Naturally, communicators have a lot of questions right now, all while trying to answer just as many from employees, stakeholders, and leaders. 

In our second post exploring themes from The Bananatag Morning Show, we wanted to tackle a biggie: what does it mean to communicate well in the new present?

Between our guests on the show, follow-up discussions in Comms-unity and on social, we’ve had a lot of great insight from the experts on what it means to communicate enough and share the right information with employees.

Five big questions keep coming up that we’d like to help you answer so you can be confident you’re moving in the right direction. 

Let’s get started:

 

1. How much information should I be communicating?

Do you remember a time when you’ve had to communicate more than you are now?

It’s unlikely. (And if you have, our hearts go out to you.)

But communication overload is still a thing we’re all concerned about. If we’re sending too much information we risk drowning out more critical communications or exhausting employees. 

So, how much information is too much information?

Bananatag’s very own Director of People and Culture, Agata Zasada had some advice on navigating the potential for information overload:

Agata Zs

 

 

“There is so much to communicate right now.

There's information that is coming from your executive team or your leadership team. There's information coming from the government. There's information coming from the news.

It's really difficult to filter through what's important and what needs to be communicated, and being really thoughtful around that.

You need enough touchpoints for your employees to feel connected and reassured that you know and you're doing something, but not inundating them or distracting them from the work that needs to be done at the same time.”

Kristin Hancock, employee engagement specialist and consultant brought up an interesting point about communicating when you don’t have all of the information that employees may be looking for:

“If you don't know the answer, it's okay to say you don't know the answer. But this is one of those times where we're really being tested to say that.

Now, more than ever, you cannot spout ambiguous information, because that ambiguous information can be harmful.”

 

 

Kristin Hancock

Building on Kristin’s point, Rachel Miller of All Things IC also had great advice for communicators who are struggling to communicate what they don’t know:

Rachel Miller

 

 

“Give certainty of communication, even if you can't give certainty of content. Commit to the cadence, the rhythm of your internal communication.

So that's things like, we will update the intranet at the same time each day, for example. Or your line manager will update you at the same time each day.

That’s giving certainty of communication.

Now you can't guarantee what they're going to say. And sometimes the update might be, there was nothing further to add from yesterday. And that's so important because when there are gaps, your employees fill it.

When you don't give that certainty of credible, accurate, reliable information, a source of truth for your employees and a place where they can ask questions, then that's when it starts to unravel.”

And Jenni Field of Redefining Communications also touched on the point of certainty of communication to reduce the bad feelings that come with ambiguity:

“When you look at the neuroscience behind change and how we react to ambiguity and that feeling of threat, that's all going on at the moment, people are so uncertain without knowing.

So having that regular information that you know something's going to come out every Thursday morning and just knowing that, and even if there's nothing to say, just saying we haven't got an update this week, but having that comfort of knowing that there's something coming is important.”
 

Jenni Field

 

2. How do you replace face-to-face communication if everyone has gone remote?

Most studies on internal communication list face-to-face communication as the most effective and trustworthy source of information for employees. 

But what happens when you can’t physically be in the same room? What becomes of face-to-face communication?

And beyond face-to-face meetings, informal in-person communication networks that naturally sprout up in workplaces are now gone. These have been valuable channels for communicators to get feedback, pulse check messaging, and a very effective way for information to disseminate in an organization casually and organically.

According to Rachel Miller, all is not lost:

Rachel Miller

 

 

“Take that face-to-face communication and turn it online. Make it virtual and connect your people, maintain your culture, bring your people together... tweak the things that we're already doing.

We know face-to-face communication is the most valuable, credible, trusted, reliable because you can check for understanding.

At this point in time, particularly with COVID-19, that checking for understanding, that two way communication is so critical.

So if you usually have town halls or face-to-face sessions, think about how you can switch them to be digital. How do you run them virtually?”


Brad Whitworth SCMP and IABC Fellow, highlighted the benefits of moving to digital meetings and how it’s making us even more human:

“Well, the good news is that people are becoming more accustomed to meeting online.

So if there's some good that's coming of this, it's that we're finding ways to replace the face-to-face with at least the virtual face-to-face version of things.

And where before I think people relied far too heavily on the PowerPoint, now we're now not afraid to show our faces, to show a human side of things, to see the insides of people's homes, to see the kids come in and ask mom or dad for something at just the inopportune time.

So we're seeing a human side. So I think in some ways we're better prepared to be able to participate."

