Companies are preparing to reopen their physical offices in China over the coming weeks while continuing to support colleagues working remotely. In a fast moving and sensitive period like this, employee engagement is critical.
Companies need to keep morale high. Avoid loss of focus and productivity. And help their people stay connected with each other. It requires a new approach.
To help you develop your employee engagement and communication plans, our employee communications advisors at Brunswick have collated approaches that have proven successful, as well as initiatives that we know are resonating with companies being directly impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
Going the extra mile
Most companies have focused their initial employee communications on travel guidelines, ‘work from home’ rules and protective measures to safeguard employees’ health. Others have gone further to provide additional support including:
- Counselling hotline or employee assistance programs for employees and their families.
- Reimbursement of medical expenses for affected employees, through corporate insurance.
- Advance salary payments for employees in need.
Employers with hourly workers are keeping a close eye on those employees whose hours have been reduced and working to find bridge solutions to ensure they do not face an undue financial burden during an already uncertain time. This can include re-allocating workers to different roles or providing compassionate pay in lieu of missing shifts. Employers should be careful to not over-promise long-term compensation arrangements and, where applicable, ensure they are working closely with relevant union representatives and works councils.
Looking specifically at companies with manufacturing facilities, many will be resuming production in the Chinese mainland over the coming weeks. Companies are making arrangements in factory dormitories to quarantine returning workers until it is confirmed they are not carrying the infection and putting in place new health and safety systems to mitigate the virus entering their facilities. Outside of logistical and safety concerns, it will be important to keep this community engaged and ensure they are supported during the quarantine period.
Employers should also keep close track and develop policies for groups who may have special communications needs. These include:
- Employees confirmed or suspected of being infected and their family members confirmed or suspected of being infected.
- Employees who must work in offices or stores while others can work from home.
- Employees in Wuhan/Hubei area.
- Employees whose contracts will end soon.
- Employees joining the team during the response to the coronavirus.
- Foreign employees who may want to travel back to their home countries.
Helping employees communicate
It’s important that employees who engage with external stakeholders have clear guidelines on how to communicate. They should have the information they need to feel confident answering questions about the company’s business continuity and approach to safety. And they should transfer their own confidence to the customers, government agencies, industry associations, suppliers, dealers, etc. with whom they deal.
It’s also important to remind employees about general communication policies, such as:
- Avoid sharing information which may be rumor or conjecture via company channels (or indeed, at all).
- Be especially sensitive when commenting on social media platforms.
- Direct any media inquiries to the designated personnel or team.
CONNECTING REMOTE EMPLOYEES
Communications to employees should be regular and frequent so people know when to expect an update, even if there’s little to update on. Nothing is more unnerving than silence. If your people are working remotely, keep them connected to company leaders and each other.
- Short videos can capture the key messages (and the ‘one version of the truth’) and can also be made accessible to those who couldn’t attend the video conference. Employees who can’t access email or the intranet can be connected by phone or WeChat.
- Develop a series of short podcasts with different voices from across the business to help people feel connected on work topics and beyond. Consider sharing some content beyond the region for the wider colleague audience to understand and appreciate the challenges.
- You could take this further by developing a series of short films that keep employees updated on your most important topics. Employees could also create their own content to share their own remote working experiences.
- Weekly all-employee video conferences or conference calls allow employees to hear from their executives directly and get answers to their questions. Capture questions and concerns and use them to inform the content of other communications.
- Twice weekly team conference calls will help employees maintain a working mindset, get connected with their colleagues, discuss work in progress, and keep abreast of what’s going on with the company and the team. Consider shifting from regular telephone calls to incorporate ubiquitous platforms in China like WeChat that allow multiparty video conference.
- These sessions can also be used for fortnightly mandatory virtual brainstorms to get people working together on something even if they’re not physically in the same place.
Mentees and Direct Reports
- Establish a regular schedule of check-in calls with mentees and direct reports to ensure that they are connected and continuing to develop to their maximum in a work from home environment.
Evaluate IT Solutions
- Most companies today rely heavily on cloud-based solutions that are designed for working remotely. However, it is rare to have entire offices and countries all working remotely at the same time. Listen to employees’ experiences and investigate additional technical solutions that can increase efficiency and access. Check with employees about possible extra costs incurred and provide necessary assistance.
- It is also worth remembering that depending on your systems, while working at home your colleagues in mainland China are likely to be working without convenient access to shared global platforms, such as Workplace by Facebook.
Tips on working from home
- Encourage employees to share working from home experience and tips – what do they find challenging, how to stay focused and productive and so on.
- Share advice on setting up a home office – even if employees don’t have a room in their home designated as an office. Advice would include how to make sure you have an ergonomic workspace and the tools you need to stay productive. And arrange competitions where employees share photos of their workspace – and how they’re being productive and efficient at home.
Assign working from home buddies – two colleagues who may not know each other but stay in contact (by email, phone, WeChat) to keep each other motivated and share working from home experiences and tips.
Here are a couple of areas you should be mindful of. These are important areas that may be overlooked given everything else that’s happening during the outbreak. But they could be problematic now and in the future.
Many companies have been collecting employee data on their status, including where they locate, travel histories, and their health. This is important to ensure the health and safety of the entire team and in some cases is also to satisfy increased government requirements to understand the movement and health of individuals. Companies that are collecting employee data should make it clear to employees that special attention should be paid to privacy and confidentiality. For suspected cases, companies should work closely with health authorities and release only required information while protecting employee privacy to the best extent possible.
With many employees working remotely from different locations, it’s very important to remind colleagues to take extra precautions on potential data breaches and other cybersecurity issues, such as precautions when using public internet connections, working on sensitive documents in public domains, unsanctioned cloud platforms, and suspicious emails.