How does an open and transparent workplace culture – and the tenets of crisis communications – affect the successful reopening of your organization as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease?
More than you might think.
By almost every measure, Alberta has made great progress flattening the curve. Now that a provincial reopening plan has been released, it’s prudent to start thinking ahead to how you, your organization and your employees will manage that transition.
A workplace culture that encourages unrestricted and two-way dialogue is key. Like other companies, ZGM has long focused on being empathetic and understanding; asking for input where possible; being open, transparent and available; and being accessible to questions. We don’t always get it right, but everyone – from the partners to an entire team spread across two cities in two offices – tries their best to walk the talk.
There’s an openness and sense of shared purpose that has been infused into our corporate culture.
These values also come into play when we help organizations and leaders respond to a crisis situation – and these values are equally relevant as businesses pivot to not only responding to life within the COVID-19 quarantine, but also to our yet-to-be determined life when restrictions are relaxed.
So here’s some advice, built on values of transparency, accessibility and empathy, that we typically employ to help businesses navigate their way through crises. They can help ensure you connect with your team in a thoughtful and considered way as we plan for the next steps of the pandemic.
Chart your course.
As we all approach what we hope is the latter half of the curve and consider planning for reopening, it’s no time to wing it. Build a basic (and nimble) process plan that establishes: who will be doing the communicating; when you intend to communicate; and with what frequency. A basic process plan will impose the necessary discipline required, and will send a message to staff about the value you place on keeping them informed through this new phase.
Get out first.
As you plan your reopening, get out first with your messages, even if it’s to say that you don’t have all the answers. Connecting with your staff early in the process also sends an important message about the priority you place on your team. Trust us: nobody wants to learn news about the organization they work with while listening to a radio news broadcast. This is when you can lean into the virtual office communication systems you’ve hopefully established (note: all-staff email lists work too!). Also, remember that in an information void, people typically fill in the blanks for themselves. So being in a position to connect the right dots helps to quash rumours and speculation.
Be clear and consistent.
It’s also important to be clear and consistent with your messages. All crises have a level of complexity, and these can be difficult to translate into bite-sized messaging. Because people interpret information differently, you will need to place lots of effort in being clear and simple with the messages you deliver. Remember to speak only to what you know, and avoid speculation. End all of your team communications with precise information about plans for the next time they will hear from you, and what they can expect to hear. While clear messaging is important, a buoyant, ever expanding Q & A that’s easily accessed can be an absolute necessity during a crisis, and can play a huge role in clarifying issues (see above) and offering reassurances to your team. Remember that your responses to questions need to be clear and unassailable, lest you create more confusion.
Diversify your messages with optimism.
For some sectors in the era of COVID-19, demand for service has all but evaporated. Other types of businesses have found themselves to be in better positions to pivot to reflect the new world order. For those organizations who are adapting, success – no matter what size – plays a monumental role in keeping people motivated and feeling relevant. While the impact of a reopening will take centre stage, ensure that you diversify your messages with good news stories. This does not mean being tone deaf to what is often difficult, intense and vulnerable periods. But relying on your communications channels to deliver only difficult news can limit your chances of carrying your organization through a difficult period.
We're here to help
We’re currently offering free advice to help you navigate marketing, advertising, and communications in these uncharted waters. If you’re interested in sending us a note about your situation, we would be happy to set up a quick call with one of our team mates who might be able to answer your questions. Click below for more details.
This article was also written with help from Victor Tanti, ZGM's Principal Practice Director, PR.