 

Brad Whitworth

Phoebe Dey, VP Communications & Marketing, Alberta Cancer Foundation, talked about how her workplace has adjusted to try and capture those face-to-face interactions:

Pheobe Dey   “We've been used to working remotely and having one-on-ones on the phone, so for us it hasn't changed that much.

What we've heard from people is as we're doing a lot more video conferences, it's helped bring people together. Now we're one virtual office together...

While you can't get up and walk down the hall, some people are planning virtual lunches together.”


3. How do I find a balance between sharing good news and bad news?

Agata framed this concern over balancing the good and bad and how to share it, very well during her interview:

“If you’re trying to communicate with people more often, you might be mixing it up and sharing good news, bad news, good news. But that can create a negative employee experience.

They might be thinking “Are we happy? Are we sad? Are we happy?”

Trying to find the balance of that is hard. How can you still be providing that information that it is good news and is reassuring, but not ignore the stark realities in the world too.”
 

Agata Zs

Erica Goodwin explained how striking this balance at Heifer International focuses on asking the right questions and being empathetic:

Erica Goodwin

 

  “We have been careful and conscientious about what content we include, and ask questions like “What’s going to be okay this week? What’s the general feeling?”

We know that we are connected through town halls and the hangout, so is there an opportunity this week to include more content that’s not specific to COVID?”

She followed up her interview with more advice in Comms-unity about how Heifer International is sharing information and inspiration that doesn’t ignore the current realities:

“My brilliant teammate Chelsey and I realized it presents a good opportunity to reinforce our recently refreshed branding.

She created 27 Heifer-branded virtual backgrounds for employees to download and add as their Zoom background. Since it may be several more weeks before we return to the office, we thought it would be a great way to continue to inform employees about the updated brand and showcase it with external folks.

Our savvy Community Marketing team created remote learning resources for parents to download and print for their children and is encouraging people to post photos of kids doing the activities on social media.”

4. What channels should I be using to communicate about COVID-19?

Different communication channels have different advantages. This we knew long before COVID-19. 

But when being in the same room isn’t an option, these channels no longer complement the in-person experience—they become the entire experience.

Whether it’s intranet, email, Zoom call, or mobile notifications, the benefits and disadvantages of each are in sharp relief when we are fully reliant on digital channels. 

Erika Migliaccio from Upstream HR had some advice on deciding which channels will suit your communication needs by tapping into you empathy:

I think right now it's important to be even more deliberate than you usually are about this. 

When you think about the communications, stop and think about what is the purpose? What do you want from your audience? What do you want your audience to do? Are you just sharing information, or is it just an informal conversation? Are you trying to inspire someone? Are you trying to maybe collect ideas from people or are you trying to influence them to do something to change their mind, to make a decision? 

As you move from informal communication to informational communication to inspiring communication, to influential communication, what you need more and more and more at every step is your emotion. Because human beings make decisions based on emotion...

If you're communicating in a way that requires emotion, you have to make sure that your communication has the emotion and emotion often does not come through in the written word. 

Emotion does not come through in chat and it doesn't come through when you post a file online for people. 

That can be valuable, but save it when all you need to do is share information.”

  Screen Shot 2020-05-11 at 11.11.42 AM

 

Erica Goodwin offered great tactical advice about she’s tackling this challenge by making the intranet the central hub for information at Heifer International:

Erica Goodwin

 

 

“We started with a singular message and quickly realized that we needed to expand by creating a COVID-19 space on our intranet. We wanted to be able to link employees to every COVID-19 related message since we knew that there would be several.

We also wanted to be able to link employees to information about Heifer’s travel policies, procedures and protocols, the U.S. State Department’s travel updates, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. We wanted our intranet to be a trusted source—a hub—as the main source of information for employees.

All COVID-19 content and resources are linked in that space. We also use a call-to-action feature to promote upcoming meetings.”

5. Where can I find support?

Internal comms has never subscribed to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Attempts to find an answer to “what is the best way to do things?’ will inevitably land you with that most frustrating response of it depends

The best we can do right now is to listen to what is going on around us and collectively move forward by pooling experiences. In this way, we can find those that relate to our own organization’s needs and help each other get through this together. 

That’s exactly why we created the Bananatag Morning Show, where we interview comms pros about their take on what’s happening in communications right now, and Comms-unity, our dedicated slack space for communicators. 

We’ve created these spaces so you can share your experiences and get feedback from the experts, while connecting with others in the community.

We're keeping it together, together.