The best strategies for communicating about the Delta variant’s impact on your office-reopening plan

reopening covid office employees business workers face masks

Some companies have been plotting their return to the office for nearly a year. But with Delta-variant cases on the rise, those plans may change once again.

Employers such as Google, Amazon, and Uber have delayed return dates and in some cases required vaccinations and masks. Other companies are forging ahead with their original plans to reopen offices.

If your plans have changed because of the Delta variant, it’s important to have a clear strategy for communicating with your workforce. Communications experts say the first step is simple: honesty.

Shel Holtz, the director of internal communications at Webcor, told Insider that companies need to be honest with themselves and their employees about the motivation behind their reopening plans and any adjustments.

"I think it is incumbent upon organizations as we begin to prepare for the return to the office, whatever that may look like, to give employees a reason to want to stay at the organization," Holtz said.

You don’t have all the answers. Turn to experts.

It’s difficult for business leaders to admit they don’t have the answers, Ruth Sherman, a communications consultant and coach, told Insider, but the best leaders can embrace the unknown. Accepting that reopening plans will change is part of navigating this emotionally charged time, she said.

"Make sure you’re being advised by the best experts, and maybe even get those experts in to talk to the workforce or to speak to them directly," Sherman said.

For example, Fran Katsoudas, Cisco’s executive vice president and chief people, policy, and purpose officer, has doctors join company calls so employees can hear directly from experts about the latest health updates.

"We have tried our best to educate in the company meetings — we’ve always had medical doctors," Katsoudas said, "even doctors from all around the world so that employees could hear from their local expert."

In crisis communications, if leaders fail to answer employees’ questions, workers will often inaccurately fill in the gaps on their own, Sherman said.

Leaders should keep an open line of communication with employees to hear their views and concerns, Holtz added.

"The leadership ranks are not necessarily talking to employees, asking their views, finding out what their concerns are, and they’re not treating this as a change," he said. "I think that’s the biggest failure."

Use video calls to relay important info

Webcor coronavirus page

Managers should deliver company updates the way they would want to hear the news if they were an employee, Sherman said.

Acknowledge that reopening dates are a "moving target," Sherman said. No one knows exactly what will happen, so empathize with employees’ experiences.

"Empathy is a huge, huge element that is often, frankly, missing from leadership," Sherman said. And remember, Sherman added, that sometimes it’s hard for people to accept change, so give them time.

Video calls are the best option for making important announcements, Sherman said. They allow managers to pick up on employees’ nonverbal cues and give workers the opportunity to ask questions in real time. But be mindful about how many calls you’re having, she added. Zoom fatigue is a growing problem for many employees.

Also be mindful of how difficult change can be for some people, she said.

"Change is the hardest thing for a lot of people," Sherman said. "In business, especially in bigger businesses, it’s like turning the Titanic."

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Rachel DuRose August 16, 2021 at 05:06PM

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