The way people work has been slowly shifting over recent years, with more employees taking advantage of occasional or full-time remote work opportunities. But now with the COVID-19 pandemic, things have changed quickly, and for everyone.
As both an internal communications professional and an employee who is currently working remotely, I wanted to share some of the best practical advice I’ve seen as we all tackle how to keep things running in the face of an unprecedented shift. I’m also going to focus on the day-to-day stuff—for more information specifically about crisis communications during COVID-19, check out this post.
Communicating in the new (for now) normal is really about re-focusing on the same old best practices for communicating with remote workers:
“Have a daily check-in. Whenever possible, this should be one-on-one, and face-to-face via video. Phone conversations, email, and Slack go only so far. Your team needs to see you, and you need to see them.” – Inc. tech columnist, Jason Aten
We know that face-to-face communication beats out almost any other format, and that that’s one of the biggest challenges we face with remote workers. A daily virtual face-to-face (either in teams or one-to-one or both) can bridge that intimacy gap, and the scheduled meetings can both help build some structure in workers’ days, and ensure you have a regular scheduled vehicle for delivering valuable in-person communication, albeit virtual.
Don’t avoid the elephant—address it directly and regularly. “Successful communications start with employees and internal stakeholders. With coronavirus, it is no different. This means communicating—ongoing—with stakeholders…about the pandemic—how it’s impacting the organization and those you serve.” – Communications executive, Chris Rosica
While we’re not focusing on crisis communications here, this is definitely something that needs to be rolled into the daily consideration. While right now we’re talking about a pandemic, this recommendation is relevant for anything that’s having a major ongoing impact on business operations and/or your employee base. If you want to support ongoing productivity through unusual circumstances, alleviating as much uncertainty and creating as much clarity as possible needs to be a top communications priority. This leads into the next point…
“You have to meet people where they are. If you think about the major media outlets…they have their website, but also the app, and a podcast, and they’re tweeting and letting people on Facebook know about the articles they’ve read. We have to adopt this kind of consumer-grade mentality around getting content out to people.” – Internal communications expert, Shel Holtz
Holtz reiterates what we already know when we talk about channel strategy. It’s just even more vital when a significant portion of your workforce is working remotely! An added benefit is that when you can virtually ‘meet’ people in different spaces throughout the day, you create more touchpoints, opportunities for conversation (particularly if you’re communicating messages in group channels like Slack or Teams) and can cut down some of the feelings of isolation or loneliness many remote workers report, and which can lead to lower productivity and engagement. For more info on creating a channel strategy, follow me to an earlier blog.
Here are some added strategies from the Harvard Business Review to ensure seamless transition and productivity for companies new to remote work.
While these are all important guidelines for overcoming the challenges of communicating with remote workers at any time, I want to add one additional point that I think is always important in internal comms, but feels particularly applicable to the current moment: lead with empathy and compassion.
There are going to be hiccups that come with a massive, short notice move to remote work, and it’s happening in the context of global and personal uncertainty.
You are dealing with people, not computers, so take it slow.
For all the internal communicators working from home, many putting in long hours, trying to keep their colleagues informed and connected, here are a few additional suggestions:
First, practicalities: your new workspace!
“Try to find yourself a dedicated and comfortable spot to work that you can associate with your job and leave when you’re off the clock — that means get off the couch, and definitely out of bed.” – Patrick Lucas Austin, Time
It can be hard in situations like this to set healthy boundaries around work. But while working from bed might be fun in a pinch, for a day or so, carving out a dedicated physical workspace will help you carve out mental non-workspace, too. With no clear timeline for returning to the office, setting those boundaries needs to be a priority for sustainability.
Don’t neglect your physical health.
“Another thing to pay attention to is movement. You likely have to do some walking in the course of an office workday — to the office from the train or parking lot, between meetings, to the café for more coffee — and these movement breaks easily disappear when everything you need is within a couple of rooms.” – Ingrid Fetell Lee, The Aesthetics of Joy
Further complicating your new work-from-home routine is that you’re likely being encouraged to stay home and stay away from others for the time being. It would be easy to fully commit to hermit mode, but make sure you make a conscious effort to move your body throughout the day. Not only will your back thank you (mine definitely does), but it’ll help your mind as well. Which brings me to…
Connect with community. Whether that’s in your physical neighborhood, your professional associations or connections or your preferred online hangout, now’s the time to connect with other humans, deepen connections, get help where you need it and lend a hand where you can. One thing is definitely true: we’re all in this together—let’s make the most of it!
NOTE: During the COVID-19 crisis, IC Thrive is offering all organizations in need of communications aid free use of our internal communication software tool, Reach. Reach integrates with tools your team are currently using – Microsoft Teams, Slack, SMS and email. This means you don’t need to set up a new app or train your departments to use a new software. Not only can you reach them, but you can ensure you message is being received, and reinforced across multiple channels. We are here to help you. Please learn more about Reach here to get started.