As the economy gradually emerges from its coronavirus lockdown, evaluating a potential return to the workplace is top of mind for many businesses. Even once allowed by public health officials, returning to offices and other commercial spaces in our new post-COVID landscape will be a complex challenge for business leaders and building managers.
The health protections announced to date at some office buildings run the gamut from elevator occupancy limits and staggered start times to reconfigured seating arrangements and touchless bathroom fixtures. Additional measures will doubtlessly be introduced in the future, as well. There is even doubt whether the communal coffee maker will make the cut.
No matter how employers choose to address this delicate topic, they will need to communicate their approach to their various stakeholder audiences with care and sensitivity. After all, it’s not enough for workers to be safe from COVID-19 -- they must feel safe, as well.
Sugerman Group assisted longtime client LPC West in developing their “COVID-19 Workplace Evolution,” and has consulted with other organizations on this topic as well. With such a serious matter of public health, adhering to basic guidelines of effective communication is highly important. These include:
• Know your audience – When crafting a message, it’s vital to know who you’re addressing and what their priorities, concerns, or fears may be. Building managers or business owners will be listening for different information and words of reassurance than employees or building staff.
• Communicate clearly & honestly – This is not the time for vague terminology, flowery descriptions or unfamiliar jargon. Use direct language that conveys a clear message to the audience, and also acknowledges if some information is not known or some questions cannot be answered. Being transparent and leveling with an audience helps to build credibility and shows respect.
• Show empathy – COVID-19 is a dangerous and aggressive virus, costing more than 100,000 lives so far in the U.S. After weeks of staying safely at home, the prospect of venturing back to the office may cause understandable fear and anxiety. All messaging should be sensitive to that reality.
• Invite feedback – Most stakeholders don’t want to simply be on the receiving end of a one-way broadcast. They want to know their opinion matters, and even if they can’t single-handedly change a policy, they still want to be heard. It’s important to provide a phone number, email address, or some other method to welcome feedback.
This once-in-a-century pandemic has put all of us in uncharted territory, making it more important than ever that we communicate frequently and effectively. Following proven principles of good communication will be invaluable as we slowly step toward our “new normal” together.