Employee Experience

How to communicate effectively to employees during a crisis

Communication is vital to not only those working remotely, but also managers, people team leaders, and the c-suite. So how can you help enable this effectively across your organization?

Organizations should survey employees now; however, the content and tone of surveys should be adapted to reflect the current environment

Benjamin Granger Ph.D., XM Institute

Leanne Buehler, Ph.D., Managing Partner & VP of Consulting Solutions at New Measures agrees, but says it’s crucial that we don’t just ask, but we really listen to what we’re being told.

“Most of us think we are good listeners, but we can all do better,” says Leanne. “We build connections by acknowledging that each of our experiences is important. We can start now, one conversation at a time.”

Moving Beyond “How Are You?”

How do we do better to truly see and hear each other at work? Susan Scott, in her book, Fierce Conversations, talks about the need for us to listen deeply.

She recommends these follow-up questions during 1:1s with your boss or direct reports:

  • What do you wish you had more time to do?
  • What things are you doing that you would like to stop doing?
  • If you were hired to consult with our company, what would you advise?
  • What are you feeling?
  • If X, Y, Z doesn’t change, what is likely to happen?

Take the temperature of your organization

“Now is the time to start measuring concerns and expectations of your people,” says Benjamin Granger, Sr. Principal at the XM Institute. “Before you implement long-term policies, send out a survey to gauge how people are feeling. You can then use that to frame how you communicate with your people.”

Ben recommends measuring with the framework of:

  • Success: how easy is it for your people to accomplish their goals?
  • Effort: how much harder is it for them to do so?
  • Emotion: what feelings does this effort create?

Read more in Ben’s Forbes’ article: Is now the right time to ask for employee feedback?

Daily check-ins

Morning video calls with the team are an ideal way to gauge team members’ well being, as well as a daily check on the team’s overall pulse.

Some additional ways managers are staying in constant contact:

  • Scheduling multiple weekly 1-to-1 check-ins
  • Sharing mobile phone numbers and encouraging teams to use the phone
  • Recording check-ins and tasks in writing, using Slack or another collaboration tool
  • Using a regular live video chat room for people to drop in and chat with team members

Keep a sense of community

“Many of us will be missing our watercooler moments to pick up on information and enjoy a sense of camaraderie,” says Ben. “It’s never been more important to check in with your people and see how they’re doing.”

There are many ways to do this, including virtual happy hours, virtual pub quizzes, virtual workout groups, virtual lunches and breakfast, virtual cooking classes and even ‘meet my pet’ events. “The XM Institute just implemented a virtual happy hour recently,” says Ben. “I’d 100% recommend it doing it – we had a blast!”

Don’t worry about asking too much for feedback

“We know from our 2020 Global Employee Experience Trends report that people who are regularly asked for feedback – and feel like that feedback is being listened to – feel more engaged at work,” says Ben. “But when people start working from home more often, their tolerance for being asked for feedback will go up. And the risk of survey fatigue will go down.”

What happens when you see a dip in employee engagement or key drivers of engagement? For Bright Horizons, it was a chance to “radically listen” to their team’s needs — both within and beyond the workplace.

Watch the Webinar

Be transparent and explicit

It’s an incredibly unnerving time for many, so it’s even more important to be clear about what you need from your direct reports. Especially as it’s not easy to just ask questions in passing across a desk.

Make sure your people are 100% clear on what you’re expecting from them and when. Include things like:

  • When and how they need to be accessible
  • Whether you’d prefer them to keep their cameras on or off
  • How long you expect them to take in responding to your requests.

And on the flipside, it’s crucial that HR communicate:

  • If policies and changes are temporary, make sure to call them "temporary". It may be temporary for now, but not so in the long term. Be honest about that.
  • Clear timeframes for re-evaluating temporary policy changes.

Focus on what’s important to your people right now

Pulse surveys are the ideal tool to gauge how employees are feeling. Take that feedback and use it to inform the rest of your survey programs. But don’t feel like it has to all be work-focused. A sense of community is also really important. As is keeping things as enjoyable as possible. “Ask people to share their fun ideas as well as work-related ones,” says Qualtrics’ Steve Bennetts.

Keep people up to date

Make sure that you’re communicating regularly about what's going on. It’s important that this includes actions the company is taking in response to feedback, and emphasizing the organization’s commitment to being people-first.

"Communicating what’s been heard and what's being done (or not) to resolve feedback is crucial. If something is actioned because of people's feedback then it’s important that employees are told that this was the result."

The Ultimate Guide to Employee Engagement

Create a channel for always-on feedback

As well as regular pulse surveys, it’s important that employees have a way of feeding back to leadership regularly as their situation changes or concerns or issues occur.

Always-on feedback channels can take many forms but they are often open areas on a company portal or intranet where employees can provide feedback on whatever they want, whenever they want. They can also be embedded into internally developed applications that employees use during their day-to-day jobs.

Urgent vs. non-urgent comms

Frontload your messages. “When you’re using Slack always start your message with ‘urgent’ if it’s urgent, rather than just ‘hi’,” says Lori McLeese, Global Head of Human Resources at Automattic. “Otherwise you have back and forth until you can get to the point, which is stressful and wastes time.”


Ask your people how they’re feeling right now

Get started with our free Remote Work Pulse Tool