3 lessons for employee communications during COVID-19

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The New York Times published a story today looking at how the leadership team at Microsoft worked to make decisions related to the spreading coronavirus.

It’s a great look at information gathering, distributed decision making, planning, and execution under stress. And of course, it’s also threaded through with the impact of communications, and in this case, the way the company is communicating internally and externally.

One of the key principles captured in the story was that the company’s decisions would be guided by experts in public health and science, and that it would not fall into the trap of believing it knew better.

So, each decision was tested through that lens – as we looked at taking a step, we asked ourselves what were we hearing from the experts in that space? This principle turned out to be at the center of our communications strategy as well.

Employee communications during COVID-19: 3 quick learnings about handling employee communications

1.      Establish a rhythm

We established a regular rhythm of communication with our employees. Each night following the leadership team meeting, we shared an email that captured key decisions and learnings as well as recommendations and links to additional information. We were clear that these updates reflected a moment in time and were likely to change rapidly as the situation evolved.

That meant that we were willing to say one day that employees were encouraged to work from home, and then the next (based on engagement with public officials) say recommended to work from home if they could. On the latter, we worked to get the communication out before employees left their offices for the day so they could make sure they had what they needed. I lugged out my Surface Studio and set it up on my antique roll top desk. I should have taken a chair.

You can see my setup on Twitter:

2.      Create a center of gravity

To ensure all teams responsible for communications were doing so from the same set of information, we set up a COVID-19 Response Microsoft Teams channel and SharePoint site as the repository of truth where the company’s communicators could see what was being said, which communications were going out, etc.

The Teams channel especially has been a great resource for me, both to find information, to collaborate with the global team, and get questions answered quickly.

3.      Ensure symmetry

In cases where we knew there would be strong external interest in our decisions, we ensured symmetry by posting the same email we sent to employees to our external news site as we did when we moved to recommend employees work from home. From an employee standpoint, we always want to make sure that what they’re hearing direct from company leaders is what they’re seeing us say to the rest of the world as well.

Under these trying times, our company is doing so many good things to help employees, customers and the regions in which we operate. I am grateful for this, and my dog is grateful I am working from home and that she shows up sometimes on video calls 😊

Have you checked in on your employees? 
Help is here to assist individuals, teams, and companies navigating these difficult times.
Learn more.

Johns Hopkins has created a comprehensive dashboard to track global cases of coronavirus COVID-19.
You can view the dashboard HERE.

This post was first published on LinkedIn, and is syndicated here with permission.

Frank Shaw
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Frank Shaw

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