• Tracey Corney

Communication in difficult times

In early April LinkedIn surveyed just over 1000 UK workers. Only 45% of those asked felt the companies they worked for had been engaged in well-timed communication with employees. This is not hugely surprising, given the unprecedented challenge presented by COVID-19, which has required agility of thinking, quick action, and all without a magic plan sitting in the desk just for this moment. Internal communication can be forgotten, or an afterthought, secondary to immediate issues such as costs, cashflow and customers. Understandable as it is, businesses do need to think very carefully about prioritising communications with their people. At any point good internal communication can make a huge difference in terms of engagement, productivity, and how your customers experience your organisation. In challenging times, the impact can be tenfold. This is not just about letting people know what is happening because action is required, it's about communicating in a way that helps people deal with the anxiety and fear of the unknown. A key risk is that in the absence of actual information people start to fill in gaps, and that story may not be the one you want people telling or experiencing.

Good communication is not hard, but it is important and following a few key principles can make all the difference:

  • Keep it simple and accessible - communication is most effective when it's easy to understand. Think about your audience, and the most effective way to communicate with them. In written communication bullet points, FAQs, and visuals are a good way to get a message across. If you need a call to action in there, signpost it, make it clear and unambiguous.

  • Keep it regular - if people know communication will be coming, they are less likely to be concerned about uncertainty. The anticipation of getting more information can often be enough to allow people to focus on more day today matters.

  • Overcommunicate - when people are feeling stressed, they do not always process information effectively. If something is important communicate it multiple times, and ideally in different ways.

  • Put yourself in their shoes - when you are communicating, question what it is that person needs and wants to hear. Do not be afraid to take time to put communications aside and review it from the perspective of the audience. If you were them, would this be clear? Would it address the things that they are worried about? The things they are dealing with day to day? In some cases you may not have the answers to questions people have, as a rule though it is best to acknowledge that so people are at least aware that it's on your radar, that you understand it's important, and that when you do have information you'll share this with them in an appropriate way.

  • The right method for the right message - this is particularly true where there is remote working, but in all cases getting the right form of communication is important. Do not just default to email because it is easy, even if you are not in the same building there is so much technology out there that allows you to get people together and have open conversations. This is particularly true where the message is sensitive or complex, where the way its is communicated is almost as important as what is said.

Do not be afraid to be vulnerable during this time. Acknowledge things are difficult, chances are mistakes will be made, but by being open and communicating with people will allow them to feel like they're part of the journey, and are likely to have a greater understanding of the challenges and occasional difficult decisions you'll need to make. #communication #coronavirus #COVID-19

Please note that this information is for guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking full legal advice on specific facts and circumstances at the relevant time.