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It’s tempting to celebrate Wisconsin reopening with rousing cheers, but that’s probably not the best communication strategy for sharing your transition plans. (It might be the most fun, but not the most effective.)

Gov. Evers has announced a staged plan based on federal guidelines to open Wisconsin businesses. While there is no specific timeline for the Badger Bounce Back plan, it defines three specific phases for transitioning from a statewide shutdown to business as (mostly) usual. 

Transitioning between phases will be dependent on meeting gating criteria (downward trajectory of cases, etc.) of the previous phase. As of this writing, we still have an upward trajectory of cases and we remain Safer at Home until May 26.

So why are we celebrating? Because we have time and an outline for a plan! It’s not as cool as immediate revenue streams, but it’s an opportunity to strategize and take full advantage with a head start—a luxury few businesses had at the outset of the pandemic. 

Here are five questions to consider as you get started on your plan and determine how you want to keep people informed.

#1 Who is responsible for communication?

Communication shouldn’t be an afterthought in your plans. Successfully reopening is going to take collaboration among teammates. Employees need to know what’s happening if they are going to contribute effectively.

From the start, determine who is responsible for communicating your plan both internally and externally, and involve those people as you strategize your transition. In most companies, this will likely include a combination of HR and corporate communications or marketing professionals.

Including these departments from the beginning helps you better understand what motivates your audience, which can help you avoid costly mistakes in timing or mixed messaging. The sooner you can get everyone on the same page, the sooner you can get back to business.

#2 How do you prepare and not overshare?

The best disease experts in the world are still studying COVID-19, searching for answers and solutions. It’s unlikely that your employees are coming back to work expecting you to have it all figured out.

They will, however, be looking for reassurance from leadership that there is a plan for a path forward. Employees don’t need to hear the details about your two dozen contingency plans—you really can have too much of a good thing. Instead, focus on sharing your immediate and near-term plans.

For example, if you are bringing employees back in stages, consider sharing the tentative comeback schedule with all impacted employees rather than announcing the stages as they occur to impacted groups. Let them know you expect some hiccups along the way, and you will share any changes as soon as you are able.

Giving employees time to prepare on their end, and a window into your plan, provides a sense of stability that will make the transition that much smoother.

#3 What kind of education is needed?

There is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 available, and you don’t know what your employees have heard. So, silly as it might sound, you should start from the beginning by sharing facts about virus transmission before you get into the specific risks in your workplace.

Train employees on any new policies, procedures, tasks or activities that are now part of the workday. Training should include explaining why the precautions are in place and why it is important for employees to faithfully follow the rules. You will see higher levels of compliance if employees understand how their behaviors impact the whole.

You will also need to reeducate employees about your health benefits and sick leave options and how they coordinate with the new entitlements under FFCRA.

If you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), this is a good time to encourage employees to take advantage of those benefits as well.

#4 How does your culture impact employee participation?

The tone and personality you use to describe the changes you are making, and how you promote participation, speaks louder than the message you send—no one wants to sit next to Debbie Downer.

What is your company culture? What are your employee demographics? (Would they get that SNL Debbie Downer reference?) What are employees’ preferred methods of communication?

When you need a high level of participation, it’s best to reach people where they already hang out. Choose multiple channels to get your message across and create a variety of messages so repeats aren’t just ignored.

For example, you might try some engaging infographics or internet memes or TikTok videos to make it more interesting. Keep the messages top of mind with encouraging signs in breakrooms, bathrooms and workstations. Consider publicly recognizing employees who consistently set a good example.

Most importantly, reassure employees you want them to report illness. Let them know that their health is priority no. 1, and they should take advantage of the resources available. Yes, work is important, but we can’t get back to business as usual until people are well.

#5 How can employees give feedback?

If you want to hear from the people, they need to know that their opinions matter. One of the best ways to encourage participation is to acknowledge the feedback with a thank you. Another is to give credit for a suggestion that is implemented or that inspired an implemented idea.

Encourage employees to share their thoughts and ideas with their leaders. Send out anonymous short surveys and ask how people are adapting emotionally and if the new procedures are working. Ask for suggestions and provide an anonymous tip box.

Just as you want to be able to send updates via multiple channels, you also want to encourage employees to submit feedback in their preferred communication style.

When employees know their feedback is carefully considered and they can easily and comfortably provide it, they are more likely to give it.

Bonus Question: Are we doing this right?!

We hear this question daily from organizations that want to do the right thing, and the truth is there are no right or wrong answers here—nor any structured guidelines. 

Communication style and employee benefits are different for every organization. Companies have to do what works best for their work environment, employees and culture.

Transitioning back into the workplace provides an opportunity to reevaluate some of your approaches, understand what’s been working, and identify areas that might need some improvement. The McCloneHR team has the tools, resources and know-how to help you get the ball rolling.

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A collection of articles from the McClone team with the helpful knowledge and insights to ensure your organization is well protected.