While you’re rethinking every aspect of your marketing during this public health crisis, be sure to think about your internal communications, too. Because when done thoughtfully, with compassion and kindness, your employee messaging during this time can strengthen relationships, trust and your overall workplace culture.
If you’re wondering how to deepen bonds when your team members are working remotely, it’s really no different than when you are all together:
For example, if someone is late for a videoconference, rather than pinging “are you coming?” or starting without them, send a text, IM or email that shows genuine empathy, like: “Hope everything is okay! I know how hard it is to juggle kids and your partner’s work demands. Is there a better time for us to meet? We value your input and would love for you to join us.”
And start every verbal and written conversation with this: “How are you? I’ve been thinking about you. Is there anything I can do to help you right now?”
If you know specifics, by all means ask about the relative in the hospital, spouse doing heroic work on the front line, child celebrating a milestone birthday.
Compared to a quick hello at the coffee maker, a deliberate, intentional conversation can help you get to know a team member better, and in deeper, more meaningful ways, even while working remotely.
So close your eyes and point to a name on your company roster several times a day, and randomly call a “blind” date for a relaxed, no-agenda social conversation. And make it a video call, because you’ll likely be a better listener, making eye contact, staying engaged, less likely to multi-task than when talking over the phone. And that focused attention feels good, shows you care, and makes people feel important, strengthening connections for the long-term.
Effective leaders know there’s a time to be dominant and a time to be collaborative. And now is the time to admit you don’t have all the answers, and to ask for help determining the path forward. But be mindful of your tone in your communications: If you come across as too authoritative during the information-gathering, ideation phases of problem-solving, you may inadvertently discourage people from sharing their thoughts and feelings.
So ask questions and then step back, stay quiet while staying open, listen closely. Invite people to help come up with solutions, to challenge the way you think. To think differently. To share their ideas about how to get through the pandemic and what business might look like on the other side, and what they will need to feel comfortable and safe. Because your return-to-work planning team needs to be diverse, or at least, to represent a full range of experiences.
Some of your team members have kids who don’t have a school, camp or daycare to attend any more. Some are caring for family members with special needs or health care issues. Some are alone and feeling isolated. Some have to take public transportation to work. And each has valid requirements you need to consider in your future-planning.
So ask for help with these important decisions. By doing so, you’re telling your team members you care about them, appreciate them, and respect, value and rely on their experience and wisdom. And you’re creating an emotionally-safe place for them to take risks and share their ideas, instilling a sense of belonging, while freeing free-thinking.
If you sense hesitation to speak up, create an anonymous survey or soften your approach, maybe show vulnerability by sharing a story of a time you tried something new, and failed, or changed your mind about a longstanding belief, and it was okay.
For example, at Dixon Schwabl, one of Great Place to Work® Institute’s Best Workplaces, our CEO Lauren Dixon recently admitted that her pre-pandemic resistance to remote working was short-sighted, and she has now seen the light, recognizing we are being productive and making it work, and as she freely says, “proving me wrong.”
Having the courage to publicly admit a mistake is humanizing and disarming, and will help people feel comfortable sharing what’s on their minds. When they do, be sure to consider each person’s input, and to respond individually, thanking them for their contribution. And then, after asking questions, listening and collaborating, you can use a more dominant approach to execute your plans.
When we look back on this experience in one, five, 10 years, what will we remember? What will your team members and customers remember about you, your business, your brand? Remember this: It won’t be the exact words or images, but the meaning behind your messages. The tone of your communications. The spirt of what you do and say.
And there is nothing more important now, or ever, than living and breathing compassion in all of your communications. Expressing genuine, heartfelt human kindness, generosity and caring in your words and actions. Walking the trust walk and talking the kindness talk.
After all, building a brand, nurturing relationships, these are long-games. Like business. And life. And your value, your purpose, as a business and a brand, is ultimately based on how you make people feel.
Long after the pandemic, your team members, customers and community will remember how you treated them during this crisis. And that is what will define your brand, and what people think of your brand, going forward.
Of course you must be candid and forthcoming with the painful truths and uncomfortable consequences of the crisis, its impact on your business, customers and team members. At the same time, try to keep spirts up and hope high through frequent communication. Because when the ground feels so shaky, people need and want consistency, something to count on and look forward to. So set a distribution schedule and stick to it:
Maybe a Monday motivation email, Wednesday “show and tell” videoconference, Friday week’s-end video update. Throw in a weekly “good news” or gratitude report, where team members contribute stories of communities coming together, silver linings and inspirational anecdotes. Or a weekly Top 10 list: At-home workouts, places to walk the dog or hike while staying six-feet apart, recipes that rely on whatever is in your pantry, DIY haircutting tips. Just keep it real and keep it coming.
Watch a recording of our recent webinar, Workplace Culture Pre- and Post-COVID.
Robin is a savvy Senior Copywriter and prolific model of fitness. Whether it’s trails, roads, or writing, Robin runs things. Rumor has it she’s logged 100k miles and 100 million written words.