Sonia Clarke, National Lead – Creative Comms, PwC’s The Difference
COVID-19 has plunged the world into unprecedented uncertainty.
Almost instantly, with little preparation, employees have become remote workers. Many are also balancing professional commitments alongside caregiving responsibilities or dealing with physical separation from family and friends.
In times like this, engaging employees effectively has never felt more urgent, nor been more important.
To do this effectively, organisations must prioritise clarity, create community and foster working relationships that lead to collaboration, co-creation and creativity. Leaders need to rally their people, tap into resources they already have, and treat employee engagement as an ongoing, reciprocal dialogue, rather than a one-sided conversation.
Communicate with clarity
Historically, business leaders have responded to crises by focusing on their external communications, tightly controlling their organisation’s public narrative. However, it’s never been more crucial for organisations and leaders to be transparent about their challenges, maintain clear lines of communication with employees and align internal- and external-facing messages.
The current situation presents organisations with an opportunity to better understand their employees – their capabilities, aspirations and motivations. This can foster a culture of empathy, resilience and openness that can see their workforce thrive. While an organisation may not have all the answers, it can still reassure staff that there’s clear processes in place, communicate how roles are changing, and outline the expectations and priorities for the business.
The pandemic has sparked a flurry of speculation and misinformation, which can exacerbate collective anxiety. To mitigate this, it’s critical to establish a clear strategic narrative, communicate complex information simply and create a single source of truth where employees can ask questions and access important messages. Engaging with employees ethically and responsibly – even when delivering bad news – can help steer companies through these testing times.
Connect as a community
Humans are hardwired to band together in a crisis. This is no different in workplaces. Feeling connected to a community, working towards a clearly-defined purpose and upholding company values – even if that company is dispersed around kitchen tables around the city – is vital to motivating and engaging teams.
The old ‘town hall’ approach to leading, that sees the CEO deliver a forecast during a weekly staff meeting or make sweeping statements about the state of the business will no longer work.
So, what does work?
Embracing the possibilities of virtual working to cultivate a sense of community among employees can make everyone – even new hires that may have never physically met their colleagues – feel part of a team.
Connecting as a community during this moment will take ingenuity and imagination. It could mean developing new channels or social tools for employees to share stories or positive affirmations. It could mean embracing videos or augmented reality to create a sense of physical presence. Or it could mean holding virtual festivals, featuring tailor-made learning modules, online forums and gamified experiences.
Even small investments in building genuine community can have a big impact on employees’ purpose and morale.
Co-create with your people
For businesses that typically take a ‘top-down’ approach to employee engagement, this is an opportunity to engage their people differently, about a bigger mission and create a sense of ownership over where the organisation is heading.
It’s a powerful opportunity to leverage individual and collective strengths, skills and creativity in order to respond to immediate challenges and co-create products and solutions to help the business endure.
Developing a new normal is a collaborative process that harnesses the strengths and talents of all employees, not just an executive team. By co-creating with a workforce and enabling respectful dialogue, organisations can draw on different perspectives and life experiences that will help it tackle emerging issues and problems.
Growth from uncertainty
Our current moment has thrown up challenges that organisations have never considered. It’s also made the art of employee engagement more complex and urgent.
Responding to a crisis with a process that is transparent, consistent and respectful will equip staff – a company’s most valuable assets – with the resources to work towards a stronger future, while mitigating confusion and stress.
Times of uncertainty are also times of opportunity. They can help businesses grow in ways they may not expect.
About Creative Comms
PwC’s Creative Comms team comprises communications strategists, content designers, digital producers, artists, animators and creative directors. The Creative Comms team works with clients during times of change to build strategies and design experiences that educate, engage and inspire employees and stakeholders.