I left my house for the first time in three weeks today to get some groceries for my family.

I sent a text to my mum-in-law shortly afterwards and wrote: “The world has certainly changed, but at the same time, it’s strangely familiar.”

It looked like the road I know so well here in West London. But I only saw a handful of people the whole time I was out, whereas I’d usually see 30-50 people. Half the shops were closed and everyone was wearing masks.

The last time I left the house I’d returned in tears as I’d been unable to communicate. As someone with a hearing problem who lipreads constantly, I rely on seeing people’s mouths to help me hear them. Everyone now has their mouths covered.

Today I made a point of plotting a route which meant I didn’t need to talk to anyone.

That’s not me. That’s not the usual me. However, as I blogged the other day, this is very much a business as unusual time.

Back to the future

I’m starting to have conversations with clients and Comms friends about “the future” or “the return” but it feels hard to plan and imagine what that looks like.

Just a couple of months ago, the idea of standing six feet apart in a queue to go into my local shop and being mindful of how close people are, would have been strange. The relief I felt today in coming back home to the relative calm (as calm as it can be with three young children!) and limiting exposure to COVID-19 to protect the particularly vulnerable members of my family, was palpable.

So where do we go from here?

The world has certainly changed, but at the same time, it’s strangely familiar.

I think the message I sent my mum-in-law will ring true in the future.

There are so many questions we need to consider once “the return” is known here in the UK, lockdown is lifted, schools and shops are open and businesses can function.

There are way too many unknowns right now to be able to plan properly. Regular readers of my blog will know any time I communicate change, I map out the knowns knowns and the known unknowns.

You can do it yourself, grab my free download.

Imagine lockdown is being lifted next week, what’s on that document? Who do you need to work with to turn the unknowns into knowns?

I think much will depend on what the Government says in your own country and the rules they put in place.

But for right now… that unknowns list is massive. The knowns is tiny.

That’s a huge source of anxiety for many people, myself included. The mental health and wellbeing of our workforce is paramount now and in the weeks, months and years to come.

Top tip: The Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Week is happening next month. See their website for resources. This year’s theme is kindness.

If nothing else, that’s what we need to prepare for – nurturing our employees, helping them find their way and making sure we have strong, effective listening (two-way) channels in place.

What do we need to think about and prepare for?

The questions below reflect just some of the conversations I’ve been having with Comms practitioners over the past few weeks via Consultation Calls.

These are just some of the queries your peers have. They’ll probably feel familiar…

  • Will we have a staggered return? What will the timelines be?
  • Who are our decision makers? Will they change? Will we have more? Who says yes for our company?
  • How can we make sure the safety and security of our people is maintained?
  • What if employees don’t feel comfortable leaving their homes?
  • Will we be asking employees to tell us if they’ve had the virus?
  • How can we support our employees’ mental health and wellbeing?
  • What if we have high sickness rates? What support can we offer our people?
  • Will offices need to be redesigned to make sure there’s a 6ft/2m gap between desks?
  • Will employees need to have their start/finish times staggered to ease crowding on public transport?
  • Will we have less people in the office in future?
  • What if our people feel uncomfortable in public-facing roles in future? Can we redeploy them?
  • How much flexibility will people managers have to make decisions about their team/s?
  • If we have less people working in offices, will we need to close some?
  • What are our rules for gatherings outside of the organisation?
  • Can our people attend external conferences or training sessions?
  • Do we need to update our policies and procedures?
  • Will we continue to communicate differently with furloughed employees?
  • Will furloughed employees’ length of service be impacted?
  • What role do our leaders need to play?
  • Do we need to have Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in case another wave of COVID-19 happens?
  • What are our rules around immunisation? Will we have a strong view as an organisation or encourage people to make their own choices?
  • Will we need employees to declare if they’ve been immunised?
  • Do we need to collect back all the IT equipment that’s in employees’ homes?
  • When do we “turn off” our COVID-19 channels?

And many, many more. I know you’ll have your own.

In answer to my own question: How to prepare your employees for the future?

Look at the questions above, create ones for your company. Add the ones I’ve missed. What else do you need to think about?

If you’ve not started collating your own list, do. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I know your future self will thank you.

I also encourage you to capture what you’re doing now. What is working? What isn’t in terms of messaging, frequency and channels? Measure what you’re doing, create yourself a one page guide that you can refer back to.

Sound hard? It isn’t. Think of it as writing a handover note – what would you want the person taking over your role to know? The only difference is that you’ll be the one reading it in future, what do you need to remind yourself about once “normality” kicks back in? (Which as we know is a misnomer).

If you need help, you know where I am. Book a Power Hour with me and we’ll figure it out together.

Further reading about COVID-19 via All Things IC

Thank you for stopping by

Rachel

First published on the All Things IC blog 21 April 2020.

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