As the American economy begins the piecemeal process of opening up, companies must begin seriously considering how or even if they will return to normal. Communicating these plans can’t be short-sighted; the last thing you want is to scream that we are past Coronavirus only to go into lockdown again during a potential second wave. PR and communication strategies should convey a steady but cautious optimism that takes into account local government guidelines and prioritizes employee safety while truly being forward-thinking about potential deviations from a second wave and long-term workforce changes.
Internal Communication: Prioritizing Safety
According to an IPR survey, more than 80% of respondents say employee communications is a “high priority” during the crisis. This is especially true as we begin reopening. Your employees are likely already pondering how their work lives will change in the next two months, and radical transparency is the best way to reduce speculation and anxiety.
Before even announcing a reopening date for the workplace, employees should be given a detailed reopening plan which includes safety procedures and steps that will be taken if a second wave occurs. Including employees in this process can build trust and help with decision making. For instance, you can download a survey app using the Slack App Directory to send out a company-wide poll gauging employee concerns over returning to the office.
The Benefits of Communicating Continued WFH
The last two months have been an experiment in working from home, and for many companies, it has been a success. As you being to ponder the long-term changes for your workforce, think about how you will communicate these changes both internally and externally. In some cases, your new communication strategies might be an opportunity to craft a forward-thinking message and brand your company’s leadership.
For example, Twitter just made headlines for announcing that its staff can work from home permanently. While this isn’t feasible for everyone, by continuing work from home policies, you are implicitly associating your company with forward-thinking organizations, highlighting that you are tech-friendly and your operations are optimized for remote work, and demonstrating that safety remains a top priority.
A Dynamic Return
If you do return to normal operations, this return is more likely to be an evolution than a snap of the fingers. We simply don’t know what the next six months will bring. Changing conditions might force you to reorganize and rethink the workplace over time, shifting resources to support some employees remotely and others in the office. Flexibility in your communications strategy in this context is important. By implementing a reopening strategy in stages, you will better be able to incrementally communicate plans and react to any changes that need to be made over time.
Thinking Beyond COVID-19
As you begin to get an idea for how to best optimize operations, consider long-term changes to your workforce and workplace. How will work look in your industry in three years? Five? Ten? Is this the opportunity to jumpstart organizational change ahead of industry trends?
In our rush to return to normal out of frustration and a sense of being cooped up, we might be embracing the office too quickly. Slow and steady wins the race in this case as it will give you the time to evaluate your workplace options in a less confined environment, thus communicating a reopening strategy that is best for your entire organization in the long run.