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  • Tracy Jones, MD

Beyond the watercooler chat: Internal communications in the time of pandemic

The dramatic impact of Covid-19 on the global economy is seeing most businesses grapple with new roles and responsibilities in an uncertain future. The one certainty we have is that the pandemic has fundamentally reshaped the way we will live and do business from now on. There will be new challenges to overcome and new opportunities for those with the vision to see them.

For any business to succeed in this time flux, the entire workforce requires sound leadership and effective internal communication to help them adapt to a new business landscape. The staffs’ confidence, work ethic and morale rely on accurate and contextual information that clearly shows what is happening, what the business is doing to address the pandemic in the most responsible way, and what steps are being taken to reduce negative impact where possible.

There has never been a more urgent time for a company to re-evaluate its internal communication strategy and your business would be well advised to work closely with a PR agency, such as Positive Dialogue, who offer essential support in developing and delivering your messaging.

The following three points outline the foundation of effective internal communication strategy (ICS). The real value is realised when the ICS is customised to a business’s unique requirements according to scale, industry type, corporate hierarchy and internal dynamics.

Listen before you talk

It’s no coincidence that the best communicators are also the best listeners. Working from home, going back to the office, or starting to trade in public as we adapt to post Covid-19 is an entirely new experience for everyone. Find the most effective way to survey the workforce to uncover their concerns, challenges and proposals. This feedback will guide your ICS’s objectives and messaging while ensuring the most efficient use of time and management resources.

Speak the right language

Ensure the messages are understandable and use the right communication channels and tone to fully engage with your audience. Good communication is built on open and respectful interaction, jargon-free language and consistent frequency. Unadulterated honesty in times of crisis can lead to apathy and lower morale, while overt spin and top-down communication could lead to cynicism and withdrawal. Find a balance that encourages open dialogue geared towards building a supportive and successful culture throughout the company.

Flatten the hierarchy

Now is the time to evaluate access to information. Before the pandemic, is was often only the top executive level who had access to company information and the clearest understanding of the direction and strategy; while middle managers worked with what they were given and cascaded need to know information to frontline employees. This structure is not conducive for two-way communication and authentic engagement. Take this opportunity to reshape this chain of information hierarchy into a flatter yet wider web to empower the business from the roots upwards.

And finally, a company’s ability to succeed is based on its collective will to define their own new normal. Letting go of the standard operating procedure of the past will be uncomfortable and will uncover new risks. But not having an effective ICS in place to ensure the workforce is pulling together to adapt to these new challenges is perhaps the biggest risk of all.

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