• Mark Topley

6 Critical Factors in COVID Team Communication


It's Monday morning and yet again someone just phoned in sick, citing COVID concerns/Child Care/Isolation or one of a long list of other things. The rest of the team that are usually fairly upbeat all seem to be in a grump, and the BMW group (Bitchers, Moaners and Whiners) are up to their tricks again.


Whether your team is a bunch of superstars most of the time or not, Lockdown 3.0 is proving to be the the toughest by far. I've certainly felt it in my own situation, and the leadership journals of my clients reflect the same thing. Nine months in, and in mid-winter, people are weary of COVID and the way it has challenged every area of life.


Stress, anxiety, confusion about health, family, money are everywhere. The arrival of the vaccine has brought a whole new group of nuts to the ranks of the hoaxer/mask avoiders/lockdown breakers, and the 'fake news' cop-out will see compliance slipping further, and belligerence, abuse and aggression increase.


The COVID world is certainly generating a lot of noise. If your team communication isn't frequent enough, clear enough and engaging enough to rise above it, you're only going to see more in the way of low team engagement, plummeting morale, and rising resentment and absenteeism.


The Good News

In the midst of the madness, there are a lot of companies doing a great job. The ones who are faring the best have...

  1. Pivoted & maximised digital communication - when communication can't be live because of remote or split shift working, or some of the team looking after children or isolating, the team still needs to hear the leader's voice, and see the leader's face. Words on a page or a notice board aren't enough. Successful companies have utilised video effectively.

  2. Kept communication timely and factual - good communicators have closed the void which can lead to speculation, rumour and misinformation. An Edelman survey found that 63% of teams wanted DAILY information.

  3. Obtained frequent feedback - a lot more companies are seeking more feedback in the form of 1:1 chats, pulse surveys and the like.

  4. Ramped up the focus on wellbeing - good leaders spotted early on that the pandemic was going to have a significant impact on health, and moved quickly to increase support.

  5. Humanised their communications - one executive in an international brand found themselves working from home and homeschooling 5 kids. The blog they started which was shared across the company became instantly popular as a source of human reference to what had suddenly become a disparate team. proved very successful in bringing the team together. They may be in different boats, but it's the same storm.

  6. Recognised the good things going on - good communicators worked hard to celebrate and recognise their teams achievements, whether that was performance, personal or pandemic related. They focussed on getting good news out there to boost morale.

COVID is proving to be not just one crisis, but a series, each with its own challenges and nuances. I understand from ample personal experience the temptation leaders feel to go into a shell. To procrastinate over the challenge of communicating in the midst of uncertainty, and just being worn down. But lead we must. Because that's who we are, and that's what our teams and our businesses need us to do.

Max de Pree said it brilliantly:


"The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality."

So how do you do this? What would it mean in practice? There are 6 critical factors:


Your Internal Communication Factors

  1. Message - your messaging must be simple, clear and repeated. Narrow your aims down to single goal that people can memorise. Define the 3-5 key things that people can act on (stuff they can actually do) to contribute to success. Provide factual updates, but define the narrative.

  2. Rhythm - work out what you are sharing and when - establish your standard agendas and messaging for session/daily/weekly updates and communiques.

  3. Channels - use different media depending on whether people are in the building or not. Balance the methods so that everyone gets to connect.

  4. Include everyone - it doesn't matter whether staff are furloughed/sheltering/or caring - they should still still get communications. Ensure that everyone is included in 1:1 contacts, group calls, and use whatever opportunities you have when you have them.

  5. Wellbeing - it's crucial to make the most of successes, jobs well done, good reviews. Celebrate them, get good news out. Sniff it out and broadcast it. Recognise people's achievements and efforts - buy a pack of thank you cards and get used to writing them often.

  6. Simplicity - use different channels, BUT, have a single repository, a go-to place for SOP updates, expectations, key messages etc. Some I have seen used effectively are FaceBook Groups/WhatsApp/Slack and the like. Teach people how to use the platforms if you need to and keep reminding them where the go-to place for information is.

Even this kind of communication, systematically implemented wont make all your issues go away. Goodness knows there are daily ups and downs to negotiate for some time to come.

But one day things will ease, and when that does happen, wouldn't you want to have done the work to communicate, connect, and care for your team? The strength and morale of the team you come out of the pandemic with will largely be determined by the quality, frequency and effectiveness of your internal communication. And that work starts today.

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