Don’t create distance in your internal communications

By Faye Harris-Frost, head of PR

There are many things that I have found unsettling throughout the recent pandemic (not least the fact that we’ve been living through a global pandemic) but I have found the term ‘social distancing’ to be somewhat of a misnomer.  When I have tried to help my children understand the new rules of behaviour that we all quite rightly need to adhere to, I have always found the phrase ‘physical distancing’ to be much more helpful. Yes, we must limit actual contact with others but does this mean we can’t communicate with our friends, family and work colleagues?  Of course not, and if anything, staying in touch via phone, email, social media, video call and even letter has never been more important.  When so many of us can’t physically be together, reaching out to bridge that ‘social distance’ can make all the difference to our mental health, wellbeing and productivity. And  when it comes to a company’s internal communications, now is not a time to take a step back.

It’s not uncommon for some businesses to not have any formal internal communications plan at all and many will wonder how necessary one is.  But there’s no escaping the fact that the landscape of the traditional workplace has changed, with significant numbers of people working remotely and many more being furloughed. As well as having a displaced workforce, companies are facing an unprecedented challenge in trying to navigate a ‘new normal’ that is yet to be fully defined and make difficult decisions such as redundancies and restructuring. When it’s difficult to find the words, the idea of an internal communications strategy can feel overwhelming but there are a number of ways that businesses can provide transparency, information and support to its employees in a manageable and effective way.

Formalise your approach

Direct communication with your employees in these uncertain times is essential but it can also create confusion and misunderstanding if not done properly.  Consistency is key to encouraging both engagement and trust – make sure everyone is told about important changes at the same time and make sure if you say you will keep them updated, you do.  It’s worth remembering that not everyone who works remotely can stick to a strict ‘9-5’ schedule, so try to choose a regular time slot or day of the week to send out important updates so people are more likely to look out for them. 

Never send an email without considering what would happen if it fell into the wrong inbox and never send an email when a phone call is more appropriate.  More informal platforms such as WhatsApp and Slack may be a great way to connect with your team but they can also be a breeding ground for gossip and speculation and should never be used to make any official announcements. Of course, communication is a two-way thing and when employees can’t easily discuss concerns with their team or managers face to face, it’s vital that they know who to contact, how to reach them and where to go if they need any more information or support.

Internal communications can often be a weak spot in a company’s ability to manage and contain negative news and so it’s well worth talking to your PR agency to devise a robust crisis communications plan that addresses both your workforce and your client base.

Check your channels

As few of us are working in exactly the same way as before, now is a good time to take stock of how you usually communicate with your employees– what works and what doesn’t?  Do you have an company intranet and if so, is it fully updated with everything people need to know?  Can everyone access it from home?  If email communication is your preferred method, do you have an up to date contact list and for furloughed staff, permission to use and store their personal email addresses?

If you previously relied on face to face team briefings, make sure to schedule regular video calls – both to discuss businesses and offer some much-needed social interaction and morale boosts. And remember all those messages that you want your clients to be aware of also need to be communicated to your staff so make sure that everyone is following your social media channels and checking your website for the latest company news.

Take a new direction

Email may be a tried and tested method of keeping in touch but in a world where social interaction has been vastly restricted, video can effectively offer both a professional and personal approach.  As well as enabling key personnel to directly address their teams, video is incredibly engaging and can succinctly communicate even complex messages – for example, rather than trying to explain to your staff via email what the new procedures are on the factory floor or how an office layout has changed, why not give them a video tour? Relevant footage can also be edited together to be communicated to your external audiences too and as our video team can easily work within the necessary social distancing requirements, creating your very own showreel is perhaps easier than you think. 

Long term solutions

For larger companies, it can be difficult to find an internal communications strategy that speaks to everyone. Internal newsletters are a firm favourite of many businesses as they provide a great opportunity to communicate corporate news and updates as well as staff stories.  Usually issued quarterly, newsletters can be printed or created and distributed digitally, and they can be as short or as long as required.

If you would like to discuss your requirements for an internal communications plan or wider crisis communications strategy, get in touch with our PR team today – we may still be working at arm’s length at the moment, but we can still lend a hand. 

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