Coronavirus and Internal Communications

Are employers doing enough?

Coronavirus and Internal Communications

Every day that goes by seems to see a rapidly evolving situation as the Coronavirus affects people and organisations across the UK and world.

‘People are your greatest asset’ is the truth of many organisations but these ‘assets’ are dealing with new challenges and heightened anxiety in some testing times. We explore some of the early evidence which is out there and the role the internal communications professional can play in helping to lead our teams through these tricky times. 

How it’s affecting the nation…

A study of awareness and anxiety by survey provider Attest, showed a national ‘tipping point’ between the 13th and 15th March. Most people feeling that the national measures taken were too slow and not initially robust enough. 

Peoples’ top concerns are focussed at the bottom of ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’, security and basic physiological needs, and as of the 17th March these were:

  1. Parents/grandparents catching it
  2. The economy being affected
  3. Running out of food
  4. Catching Coronavirus themselves

On top of this, 42% of working people are at least ‘fairly worried’ for their job. (Source: YouGov 18/3/20). 

This is a tricky frame of mind to manage as you pack people off to work from home and in part this is why we see the proliferation on LinkedIn and other social channels, of guides and advice on maintaining a positive outlook when cooped up at home.

For the circa 50% of workers for which working at home is a possibility, a US Attest survey revealed some of the challenges for our employees: 

  1. More distracted 42%
  2. It’s hard to draw the line between personal and business lives 40%
  3. I feel less productive 36%
  4. I miss being with my co-workers 36%

It’s clear that people feel their personal and business lives are merging, they feel an instability, vulnerability and lack some of their core support network. 

What employees thought of their employer’s response

With all this in mind, how are our communications to date (19/03/20) best resonating with our employees? We asked a sample of UK full-time workers in companies with 250+ employees to find out. 

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As we can see, the overarching sentiment (60%) is that large employers have been at least ‘good’ in their communications across the board (speed, clarity, decisiveness, honesty etc), with a third of this (20% of total) being ‘outstanding’. Around 20% are average and 20% are ‘could improve’ or ‘poor’ communicators. 

Where we asked what more they’d like to see from their employer’s communication during these tough times, some typical answers were:

  • ‘more frequent updates’ or ‘daily calls’
  • ‘having more empathy’
  • ‘need assurance around the future’
  • ‘What this means for contractors’
  • ‘Why some can work from home and others cannot’
  • ‘What is up to the line managers discretion’

However, many simply said their organisations couldn’t have done more and were brilliant. 

We were pleased to see this come through in such a way. When we completed research as part of our ‘Employer Epiphany’ report at the end of 2019, the same audience were a lot less positive with 44% believing business leaders were ‘secretive’ about strategy and only 22% understanding their role within the wider strategy and how they could contribute – which also reflected in their engagement scores. 

Most wanted more communication, more visible communication from leadership and for key decisions to be explained. The results from today’s survey amid Coronavius suggests there has been more of these areas addressed, with an increasingly heightened internal comms orientation, but also suggests a wider collective empathy playing a role. 

What else can we do?

We are early doors into unchartered waters with the stock market at a low, reports of schools being closed for the foreseeable and any sense of ‘normality’ being 12+ weeks away.

With this in mind, some of the immediate, crucial communications may have happened in many organisations, such as how certain operations will be handled or taking steps to introduce home working, but with people physically further away, our communication needs to keep them closer than ever. Here’s a few suggestions: 

  1. Regular and simple communication – our communications have been broadly understood and well received to date, so keeping frequency up will help to avoid panic and people coming to their own conclusions in the course of the days unfolding. As several commentators have said on this topic, it’s better to update and say there is ‘no change’ than have radio silence. This applies as much to team leader updates as well as maintaining visibility of leadership. 
  2. Target & reiterate consistently – the right information for the right groups at the right times, but importantly ensuring we have a foundation of fact and policy which we consistently reference back to, avoiding building any contradictory information 
  3. Inspire & empathy – it’s a difficult time to ‘inspire’ but really putting ourselves in their shoes, in these turbulent times personally, as well as for the commercial world, which as we’ve explored is very much interlinked for employees. Seeking to relate to employees, give them a pragmatic vision for today’s action, with a view on how we can navigate out of this eventually to return to a more normal cadence of business. Where there is a rocky road and tough decisions to be made, addressing this head on with what the next steps may be as matters develop. 
  4. Video and podcast can help people feel connected – seeing people from across the organisations, functions and locations feels more human than channels such as email, it helps people to relate around the shared cause and provides well needed interaction when people may be feeling more isolated. 
  5. Keep clarifying company and safety policies – ensuring people know exactly what the organisational policy is around working from home, if they develop symptoms, travel, budget, holidays, contractors, pay during these times where they have lots of questions.
  6. Tips on working from home – several people responded to the survey that this would be appreciated, its new to many people, with the technologies, the distractions and a new way of getting things done. 
  7. Offer hotlines and FAQ to address queries – some organisations are putting hotlines in place as a point to field and manage people’s questions. This becomes a point of insight as to the hearts and minds of the employees, as well as an ability to act fast to manage individual specific issues.

We hope that this has gone some way to giving a point of reference on internal communications around Coronavirus.  

If you need further support, to discuss your challenges in this area please get in touch and we’ll do what we can to help.

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