As many of us remember, the beginning of the global pandemic was a scary time. The unknown it brought made business leaders, employees and customers unsure of the future. This sparked fear and anger. Many criticized companies that decided to stay open or didn’t have specific guidelines in place to limit COVID-19 exposure. As we approach a new stage of the pandemic, this uncertainty will continue and may spark another wave of criticism as organizations begin to reopen and return to “normal.”
Some may think reopening the economy is premature, while others might feel like it’s long overdue. In an effort to navigate this fine line and avoid backlash, clear communication plans are necessary and need to be individually tailored to each internal and external stakeholder group – including employees, customers and shareholders.
- For essential businesses whose employees kept working during COVID-19, communication through employee newsletters, intranets, blogs and other channels will still need to be used. Sharing if and for how long the social distancing rules or other new protocols will continue is necessary to ease any concerns. These employee communications should clearly state the steps the organization is taking to ensure employees continue to stay safe and the resources to turn to in case COVID-19 or other diseases impact the community again.
- Organizations that moved their operations to “work from home” will need to decide on and then communicate any changes in procedures. When will employees be expected to return to the office? Will your business’ “work from home” policy change? These are the questions employees want to know as well as a timeline for when they will go into effect. Be transparent and share the policies early so employees have time to prepare for the “new normal.”
- Companies that needed to furlough employees during the pandemic should already be routinely communicating the latest news and timing for when employees may be expected to return to work. This information should be shared with lots of details so they can clearly understand your expectations and how you’ll continue to prioritize employee safety when the company is fully re-opened. Be clear and concise with frequent communication so you don’t lose your best employees.
- Set up new and improved training for managers so they can effectively communicate to employees. Going from quarantine to everyday life may impact us all differently, be sure managers are trained to listen to employees’ concerns as well as coach and motivate them when needed.
- Keep in mind, interest in labor unions may strengthen once the pandemic has ended. Union organizers will be looking for new members to replace the ones who left when they lost their jobs. Be sure you have effectively communicated your new procedures to keep employees safe as well as provided an update on the business and where it stands now. With trust and understanding, employees will feel comfortable to continue moving forward.
- Before announcing your reopening, develop a plan. While COVID-19 may not be as prevalent as it was in March/April, what are you doing to keep it that way? How are you going to keep customers safe? How will you need to alter interactions in the store to comply with ongoing social distancing requirements? Add this information on your website and train your staff to do these protocols.
- You should also train your staff on how to respond to customer questions regarding COVID-19. Asking them to be familiar with the company website’s FAQ on COVID-19 or talking points keeps your message consistent throughout the entire organization.
- No matter what type of announcement you make, there may still be backlash. For example, Costco announced most locations would be returning to regular operating hours. However, in order to continue to stop the spread of COVID-19, all customers and employees are required to wear masks or other face coverings. While this announcement follows Reputation Partners’ post-COVID-19 customer communication recommendations, there are still some Costco members who state they will not be renewing their membership because of these policies. Remember, you can never please everyone.
- No matter what industry you are in, all organizations were impacted by COVID-19. While the majority of businesses already shared the temporary closures to their shareholders, continuing to keep them up to date on the latest policy changes is vital. You should also clearly communicate your strategy on growing your business, even during trying times where it is not as easy to do so. Having your shareholders’ trust will ensure future success.
- Be sure you share this strategy through a variety of shareholder communications. This includes press releases, shareholder meetings and investor presentations. It should also be uniform across all platforms so messaging stays consistent and effectively reaches shareholders.
While we may think the uncertain times of COVID-19 are over as stores and communities begin to reopen, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Understanding how to effectively communicate these openings and new procedures is vital to be successful in this “new normal.”