The Importance of Internal Communication for Remote, Self-Isolating & Furloughed Staff

Stuart Sinclair - April 15, 2020

In times of crisis, we tend to look outwards. Our natural bias is to focus on external events, customers and stakeholders. But in your rush to deal with issues on the outside, don’t forget to get on top of critical concerns closer to home. As the ‘engine room’ of your business, your employees will need to be kept fully informed and engaged. In scenarios of major business disruption where we face continually shifting challenges, internal communication needs to become more robust and agile than ever before. It is precisely in times of crisis when it becomes clear why internal communication is important in an organisation.

In this blog, we take a look at the challenges facing businesses in communicating effectively with remote, self-isolating and furloughed employees. We ask why is internal communication important when staff are no longer asked to perform their usual roles, and consider which internal communication tools and methods are best suited to reaching employees who are no longer office-based.

Bridging the gap

Communicating with employees during a crisis is a definite challenge.  There are many complications hindering the free flow of information, ranging from technology issues to legal requirements. Essentially, you will be dealing with three types of employee:

  • Remote – many employees will be continuing to fulfil their job roles from their home environment.
  • Self-isolating – increasing numbers of staff will find themselves unable to leave their homes due to self-isolating or shielding requirements.
  • Furloughed – it may have been necessary to furlough employees, asking them to suspend all work for a temporary period as a cost-saving measure.

Each of these circumstances present different barriers to ensuring effective communication. You may find that your current internal communication tools no longer have the reach and flexibility needed to rise to the challenge. For example, company messages may no longer have the ability to connect with all remote employees, leaving dangerous gaps in the exchange of information. When you factor in distance and technology issues, you may find intranets fail to engage employees and emails never make it to inboxes.

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Do you have an effective communication channel?

Considering the vital role of internal communication in times of trouble, it’s essential to assess whether your internal communication channels are up to the task at hand.

#1 Reach

One of the key issues facing internal communication in times of crisis is the reliance on the efficiency of the employee’s home technology provision. Not all staff will have the correct hardware or software platforms to connect easily to your existing internal communications channels. At precisely the time when you need to maximise reach, you may find many of your key workers are dropping out of the loop.

#2 Timing

When your employees are no longer working the traditional 9-5 hours, the timing of messages becomes even more crucial. It is vital that information is delivered to all employees, regardless of location, department or status. An effective channel will promote equality by circulating information across hierarchies, giving everyone the same message at the same time. Real-time communications become more relevant than ever in times of difficulty and this is where technology should be helping, not hindering your delivery.

#3 Engagement

Does your internal communication channel encourage staff to get involved and take action? Ideally, it should be enriching your information flow with real-time updates, multimedia and posts that encourage clicks. The best examples of internal communication encourage participation by opening up new opportunities to interact. The risk of remote and self-isolating employees feeling disengaged rises with each passing day, and this is even more true of furloughed staff. It’s your job to keep them feeling connected and part of the team.

#4 Feedback

Another important element to keep on top of is feedback. It is all too easy to let the two-way channels fall by the wayside in favour of issuing urgent updates and policy changes. However, allowing your messaging to become a one-way street is one of the worst internal communication mistakes you can make in such a situation. Now more than ever, it is vital to listen to your employees, gather feedback and act on it.

#5 Measurement

Following on from feedback, measuring internal communications is an essential element of any channel. You should be looking to continually evaluate engagement levels and adjust your strategy accordingly. Employee Engagement Apps offer dashboards to compare how teams and divisions interact and allow you to dig deeper into the details with in-depth reporting. This isn’t the time for guesswork.

If you’re concerned your current channel isn’t delivering, this is where an Internal Communication Platform can come to the rescue. A flexible, adaptive platform will ensure all employees can connect simply and easily. It will give them the choice to choose their favourite software systems. And, crucially, it won’t rely on them having the most up-to-date hardware in order to the run the platform effectively. You can get back to focusing on sending out the right information and collating feedback, rather than worrying about whether or not the messages are making it through in the first place.

Why communication is more important than ever

Keeping connected with your remote and self-isolating employees is one of the most effective ways of ensuring your business survives and thrives during difficult times. There are many reasons why internal communication is important in an organisation during times of crisis.

