If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, I’m hosting an online convention. I took a 1,000+ attendee tabletop gaming convention and setup an online event so that our audience could still feel connected to the community during this crisis.
The loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs is one of the terrible effects of this pandemic, and communicating company layoffs is now a necessary and devastating reality for many communications staff. Making it even more difficult is the speed with which the layoffs are happening and the ever-changing information regarding government protocols and supports.
Rather than provide a comprehensive HR strategy, the following is a list of Do’s and Don’ts for communicating your strategy. If you aren’t already working with an HR department or consultant, that should be your first step.
Be included. Communications is a vital component in your organization’s HR strategy for implementing layoffs. Make sure you’re at the table.
Be ready. Task someone with an internal/staff communications role, if you don’t have someone already. This person is going to be a critical organizational link and support for staff (working and not) in coming months. If you can afford to hire a consultant for this role, that’s a good option, too.
Give as much notice as possible. Staff are well aware that layoffs are a likely scenario for many businesses right now. Any group communication to staff should include an update about layoffs, even if it’s to say, “We are looking at all possible options for our staff.” You can even include the options that you are looking at, e.g., half-time positions, buy-outs, etc.
Be compassionate. The impact of being laid off is going to be devastating for some. This is the time to be empathetic and talk about staff–how valuable they are, how concerned you are, how committed you are to helping them, however you can. And how much you hope to have them return! See Don’t be obtuse, below.
Be personal. Individual layoff messages should be delivered in-person either by online conferencing (Skype, Zoom) or phone. Aside from personal regrets, these messages should include:
factual information about departure and return dates
available financial, career, and mental wellness supports
the name of the person who will be an ongoing contact
a commitment to ongoing communication.
Provide as much information and as many answers as possible for affected staff. Write an FAQ’s document.
Be kind. In your messaging, to your colleagues, and to yourself. This is tough stuff. The worst. There will be grief. Keep internal communications caring, regular, and supportive.
Assume your staff will be okay waiting through a temporary layoff. Making statements about a temporary layoff only being “a short break” may offend concerned employees worried about their income loss during the lay-off period.
Use a general email. Sending information or updates on lay-offs from a general email/inbox is too impersonal. People want to know who they’re connecting with when dealing with something this critical.
Be obtuse. This is not the time to remind staff of how hard it is on the company. This is not the time to talk about you (the company). See Be compassionate, above.
Forget about remaining staff. Remaining staff will be shocked with the loss of valued work relationships and stressed with additional workloads. The economic shifts will continue as will the need to communicate how staff will be impacted.
As we all turn to social separation (and lockdowns) to help slow the spread of COVID-19, we’re losing many traditional avenues to connect with our audience. But, it’s also giving us the unique opportunity to forge connections online, without a lot of the bureaucratic red tape that comes with organizational adoption of new technology.
What are some ways that you might be able to engage your community online? Here’s some ideas. Pick one that suits your audience, and jump in!
Go live! All social media platforms offer a Live Video function.
Host an Ask Me Anything (AM).
Organize an online conference.
Start a forum or Facebook group.
Start a chat server. Discord and Slack are perfect for this!
Host educational webinars.
Use online polls to get feedback and get people thinking.
Use your Instagram/Facebook stories; use some the interactive stickers.
Get a hashtag going (#holdthefort?)
Create virtual tours.
Start a blog (hello there!)
Lastly, let your audience see your face now and then! Even as you move interactions online, seeing the real people behind the messaging helps to instantly forge that human connection.
Each one of us prefers to get information in a different way. In crisis communication try as much as possible to offer information using the four preferred communication styles:
Visual – folks who prefer visual communication are concerned with how information looks. Construct written content that’s chunked and easy to read. Use pictures, videos, graphs, presentations. Avoid long, detailed instructions.
Auditory – auditory communicators process information that sounds right. Use verbal communication in podcasts, live or taped video messages, audio recordings. Phone them!
Kinesthetic – these folks process communication by doing. Harder to reach these folks from a distance, but try giving them small bites of information with links to click on. Give them short lists of things they can do or projects they can work on.
Auditory Digital – all three styles converge with these folks and they need messages that make sense. Use a combination of data, written content, links, and embedded audio or video.
an identified communications person or team who will manage messaging to your community(s).
an identified organizational spokesperson (if it isn’t you) and/or responsible director who gives “official” statements and approves, if necessary, corporate messaging.
a stop on all scheduled communication that was written before March (email, newsletters, social media posts).
an update on your website and/or social media profile that informs your community of any changes to your business as a result of the Covid-19 response (hours of operation, closures, reduced or changed services).
a first message to your community to inform of them of your concern, response, and ongoing commitment to information.
a specific vehicle for communicating privately with staff (if you don’t already have one), i.e., private Facebook group, email list, Skype, Zoom, etc.
A work from home strategy for you/your team.
An internal communications strategy.
The end of the month is looming. What specific impacts could this have for your organization’s stakeholders? Should you be deferring rental payments if you’re a small business landlord? Should you be communicating with your monthly donors about continuing or deferring their donations? What do you normally do in April that you may have to change?