Tuesday, May 12, 2020

By: Jen Riley 

As counties across Pennsylvania prepare to be reopened, the responsibility to keep employees, customers and other workplace visitors safe will fall, generally, to organizations’ leaders. 

Although there are some guidelines, your strategy for reopening may look different from that of other organizations. However, one thing is common to everyone: You must be prepared to proceed with input, empathy and flexibility when communicating with your employees.  

Communicate Often  

There is no such thing as over-communicating during a time of crisis. Often, people think they need to wait until they have all the answers before they communicate. But that only creates a “communications vacuum.”  

Instead, communicate clearly – and often – to employees about how the crisis is affecting the organization and its stakeholders. Tell them what you know and tell them what you don’t know. You likely won’t have all the answers, but transparency and honesty will build trust, especially in a crisis.  

Get Input  

What your employees may want from you going forward will likely look different than what they wanted from you before the pandemic. In today’s world, employees have questions, and they want to be heard. 

However, in a well-intentioned effort to move quickly and efficiently, soliciting employee input may be an afterthought. But, now, more than ever, participative management is not an elective; it is a must.  

Employers need to allow employee opinions to influence decision making and next steps. Employee involvement in reopening strategies fosters an environment in which people are invested. Otherwise, employees will feel that their opinion (and their safety) is not valued. 

Proceed with Empathy  

Even if you take all necessary safety precautions, it’s likely you will have some employees who won’t want to, or aren’t able to return to work because they feel unsafe or because of other circumstances (think childcare).  

Remember to keep the lines of communication open. Meet with staff members at all levels so you don’t make assumptions about what people need and want. Also, managers should be equipped with the resources, information and responsibility to assist employees who are struggling. 

Also, remember that words matter. When communicating with employees, be on the lookout for insensitive words, like: Killer (as in a “killer instinct”) or health-related terms (“give it a pulse check”). 

Start Now, But Be Flexible  

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. Don’t wait until you’re ready to open your doors to think about what “reopened” looks like. Organizations have no choice but to rethink and redefine how to operate. 

Whatever your organization’s products or services are, start preparations now. And don’t assume your protocol, like social distancing, will be easy to enforce. Some ideas will work, while others may prove to be impractical or too cumbersome to implement. These are unprecedented times and there is no manual. We will all have to be flexible. 

During a crisis, organizations may tend to focus their communication efforts on external audiences, especially customers. It’s understandable; we don’t know how COVID-19 will ultimately affect our long-term bottom line.  

However, employees may be the single biggest determinant in how fast and how well an organization will recover from this crisis. And we will recover.  

We just need to remember that how we treat our employees today will continue to resonate into tomorrow.