Are you going to be ready?

Things don’t always pan out as we think they are going to. Life has other ideas. After all, there can’t be many organisations who had dealing with a global pandemic in their 2020 Q1 planning briefs.

Que sera, sera, best-laid plans and all that.

Right now, it feels we need to prioritise how we are going to get through the next few months as individuals and businesses.

The importance of doing that has just been accelerated now that the Government is encouraging those of us who can’t work from home to get back into offices and workspaces as soon as we safely can.

So, worrying about the long-term future, the 10-year plan and the 2025 sales forecasts, important as they are of course, can bubble away on a back burner at least until the COVID-19 dust has begun to settle.

While the virus has shown us it’s almost impossible to forecast the future with any degree of certainty; there is one thing we can scribble down in permanent marker – things will change.

Whether it’s the end of the office as we know it, a two-metre spacing rule in meetings until 2022 or face masks in the boardroom, returning to the ‘normal’ we knew just a few short months ago may well never happen.

As internal communicators, you can be sure your people are asking the same sort of questions and having the same kind of thoughts and fears.

They will need to know how your organisation sees the short-term future, and how it’s preparing for the ‘return’ to work whether that’s this week, next month or beyond.

Question time

With some level of COVID-19 restrictions now loosened, with perhaps more to follow in early June, people’s minds have been jolted from lockdown bake-offs and bike rides back to work mode particularly if they have been furloughed with little to do.

For others, it’s been full-time work as usual, albeit from home, so when your office does reopen there’s going to be different emotions and motivations swirling about.

So with the [cliché alert!] ‘new normal’ possibly riding towards us over the horizon now is the time to think about the questions your employees will have, how you can answer them and work on that accelerated back to the office comms plan.

Some of your people are bound to be anxious and worried about returning to work and/or the office, especially as the Government’s ‘Stay Alert’ advice has led to some confusion.

How will it impact on their family? Is their job safe? Are they really expected to commute in every day? What if they have to use public transport but have been told not to?

So as well the facts behind the return, it’s vital we communicate with their emotions and motivations in mind and ensure we are doing everything required to keep them safe.

Thankfully, there are some great resources out there to help; not least our internal comms planner one-pager. Free to download via the link below, it will give you a great start and some of the likely questions and themes you’ll need to consider to start the ‘big return’ and ongoing back to work comms.

As I/C professional Rachel Miller points out in her blog, you can think about the known knowns and the known unknowns and even map them out to help look into the not too distant future. The problem is there are not many knowns right now. She’s compiled a long list of questions to consider in her back to the office blog here.

You might find it helpful to categorise the questions. For example, the logistics of the office return and the safety and security measures in place to protect your people. As she says they’ll have concerns about their commute, and whether your company will insist on social-distancing and other anti-virus measures.

Communications consultant Diana Bonzcar has compiled a list of her own questions employees on are likely to have on her LinkedIn page and importantly has raised the issue of how they will be feeling.

Some of your people will be nervous and cautious, concerned about picking up the virus and passing it on to their families. Others will no doubt be skipping through the doors excited about the prospect of seeing their colleagues and having [safe] face to face meetings for the first time in months.

In fact, a fun HR Grapevine poll shows the one thing people have missed the most is office banter and their colleagues. Whatever the future holds it appears we’ll still want those face to face connections.

So, as Diana says, we’ll need to consider the emotional atmosphere of our workforce and to remember that people will have real concerns about job security.

You might also need to consider thinking about updating your people about suppliers, are they still working with you and in business? What’s happening with the 2020 plans? Can people still work from home and come into the office when they want or need to? (A poll on LinkedIn suggested most of us would prefer to work both from home and from an office while 22% of respondents would like to continue working from home as they feel more productive).

If you need more check out comms professional Advita Patel’s advice on the questions you’ll need answers to from your CEO here.

Stress testing crisis comms

To say it’s been a challenging time for internal communicators is the king of understatements. There’s been plenty of fires to put out, communicating virus updates and working from home advice, trying to get digital comms tools up and running and discussing next steps with the CEO, all the while listening intently to Government updates and changes in advice.

If there have been any silver linings to the pandemic, it’s certainly been a good time to stress-test those crisis comms plans!

So, while you’re preparing your back to the office questions, it might be a good time to review how it’s been going. We bet your experience won’t have been dissimilar to your internal communication peers.

In fact, I/C strategists Gatehouse revealed in a COVID-19 poll that 42% of internal comms professionals said a lack of effective digital channels had been a critical challenge. 48% said productivity had taken a hit because the channels they do have aren’t as seamless as they need to be.

Employee wellbeing has taken centre stage too, with the spotlight falling on promoting mental and physical health. 94% of your internal comms colleagues think the crisis is an opportunity to develop a stronger connection with employees.

Sound familiar?

Taking some time to review your coronavirus comms could give you valuable data to improve or change how things are done in the future.

As Gatehouse point out, internal communications has always had a central role in maintaining and enhancing employee wellbeing. It feels as if that has never been more true or more important than now.

Will offices even exist in the future? Will we be a WFH nation? All questions perhaps for another time.

It’s a depressing sentence to have to write, but we may find ourselves going through more lockdowns and being apart from our loved ones and colleagues again.

But with this experience behind us, we’ll be better prepared for whatever the future might have in store.