employee communication

In this new normal, we need to circle back and find more bandwidth to think outside the box in order to find synergies that will help us pivot our return-to-office approach. Yes, that was a long and frustrating sentence to read, right? And, more importantly, what does it mean?

As more employers declare their new “Return to Work” policies or ways of working mindsets, communicators are challenged with crafting messages to help employees understand the how, when and why. These communications are often packed with corporate speak, which can be confusing and feel insincere. Instead, employees crave simple, straightforward language that clearly states what they need to know or do. It’s language that feels authentic to employees.

Let’s review three recently trending (and sometimes cringeworthy) words/phrases, understand their meaning and rethink them for clearer, more effective communication. 

Return to Work. This phrase is murky for many reasons. Not all employees left the office. Those who worked remotely don’t necessarily want to come back to the office. And many could take the phrase literally—interpreting it to mean employees weren’t working hard during the last few years and now they need to kick it into full gear.

3 ways to reshape:

  • Rethink the name. Workplace policies are not one size fits all. Avoid names that feel generic. Instead, align your policy name or tagline with your company mission or values. For example, try leveraging a keyword or two from your values. This language is already part of your culture and will resonate with your team.
  • Personalize your approach. Realize your policy impacts each employee in different ways. Define your audience groups and ensure your communications help each group understand what’s changing and how it relates to them. Keep in mind that some groups may only be somewhat affected—needing only to understand what’s happening around them—while others may be required to change how they work.
  • Provide clarity. Don’t just tell employees it’s time to return to the office and hope they guess the plan. Explain what the change means. Define the policy in a simple and succinct way, so employees know why this approach makes sense for your organization and what actions they need to take.

New Normal. If we’ve learned anything in the last few years, it’s what we view as normal in business gets redefined every day. So, referring to the “new normal” feels disconnected. (And everyone has grown tired of hearing the phrase!) Many organizations have shifted to a more agile mindset and the way we communicate about the “new normal” strategy should reflect that approach. 

3 ways to reshape:

  • Craft a narrative. Employees can see through empty messaging, and the “new normal” is packed with…a whole lot of nothing. Steer clear of relying on a single phrase to define your new workplace approach; it won’t tell the whole story. Create a compelling vision for your organization’s future of work and align it with goals and mission.
  • Lead with empathy. Communicating with compassion and authenticity can go a long way to guide employees through changes or adjustments. Focus on these three simple tips to deliver a helpful communication: use a conversational tone, include personal stories, and don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” when you’re still figuring out details.   
  • Be honest. It’s OK to acknowledge uncertainty. Employees would rather know upfront and have a chance to prepare. Be transparent about impact on employees, as well as the overall business—what is known and what is to be decided. This openness will create trust. And when employees trust you, they are more likely to be successful at navigating changes ahead.

Pivot. Many of us would like to pivot away from this word. Practically every business has needed to deviate from its workplace/office plan at some point. And in the ever-changing business landscape, the need for agility will only continue. Your workplace communication should reinforce the long-term vision or strategy, even if additional shifts are required along the way.  

3 ways to reshape

  • Instill confidence. Don’t let the fear of pivoting define the tone of your messages. Avoid this overused term and tell your employees where you’re headed as an organization, why the decision was made and how you’ll get there. Encourage leaders to reassure employees this direction is the right choice and talk about how it will have a positive impact on company culture.  
  • Promote adaptability. Your messages should focus on flexibility rather than disruption. Be honest about how things may change, but also encourage employees to adopt an agile mindset. Consider hosting a Lunch & Learn or training session to provide employees with the tools and best practices to adapt during times of change.
  • Reinforce direction. When you share a new strategy, help employees understand what it means to them. Use examples of what employees need to do differently to help them succeed. Bonus tip: Coach leaders and people managers to communicate and reinforce changes within their spheres of influence by providing a manager toolkit.

While these “Return to Work” phrases are relatively harmless, it’s clear that employees need more than buzzwords to understand new workplace strategies. Give it a try: “Put a pin” in using buzzwords and stick with clear, authentic and meaningful communication.


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