The world was not ready for the changes forced upon it by the global pandemic. And many employees are not ready for the new changes they’ll encounter as we enter “the next normal.”
That’s because the experience has been—and will continue to be—different for every employee. Some employees remained in the workplace throughout this time. Other employees able to work from home are eager to return to the office. But at least 50% of employees now working from home don’t see the need to ever return, according to a recent Gallup report on remote work.
Clearly these different employee groups are distinct in terms of their needs, preferences and concerns. That’s why it’s more important than ever for internal communicators to avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
Here’s a closer look at how you can tailor your communication approach for each of these three employee groups—whether they remained on-site, are returning to the workplace or will continue to work from home.
For employees deemed essential, there is no return to the workplace; they never left. These workers have continued to do their jobs on-site while many of their fellow employees have been able to work from home.
By now, these employees have made the new regulations and procedures put in place because of COVID-19 part of their regular workday routines.
However, their confidence in those routines may be disrupted by the return of other employees. Sharing the workplace with more colleagues who may not be as familiar with the safety protocols can spark fresh concerns about contracting COVID-19.
For these workers, make sure your communication:
- Reassures them that safety is your first priority with on-site communication (e.g., posters and digital screens)
- Provides forums for them to voice their concerns to leaders such as small group Q&A sessions
- Encourages them to act as champions for returning employees by creating communication (e.g., profiles, videos) recognizing their achievements and commitment to safety
Returning to the workplace
During the last few frantic months, thousands of employees had to turn on a dime and begin working remotely with little to no advance notice. Processes were unclear and expectations undefined.
Now, just when this new mode of working has become routine, many employees are being asked to adjust once again by returning to the workplace. These employees may be feeling anxious about possibly being exposed to COVID-19 or even returning to their old routine after months away.
Support these employees with a set of core communication materials that:
- Help them understand and demonstrate the required new behaviors with detailed re-entry guides
- Create a sense of excitement about returning to work with care packages that contain essentials (e.g., paper masks, hand sanitizer) and other useful items (e.g, reusable lunch kits, water bottles)
- Motivate them as they adjust to a new normal with employee spotlights (articles, videos, posters) about colleagues who have successfully made the transition
While a great majority of employees will be relieved that they will not immediately have to return to the workplace, working remotely presents its own set of challenges.
When all but essential employees were working remotely, the playing field was leveled since everyone operated virtually. Now employees remaining at home may feel left out while their colleagues in the office return to face-to-face interactions.
Continuing to work remotely may also be a concern for employees who fear their roles have been deemed “non-essential” and so consider themselves at a higher risk for job loss.
Other employees may struggle to maintain a healthy work/life balance because their professional and personal lives no longer have defined boundaries. These employees may suffer from burn out or lose focus on goals and priorities.
Engage these employees with communication that:
- Creates opportunities to interact virtually with teams on both a professional and personal level (e.g., virtual brainstorming sessions and coffee chats or happy hours)
- Provides managers with resources (e.g., talking points, FAQs, etc.) to help answer questions from these employees and allay fears about being laid off or furloughed
- Reconnects them to priorities and establishes clear expectations around roles, responsibilities and core hours (e.g., strategy maps, work-from-home best practice tip sheets, etc.)
As with all communication, there’s going to be some overlap. So don’t sweat it trying to keep everything you deliver to each of these audiences totally separate. Just remember that it’s OK for employees to receive messaging that might not be immediately pertinent to them, as long as your communication also contains other messaging that is relevant.