Keeping lines of communication open has never been more important

Your team are scattered all over the place – working from home or on reduced hours, self-isolating or ill. We’re in lockdown but it’s critical no one feels isolated. Now more than ever, it’s important that you are able to listen to your staff’s concerns and keep lines of communication open amongst everyone.

A significant decline in well-being with high levels of stress and anxiety has been widely reported.  No-one is immune to the impact of the problems and challenges we’re facing right now. While some people might actually be enjoying remote working and might want to prove it’s working, the majority are struggling because they don’t have the right environment (working from  kitchen table, kids to entertain) and they miss the social interaction, while worrying about elderly parents cocooning or friends and family on the frontline.

Inevitably you had to step up communications at the initial phase of this lockdown; providing policy updates and information about the resources available as teams started to work differently. But now is not the time to take the foot off the communications throttle. After 5 weeks of lockdown, your team are likely to have moved from the initial phase of denial and disbelief, to feeling frustration and now possibly a complete lack of motivation and apathy.

With signs that essential offices and outlets will start to reopen in the near future, albeit on a phased basis, you will need to encourage your people to engage with even more changes while also contributing to a roadmap for getting back to business.

Now’s the Time to Over-Communicate

Much uncertainty around how the situation will play out continues and your team may still be concerned about their health, earnings and even job security. You can ensure frustrations and fears are limited by listening to staff and ensuring that questions they raise are answered as clearly as possible. You may not have all the answers, and that’s inevitable. Honesty is the best policy and a commitment to finding the answers as soon as possible.

There are two main types of communication that you need to prioritise and focus on:

  1. Leadership Communications:

Your people will want to know what’s going on in the business, how the crisis is impacting on the business, how you are communicating with customers and how you are planning to come out on the other side.  These operational and business continuity type communications can be dealt with at weekly online team meetings as usual.  However, if you are a leader of a larger organisation you many want to step up your visibility and expand on these updates through blogs or short homemade videos that you can produce on your phone (Yes, you can!).

These platforms can make it easier for you to be human – acknowledge how you are feeling and dealing with challenges, touch on the tough realities faced by the business but provide reassurance about business continuity if possible and recognise everyone’s efforts and contribution.

Tell a Story: A few weeks ago a leader of a large research team at a University told me she shares a weekly blog with her team which always carries a humorous thread at the start or end about her lockdown experience and encourages engagement and interactivity from the team by looking for suggestions and feedback including the most suitable name for a noisy and distracting cockerel next door!

Alternative to Face-to-Face: A director in a financial institution who used to hold quarterly town halls now produces a video on his phone at home.  Producing a video might seem daunting but a 60 second phone recorded video is completely doable with some scripting and a little practice. If you have teenagers in the house, they will turn it around in the blink of an eye! No need for an Oscar performance or production here, the more natural the better.

Maintain a Calm Tone:  As leaders and managers, your role is to help employees to feel calm and provide a reassuring voice and ensuring the right tone is present throughout any communication. It is important that communications are clear, simple, directive when needed, but above all that they exude calm in a situation where so much hype, rumour and uncertainty exists.



  1. Sense of Team

We are social creatures. We are missing the social bond we get from going to work.  Communication in remote teams, whether casual chats or work related discussions, can’t happen as easily or spontaneously as it does when people are sitting next to each other. This is a time when communication actually needs to be ramped up. Heightened communication is necessary, not only to keep your remote team productively focused, but to address the isolation and the emotional toll on people when they no longer have the social contact with work friends and colleagues. The impacts from social isolation are likely to manifest in many ways now and in the future. Meetings and frequent check-ins, both with the whole team and individual team members, need to sit at the top of your to-do list. Here are some suggestions:


  • Define the purpose for each meeting: Some people have expressed to me they are experiencing zoom fatigue. Keep your regular team meetings focused, have an agenda and maybe include a one word check-in with everyone at the start.
  • Virtual coffee mornings: Hold these for no other reason than just to say hi and check how they are doing. Ensure that everyone gets attention and time to contribute. Don’t just interact with those who are the most easily to connect with. Everyone needs to feel that they are being seen and heard and validated. The HR team at a multinational engineering firm hold a virtual coffee morning every Friday for a half hour and discuss topics like ‘Who has the ugliest ornament in their house?’. It helps steer conversations away from the negativity, provides light-heartedness and gives people an insight into their colleagues -building better team camaraderie.
  • Create a remote team charter: Agree what communications platforms are being used for what e.g. WhatsApp for team updates, separate WhatsApp group for humour.  A partner at an accountancy firm told me how they established a WhatsApp group to keep in touch with a team but one team member was continuously sharing sensationalist or negative articles which were having an impact on the rest of the group. Encourage the team to contribute to the team charter – let them suggest what’s acceptable in the different communications forums.
  • Professionalism Vs Connecting: The way we work has been redefined. Video calls can help you connect to your teams and get to know them a bit better. Give people permission to bring themselves and their home life to the camera. If a dog or baby appears, great, give them a wave!
  • 1-2-1 Check-ins: A friend of mine works for a global pharmaceutical company. HR sent an email asking all staff to complete a special employee engagement survey related to the current environment. Within an hour she got a call from her line manager. The first 1-2-1 call she had with him in four weeks! Your staff may not remember everything you said in a few months time but they will remember how you made them feel.
  • Create a safe space: Acknowledge that people are feeling uneasy.They have legitimate concerns about the safety of their loved ones and their own futures. Create a space for them to share their concerns and be heard. A simple act that shows you care and can strengthen the bond of a team in the long-term.


Regular and purposeful communications will help boost resilience, motivate employees, and ultimately your employer brand reputation. Your people may not remember every single policy you put in place or exactly what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.

Step up your communications efforts, be honest and listen.


Edwina Gore is a strategic communications consultant who has created and delivered internal communications strategies to increase employee engagement and buy-in for change projects.