As England’s construction and manufacturing businesses face returning to operations following the Prime Minister’s broadcast, communication will be critical to ensure staff safety, demonstrate leadership and provide reassurance.
For senior management and business owners working in construction and manufacturing, a comms strategy and plan will be necessary to bring clarity to stakeholders – from employees to suppliers to customers. The uncertainty around the announcement has left people uneasy, anxious and in need of transparency.
With such little notice given by the PM, it’s unlikely that many businesses will have a comms strategy in place and ready to roll out. Employers now face a huge burden of responsibility and the temptation may be to rush back and get the wheels of production in motion (or moving faster, for those who were running a skeleton production) but that must not come at the expense of safety and risk of reputation damage if handled poorly.
Here are some key points to remember when planning return-to-work comms for construction and manufacturing.
1.Plan and know your options and obligations before communicating anything
Rushed communications often fail to have any impact. Acting before you have enough information to hand can cause even more confusion to stakeholders. Do you have all the details you need to address the likely concerns and questions staff, customers and suppliers will have? We’ve seen rushed statements contain typos, conflicting information and which only add to the confusion. Collate, organise and distill before you distribute.
2. Consider where and how you are going to communicate
In many manufacturing and construction workplaces not all employees have an email address or company mobile. Often, briefings are given in person on the shop floor or on site, with social distancing measures this is unlikely to be possible, so consider the best route to deliver regular communications. The same applies when updating customers and suppliers. Prior to the pandemic face to face visits and telephone calls remained the primary ways for sales teams to keep in touch with customers, for many Zoom, Teams, Skype or Google Meet has replaced the face to face communication, but this may not be suitable for ongoing crisis recovery comms. Similarly, people may have been overwhelmed with emails from directors and CEOs, so tread carefully with this channel.
3. Anticipate what people want to know, not just what they need to know
The government guidance left a lot of gaps which are being left to employers to fill in terms of how this return will be managed and implemented. There will be information your stakeholders need to know and information they want to know – whilst some crossover is likely, don’t assume both will broadly be the same. For example, staff may be worried about commuting, how shift changes will be managed, they may be generally anxious about returning to work. Any communication plan should anticipate what these concerns are, or include a way to establish this through feedback from your team.
4. Keep it clear and consistent
One of the biggest issues with the way the Coronavirus messaging has been handled by the government it’s lack of clarity and consistency. From different graphics on display at each press conference to a switch in messaging which left people confused and unsure, lack of consistency is risky in any comms situation. But that stability and continuity can only happen if you are clear in your own objectives and aims.
5. Pave the way for two-way communication
Given the anxiety and tension many of us are feeling about returning to work, any comms plan should include an avenue for staff, customers and suppliers to feedback any concerns and a process by which those concerns are addressed and managed. One of the markers of effective internal communication is the acknowledgement and understanding that it’s not always a one-way conversation.
6. Be in it for the long haul
The recovery from this will be slow, and there will be setbacks. Your communication plan should account for this and be expected to last over several months or longer. As the situation changes – and we know it can change fast – be prepared to update and amend your comms strategy in response. It needs to have flexibility enough to adapt to changes – another potential lockdown, regularly revisiting systems and processes.