It’s been a long and challenging 12 months since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Many businesses have moved to remote work or a hybrid workplace model, while others were forced to shut their doors permanently. However, with vaccine rollouts across the United States on a fast track by the end of May, it’s getting easier to see a light at the end of the tunnel. For many employees following a long layoff, a return to normalcy will be anything but that so it’s important for organizations to be ready for potential challenges ahead when it comes to proper communications. If your business is one of many who might find cobwebs above your desk upon return to the office you’ll definitely want to consider some of these practices for a smooth transition as you prepare to reopen after COVID-19.
Update Your Crisis Communication Plan
If the pandemic has taught communicators anything it’s the value in a well developed crisis communications plan. Those that had a plan in place before the initial spread of the virus were better prepared to adapt quickly and identify ways to keep their business on track, while others were left scrambling. That’s not to say they were prepared for a full blown pandemic, but the direct punch was softened by the head start of a strategic plan. If you don’t have a crisis communications plan, now is the time to develop one to outline communication and response procedures for any dilemmas that may arise, because they will!
Who is the spokesperson for your organization? Who from your team needs to be included in the communications and approval process? What are your actions to address social media and mass media? These are all questions that should be answered in your crisis communications plan to avoid mistakes, missteps or miscommunication during the most difficult and sensitive times.
Set the Right Tone
Fear and uncertainty have been common feelings throughout the pandemic, and the move to reopen could present the same for many people. It’s important for leaders and other communicators to establish a tone of remaining confident and vigilant. Carefully think through communications to your team, customers, vendors and other partners to ensure consistent messaging on all fronts to limit further anxiety and prevent chaos.
In The Ghidotti Podcast interview with executive coach and leadership strategist Elise Mitchell, she suggests following Dr. David Rock’s SCARF model for identifying ways to better communicate with your team. It lists five social triggers as the most common reasons people get upset and lack the capacity to communicate well. Understanding how to think and respond under moments of pressure with a consistent message as you lead your team through a return to work following months of remote or hybrid work will go a long way toward setting the right tone and creating confidence with members of your team.
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Clearly Define Safety Protocols
Safety is the ultimate priority when it comes to reopening your business following the pandemic shutdown. From your team members and partners to customers and clients, a feeling of safety is necessary for anyone who enters your place of business and that means clearly defining safety protocols. Not every business will have the same regulations and anything you put in place is subject to change over time, but it still must be widely established before reopening.
Communicate with your team before setting any safety measures in place. Those are the people that will be spending the most time in your facility, so it’s important to ensure every member of your team feels safe and confident about returning to the office. Whether it’s a parent that has grown accustomed to their child staying at home or a team member that discovered a love for remote work during the pandemic, not everyone will be clamoring for an office setting, so consider a brief survey or questionnaire that encourages employees to share their own expectations for a safe return.
Flexibility is one of the most crucial traits to have when reopening after COVID-19. Change has been the only constant throughout the pandemic and communicators must be nimble to adapt quickly to any other changes that are likely to occur. It’s impossible to predict the future, but by staying flexible, you’ll be able to change and deliver consistent communications at a moment’s notice.
The ability to adapt quickly and efficiently is also necessary for your social media strategy. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other platform, one misguided post during your reopening can lead to a world of trouble for your brand. Implementing a positive brand voice and identity can go a long way toward establishing loyalty with your target audience, while preparation will have you ready for any potential crises that may arise.
Focus on Your Customers
For some businesses, the pandemic provided much needed time to focus inward and implement new strategies and plans to ensure organizational success. While not forgetting any of the positive changes that were made during that time, reopening your business requires shifting your focus to your customers. This is the time to provide exceptional customer service and remind them of your commitment. Remember to look at your business through the eyes of your customer. How does your product or service answer a need or help them accomplish a goal? What are some creative ways you can help them rediscover your business after this time of dormancy?
Maybe you host a grand reopening to gather loyal customers in the form of brand ambassadors to help spread the message. Or, perhaps you offer discounted prices to acknowledge that you understand the difficult year that everyone has endured. Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to put fresh eyes on your customer service strategy and listen to your clients to ensure that all of their needs are being met and you have their interests at heart.