While countries across the globe are beginning to gradually reopen their economies in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, the persistence of the coronavirus and the lengthy timeline for discovering and delivering a vaccine have convinced many employers to stick with remote working arrangements for the foreseeable future.
Tech companies like Twitter – which is authorizing its employees to work from home indefinitely – Facebook, Google, and Zillow, have announced plans to allow remote work through at least the end of 2020, and major Wall Street firms may follow suit. With many employers looking to these influential organizations for guidance and best practices, finding new ways to overcome feelings of isolation and maintain connections with employees will be paramount as remote work and more virtual engagement become part of the new normal. Effective executive communications will be the linchpin to making it all work.
Two months into social distancing and widespread remote work, organizations are beginning to develop more of a feel for how to make business culture work in the era of coronavirus – and based on lessons learned, many are contemplating what their post-COVID operations will look like. By heeding these seven communications tips, executives can make their companies better places to work even after the coronavirus crisis subsides.
1. Hold live informal townhalls and company events.
Prior to the pandemic, corporate townhalls were often intricately orchestrated and finely choreographed affairs – and as such, they were fairly rare, occurring perhaps once a year. But as organizations have learned amid unprecedented use of video conferencing and virtual communication, such companywide events don’t have to be such formal to-dos.
When all that’s needed to stage an event is a reliable Internet connection and a laptop camera, executives are finding that they can hold more frequent companywide events. From business updates to Q & As to any other meetings involving large groups of people, executives can engage with teams easily, informally, and often. This means greater transparency and trust – and for companies whose teams were siloed across different offices before the pandemic, it has even meant more connection and engagement.
2. Harness social media.
When organizations started shifting en masse to remote work in March, many HR executives set up private Facebook groups and other social media forums to encourage employees to stay connected and offer support. Given the growing role of social media in our lives, it only makes sense to make use of these platforms, both during COVID-19 and beyond.
Establishing these virtual communities has helped boost staff morale and offered a powerful way of keeping employees engaged. These forums provide employees a place to discuss common interests, share life updates, alert each other to upcoming events, and enjoy (virtual) water-cooler conversations. Fostering these positive employee connections promotes collegiality, reduces burnout, and encourages employee loyalty.
3. Important announcement? Consider a video message instead of an email.
When top executives have major news to share or an important message to convey, sending out a video message can be far superior to a companywide email. A video in which viewers can see and hear an executive speak is far more engaging than a text-based communique – and employees are more likely to remember what’s actually being said. When people view a message on video, they remember 95 percent of it, versus 10 percent when it’s read.
What’s more, advances in technology now make it possible to access direct feedback on viewer engagement with video. Analytical tools, for instance, enable organizations to gauge which parts of a video are of greater interest to viewers. Armed with such insights, organizations can refine their communications to ensure that they resonate with and engage their employees.
4. Start a podcast or vodcast.
Podcasts have exploded in popularity in recent years, with one in three Americans listening to at least one podcast a month. Executives can tap into the popularity of this medium by starting a podcast or vodcast (a video podcast) to tell interesting and noteworthy company stories, build thought leadership, and connect employees to management. From interviewing different company figures about business challenges they’ve faced and overcome to a series of talks with other business leaders, philanthropists, educators, and authors, company leaders have a wide range of options for producing compelling content that makes employees proud of where they work.
5. Use video conferencing for more than just meetings.
Video conferencing has made it possible for companies to keep in touch with their employees, vendors, and customers during the pandemic – and as many organizations are learning, it can also keep employees connected beyond all-hands meetings and standing appointments.
Finding creative ways to engage employees via video conference – with virtual social events like company cooking or cocktail crafting classes, for example – can be a fun and rewarding way of promoting wellbeing and downtime.
6. Don’t have a company newsletter? Start one.
A weekly newsletter outlining company updates, plans, and achievements promotes transparency, unity, and morale within an organization – and given how vital it is to maintain those three things during these uncertain times, now is the time to start issuing a company newsletter if a company hasn’t already.
7. Consider instant messaging as an alternative to email.
In an era of real-time communication, email can seem downright analog – especially when people are flocking to instant messaging tools like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Slack, and LinkedIn.
Instant messaging encourages greater accessibility than email, and the data suggest employees appreciate this. During the first week in April, LinkedIn reported a 14 percent jump in use of its messaging service over the previous year, with an 8 percent spike in coworkers communicating with each other compared to the prior month.
For more efficient workflows, encourage employees to use instant messaging rather than email – particularly when the matter at hand is more urgent. For messages where executives and managers want a more deliberate exchange of information and ideas, sticking to email may be best.
A bonus to this approach, besides faster responses to time-sensitive issues and less cluttering of employees’ inboxes? The more conversational communication style that instant messaging facilitates is precisely the kind of friendly, less buttoned-up interaction keeps employees feeling connected with each other.
Regardless of what a company’s post-COVID normal looks like – and with so much about the coronavirus and its trajectory still uncertain, most employers are still very much in wait-and-see mode – the crisis has forced many organizations to experiment with new workflows and new communications tactics. Even executives whose organizations’ post-pandemic operations are likely to more closely resemble the old normal will find that retaining some of these new methods of internal outreach is a boon to employee engagement, morale, and the bottom line.
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