When it came to employee communications, the internal communications team was king. They were the interface between the higher-ups and the rest of the employees, ensuring that the right messages were sent and received. In a crisis, they took control over all channels and ensured no leaks or miscommunications.
But the pandemic turned out to be a different sort of a crisis. First, it was a prolonged health pandemic that saw employees locked down away from the office. Many internal communications protocols and channels, which were less personalized, did not fit the unfolding scenario.
Also, disinformation was rife, with employees becoming bombarded with claims and scams. Employee communications needed to be tight, clear, and informative — difficult to achieve when most of your employees are in remote mode.
Time to collaborate
But with the employees sitting at home and waiting for instructions, coordinating over existing channels is not easy. Sending endless emails or internal messages (often within office bulletin boards and special WhatsApp groups) is not as effective when your employees feel anxious and distracted.
Communication is also going to be even more critical as HR leaders get their employees back to the workplace, especially when highlighting new measures.
So, Abigail suggests that internal communications and HR teams start collaborating more closely. “You need to determine whether the communications or HR team should own specific messages and associated activities, but ultimately you’re working together to ensure the safety of employees and support business operations,” she adds.
For many companies, this was done out of necessity. It saw both teams work out the right messages and ensure that the new policies or updates were communicated.
Use technology to reinforce
Gibu Mathew, vice president and general manager for APAC at Zoho, notes that no matter which approach a company takes, technology is already matured enough to drive their strategies. He points to his company’s Zoho workplace suite as proof that companies have technological options to communicate effectively.
Internally, Zoho uses Zoho Connect, which is part of the workplace suite. “It is like our internal social network and is one important channel used across functions,” says Mathew. As you would have guessed, COVID-19 is a channel that allows all employees to get the latest information.
Communicating alone is not enough. You need to provide context, something that brief meetings at the corridor and chats over coffee helped in the pre-pandemic days.
“Because if your conversations are across multiple channels and are not able to start with previous conversations, it will be difficult to set the context. So, in that perspective, Zoho has various mechanisms to facilitate communication and collaboration using various mediums,” says Mathew.
The same tools will help both internal communications and HR leaders transition their employees to the workplace, operating differently under new health guidelines.
“Now, why all these are important is because when you look at employee health and safety, we have to follow all government protocols laid out,” says Mathew.
These guidelines are new, and the chances of employees overlooking some are high. Good communications and a platform to match ensures there is no miscommunication or ambiguity.
Having a better way to tell and engage employees is not enough. Internal communications and HR leaders also need to work with their IT peers to use the right technologies to help employees stay safe and healthy.
Mathew points to the industries at the pandemic frontlines where this is already happening. They include healthcare, hospitality, and manufacturing.
In hospitality, contactless check-ins are becoming common. “So, you could just walk into a hotel, open up the mobile app, check-in and go to your room,” Mathew says. In manufacturing, companies are using wristbands to ensure their workers are working at safe distances.
“Also popular are digital payments. I don’t have to elaborate on that. That’s definitely a very important trend. And another touchpoint [becoming digitalized] is e-signatures,” Mathew continues, adding that people are actively using e-signatures to reduce personal contact.
Gartner’s Blair agrees that having an internal, trusted communications channel is vital for managing a remote workforce and helping with return-to-workplace strategies.
She also suggests two-way communications, which Mathew notes as necessary for establishing trust and giving safe spaces for employees to say what’s on their minds. Examples beyond pulse surveys and employee reviews include focus groups and setting up employee resource groups (ESGs).
Communications are not just for employees either. Blair notes that keeping the senior management and managers in line with updated return-to-workplace guidelines is equally vital.
To make all the above efforts work, internal communications teams and HR need to think long-term. They need to “create activities that comms leaders can sustain over the long term,” says Blair. Else, many of these efforts will fall to the wayside as the pandemic ebbs away.
As Mathew points out, technology is never the problem. It is up to HR and the internal communications team to get their acts together on ensuring clear, concise, and precise employee communications.
Winston Thomas is the editor-in-chief of CDOTrends and HR&DigitalTrends. He is always curious about all things digital, including new digital business models, the widening impact of AI/ML, unproven singularity theories, proven data science success stories, lurking cybersecurity dangers, and reimagining the digital experience. You can reach him at [email protected].
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