employees trust their employers far more than governments or news media and that they consider internal communications as their most credible sources of information about the COVID-19 outbreak.
Outstanding communicators are working with high visibility, creativity, and multi-channel capabilities to provide trustworthy and shareable content that increases factual knowledge, informs practical actions, and mitigates panic.
“We demonstrated empathy, leadership and adaptability by prioritizing the physical and mental health of employees,” says Nicole Thomas, a fellow member of my Leadership Houston Class XXIX who earlier this year started Nicallyss Creative Group, her Memphis-based boutique marketing and communications agency serving individuals, small businesses, and global brands.
“Employee feedback allowed us to better assess business continuity, identify potential challenges and opportunities, and provide the necessary tools and software needed for our teams to succeed.”
With more information and recognition that COVID-19 would be a longer-than-expected change, Nicole’s team provided clear and transparent updates that included professional and personal resources.
At Boston-based Agios Pharmaceuticals, the internal comms imperative is underscored by the fact that 50 percent of employees have kids under age 18 and are heavily impacted by school closures.
“We acknowledge that – let everyone know we get it. The more authentic, the better. We have made it clear that we trust them and know they’ll manage in a way that works best for them and their families,” explains Stacy Nobles (Roth), my fellow alum from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications who heads internal communications at Agios.
“We encourage a lot of 1:1 conversations via video. It helps to just informally check in with people and see how they're coping -- let them talk and truly listen to what they're saying," she says. "You have to start with what’s most important – the health and wellbeing of our people, their loved ones and the patients we serve. The rest falls into place as long as you let that guide you.”
Stacy and her team created a “Stay at Home Hub” on the Agios intranet with sections focusing on well-being, managing from afar, engaging kids, and giving back/helping. The “Ways to Learn” section on the site offers kid-friendly Q&A sessions featuring company scientists. They’re also launching a series of virtual expert sessions, with the kickoff featuring a Q&A with a company leader who has a PhD in virology.
While the pandemic-driven departure from many workplaces was all about telling and urgency, communicating the return, workforce reductions, furloughs, and other necessary actions must over-index on listening and empathy, according to Ethan McCarty, CEO of New York-based Integral, an employee activation agency serving global organization leaders of communications, HR, marketing and technology.
Ethan says there are enormous opportunities for employers and employees to come back stronger and more committed to the positive aspects of brands and cultures.
“My team and I have always considered compassion a killer app and authentic empathy a winning strategy for leadership -- they both need to be visible and redolent in every experience of the employee-employer relationship more than ever,” he says. “We are working with clients right now to reimagine almost everything -- from intranets and mobile apps to manager enablement programs to benefits communications to social media policies -- all with a new level of listening and responsiveness in mind for a new world of work brought about by the pandemic."
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