As businesses reopen across much of the US, many employees and managers are reflecting on their workplaces’ level of communication and support during the shutdown and reopening.

Maybe your employer’s response seemed adequate, but how does it compare to the response of other employers? Maybe your employer’s response was insufficient, and as a manager, you want to learn from other organizations.

If either of these scenarios sound like your situation, you’ll want to take a look at the results of our Business Resilience Survey. Respondents included 396 employees, managers and executives from predominately the US. The employers of these respondents included organizations across a wide variety of industries encompassing both essential and non-essential businesses.

You can watch the slideshow below for a high-level overview of the quantitative survey results. Scrolling below these slides, you will find an overview of the qualitative survey results as well as communication advice from our experts.

Quantitative Results

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Qualitative Results

Has the experience of the pandemic changed your feelings or opinions about working at your organization?

The open text responses to this question were mostly positive. Respondents pointed to the fact that their companies were honest, took care of their employees, gave them a sense of belonging, and perhaps most importantly, avoided layoffs.

However, one respondent mentioned how the pandemic illuminated their organization’s lack of a cohesive business strategy and an unwillingness “to mirror customers in making hard decisions.”

Assuming that businesses fully reopen in the coming weeks, how comfortable will you feel going into the workplace?

While most respondents who answered the multiple choice question appear to be comfortable with the idea of returning to work, the majority of respondents who answered the corresponding open text question indicated they were apprehensive about returning to work and unsure about their company’s commitment to following safety precautions.

One respondent mentioned they are afraid of returning to the workplace and another commented, “The emotional and mental security of employees is not the priority for the organization at the moment.”

What concerns do you have, if any, about what things will be like after everyone has returned to the workplace?

While some respondents expressed concern about people becoming infected, others were concerned about the psychological aspects of returning to work. They anticipated that they would experience frustration in being around people but not being able to fully interact. They also said they would likely experience anxiety about whether they could trust others to follow safety standards.

A Structured Process & Set of Tools to Manage Change

Our organizational change management experts can help you prepare your employees for change and ease difficult transitions.

What processes or work tasks, if any, have been most negatively impacted by having people working from home?

Respondents mentioned training, sales, content creation, decision making, relationship building, paper-based processes, work review meetings, processes related to employee motivation and the process of informing coworkers about decisions that tangentially affect them.

Communication Tips

Communication is an often overlooked and under-utilized component of organizational change. While there are many templates out there that are great for the planning and tracking the components of communications, there is very little information about what to communicate or samples of creative ways of communicating.

For example, we often see included in a company’s core values that their employees are their most important asset. However, when organizational change occurs, employees often end up feeling devalued. In fact, as seen in the slides above, only 52% of respondents feel that their organization has a sincere interest in the health and well-being of its employees.

This is no way to treat employees – your most valuable asset. Instead you should proactively engage and support employees in times of change and demonstrate through action that you value them.

This is easier said than done, so here are five tips for communicating with employees prior to and during an organizational change, such as a shift to remote work, a shift to returning to the office or any type of business transformation:

1. Start with “What” and “Why”

In addition to explaining what will be changing related to returning to work, you should explain the reasons for the change. While you may not currently have all this information, you can communicate what you know at that point in time.

In fact, communicating in stages is actually ideal because you don’t want to overwhelm employees who need time to digest information. We recommend starting at a high level and then adding information over a planned cadence.

For example, you can begin by providing clear, consistent communication of the goals and timeline while explaining how these goals align with both and the organizational vision and external circumstances (the pandemic). Then, plan to repeat these messages several times in different ways and settings.

Unfortunately, only 57% of respondents agreed that their company’s leadership “has been visible and communicating regularly” in response to the pandemic.

2. Personalize Your Messaging

This requires an understanding of the unique impacts change will have on each individual or stakeholder group. Will your sales team have to learn how to use new collaboration tools? Will your human resources team have to learn new ways of supporting employees as they follow safety precautions?

While communicating change impacts is important, only 57% of respondents agreed that their company’s leadership “has been transparent about the impacts of the pandemic to their organization.”

If you’re wanting to communicate not just the organizational impacts of the pandemic but the impact on individuals, we recommend staring with a targeted communication plan outlining key messages for each stakeholder group. The plan should specify when and by whom information should be communicated.

One unique idea we’ve seen utilized in business transformations that could apply to pandemic-related changes, as well, is setting up a system to collect “aha moments” and testimonials to use in communications.

3. Engage and Support Managers

Provide managers with the information they need to address their teams, but remember – managers are going through a change, as well.

In fact, managers may be resistant to change. Reasons for this resistance may include:

  • Lack of awareness about the changes
  • Lack of involvement and engagement in the change
  • Fear of loss of power or negative impact on their job role
  • Increased workload during the change
  • A culture of change resistance and past failures
  • Major impacts on their team – new roles, skills, reduction in force, etc.

Managers can make or break a change initiative, so you need their support and buy-in. However, be aware of “micro-managers,” and focus on getting them to let go and trust employees – especially in the context of remote work.

It appears that respondents haven’t had too terrible of a remote work experience as less than 25% indicated that working from home during the pandemic has made them desire to decrease their remote work time in favor of going into the office. Of course, being micromanaged while working remote might still be preferable to feeling anxiety about infection while working in the office, so we’re not making any assumptions as to why respondents answered the way they did.

In any case, if you want to build a strong remote work culture, check out our post, How to Build a Strong Culture with a Remote Team.

4. Give Employees a Chance to be Heard

It’s important to provide feedback channels and schedule check-ins and updates at key milestones. If you are proactive you can address issues, concerns and the rumor mill in advance.

We recommend using readiness and risk assessments and/or focus groups to track your progress and document areas of opportunity and risk. 

Essentially, be willing to listen and understand employees’ concerns and fears. Then, use these insights to develop a communication plan. Finally, plan to provide follow up feedback loops and methods as the situation evolves.

Unfortunately, only 59% of respondents agreed that their immediate supervisor is accounting for the individual needs of employees.

5. Remember that the Medium is the Message

Non-traditional communication channels will impact how the person receiving the information perceives it and how they accept it.

So, get creative. Maybe you can brand the initiative to make it memorable, or maybe you can involve your internal communications team and HR team to help craft and deliver effective content.

In addition to email, consider using internal social media, intranets, videos, etc. Use these channels to not just communicate information but to celebrate milestones and recognize contributions.

During a pandemic, it’s especially important to have memorable message regarding health precautions. Employees may point to unclear messaging as an excuse to not follow precautions. Considering that 24% of respondents do not trust their coworkers to take precautions, it’s worth getting creative with your messaging so employees won’t have to worry as much about their coworkers being forgetful or negligent.

Don’t Leave Change to Chance

Change is difficult, especially now. It takes time and effort. Unless you proactively support and guide people through change, you are rolling the dice as to whether or not they will embrace change.

This is a big risk to take when you want to ensure employee productivity in remote work situations or when you want to ensure peace of mind when employees come into the office and want to focus on their jobs instead of their pandemic anxieties.

Change management, and in particular, the communication component, helps mitigate the impacts of change by providing employees with the preparation, support and skills they need to succeed.

If the survey results have illuminated opportunities for improvement in your organization, request a free consultation below to speak with one of our change management consultants and learn how to manage the people side of change during this pandemic.

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