Expert Insights

Navigating a New (ab)Normal: For Employee Communications, Focus on the Fundamentals

April 2, 2020

By Carla Keppler, Executive Director, Employee Communications and Engagement

“It’s an unprecedented time.”

We’ve seen the phrase on repeat – in newspapers, within work emails, in texts from friends. And we feel its realities in our daily lives.

Within a span of weeks, the coronavirus brought about travel bans, cancelled sports, closed universities and shook financial markets. It continues to significantly impact businesses across all sectors and test companies’ crisis preparedness plans. And it’s got all of us working in new ways. With roughly three in four people in the U.S. under instruction to stay indoors, corporate employees are living through what’s being dubbed as “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.” As that new (ab)normal carries on, many worry about the long-term effects on our places of work.

There’s never been a more important time to “get it right” with employee communications.

A New Way of Working

As COVID-19 news comes in at a rapid-fire pace so, too, do company communications aiming to translate the meaning of those messages to employees.

What began as a sudden surge of just-the-facts announcements sharing decisions to shift to work-from-home operations quickly transitioned into a tidal wave of messaging about logistics, connectivity and tips for establishing a successful home office life.

Now with in-home workstations set up, employees are searching for ways to stay closely connected to their teams and to the business while navigating a new workstyle, an inundation of company updates and a transition to everything-virtual.

Company leaders are asking us how to manage through the change. The way I see it, there is simplicity in the solution: Get back to the basics.

Focus on the Fundamentals

First and foremost, make your people your priority. Building from the inside out is a mantra our Employee Communications and Engagement Team promotes every day. Before brand building, before planning a CSR activation, before pushing for a big media hit, make sure you’re taking care of employees – policies, pay, process for communicating and everything in between.

With advanced tools and technology at our disposal, it has never been easier to engage employees regardless of level, job function or geography. But access to content and information is only half of the equation. Content must speak to employees directly. It must be engaging, actionable and relevant to drive impact.

As you navigate through this unprecedented time, remember these tried and true fundamentals:

Listen and respond. It’s more important than ever to keep a pulse on your teams. Check in regularly on workloads, morale and questions, and follow up with quick action.

See it from their point of view. Each role within an organization brings unique circumstances, and communications must reflect those nuances. While office employees balance shifting responsibilities, essential frontline service workers continue trekking into facilities. Avoid blanket messaging; meet them where they are with custom communications.

Engage leaders and managers. These folks are your golden ticket – now and always. Lean on mid-level managers to cascade company messages and serve as the conduit to secure employee feedback.

Tell a consistent story. With colleagues, customers and consumers, stay true to who you are as an organization, focusing on ways to promote company values even as changes continue to roll in.

Measure and adapt. Understand what’s working, and what isn’t. Use channels proven to most effectively reach your people, and answer questions you know are on their radar. Adjust plans and policies to ensure to match the fluidity of the changing landscape. 

Remember the journey. This is the rule of thumb for any change, especially when navigating roads untraveled. Look to your crisis and internal communications partners to help you anticipate and adapt to change as it comes.

*If you have questions or are seeking counsel related to Employee Communications and Engagement, email Carla Keppler,