Communicate, communicate, and communicate. The key to returning to the workplace

The end of the state of alarm in Spain last June 21 implied the normalisation of some of the measures affecting the workplace, although the government’s recommendation is to continue to prioritise remote working wherever possible until September 21.

Businesses have spent many weeks studying how to organise the return to the office and many have already launched pilot schemes in which a maximum of 20-30 percent of the workforce operates from the company’s facilities. The aim is to maintain critical business areas, while ensuring that effective security measures are in place.

For the most part companies are going through a transitional phase in which many issues are being reconsidered as a result of the upheaval caused by the Covid-19 crisis: these include redefining their business strategy and purpose, and exploring new ways of working.

Businesses also face major challenges such as maintaining the high level of commitment and productivity that their employees have displayed over the last few months while at the same time dealing with the emotions they experience when returning to the office.


The challenge of managing fear

Studies carried out by research firms such as Gallup and Morning Consult confirm what many Spanish companies are identifying in the surveys they carry out among their employees in this new stage: fear.

Two out of three employees are afraid of catching the disease when returning to the office. And if they had to return next week, 50% would not feel comfortable while only 18% say they have no issue at all.

Managing fear is probably one of the biggest challenges facing organisations in this new phase because feelings are part of the emotional sphere and, moreover, no one can guarantee zero risk of infection. This includes the fear of returning to the office and getting infected but also the fear of losing one’s job.


The relevance of communication

In this situation, internal communication is essential to transmitting difficult decisions such as furloughs or complex information including the details of de-escalation plans to diverse audiences and to helping manage fear and uncertainty.

Furthermore, in this new hybrid phase in which part of the staff are located physically at the office and the rest are home working, it is essential to find ways to communicate that keep employee engagement high, especially given that this form of working is likely to continue well into the future. Employees and businesses have discovered the advantages of working remotely and the flexibility it provides is indisputable. We will have to consider new formats combining the best of the virtual and the physical worlds.

Based on our own experience in internal communications, we have developed a series of recommendations to help companies communicate in this new phase:

  1. Make it clear that the health and safety of employees remains the foremost priority, that their physical and emotional well-being is vital to the company and explain to them what is being done to promote this:
    • Explain the safety protocols that have been implemented by the company, not only via email but also by way of videos that illustrate the measures in place.
    • Communicate all the activities that the company is developing to promote their emotional well-being: mindfulness classes, workshops for the care of the elderly and children, support service platforms (training, home assistance, handyman…) or psychological support for employees and their families.
  1. Organise sessions with experts and analysts to help interpret information about the pandemic, while discerning truth from falsehood.

  2. Rely on the support of managers since their closeness to employees is key to managing fear, transmitting confidence, helping employees to deal with emotions and raising their level of commitment:
    • Employees whose managers inspire enthusiasm for the future are about 70 times more likely to show greater commitment
    • Managers need to be equipped with the necessary tools for this role: training, messaging kits and incentives to encourage meetings with their teams to bring teams closer together
  1. Maintain ongoing communication from top management to transmit clearly and transparently the strategy, the vision for the future and the actions that are being carried out. Always prioritise openness versus charisma: honesty and displaying one’s own vulnerability raises credibility.


How to do it

It is not just what you do but how you do it. That is why in situations like this communication must be very direct, transmitted in a clear, simple, and frequent way.

The messages should be adapted to each moment: we live in a state of flux and so should the information we transmit evolve to give employees the information they need at each stage. Additionally, there needs to be consensus on how to communicate to facilitate this task for all spokespeople

In cases requiring complex explanations, use analogies and storytelling techniques, always keeping in mind our audience and that a wide range of employee profiles exist in any company, all of which need to be reached out to.

In short, communicating, communicating, and communicating is the best way to maintain engagement and transmit confidence to employees because a confident and secure employee is much more productive than a stressed and frightened one.


By Almudena Rodriguez Tarodo,
Senior Advisor, Internal Comms and Employer Branding, Grayling Spain.

This piece was previously published by PRnoticias on August 20th 2020