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Vox Global: Internal Communications and the Coronavirus

The following article was written by Jonathan Coffin and Elyse Derian of Vox Global.

Employees and other internal stakeholders are the cornerstone of an organization’s success. During a crisis, it’s more important than ever to communicate with them regularly and effectively. And, amidst a crisis as large as a global pandemic, to do so with compassion.

In a vacuum of information, assumptions are made, anxiety is increased and small gestures are taken out of context. Alternatively, the right approach can bring an element of certainty, calm, comfort and—ultimately—a return to productivity.

As we face one of the most tumultuous social and economic environments of this generation, employers have an opportunity to build trust among employees at all levels of their business, setting the foundation for success once we emerge from the storm. The following are several principles that can guide an internal communications strategy in the coming weeks:

Trust through transparency

Transparency is the foundation of trust. The reality is people are sick, business is taking a hit, things are not “normal.” As much as possible, let employees know how the crisis is affecting your organization and be clear about how you are responding.

For colleges and universities, this has meant preliminary messages announcing the potential of ending in-person classes, followed by messages confirming plans for moving completely to virtual learning. For many companies, this has meant evolving guidance to employees about remote work policies and the potential for temporary closures of facilities. And increasingly, it’s included swift notification about confirmed cases of COVID-19 and clear instructions about necessary quarantines.

It’s critical to get ahead of questions, prepare to deliver difficult news with grace and be willing to admit when you may not yet have clear answers.

This is truly uncharted territory and stakeholders have thus far been willing to allow space for ambiguity, so long as an organization articulates how it is deliberating about next steps. While difficult, the transparency inherent to such open communication will build a foundation of trust that will pay dividends now and in the future.

The details matter

In our 280-character world, less is almost always more. This might not be the case when communicating to your internal stakeholders during this crisis. Employees, students and volunteers are hungry for details and if they don’t get them from you, they will look for them elsewhere.

List the details of your sick and family leave policy. Give guidance on the best strategies to work remotely. Make sure they understand what services will remain available and which will cease to operate. Provide clear instructions to students on everything from online coursework to the availability of emergency financial support.

Frequency matters too. While the current crisis isn’t a free pass for uncoordinated efforts or a torrent of emails, it does call for consistency and clarity about when stakeholders can expect to hear from you. It also demands follow-through to ensure that you keep your word. Establishing a weekly or bi-weekly cadence for an all-employee email or town hall can communicate the latest information and is a great way to provide certainty.

Encourage a two-way conversation

Finally, even with authentic, regular communications, employees are going to have questions, concerns and important feedback in an environment where their jobs are changing daily. It’s essential to provide an avenue for them to share in a constructive way. This could mean setting up an inbox for a COVID-19 employee taskforce, engaging polling, surveys, or mobile apps to gauge sentiment, or hosting regional virtual town halls with Q&A.

When employees feel heard they are more likely to not only engage with your communication but act on it. These are uncertain and uncharted times, but now more than ever effective, empathetic and authentic internal communications can drive business success.

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