3 Steps to Prepare for the Next Phase of COVID-19 Internal Communications

3 Steps to Prepare for the Next Phase of COVID-19 Internal Communications

Our in-house internal communicator gives her tips on planning the next steps for strategic COVID-19 internal communications planning.

I’ve had the privilege to share internal communications best practices in times of crisis as Cerkl sponsored the Internal Comms Pro’s COVID-19 Support Group in late March and April. 

As you can imagine, many questions and answers surfaced on the best way to guide employees as dozens of states declared stay-at-home orders.

Questions ran the gamut from how to communicate with manufacturing teams when huddle meetings were no longer an option to policies for appropriately communicating employee fatalities due to COVID-19. 

The questions and suggestions for crisis communications approaches were not easy, but the webinar filled a vital need to support our IC community during these historic times.

Every company has a different approach to IC. Some IC pros who work for large corporations are part of well-resourced teams, and others are trying to simultaneously cover external communication, employee comms, and even social media and marketing. 

A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in our IC discipline. What works is hearing how other professionals from multiple industries and company sizes approach their communication challenges.  This diverse insight can help shape realistic best practices within their respective work environments. 

Currently, Cerkl is sponsoring Internal Comms Pro’s Bloom Series, focused on personal development and team growth. As COVID-19 related issues transition from the current state to future planning, IC professionals are steadily transitioning into Phase II COVID-19 communications planning.

Transitioning into phase II

Most of us across the country are in the middle of week 10 of social distancing. The new normal is far from it on Main Street and Wall Street. If your company had to temporarily shut down, layoff employees, or retool operations to provide services that fit with social distancing guidelines, you’re in the majority. 

Across the nation, more than 96 percent of small businesses reported COVID-19 had impacted them during the first month of the pandemic.

Recently, a Facebook survey found that one-third of the 86,000 small and mid-sized businesses surveyed won’t reopen as the pandemic wanes. Meanwhile, midsize to large enterprises report that it will take at least three months to resume normal operations after the pandemic recedes.

Even so, there are relevant next steps businesses of any size can consider formulating their Phase II communications planning.

Step 1: Restart, rebuild, renew, reopen

Did your business have to furlough or temporarily lay off employees? Hopefully, your company provided information on outplacement services and has built-in processes for keeping communications open with severed employees, so they stay informed and supported.

Many large hotels, restaurant chains, and travel-related businesses have laid off or furloughed a good portion of their workforce. With an internal communications tool, like Cerkl, you can provide access to current employees and invite severed employees to opt-in to receive your communications. Transparency and gratitude are essential here. 

Key Phase II questions for internal communicators:

  • What’s your company’s restart plan? Examine communications tactics for reaching back out these employees to get them rehired/onboarded and provide on-going support as the business opens up.
  • Easy to do business with (ETDBW): How will your rehire/restart processes enable employees to interact with the company easily?
  • How will you structure guidance for each line of business or business unit if you bring back furloughed employees?
  • Which teams will need to return earlier and support operational planning before the company reopens? Coordination between HR and Operations is critical in providing clear communication to all your employee segments.

Step 2: Return to office guidance for face-to-face operations

Your return to the office plan should account for a myriad of factors to assess to resume normal operations. If you send all of your communications via email, make sure these essential updates don’t go unopened. Cerkl makes it easy to stay connected with your dispersed workforce by taking your news, intranet, employee tools, and makes a mobile app the one-stop-shop for both in-office and deskless employees.

Depending on the industry, businesses continue to operate within social distancing and adjusted work environments.

In contrast, other companies could set up remote working guidelines while continuing to provide services to customers. With many decision-making factors, your plan must explain how the company will reassess when it’s safe to resume normal operations.

Key Phase II questions for internal communicators:

  • Will you look for guidance from local government or a general decline in new cases of COVID-19 to assess timing?  Some companies are following state guidelines, while others provide a voluntary return window based on employees’ circumstances and health challenges.
  • What data are leaders compiling to determine guidance for resuming operations?
  • Who are your subject matter experts within your organization that can provide location-specific information for companies with expansive operational footprints? What happens in New York City doesn’t work in Topeka, Kansas.
  • What are the tactical, operational pieces do you need to communicate thoroughly to scale up goods and services, and what are employees’ roles in this ramp up? You need to communicate how, when, and why of each piece.
  • How have your stakeholders’ expectations changed?
  • Do you have to reestablish partnerships to resume business, and how much should you prime employees around these changes?
  • How do you plan to collect and present this information for employees?
  • Can you ensure employees will be safe? Space between cubicles, remote flex workweeks to minimize the number of people in the office.

Step 3: Review and reorganize

Hindsight is always 20/20. In the case of COVID-19 communications, a recap that accounts for the decision-making process and business continuity guidance is essential. Unfortunately, experts warn that without a vaccine, we’ll be grappling with these same social distancing issues in the fall.

A retrospective about the circumstances the business couldn’t control and policy improvements are critical during this process. It’s also important to report those learnings to employees. They’re the backbone of your business, enabling the company to deliver goods and services to customers.

Once the business has stabilized, companies should assess their communications infrastructure:

Key Phase II questions for internal communicators:

  • What technology was needed?
  • Where tactics worked well, and what didn’t?
  • Look at ways to obtain employee feedback around network access and communication channels.
  • What steps are needed to review our technology comms plan, advocate for resourcing, engage stakeholders, and strengthen our program?

As you set out to reorganize, a robust communications plan conveys how to realign strategies, evaluate capital options, and kick off operational improvements. These initiatives will start your organization down a path of transformation and resilience. Careful communications around planning and insight from leadership will create a clear way forward for the business to thrive.

Cerkl’s Broadcast is tailored to address your biggest crisis communications challenges. Schedule a no-pressure chat to learn more!


References

https://www.axios.com/small-business-owners-coronavirus-survey-06e04322-7788-4de4-8216-42b875a39e53.html

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/facebook-survey-finds-almost-one-third-of-small-businesses-have-stopped-operating-in-the-pandemic-2020-05-19

https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/pwc-covid-19-cfo-pulse-survey.html

I'm a strategic business partner who is passionate about supporting clients' internal communications programs in order to personalize the employee experience and give life to a brand's message through storytelling.

Post a Comment