefits you are making available to them or are already available to them. Be as transparent as you can about the state of your business and the long road ahead, even if — and especially if — layoffs or other cutbacks are in the picture.
Julie Talenfeld, president of South Florida’s BoardroomPR and an expert in crisis communications, shares some advice about communicating with your team during this pandemic and its aftermath. You’ll find some tips in here, whether your team is 2, 20 or 200 in size. Her top 5 tips:
- Stay educated and updated yourself. This is akin to putting on your own mask before assisting others. If you are someone who is dictating the exposure of others—in this case, your employees—you have a responsibility to educate yourself with the correct, updated information before making decisions that will impact your company. Make sure you are reading and watching up-to-date news from credible sources and following your state and county regulations in real-time.
- Communicate frequently and clearly. Create a routine system of checking in with your employees with an official status update at the beginning and the end of each day, at minimum. It is important to establish a constant cadence of communication so that your employees trust that you are on it and that you’re staying on it.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Make yourself available at designated times each day to answer any questions or concerns your employees may have during this time. This is stressful for everyone, and individuals may have certain specific needs (necessary travel, food insecurity, possible exposure) that they would feel more comfortable disclosing in a confidential, private manner. Setting aside a time to do so will make your employees feel more comfortable to come to you with their concerns.
- Stay cool, calm and collected. Before sending any mass communications, read your emails aloud to yourself. Be wary of the tone of your message—do you sound panicked? Remember that your reaction trickles down to the rest of the business. Communicate with as much poise and grace as you can muster, because it really does make a difference.
- Refer to an expert. If you feel overwhelmed by information, consider reaching out to an employment law firm or your corporate health insurance provider to review best practices. It’s important that we all do our best to education ourselves and also acknowledge what we don’t know.
Your managers and supervisors also need to be communicating with their teams often but with empathy.
“Communication is key in order to keep everyone updated on pendings, ensure projects don’t fall through the cracks and make sure deadlines are met,” said Aileen Izquierdo, interim chair of Florida International University’s Department of Communication.
Messages should be specific and well-targeted, not one size fits all, and they also need to be human, she added. Managers should be flexible and give as much lead time as possible on meetings and deadlines.
And in these times, remember that it is easy to feel isolated with everyone working remotely, often for the first time. Phone calls rather than emails for the typical back and forth inter-office communication may be more natural.
“Fight the isolation of working from home and use interfaces like Zoom to bridge the gap of not seeing each other,” Izquierdo added. And this goes beyond meetings: A virtual coffee break, virtual lunch or happy hour allows teams who have worked together to continue their comradery despite the lack of physical proximity. Find more of her tips here.
Here are some additional resports that may help you:
- How to talk to your employees about coronavirus.
- How to take care of your restaurant staff during a health crisis.
- The US Chamber of Commerce shares how organizations might design an on-off furlough plan.
- How to rely on and align your frontline employees.
- A guide to managing your (newly) remote workers: HBR.
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