Why internal communications matter more than ever amid COVID-19

After months of lockdown, the UK is now taking tentative first steps to going back to work.

It’s great news for businesses eager to resume operations, but with more than a quarter of Brits on furlough and many more working from home, keeping people informed about future plans and making them feel safe in the workplace will be crucial to a successful restart.

Effective internal communications will clearly have a significant role to play in winning hearts and minds. But what does that look like within our current landscape, where employees are scattered physically – and in all likelihood mentally – because of COVID-19?

The first thing that businesses need to do is step back and think about what they really want to say to employees. Circumstances have changed considerably, so what is the narrative? What do you want people to do? What kind of change are you seeking to effect?

Leaders need to consider whether they want the conversation to be two-way. If you are asking staff to share their opinions, have you thought about how you show you are taking them into account? There is no point asking for views if you are not able to demonstrate a response. People need to know that they are being listened to.

Once you’re satisfied that you know what you’re communicating and why, it’s important to choose the right format. The two main channels are written and video communications, but there are many varieties of each. Written communications can cover everything from a quick text to a full-blown newsletter, while video can mean anything from a pre-recorded message on social media to speaking to employees live as part of a virtual town hall.

Getting the tone right is crucial. We are living through unprecedented times, so try to think about how employees are feeling right now. Put yourself in their shoes and think about the emotional impact of your content. A big advantage of video is that it is easier to convey emotion. It is thought that 55% of meaning is communicated through body language, 38% through tone of voice and only 7% through spoken word.

Frequency of communications must also be established. How often you need to provide updates may depend on your sector and size. And it possible to reach all staff at the same time? Or do you need to repeat your messaging to ensure it has been received by various members of the workforce?
At BIG, like many other businesses, our staff are currently working from home and we face our own challenges around communicating with employees.

What’s working for us is clarity and consistency; updates have been provided via regular company-wide email communications, question-and-answer guidance, virtual town hall meetings with our management and smaller office and team conference calls. These have been peppered with the obligatory pub quizzes to boost morale. While it’s easy to dismiss social occasions as a bit of unnecessary silliness, it quickly becomes obvious during such interactions if any staff need extra support.

For a client operating in the essential services space, the solution was daily newsletters emailed to their 1,000+ workforce, informing them of the steps they had taken to maintain social distancing and reopen the plant. This was reinforced with video messages, enabling employees to see managers leading from the front and striving to keep them informed.

Through this sensitive approach, they were also able to find out which staff were most keen to get back to work and ensure protection for those who had issues such as family members shielding or those who had problems with childcare.

As the country looks towards reopening for business, we are at a critical point in employee engagement; it has never been more important to reassure workforces that there is a plan and action is being taken to ensure their health and wellbeing.

No matter what format you choose – video, newsletters, email updates, internal social media, virtual town halls – improving your connection with staff is never a waste of time; and in these uncertain times, it could just help your business to get ahead.

Charlene Sweeney – Associate Director