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How to communicate business as unusual

I keep hearing the phrase the new normal in relation to the situation we’re in right now with COVID-19.

It’s not normal, it’s anything but!

This image from the fabulous team at Alive With Ideas jumped out at me this week… business as unusual.

That’s exactly it. We are operating in unusual times. I don’t know about you, but the word unprecedented is jarring now, it has been overused.

I’ve found myself writing extraordinary, unusual, unknown, unsettling, frustrating, worrying – the list goes on.

Yes it’s unprecedented, but I encourage you to think about the emotions and feelings your employees are displaying and reflect that in your writing (ideally after listening to your employees to know how they’re feeling and reflecting that back). Unprecedented feels cold and detached, which is the opposite of how we need to be right now.

The new normal

The new normal, which is anything but, is strange. It also implies it’s a permanent state, which I hope it isn’t. It’s a temporary normal (which isn’t anywhere near as catchy!).

There are some things from this time which I expect will remain, such as the number of companies who have found themselves using enterprise social networks, having people working at home and seeing people wandering into the background of online calls.

Like many people, I’m homeschooling my three children at the same time as trying to run my business. Seeing the world through my seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old twin sons’ eyes is revealing just how unusual it is for them not to leave the house, go to school or see their friends.

One of my sons had a mini meltdown (ok not so mini) last week because we hadn’t had phonics sessions in the mornings. The boys are only six months into their school education and thrive on routine and pattern. So this week we tore up the agenda for “Mummy’s School” and co-created one as a family, drawing on what their usual routines are and trying to mirror them to a level of comfort, so it feels familiar, but allows for flexibility.

My personal favourite is the creative curriculum time slot, particularly because they often choose to build LEGO or train tracks in that time.

I’ve learnt a lot over the past few weeks. The most important lesson I’ve discovered is that it’s ok to scrap the schedule, and have movie time and cuddles as they need the connection now more than ever to settle their unsettled feelings. I do too.

I see that mirrored in all the team calls online with virtual team pub sessions, silly hats and games. We’re all seeking human connection as we are distanced physically, but need that emotional connection.

I had a call with my friend Chuck Gose @ChuckGose last night and shared with him how I’ve been marvelling at the way my daughter has been using video calling over the past couple of weeks with her class friends. They play charades and pictionary and sing with each other.

New patterns

P.E. with Joe Wicks every morning at 9am has become part of my children’s new routine, it’s a pattern they are starting to recognise and rely on.

The same ethos is true for our internal communication.

We need to look for what is familiar and repeatable. Whenever I’m communicating change, I look for what stays the same. So with that in mind, I decided to continue writing my email newsletter, The Water Cooler, which I published today.

In it I encouraged readers to think about what is staying the same in your company. It could be your values, purpose or long service milestones. What can you communicate at this time to help reinforce the foundations of your organisation?

How to get the balance right?

I was advising a client yesterday on their internal communication via one of our regular consultation calls. We were talking about getting the balance right in their organisation.

I’m going to summarise some of my advice:

  • Your leaders need to display empathy and understanding at this time.
  • Don’t just communicate COVID-19 information and forget business as usual internal comms.
  • We all need to read about something other than COVID-19. If you just saturate your channels with it, people will switch off to give themselves the mental space to deal with the emotional aspects of the pandemic.
  • Create a rhythm for COVID-19 updates – is it once a day? Twice a week? Set the cadence and stick to it.
  • Sometimes the update will say there is nothing new to update since the last one. That’s ok, you still need to stick to the rhythm.
  • The rhythm will probably change and scale back, that will signal the start of a return to ‘normal’, but may need to increase again if the situation changes again.
  • Can you tweak/repurpose your channels? E.g. turn your in-person Town Hall into a virtual event.
  • Don’t forget business as usual dates e.g. end of financial year and long service award milestones.
  • What isn’t changing? How can you still talk about large projects that were given a lot of attention before the crisis?
  • Could you create a weekly email round up and collate all COVID-19 information in there rather than flood inboxes?
  • Make sure you are actively listening to your employees and know what their questions and concerns are.
  • You need to know what the rumours are in your organisation and find ways to address them.
  • Listen to your employee groups e.g. forums.
  • Leaders need to check in, not check up on their teams.
  • Make sure you talk about mental health support for your workforce (and people managers know what advice exists)
  • Call out examples of excellent work.
  • Create a temporary internal communication strategy for right now. What principles are you adhering to?
  • Review your channels matrix and determine where the gaps are if your people’s working patterns or locations have changed.
  • Review as you go, keep monitoring and measuring to see what is working and what isn’t.
  • Make sure your leaders are prioritising internal communication as much as external communication.
  • Don’t forget to say thank you to employees and recognise their hard work at all levels of the organisation.


Further reading via the All Things IC blog 

As ever, I’d love to know what you think. What are you doing right now that other IC practitioners could learn from? If you have a story to share, please see my guidelines and get in touch.

Thank you for stopping by. I hope you have a great weekend,

Rachel

First published on the All Things IC blog 3 April 2020.

Comments

  1. J. Paul Blake says:

    Well done Rachel. Very informative, including a few of the All Things IC blog links. Easy to read, attractive format. I really enjoyed “The new normal.” Thank you.

  2. Thank you for your kind feedback.

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