After six weeks in lockdown, we are starting to think ahead and imagine what a phased return to life outside will look like. For many organisations, the lockdown period has forced us to adapt to remote working and make operational changes, which potentially could offer long-term benefits.
What we do know is that a return to pre-lockdown life will not happen instantly, if at all, and there will be incremental changes in line with the latest government advice. A strategic communications plan will be essential to ensure that staff, customers and stakeholders understand how to work with you during each phase.
Planning your return
While timings are unclear, it is sensible to build a plan, to ascertain how the different stages will look. Compare how your organisation was running before and during lockdown to anticipate how you can effectively deploy staff and best serve customers. Start by assessing the business scenarios that involve direct interaction between people, as these will continue to need careful management for the foreseeable future. Then identify the challenges that you and your team have encountered while working from home – do you need to invest in technology or change protocol entirely?
Preparing your messaging for every phase
The plan also will help you to identify communication milestones. Consider who needs to be made aware of every change – not everything will be important for everyone to know – and identify the best way to engage with this audience. Is it an item on the virtual meeting agenda, a staff memo, individual conversations with suppliers, an email to customers or a PR & marketing campaign for the wider public?
Once you’ve identified the right audience, you can craft your messages ensuring you have the right tone and content before preparing the relevant collateral – website copy, email content, presentations and video scripts.
Your staff and customers will be looking to you for guidance on how to work together post-lockdown. This is the time to establish new streamlined processes and set a precedent for best practice and it is vital to tell everyone how you will be working. If client meetings will continue to happen virtually and specific teams will continue to work from home, then it needs to be communicated. Communicating changes clearly and early on will result in quick adoptions – even your partners and customers who were most resistant to change prior to the outbreak, will quickly embrace new practices as long as they know what to expect!
Day-to-day internal communications
Lockdown has caused many organisations to open their eyes to different aspects of employee wellbeing including social isolation and the mental burden of juggling work alongside caring for family. Phrases such as: ‘How are you?’ and ‘Take care’ seem to hold more value than they did pre-pandemic and collective empathy shouldn’t stop. Tactics to maintain team connectivity, such as daily team Zoom calls, Slack threads and weekly virtual working lunches, don’t need to stop when people return to the office.
Review the frequency, tone and language used in content issued internally as well as the most appropriate platforms. There can be a fine balance between keeping everyone sufficiently informed and over-saturation. Be prepared to adjust the volume of news and messages sent out according to what needs to be communicated.
Start selling again
Many organisations have dialled down their sales messaging during lockdown, believing that it could be perceived as crass when businesses are in crisis mode and struggling to finance their existing workforce, sites and operations. While aggressive selling seems opportunistic and in bad taste, throughout lockdown, there is a place for businesses to add value and support partners and potential new clients. By understanding their main challenges and adapting messaging, services and even payment structures to meet those needs you will foster trust and build lasting relationships. The most successful businesses will incorporate a considered empathetic, personal and human approach to communications, which holds greater weight now than ever before.
For support with strategic communications planning, please contact Caroline Walker on 01732 779 087.