How to prepare your employees for the future

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


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


  1. victoria entwistle says:

    so useful Rachel thank you!

    I brain dumped some more for our strategy meeting if you’d like me to send… cash position, financials, executive pay for example, and also purpose… so many organisations repurposed eg brewdog, chanel, jaguar landrover – when you are no longer working for the cause will you lose spirit… i thnk a post covid sink could be inevitable, how do you help people find purpose and meaning again in thier work? Also im concerned about covid washing – those brands that did good, how will they maintan this responsibility… big questions for marcomms and execs

    And as ever thank you for sharing your personal stories too.

  2. Thank you for your comment Victoria. Yes please, I’d love to see that. So true, I’ve not fully considered the purpose angle – feels like another list right there!

  3. John Kay says:

    A lovely, and courageous article, Rachel. I’ve noticed several work posts on Yammer which are nostalgic in tone, explicitly so for towards a place of work where people are together. That sense of a shared cultural experience is very strong, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that once al this is over.

    I also think we’re going to have to be prepared to manage “Survivors’ guilt” on an epic scale.

  4. Adam Nagy says:

    Very insightful and honest article, thank you for sharing Rachel! The real difficulty here is answering the questions you’ve listed without knowing what will happen in 1-2 months, a half year or even in a year’s time (this is something of a personal challenge as well for me, as I’m currently working hard on rescheduling our summer wedding..). There are so many possible scenarios and outcomes of this whole situation – but focusing on what we’re doing now definitely seems like a great tip.

  5. Mike Klein says:

    Very insightful piece – and an excellent set of questions.

  6. Thanks Adam. That’s exactly the problem – we have lots of questions, but not many answers right now. It will come good, we’ll be able to figure them out over time, all we can do now is prepare for the conversations. Bless you that’s tough, sorry to hear about your wedding, I guess the only known is that it will happen for you, just when it will happen is the tricky part. Take good care, Rachel.

  7. Hi John, it’s good to hear from you. Thank you. That’s interesting, the shared experience will resonate for a long time, particularly in our organisations. We’ll remember how people were treated and how we felt. I’ve been thinking about survivors’ guilt, I’ve been making notes on it and musing whether that terminology is helpful, but it’s what we’ve identified with to date (pre-COVID-19). My inbox is full of unique situations, it feels hard to plan for every eventuality and to meet every need, but generalising seldom helps. All we do know is this time will shape a lot of decisions that we haven’t even realised the questions to yet. Take care, Rachel.

  8. Hi Mike, thank you, it feels like the list could be twice as long! I’ll keep an eye on the queries and will no doubt revisit this article and update with an additional one in future, Rachel.

  9. Sheila Parry says:

    Hi Rachel, thanks for setting the ball rolling on this topic. I have been thinking about this for a while, partly for a client who is planning ahead; but, to be honest, mainly from the point of view of employees, all of whom will have had their own individual experiences of COVID-19, and will need different things from their employers as they return to work.
    We have a living case study that is happening in my home, with three (grown up) children who came for the weekend just before lockdown and were forced to stay put! Two are working from home, one is furloughed, and so there are a lot of different stresses and worries flying around, and it’s not just about hot-desking!
    In addition to your great list, I would urge HR/IC/leaders to look at the dimension of emotional engagement that people had before COVID-19, with their roles and their companies; what their future hopes and ambitions were; how much confidence they had in their employers; and how all that’s been impacted by the crisis. There will also be a potentially divisive force between those who have worked through the crisis and those who have been furloughed. I believe that a sense of belonging (or not) will play a massive role in people’s behaviour at work when they return. We need to be prepared for that.
    Above all, I think leaders will need to pay attention to the energy levels of their teams and their workplaces and have a plan to regenerate and rebuild their resilience, after it’s been so severely tested in these last few weeks.

  10. Hi Sheila, thank you for your comment, I hope your family are all doing ok, albeit in extraordinary circumstances. You’ve raised so many crucial points there, this is a conversation we will continue to have as Comms practitioners for a long time to come. I agree with them all and think the sense of belonging is a conversation we’re not quite equipped to have properly yet, I certainly want to explore it more. Thank you for your comment, Rachel.

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