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How to communicate with your staff during COVID-19

Three vintage phones
Photo by Pavan Trikutam

The Coronavirus has caused extreme changes to our daily lives that have undoubtedly affected you and your business. Whether you’ve been forced to close your doors or are constantly brainstorming new ways to generate revenue, communication with your employees is of the utmost importance.

Just like you, many of your staff likely feel nervous and uncertain about what’s next. By opening the lines of communication with your employees about business changes, you can help them feel more supported. This transparency also provides direction for how they can continue to be a part of the business. We’ve compiled four main suggestions to help you communicate the most important information effectively during a challenging time.

Confirm contact information for all of your employees

Things are changing and progressing almost daily, which requires you to frequently update and inform your team. Confirming that you have updated contact information for your staff can save you the headache and time of chasing people down or worrying about whether your message got through.

Get multiple points of contact for each staffer, and take the time to learn (and make note of) which channel is the fastest way to get each person’s attention in case they’re not responding quickly enough in an emergency. Some people may only check email once in a while but are hyper attentive to text or Whatsapp notifications.

Once you’ve confirmed everyone’s contact information, let them know how and when you expect to send updates. Will there be an email every Friday? Or maybe a text every Monday with an abbreviated recap of the previous week? Scheduling a regular check-in can help your employees feel less anxious and more engaged with your business. If possible, schedule phone or video meetings so everyone can channel energy from each other in this time when meeting in person often isn’t safe or feasible. A quick 30-minute video call can be a great way to keep up morale and stay connected.

Communicate changes in standard policy or procedures

Each time you communicate with your team, it’s important to provide updates on how COVID-19 is impacting your operations. Even if you’re repeating information from a previous update, it’s good to overcommunicate significant changes during these times. Make a checklist to ensure you’re remembering all of the important points while you have everyone’s attention. 

  • Start with a general update on the business 
  • Share your latest thinking on the future of the business
  • Talk about opportunities for staff participation that may be different from their regular duties
  • Give suggestions and guidance for how they can continue to support the business
  • Talk about what’s next for the business and what you’re doing (and how they can help)
  • Before you sign off, let everyone know when they will hear from you next 
  • If you’re closed and had to lay people off, include links to federal or local resources they may need for unemployment or other types of aide
  • If employees are furloughed, include as much information as possible about their benefits and what they should expect from you in terms of resources and communication 

Incorporate their help in creative ways

As you continue to experiment with new revenue opportunities or if you have to make the tough decision to temporarily close your doors, there may still be ways to incorporate your employees into your evolving operations. 

Social media is one of the most useful tools for communicating with your customers and community during this time. Enlisting one of your employees to help with photos, graphics, or written content for your social channels is a great way to keep them engaged. People are online and looking for ways to support local businesses. Especially during these times, authentic and honest content about the struggles of being a small business and the appreciation you have for your customers and community are resonating with everyone.

Revisit your menu, inventory, or service offerings, and enlist your staff to provide ideas, feedback, and expertise. This can also be a great time to do that training that you never had the time for. Do you have any remodeling or repair projects that your team could help with? A fresh coat of paint, a deep cleaning, reorganization of a walk-in cooler, or a facelift for the breakroom?

Use the right language: Be human

Communicating with your team during a crisis is never going to be easy. When thinking about what to say and how to say it, it’s important to focus on  being straightforward while making a positive impact—your staff will appreciate your candor. Don’t sugarcoat things, don’t talk endlessly to avoid a difficult topic, and above all, be conversational—making your language too professional or buzzwordy can come across as impersonal. Just let your staff know what you’re thinking in the most direct and empathetic way possible.

Be consistent and clear. It’s okay if you repeat yourself—it will help ensure your most important points are understood and remembered. Try to anticipate the questions or concerns your staff may have so you can proactively get ahead of it and show them that you’re thinking of them.

And most of all, be patient, be caring, and be human. Everyone is going through their own struggles right now, and open, honest communication creates empathy, connection, and a sense of unity that can help you and your staff get through this together.