This is a daunting and uncertain time for businesses as we figure out the new normal during the Coronavirus pandemic. Never before has our government purposely shut down the economy. While we have seen the impact of wars and the bursting of market bubbles, a health crisis that forces people to stay inside their homes is unprecedented.

Right now, everyone is worried about both the short-term and long-term effects that COVID-19 is having on businesses of all sizes. For the last two weeks, there have been millions of new layoffs due to the Coronavirus and the Department of Labor reported that a record 6.65 million Americans filed first-time jobless claims last week alone. While C-Suite execs and business owners work to hold companies together, employees agonize over potential layoffs and worry whether their next paycheck will come on time.

Ultimately, everyone wants the same thing: business as usual. But it just isn’t an option right now as we navigate through business during a pandemic. Now, more than ever, it is important to open lines of communication and keep those lines open.

How are you answering questions from your team?

Have you gone radio silent?
Are you holding regular virtual meetings?
Are you leading with transparency and honesty?
Are your answers causing more fear and a lack of productivity?

The reality is that you may not have many answers for your staff. But it is critical that business leaders maintain open lines of communication with their workforce to help curb fear and control the message.

Whether you are preparing a written communication or a virtual presentation, it’s important you take time to prepare your internal message. Write down three to five points of information you know you want to share and are able to stand behind. Anything beyond that can dilute your message and cause confusion. As a leader, the key is to remain calm, be transparent, and be truthful.

As we look to the days and weeks ahead with COVID-19, no one fully knows what is going to happen next. Having this outline prepared will help you stay focused and prevent you from oversharing or saying things that could end up misdirecting your team.

How to Prepare & Maintain Internal Communications

  1. Restate what is happening now. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is something people have not ever experienced. You may choose to start your communication acknowledging this uncertainty and sharing an overview of what is going on using information from reputable resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization. This is also your opportunity to let your employees know what steps you have already taken on behalf of the company and them. Reminding your team of all the steps you’ve already put in place reassures them you are aware of the issue, you’re tracking it, and you’re prepared to do more as necessary.
  2. Share your next move. With COVID-19, you may have decided to shorten your business hours, to allow flexible hours as employees work from home, or other extra precautions to take into account the safety and health of your team. Or you may not know exactly what to do next – and that’s understandable. Minimally, you should share information that acknowledges there are many moving parts and reassure your staff that you are working on it. Try something like, “We are monitoring the situation closely, and we will update you when we have more information and we’ve determined what makes the most sense for the business and for the safety of our team.” Acknowledging you are taking it day-by-day is perfectly acceptable. For employees, they are simply looking for you to be aware and active in your approach.
  3. Thank employees for their commitment to your company. Most of your employees spend more time at work than they do with their own loved ones. Right now, they need reassurance that you care and an acknowledgement that you appreciate their dedication. You’re all in this together and they should know their role at the company is respected and important.
  4. Let your team know when you plan to update them again. There’s a bombardment of information coming at your employees from all angles. Some of it is false, and a lot of it is scary. It is likely rumors are flying – especially with a remote workforce. Setting a communication schedule is a good way for employees to better prepare for factual information. Those updates don’t have to be long or a repeat of information you already shared. They could be tips from reputable organizations, reminders for people to update their emergency contact information with HR, or even an acknowledgement of employees who are going above and beyond during this difficult time. As long as the information is factual and correct, your employees will appreciate hearing from you.
  5. Remind your workforce where they can go if they need help. Employees should be encouraged to reach out with questions. The last thing you want is to have employees talking to each other instead of leadership. That’s how rumors and misinformation is spread. Whether this person is their manager or another key leader at your company, employees need to know there’s a safe place to talk. It’s also important to share outside resources with your team as well. This could include options for mental health counseling, as well as local, state, and federal government resources for keeping individuals and families safe.

It’s always good to be over-prepared when communicating with employees. Along with crafting your communication, it’s also very smart to create Frequently Asked Questions documents ahead of meeting with your team.

Internal Communication FAQ documents should be written based on your selected audience:

Employee FAQ – Everyone learns differently, so sometimes a quick one-page guide that clearly spells out key information in a question and answer form has been proven to be very helpful for employees. You may choose to distribute this to your team following your communication. This can become a key reference for employees and one that you can update and republish as needed.

Management FAQ – As you prep your managers and company leadership, a management FAQ should be used as a script so managers are fully prepared to answer questions they may field from their employees. This is particularly important when management is talking about sensitive information, such as COVID-19. By distributing a management-only FAQ you ensure your entire leadership team clearly understands what information can be shared and they all share it the same way.

As in most crisis situations, the full impact of this pandemic on our economic future is uncertain. It’s important for your business to be prepared for the present-day impact on your employees, as well as the long-term impact on your business plans. Be aware of upcoming questions from your staff surrounding the company’s future outlook and current level of stability. When it comes to employee communications, it’s important to remember everyone wants the company to succeed. As long as you are respectful of your employees and keep your communications clear and concise, you will receive a positive outcome.