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Managing communications on the virtual front line

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In many countries, few people would argue that due to the coronavirus quarantine, working conditions are very unusual now.

Our workforce and teams have been decentralised. People are working in crowded home offices (and living rooms and bedrooms). Children and pets are making unscripted cameos in our conference calls. And the lines between our personal and professional lives have all but disappeared. And yet, there is opportunity, even in these challenging times. It’s simply a matter of readjusting how we lead and support our teams. 

When it comes to managing a remote team in a time of self-isolation, sensitivity and empathy are key .

From establishing proper channels of communication to looking out for the emotional stability of our colleagues and customers, now more than ever our teams are looking to us for answers and guidance. Without question, being in tune with your client or customer base is equally as important. Small gestures and being human is key to strengthening relationships when people need this the most.

So, with that being said, here are a few ways that leaders and managers can promote a good line of timely information and communication during this era of quarantine.

Establish reliable lines of communication

By now, many businesses will have implemented an effective remote workplace. However, enabling remote working practices is not the limit of our responsibilities as leaders and managers. Strong lines of communication and information are just as important. Having up-to-date and accurate contact information for each team member for these communications is essential. Not only to reach them in the event of an urgent matter, but to ensure that the people within our teams have a two-way line of communication to reduce the risk of feelings of isolation. It is also important to encourage your team to adhere to all government and healthcare guidelines in their area.

There’s a wide range of applications and platforms for communicating as a team, each with its own unique set of features and benefits. It should be noted here that because of data protection laws such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, you will need to make sure that all technology platforms are assessed through your IT and legal teams to ensure they are in compliance with IT security and data protection requirements. 

Manage your reputation 

The pipeline of communication to your team and managing information isn’t the only thing at stake here – the reputation of the entire organisation is as well. Reputation is even more important than ever, as what we do now will likely be remembered for a long time after the Coronavirus has been eradicated. Organisations that value profit over people at this moment in time run the risk of making headlines for all the wrong reasons. English Premier League club Liverpool FC recently decided to furlough all non-players through leveraging state relief, then decided to reverse its decision after receiving heavy criticism from both the government and fans alike. 

On the flip side, there are a number of examples of organisations that have repurposed their supply chain or re-routed resources or services to contribute to the global effort to defeat the Coronavirus pandemic. Fashion houses such as Chanel have begun making facemasks; spirits producers like Absolut Vodka are making hand sanitiser; and recently McLaren Formula 1 and Rolls Royce have focused their efforts on manufacturing ventilators. While there is certainly a PR angle to these moves, they have still contributed to a narrative of collective goodwill in the eyes of the public.

For your people - silence is not an option

A strong line of communication is of utmost importance. In a situation like this, informational vacuums can be dangerous because people have a tendency to fill in the blanks themselves. 

For communications to the greater organisation, it is crucial to establish a ‘single source of truth’.  In all likelihood, this will take the form of a company intranet, microsite or mobile application; or failing that, establish a Facebook or WhatsApp group to keep your team updated. This should be the one stop shop for all things related to updates on the quarantine, remote working, HR matters, and keeping track of any necessary business. During a period of uncertainty, you will need to continuously monitor the number and type of updates to keep from inundating your team with information. If you have an international team, it is also important to address localisation as well, as every nation has had its own response to the crisis.

By keeping a constant flow of communication going with your team, you can help to allay any sense of uncertainty or anxiety. 

All work and no play

Remote working during the Coronavirus quarantine may possibly go down as the largest collective social experiment in human history. While we’ve yet to see the outcome of this experiment, we can definitely say that it has provided us a great opportunity to integrate more experimentation and creativity into how we work. This means we have a bit more license to do things that promote good mental health, well-being, and resilience. 

Communication during this challenging time cannot simply be about work. Informal communications are just as important as professional ones. They can go a long way toward promoting team bonding and can provide your more isolated teammates some much-needed human interaction. Beyond a common sense of purpose, humour and empathy also play important roles in bonding teams together. There has to be fun as well, or we risk the emotional exhaustion of our colleagues who may already be pushed to the brink of their stress and anxiety. As humans, we need social ties. Think of the people who live alone – during the quarantine isolation, work calls may be some of the only contact they have with the outside world. 

It may seem like there is one negative headline after another. A teamwide ‘Good Newscast’ can help to combat the weight of the sheer volume of bad news coming into our lives. ‘Quarantini’ happy hours or pub quizzes are good bonding activities, as are virtual home office tours, sharing music playlists, book, film or TV clubs, ‘dress-up Fridays’ or virtual lunch and learns. These departures can help to break up the monotony of only talking to each other about work. 

Now more than ever, communication is currency 

If there is one silver lining amidst all the self-isolation and social distancing, it’s that communication technology has never been more plentiful or more accessible. The average remote worker may have anywhere from five to ten communication channels open at any time, including mobiles, messaging applications, social media, project management tools, videoconferencing, and yes, even that old stalwart, email. 

It’s important to leverage these channels in ways that go beyond simply getting the work done. We also have to ensure that individual members of our teams don’t feel as though they are stranded on a deserted island. We have to help them feel rewarded and important, and as a part of something bigger than a project or a deliverable. 

As managers, we have all the tools we need to make sure that our team members are being cared for, listened to, and having their logistical and emotional needs met. We also have most if not all the tools we need to keep our businesses viable and profitable. So, until this is all over, words may be all we have. Let’s use them wisely. 

For more insight, visit our Manager’s checklist, or view our webinar on Leading virtual teams -powerful ways to keep your people motivated featuring Victoria Entwistle, the Director of People and Purpose, and Adam Flitton PHD, Behavioural Scientist at Hill + Knowlton Strategies. 

Download communication sheet     Download managers checklist