Suddenly, the world has millions of new work-from-home employees and learn-from-home students. As of less than a year ago, 77% of corporate communications professionals said that they were “well prepared professionally to deal with crises.” (Krishna, Wright, and Kotcher, 2019)

We doubt they prepared for this.

Below we provide some expert research-based insight and advice on how to communicate with workers and students at home. But before we move on, if you haven’t seen this clip yet, here’s an outstanding example of how to do it. It is truly authentic internal comms combined with just plain good leadership. Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson released the following six-minute video to employees, shareholders, and customers:

Stick with it through to the end; this is one of the few times you’ll ever see such a heartfelt, inspirational truly moving address from a CEO. They’ll be using this example in MBA classes for many years.

Now, on to our main attraction… The following advice is adapted from a conversation between Katie Paine, Rita Men, and Marlene Neil, two of the authors of one of the IPRRC 2020 internal comms papers we review.

Katie PaineGiven your findings about the importance of interpersonal communications, I’m wondering if you have any thoughts or advice on what it means now that so many workers are working from home? All that face-to-face communications is now going to be replaced by Skype, Zoom, and email. As a result do you think we’ll see a decline in employee trust and/or belief in transparency?  What should our Measurement Advisor readers prepare for?

Rita Men replies: Thank you for your thoughtful question! No one channel alone is enough for effective communications. Ideally, we would want a good balance of interpersonal face-to-face and mass-mediated channels to foster a transparent environment.

However, during the pandemic, when traditional face-to-face isn’t a feasible option, companies and managers should think about which channels can best mimic the features of face-to-face. Live video conferencing (using Zoom, Skype, or Webex, for instance) in this case could be winner, as compared to emails or phone calls, because it has the “face-to-face” element, a personal touch, and it’s interactive and synchronous. That allows people to give instant feedback, ask questions in real time, and use/observe non-verbal cues.

I have been using Zoom for my classes in the past week, and it worked pretty well. We had a good number of class discussions, which was similar to our offline class discussions. I’m glad that innovative technologies like Zoom make such “virtual face-to-face” communications possible.

I would also say of course that other channels like emails should still be used for quickly getting the message out. But for topics that we would normally want to discuss face-to-face, we can now resort to “virtual face-to-face” communication channels.

And, to another point mentioned in our IPRRC paper, choosing appropriate channels to deliver the messages is important. But even more important is that companies need to understand employees’ information needs, know what kinds of information will be relevant and useful for them during the pandemic, show willingness to communicate, and communicate the information in a truthful, timely, substantial, and accountable manner. It’s the communication mindset/philosophy (e.g., transparency, authenticity, empathy, etc.) that matters; channels are the tools that get such messages across to the stakeholders, and certain features of channels work better for certain purposes of communication.

This is a very interesting topic to discuss, especially at this time when many companies are forced to experiment with “work from home.” I’m on the optimistic side: I think that after the pandemic there might be more companies open to the idea of remote work.

Marlene Neil replies:

I know from a previous study of the power of video for conveying sincerity. So I think videoconferencing town halls and brief videos will be important. I already miss seeing my colleagues and students.

Fortunately, we have had a lot of email communication from administration, but other media will be important to use as well.

Katie Paine: Thank you Rita and Marlene! And for everyone using video teleconferencing, you have to watch this video   ∞

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