#1 Keep the business continuity plan visible

It is likely you already have a major incident plan outlining what will happen in the event of a crisis. How are you going to communicate this vital information to your employees? You need an internal communication hub that will keep all your information in one place, along with key documents, reports and various media channels.

#2 Get your immediate response right

The moments immediately following a crisis can often be blurred by confusion or an absence of information. Once you’ve established the facts, your aim should be to restore calm and manage expectations. Notifications are an ideal way to reach every employee instantly, Q&A boards can enable real-time questions to be solved on the spot, and news channels can deliver on-the-spot updates.

#3 Keep staff informed first

Before you release information to wider stakeholders, speak to your staff initially. It builds confidence and trust and reduces the risk of employee indifference. Notifications will help to reach all employees quickly. Employee Engagement Platforms often include options to address groups of employees to allow you to speak with specific departments, along with options to address the whole company simultaneously and is one of the most effective internal communication tools.

#4 Keep employees updated

Avoid the difficulties caused by speculation and rumour by releasing information on a regular basis. If possible, release the information at a publicised regular time, even if there is no information to impart. Informing staff that the situation has not changed is just as critical as telling them when things have altered. A dedicated news channel made available to all remote workers is an excellent way of communicating change in the workplace.

#5 Remind staff of your policies

Your internal communication strategy should include regular reminders of the rules. Unexpected situations can lead people to forget about the normal rules of the organisation. A crisis can even change those rules and require an introduction of new policies. Policy repetition, update announcements and reminders keep all your employees safe and on track.

#6 Keep leaders visible

Why is internal communication important in challenging times? One of your key aims should be to keep senior faces visible and present, regardless of the fact that the office may no longer be open. During times of uncertainty, the visibility of leaders offers a reassuring consistency that is lacking elsewhere. Senior staff can take this opportunity to thank the workforce for their patience and contribution. Recognition is still important, even when delivered remotely.

#7 Respond to the ‘new normal’

When the crisis ends, your work isn’t finished. It is important to communicate the changes and outcome. In some cases, you may find your organisation needs to operate differently after the crisis, and these messages will need to be communicated clearly, promptly and with sensitivity. Strong internal communication channels incorporating feedback and two-way conversations will be particularly valuable at this challenging time.

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How to communicate with furloughed staff

What is an employee furlough?

Put simply, it is a mandatory suspension from work without pay. In times of difficulty, an organisations may furlough employees as a cost-saving measure when it doesn't want to lay off staff but lacks the resources to continue paying them. This doesn’t just happen in a crisis. Seasonal businesses may decide to furlough their employees during their quieter months. A small business owner may do so in between orders, choosing to furlough employees whilst chasing new prospects.

How is furloughing different from laying off staff?

Furloughed employees have an expectation that they will return to work. Typically, they will be given a specific date or a specific condition for returning to work. In addition, they usually retain their benefits and employment rights. An employer typically will use a furlough to retain staff that they can't afford but don't want to lay off.

Are furloughed employees expected to work?

Just the opposite. Furloughed employees are absolutely banned from doing any work on behalf of their employer. There is zero-tolerance on this No Work Rule. A furloughed employee is not permitted to even take a phone call or answer e-mails. Just five minutes breaks the No Work Rule and their employer will need to reinstate their salary for the day.

How does this affect internal communications?

Often, furloughed employees will have their access to work accounts and devices revoked. This is to prevent well-meaning employees from doing ‘just a few minutes’ and triggering a payment obligation. However, this does mean they are effectively disconnected from the company, creating engagement issues both during the furlough and on their return.

What’s the solution?

An Employee Engagement Platform has the flexibility to turn off the right channels to prevent employees from working, whilst keeping them up to date with news, events and conversations. This is where you need a robust and agile internal communications platform which can adapt to the unique legal requirements of these workers. By keeping your furloughed workers connected, yet not working, you will find their return to work becomes a smoother process.

Finally...

When an incident occurs or a crisis unfolds, your business needs to be able to respond quickly and effectively. This is when the benefits of good internal communication are immediately felt. A dynamic Employee Engagement App will put you in a position of strength, with the power to rapidly adjust your internal communication plans to suit the ever-changing situation. Why is internal communication important in a business when times get tough? Because your employees are the people who will help your business stay afloat. And keeping them informed, engaged and motivated to help you succeed has never been more critical.

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