There has been a saturation of communications about COVID-19 since it was first on the radar. From news reports to Government guidelines and advice, HR comms are competing for attention in an already very noisy world. But it’s critical that people don’t start to switch off from important HR updates, especially as organisations begin to bring workers back on site and to shift into the next phase of managing COVID-19.
HR communications aren’t easy at the best of times with HR competing for attention against other business priorities and outside distractions. The first thing you need to do is to prioritise your messages.
What is the most important thing that needs to be shared with your workforce?
You may wish to separate out your essential HR messages relating to risk and compliance, from your more general employee engagement style communications for example, to make sure the messages you absolutely need your workforce to hear are given priority. While new ways of working related to COVID-19 are being communicated, it may be best to hold off on any non-essential comms.
It’s long been known to marketers that communicating a message several times, and via different mediums, is the best way to make an impact on customers. For HR professionals to be heard, they need a similar campaign-like approach to sharing updates.
What are the different channels you use for reaching your workforce?
To command attention, you may need to consider trying new ways to communicate with people. Do you use portals within your HR system to share information? Would a video be the best way to get some of your messages across, especially when the spokesperson on the video is able to generate interest and engagement?
Quite often who delivers a message is the most important factor in ensuring it gets listened to. People prioritise what messages they have time for, but it’s a given that a message from the CEO or someone else in the C-suite is likely to get attention.
In our recent article in theHRDirector on ‘Three ways HR can help line managers through COVID-19 and beyond’ we talk about getting managers’ buy-in for HR communications and asking them to share comms on to the business when appropriate. Doing this isn’t just important for management engagement, it’s also a handy trick that HR can use when they want to ‘up the chances’ of an email being opened by staff – and the more senior the better. Although we’d like to believe that organisations are becoming less hierarchical, a message from ‘the boss’ still carries a lot of weight.
It’s important not to bombard your employees with communications, especially when the messages may have worrying or negative undertones, as in the case of COVID-19. As mentioned above, prioritise your comms, and then create a plan for when you’re going to talk about what. If something is time sensitive and needs immediate attention, such as information concerning safely returning to on-site working, you will clearly need to get this out as soon as possible.
But, just because something has been communicated once, and the HR compliance box has been ‘ticked’, it doesn’t mean people have read or understood it. You will likely need a series of follow up messages, perhaps across different communication channels.
You may also need to request formal confirmation from your staff members that the information has been received and understood. Using an HR system can help you distribute important documents to your workforce, and record receipt and understanding acknowledgements back from your staff.
It might sound like a given, but don’t forget to think about your tone and language choice when you communicate with your workforce. With all of the world focussing on COVID-19, it can be very easy to get swept up in the associated language: crisis, disaster, fear, panic, etc. Using words like this in your HR comms is not going to be very reassuring for your organisation.
As an HR team, decide alongside your business leaders how you want to talk about current events and related HR matters, and how you can use language to encourage people to approach you if they have concerns or need support. As more difficult communications come up, such as redundancy news, it will be more and more important to communicate in the right way (and in a way that represents your culture). Communicating well from the outset also helps to ensure that people continue to listen to and watch your messages.
The truth is that we don’t know how long our lives will be affected by COVID-19, and if/when they’ll get back to ‘normal’. As businesses try to lead their workforces through current and future changes, they need to make sure the communications that matter most are heard and understood. HR are going to have to work harder than ever before in getting their messages out to the business and making sure people don’t switch off from information that, at times, might well be life saving.