Coronavirus – Key role of communications as we return to work

By Martyn Rosney

May 18 2020 marks day one of an ambitious five-stage roadmap from Ireland’s Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation to get Ireland back working. The Return to Work Safely Protocol contains practical guidance and advice for both employers and employees as we all prepare for what should hopefully be a once in a generation mass remobilisation of the country’s workforce. As we move through each phase in the coming months there will be challenges and opportunities where communications will play a key role.

“Strong communication and a shared collaborative approach between employers and workers is key to protecting against the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.” -  As the Protocol right calls out, for the vast majority of communications professionals carrying out their job effectively has never been so critical. Strong communication is an absolute necessity as we return to work and open dialogue between employers and employees to ensure compliance and responsibility is a need to have and not a nice to have.

Adapt the plan

You will have one opportunity to reopen your business and if not done right you can risk alienating customers and employees. Organisations of every size will face challenges communicating the updated plans to employees, customers and indeed to wider stakeholders. There is no one size fits all communications approach but there will be common elements and although your workforce might be entirely B2B and office based you can still learn from the opening of hardware stores and gardening centres. Now that we have an update from the government on getting back to work and an indicative timeline, we should be updating our plans to ensure that we have robust communications contingency measures to address the implementation of the measures necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and changing work patterns.

Communicate to Employees

They’re your number one priority and should be treated accordingly. Businesses need to make employees aware in advance of what the plan is and how it will affect them. Whatever approach the company decides to take to ensure safety and compliance must be communicated effectively to employees in advance. Think too about how different groups might react to the measures you are imposing. Are they in line with industry guidelines? Are you doing the bare minimum to meet the standards, or could you do more to reassure employees and customers? Every business will be under a spotlight and not having the right plan in place with employees on board could spell disaster.  

Listen to Employees

Communicators within the business need to ensure active lines of communication within all levels of the business remain open throughout every step of the reopening journey. Every business should ensure that employees have a platform to ask questions and seek clarification on any of the measures being taken. Those in communications roles should also make sure that wider stakeholder audiences are aware of the steps the company is taking to run their business.

Lead with Clarity

The Protocol states that induction training must be provided for all workers. This training must include, at a minimum, the latest advice and guidance on public health and details of how the workplace is organised to address the risk of COVID-19. Details of the response plan should be outlined and employees should be free to ask questions and seek clarification on any matters of concern. This is an opportunity for your leaders to demonstrate the company’s commitment to staff welfare and wellbeing. It is important to ensure that your leaders are well prepared to deliver key messages to staff.

The Lead Worker Representative

The Protocol advices appointing a lead worker representative for the company, who will act as the go between employers and workers to ensure the effective implementation of the new measures introduced to the business. The worker representative should, together with the COVID-19 response management team, support the implementation of the measures identified in this national protocol. The communications team need to ensure that this person is identifiable to workers and can be openly contacted. This person will also need to be prepared to deliver key messages to staff around implementation of prevention and control measures in the workplace.

At ReputationInc, our key recommendation from The Protocol is to keep the lines of communication open and remain collaborative. Doing this will allow you to effectively plan for your re-opening and prepare your people. Businesses will emerge from this crisis better off if there is a clear understanding of steps and implementations across the board and that employees feel that they are involved and have a voice in process. Timelines will change, last minute decisions will cause confusion, surprises will happen but we can emerge better.  

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