Communication in the time of COVID: tips for effectively engaging with employees – Chief Learning Officer

There have been many industry professionals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, from essential workers in health care, retail and public transit, to grocery and pharmacy staff. Millions who rely upon these industries for jobs are being challenged to operate under the current conditions. Consider corporate employees, food suppliers, teachers, small business owners and more who need to remain open but are used to relying on in-person contact. They have had to adapt immediately, many without a playbook or training, to work in a remote or virtual setting.

Now more than ever, employees depend on top-level communication from their leadership teams in order to do their jobs. Content, cascade and cadence have changed to customized communications that give employees a reason to believe. Leaders must humanize their approach to meet the needs of each individual employee to ensure they feel as supported and empowered as possible to perform their job, while also managing the heightened stress and mental toll of this period.

As COVID cases continue to surge around the world, here are a few ways that leaders can show up for both their colleagues and themselves in the coming months.

Update employees, but avoid information overload

Leaders must be transparent and willing to show planning and updates whenever possible. During the initial onset of the pandemic, several Fortune 100 companies set a “return to office” date, only to delay it six or seven times before ultimately making the call to remain remote. This wavering guidance only adds to the stress employees have faced during the pandemic. Prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to sharing, but knowledge is power, even if it is subject to change. There are many new public health and safety protocols to observe on a local and national level that all employees, managers and leaders alike should be aware of. Having someone to count on for important updates can ease the tension of “information overload” and receiving news faster than it is possible to digest. With that in mind, leaders and managers should also consistently follow up with employees, because the need to stay agile and nimble has never been so crucial. Remaining as flexible as possible will make recurring transitions less of a burden.

Share positivity

This technique is often overlooked, but it is incredibly powerful. Leaders must infuse optimism, purpose and morale into their communities as often as possible. It is best for this to be presented to employees authentically because no one is expecting people to be the most motivated or productive they have ever been. However, there are statistics that show the power of recognition, appreciation and gratitude in the workplace. Reminding somebody of their sense of purpose can change the way they look at themselves and the approach they take toward their work. People like to feel needed and often do their best work when they feel it makes a difference. Try to emphasize the value each team member brings to the table whenever possible.

The power of community

Finally, foster support and community in all professional settings. This pandemic can be incredibly isolating; whether somebody is naturally an introvert or extrovert, everybody depends on support systems from time to time. Look into opportunities to bring the team together informally, as people, such as a virtual happy hour or group yoga session. Understandably, the new term “Zoom fatigue” is a very real thing, so think about alternatives to adding meeting upon meeting to already hectic schedules. It can be as simple as asking someone for a virtual coffee to blow off some steam, or sending an encouraging message to a colleague. Consider a “walk and talk” meeting to reduce screen time, or engage your team by making use of new and exciting tools like a virtual whiteboard to avoid glazed-over eyes and encourage collaborative brainstorming. One thing this year has shown is that teams are stronger and more effective, no matter the setting, when they come together and support one another.

Whether teams are on the front lines or sitting at a laptop in a makeshift home office, everyone is vital to making it through this challenging time. Now is the time for leaders to beef up their communications skills and look to colleagues to share what they need. Employees should be encouraged to speak up, both if help is needed and when there is bandwidth to lend a hand. Collectively, individuals will have the opportunity to come out on the other side stronger and more empathetic to each other’s experiences. Don’t wait for better circumstances to truly enhance the employee experience.


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