Communicating during crises is sketchy at best if plans were not already in place to prepare for the inevitable. Crises arrive in many forms within organizations, including pandemics, security breaches, sudden economic downturns and safety fears. Crises almost always appear when least expected and at the worst time.

Many companies are now realizing the importance of investing in their employees to maintain a stable workforce and organizational structure in order to boost profit. Earning their employees’ trust is key to keeping a smooth and productive work environment, and maintaining a high retention rate.

The global pandemic has caused a shift in thinking, especially about safety. And businesses are scrambling to reorganize the workplace — both physically and virtually — to create a safe and productive work environment.

Returning to the office

In this new age of the pandemic, it is not a small task to prepare the physical office and on-site facilities to remain in compliance with government and state regulations and to reassure employees they will be kept safe as they return to the in-house demands of the workplace. It will take time to redesign the physical structure of the environment, as well as have a plan in place to implement the strategy of gradual return.

Many workers are also realizing the new way of working remotely is a good fit for them and are requesting permanence to the situation. And they may not have a choice if schools do not reopen or they opt to keep their children at home and child care is not available.

The balance of responsibilities has significantly altered over the last several months, and much of the burden has shifted to companies.

For those who can’t wait to get back to the office, the issue at the top of minds is how the company will keep them safe. And for others who have no choice but to return to the office, their fear and stress are heightened when they experience coworkers and managers ignoring safety protocols to the detriment of those around them.

A clear communication plan with stringent policies is imperative to make sure everyone is not only on the same page but also understands how the policies benefit them, and how you, as an organization, are looking out for their safety.

How can you produce a solid communication plan to allay employee fears? Why should you incorporate strategy days into the process?

Focus groups

Focus groups should be your starting point to gather intel of the dynamics of the workplace — physical and mental. While gathering research and studying surveys have their place, asking your people direct questions will give you a better idea of issues and challenges that need to be considered.

Focus groups should include all your C-suite executives, heads of your various departments, other leaders and supervisors, and various employees. If your company is global, you will need to include the leaders of your various branches as each country is facing similar crises in different ways. These individuals will be able to apprise you of their structure and challenges they might potentially face.

Keeping in mind that if you ask 50 people their opinions you will likely receive 50 opinions, the idea is for your team — especially your executives and heads of internal and global communications — to understand the scope of concerns and potential roadblocks to the changes you have to make.

Employees or employee representatives can also offer additional feedback about the fears they have, the questions they want answered, and how they might like to receive their communication. Make sure you are clear with them that there will not be retaliation when they open up about their questions and suggestions.

Communication plan

Your communication plan will be created based on the feedback you receive and your understanding of laws, policies, and business operations.

Your communication plan is an outline of what messages you will communicate; how they will be communicated, such as what mediums will be used; and how often the messages will be communicated.

Your plan will need contingencies in place for further unforeseen events related to the particular crisis, should they appear, which they likely will. And realize your plan will need adjustments as new situations occur.

The plan needs to be clear on the policies and the discipline if they are not followed. For example, if, because of the pandemic, you require employees to wear a mask inside the building at all times and some choose not to, what will the consequences be if this is not followed? Include if these policies have to be in place for all branches, and who is expected to adhere to them, such as all leaders and employees, no exceptions.

Your plan should strive to answer the questions employees and leaders have about what is expected of them, safety protocols, how you’re working with them, and the strategy for returning to the office and the future with the company as you move forward.

Strategy days

Executives, leaders and communications directors will need to convene to implement the communication plan. Setting a day aside for a strategy session will be a key factor in how the plan will be executed.

A plan isn’t any good without a working strategy to implement it.

Everyone — executives and leaders — needs to be on board and understand the importance of the communication plan for it to be effective and taken seriously. When employees see their leaders and the executives of the company they work for set the example in following the communication guidelines, this will serve to strengthen your employees’ trust and loyalty.

Strategy days should help you focus on key elements of the plan, make responsibilities clear, and come to an agreement of how the plan will be executed and when. The phases should be outlined with specific dates.

All departments need to have the same information and be unified in their understanding.

Strategy days may involve more than one day to achieve your goals. However, if you can plan a full day to focus on your communication plan and how it will be implemented, you can achieve a lot in that time. The key is to eliminate as many distractions as possible (phone calls, other meetings, etc.) to complete this task.

The takeaway: Develop a clear communication plan for your organization as to how crises will be handled and what is expected of all personnel. Gather intel from focus groups on top of your research and surveys to have a complete picture of the challenges your people will face and questions and concerns from your employees. Plan full strategy days with the goals to unite your executive team on the communication plan, map your strategy of the plan, outline responsibilities and deadlines, and come to an agreement of how the plan will be executed and when.

Special Note: If you and/or your organization would like leadership training on communicating with employees, or you need an examination and audit of your communication arc, call me for a free 30-minute consultation.