The Importance of Internal Communications during a Pandemic | EAPA-SA

Communication is the lifeblood of an organisation.  As working remotely ramps up during the coronavirus pandemic, there is a risk that employees may start to feel disconnected and isolated.  This has implications for mental wellbeing and productivity, and can negatively impact the organisation as a whole.

In preparation to overcome a major disaster, many organisations can attest to having an internal communications plan in place that lays down a range of crisis-related communications channels to be put into play so they can communicate with employees who may have become totally displaced and forced to regroup in another location.

However, a good number of South African organisations have been caught short by the coronavirus pandemic; finding themselves unprepared to reach employees who are each isolated in their own homes, away from a central workplace.  Management across South Africa have had to speedily update the methods through which they can stay in touch and communicate with their employees while in lockdown.

A good number of South African organisations have been caught short by the coronavirus pandemic; finding themselves unprepared to reach employees who are each isolated in their own homes, away from a central workplace.

Why is it important to keep employees up-to –date?

This may intensify employees’ feelings of alienation and disconnectedness, and may lead to a silo mentality – a reluctance to share information with colleagues or across divisions in the organisation.

There is a considerable difference in people’s state of mind between working and not working as work brings structure to our lives.  For employees who are furloughed during the lockdown there is a great amount of uncertainty.  Even those on paid leave are in limbo, which can cause anxiety.  To make matters worse, working from home creates a disconnect in employees being able to communicate with one another about their objectives and progress. They are robbed of the opportunity to talk together like they did in the office or chat about tasks and share information during lunch or a coffee break. This may intensify employees’ feelings of alienation and disconnectedness, and may lead to a silo mentality – a reluctance to share information with colleagues or across divisions in the organisation. 1+2

Survey results published in April 2020 by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) revealed that most South Africans are dealing with anxiety, followed by financial pressure and depression during the coronavirus lockdown. Now, more than ever, owners and managers should be in frequent communication with their employees to support their mental wellbeing.  It is especially important to have an effective internal communications strategy in place to ensure that employees with limited access to traditional forms of office communication, such as email, are communicated with and kept informed. 

SADAG survey results: http://www.sadag.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3092:sadag-s-online-survey-findings-on-covid-19-and-mental-health-21-april-2020&catid=149:press-releases&Itemid=226

Here are six good reasons to communicate regularly with workers during the pandemic

1. Organisations need to prioritise keeping employees informed on an ongoing basis as to how business has been impacted and whether their remuneration will be affected.

2. It is important to inform employees whether their jobs will be safe and to assure them that the organisation will continue to update them regularly about any changes in the way forward.

3. Where organisations cannot make assurances concerning the future, they should at least commit to open and transparent communication, keeping all employees in-the-know.

4. Corporate communication departments need to frequently make announcements to the entire company regarding any necessary changes in the company’s internal policies and regulations. 

5. In the light of rampant coronavirus misinformation, employees need to be kept updated and well informed on precautions to take when dealing with the threat of the ongoing pandemic, and most importantly, what employees should do if they or a family member gets sick.

6. Because of what’s going on, employees are paying attention in ways they have not before, so this is a perfect time to get a positive message across about personal development1+2

Here are four elements to creating a “remote” internal communications game plan

Practice strong, visible leadership

It falls to leaders to be the calm voice of reason and reassure employees, remembering that how you communicate is just as important as what you communicate. Employees want a reassuring leader who can point the way. By communicating frequently and clearly, leaders are able to offer clear directives and provide focus to a team. However, after communicating a uniform direction, and setting clear values and expectations, leaders must know when to step aside and trust that their remotely placed employees will execute their work to the best of their ability.  This is certainly not a comfortable space for leaders who have a micro-management style. With remote working, anxiety can build up for leaders who are used to relying on looking over their staff’s shoulders in order to “stay in control”. 3

By communicating frequently and clearly, leaders are able to offer clear directives and provide focus to a team.

Equip the Human Resources Department for remote interaction

HR personnel play a critical liaison role in sharing important information to employees and keeping them updated about any changes in their working conditions, for example updates regarding leave days and sick leave days, and being able to forward any important documents that need signatures.  For seamless interaction it is important that employees update their personal and contact information with HR or their managers when necessary. 

Leverage communication and social media channels to keep teams in touch

Technology today allows organisations to continually be in touch with their employees and to support them. Using internal communication channels and social media platforms allows team members to stay connected with each other while working remotely. However, an organisation’s regular communication is only as effective as each employee’s means to receive it.  It is important to make sure that employees have access to sufficient Internet data while at home.

The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown has particularly led to a surge in the use of video for internal communication within companies. In order to communicate with a remote workforce, organisations have been using two-way video communication systems such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Workplace by Facebook, among others. These also allow the recording of video meetings to share with employees who are absent from meetings. In addition, video content is a highly beneficial and effective tool for employee collaboration and training.

Create working groups on social platforms

These include Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom where selected individuals can meet and communicate with colleagues regarding their teamwork and what they need in order to be able to work. 4

1. https://www.bbrief.co.za/2020/04/16/effective-employee-communication-is-essential-during-lockdown/

2. https://www.ft.com/content/315095c0-7da0-11ea-8fdb-7ec06edeef84

3. https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/610/203337.html

4. https://www.peoplemattersglobal.com/site/interstitial?return_to=%2Fblog%2Flife-at-work%2Fkeeping-employees-engaged-during-the-lockdown-25471

Please refer to the EAPA-SA Workplace Guideline COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-19 Virus for further reading.