6 Thoughts on Creating Honest, Helpful Employee Communications in Chaotic Times

Person at computer deep in thought

In response to COVID-19, your company may be sending out more communications to employees than usual, and addressing a lot of complicated issues for the first time. Here are a few ideas on how HR teams like yours can ensure those messages are as focused, clear, and helpful as possible.

1. Make info easy-to-digest, and action-oriented

When there’s urgent news to share, there’s a temptation to throw together an email or intranet page update as quickly as possible. But before you hit send, take ten minutes to think about how you’re presenting information. Make content as easy to scan as possible: some bullet points, maybe a few simple visuals. And if you’re asking people to take action, list out steps in checklist form as opposed to a bunch of long paragraphs.

2. Write like you speak

With so much high-stakes news to relay, your instinct might be to lean into a safe, corporate tone. Try not to. Now’s a time to be real and straightforward. (As the writer Brene Brown puts it in Dare to Lead, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”)

Write emails the way you’d talk to employees if you were still allowed to chat face-to-face. Consider sharing information with simple webcam or cellphone videos to create a greater sense of immediacy and connection.

3. Be strategic about how often you share

Thanks to all of our screens (and all the time we have to be on them), there’s no shortage of content to click on, read, and panic-share. “Doomscrolling” has become a very real thing.

So be thoughtful about what information you share, how much, and when. Work with your senior leadership to figure out a communications cadence that makes sense during this crisis—maybe it’s weekly, maybe it’s on an as-needed basis.

4. Lean in and listen

Proactively keep communication lines between your team and your colleagues open. As much as you’re able, hang out where people are gathering virtually. Get a sense of what their concerns are. Remind them that you’re there for them…just a phone call, or email, or virtual chat away. And if there’s something you’re thinking about doing but you’re not sure how your colleagues would respond, don’t hesitate to send a quick online poll to find out.

5. Embrace transparency

If or when the time comes to communicate changes to HR-related policies or even benefits, err on the side of showing employees the data and thought process behind your company’s decisions to make those changes. They’ll appreciate your willingness to pull back the curtain, even if the news you end up sharing isn’t ideal. (A good recent example of a leader communicating bad news with humanity and transparency is this March 19 video message from Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson to his company.)

6. Above all: acknowledge discomfort and be compassionate

As the saying of the moment goes: it’s okay that you’re not okay. Your entire company is going through this together: people are dealing with cabin fever, childcare issues, anxiety, uncertainty, and even grief. Make compassion the centerpiece of how you communicate, now more than ever. Long after your colleagues forget what you told them, they’ll remember how you made them feel.

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