Socially, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to bring physical suffering and grief along with economic hardships. Linguistically, it brought with it a stream of clichés of questionable accuracy:
“We’re all in this together.”
It’s now safe to open up everything.”
The most misleading example was, “Soon we’ll return to normal.” With the Delta variant rampaging and the introduction of the new Mu variant, we’ve all learned that we’re returning to anything but normal. Questions about where and when people work have no simple answers. As conditions change so, too, do relationships established in a different time.
What hasn’t changed is the central role of communication in continuous coping and adapting. Here’s why:
Many business leaders have underestimated how lost people feel. Consider your new employees and the world they walked into. Your company’s history and traditions haven’t been swept away, but they’ve been shuttled aside by the public health and economic imperatives of the pandemic. When newcomers ask what your company was like “before,” you’ll be reciting ancient history. Consequently, strategic communication will be more important than ever to bridge what was with what’s evolving.
Consider, too, your long-time employees. They lived that history and then watched it fade as they endured the challenges of keeping the enterprise afloat.
What these survivors, new and old, need in order to endure will mirror what the business itself needs to prosper –– clear timely communication to all team members to ensure alignment on priorities and goals, short-term and long-term. How those priorities and goals are discussed and assimilated will be the difference between substantive progress and muddling through.
The role of CEOs and top leaders has changed. For months leaders have been focused on the triage required to keep the doors open. Now, the strategic objectives will be maintaining stability in a time of disrupting readjustment.
The good news is that if your business hasn’t gone under by now, it probably won’t any time soon. But if bankruptcy is no longer a threat, instability is. Stagnation of energy, inventiveness, and communication will destabilize any hoped-for momentum.
Talk from the top is critical for a number of reasons, including communicating stability, safety and progress. This is no time for communication from the C-Suite to dry up.
What you manage has changed. Managing the culture will be as important as managing the processes of the business. The hardships of the pandemic is teaching us to adapt. We surprised everyone, including ourselves, by being able to function remotely and digitally. But now what? Traditionally, common workplaces enabled collaboration, supported orientation of new people and training of everyone, and nurtured the culture that stimulates innovation and progress. Numerous obstacles ahead include:
Foremost will be maintaining a balance between employees who have grown accustomed to remote work and employers who favor bringing everyone back. Employees will crave details as companies large and small move toward a partial or full return to office space. Top of mind will be on-going communication about safety protocols, timelines, and schedules.
Another trend likely to continue in a robust gig economy is the use of independent freelancers, often favored by managers who themselves are working remotely. Again, a communication challenge, yet one that can be addressed with processes and plans.
A factor seldom discussed is the fear of remote workers that they will be “out of sight, out of mind” while those returning to the office will receive preferential treatment in assignments and promotions. This can be addressed only with authentic communication from the top.
Is it any wonder that many employees feel lost and somewhat helpless in this evolution?
That’s why as we absorb the lessons of the pandemic it’s important to keep in mind the overall requisite of any work environment –– building an engaged and informed workforce united by a common set of organizational goals and sustaining a culture of collaboration.
To the cliché “We’re all in this together,” we hope you can respond, “We always have been.” Strategic communications are essential tools CEOs must use to bring stability to organizations in transition.
Cindy Miller is CEO of Cindy Miller Communications, a firm that helps organizations align communications with business objectives. CMC specializes in strategic communications, crisis communications, content creation and media relations. Learn more at www.CindyMillerCommunications.com.