This spring, when COVID-19 hit many parts of the nation like a runaway train, we all had to adapt rapidly and dramatically.
A trip to the grocery store—typically a well-established and mundane chore—became a unique experience. For many, it was the only trip they allowed themselves to take outside their homes. For some, it became a logistical puzzle in avoiding other patrons, juggling masks and credit cards at checkout, and planning to avoid a return trip for that one forgotten item.
Life was suddenly so different that it was challenging. Compliance was hard. But the absolute nature of the guidance many of us lived under made it relatively easy to understand what was expected of us.
As different parts of the country move into new phases, ones in which states are opening beaches and parks, restaurants and bars are welcoming patrons, and employers are opening their doors, we are entering a new era. What is expected of us now is no longer black and white, but increasingly part of a muddled middle of striated gray.
As restrictions ease and more of us move more freely, there is greater opportunity to misunderstand the rules we should operate under.
Just as importantly, there may be more opportunities for human nature to make us less vigilant. As we grow less anxious about COVID-19, we may start standing closer together, drawn by an unseen gravity. Masks, once an easy item to remember, may be forgotten at home or in the car with increasing frequency.
At times like these, businesses need to have especially clear and consistent communication to ensure that whatever guidelines they have in place are easy to understand and remember. Clarity becomes especially important given that the federal guidelines offer a three-phase approach—meaning that if all goes well, changes will be rolled in the future as new phases are reached.
And if all does not go according to plan? Restrictions will get tighter, requiring more communication and clarity.
For many of us, locally dropping daily fatality numbers and the approach of warmer weather offer hope that easier days are ahead. But in some states cases of COVID-19 are on the rise, bringing the potential for tighter restrictions.
For ESOP committees, HR professionals, operations staff, and anyone responsible for communicating with employee owners, these situations may make life much harder. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for communicating with employee owners:
- Establish Guidelines: Gather any relevant parties to establish your standards of behavior and your expectations for employee owners. Establish guidelines that work for your business, industry, and corporate culture.
- Take your time. Set up guidance that is easy to understand and that aligns with your culture and the personality of your workplace
- Try to get it right the first time. Issuing corrections increases opportunities for confusion. Invariably some will miss the message and continue to do things the old way; others will simply forget. It is said that it takes only two weeks to form a habit; try not to ask employee owners to form a new habit that they will they will soon need to break.
- Be Flexible. Make it clear up front that any standards you develop will need to adapt to changing conditions in your community, state, and in the nation as a whole. Offering guidelines that are your best guess today should not preclude you from modifying your behavioral expectations later, based on new information.
Have you written or established guidelines that work for your company or business? Please visit The Hub’s COVID-19 Network and share your experiences. Sharing with your peers makes our whole community stronger.