The importance of effective business communication in an organization is well understood. It is what connects the employees of an organization to the management and helps them align to the organizational goals and values. Its main purpose is to keep employees informed and engaged, eliminate information silos and improve overall organizational effectiveness.
Effective business communication gains more significance in a situation like the pandemic, both in terms of keeping employees informed and keeping their morale high. A confused, depressed or disengaged employee is the last thing that any organization would like to have. The ongoing pandemic has taught many important lessons in communication to all organizations. Here, I summarize some of my thoughts and recommendations.
The Frequency of Communication
Situations such as the pandemic are associated with a lot of ambiguity and anxiety. The leadership would not have a clear picture of how the situation is going to unfold and will need to resort to short-term actions based on the level of visibility they have. The uncertainty associated with the situation results in considerable anxiety among employees as well and they look up to the leadership to guide them. In such a situation, transparent communication at frequent intervals, outlining the immediate course of action is often the best way forward. It is important to state that the proposed course of action is under evaluation and that any updates would be communicated at the right time, and follow up this statement with regular updates as the situation unfolds.
Need for Two-Way Communication
In circumstances such as these, it is important to not just pass on information but also to listen. Employees need opportunities to speak to the leaders, ask questions, raise their concerns and in general, be heard. The pandemic saw us all move from the physical to virtual world and virtual townhalls and open houses with Q&A sessions proved to be the most effective means of interaction between leadership and the employees. Two-way communication should however not be limited to senior leadership alone, but percolate down to all levels. People leaders play an important role here - relaying information shared by senior leadership with their teams and also listening to their teams and highlighting any relevant questions or concerns raised to their own leaders. Information flow has to happen both ways across levels.
It is a given that communication during a situation such as a pandemic has to be honest. There is no point not acknowledging the obvious. The leadership only ends up losing employee trust if they try to paint a rosy picture which is disconnected from reality. At the same time, a positive and motivational tone helps. An acknowledgement of the current situation, emphasis on positive news, updates or thoughts and an overall optimistic tone present a great combination. Empathy, honesty and even a touch of vulnerability make leadership communication genuine and meaningful in situations such as these. Highlighting employee achievements, associate engagement initiatives and CSR initiatives are some of the ways in which you can set a positive tone, even in the most difficult situations. After all, every cloud has a silver lining, although it may not be obvious at all times.
Engagement and Not Just Information
When the pandemic struck the country and companies were forced to operate remotely, it resulted in nothing less than a cultural shock for many employees. The workplace was one of the most important ways of being connected to the organization and a key element of their professional identity. Losing this privilege so suddenly and abruptly was not something they could cope with very easily. They also missed interacting with their colleagues. This is where informal channels of communication came to the rescue. Internal social media platforms served as the much-needed conduit, driving informal conversations between employees. Initiating communication threads on themes that everyone can connect to is one way of encouraging these informal interactions that keep employees connected to the organization and each other. The themes could resonate aspects pertaining to the company culture, values, core beliefs and more for really meaningful conversations.
To summarize, effective communication is a critical dimension of a situation such as what we are dealing with now. The nuances of communication in a scenario such as this need to be understood and applied to steer the organization forward with minimal impact on employee engagement and morale.
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of my employer. I am not speaking in the representation of my company.
Reshmi Nair has thirteen years of experience in the marketing and communications industry. An ardent learner, a passionate marketer, an effective communicator and a warm and friendly person by nature- these are some of the ways in which she likes to describe herself. Reshmi currently leads the Corporate Communications function for Unisys India.