It’s hard to pinpoint the exact date, but sometime this past spring it seemed like our society made a collective decision to move into a different phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, one in which people are attempting to find the stability of normalcy despite not really knowing what “normal” looks like. The only thing we can say for certain is that our post-pandemic future won’t look like our pre-pandemic past. While this is something we all have to cope with personally, it’s also something corporations continue to grapple with.
Here are three corporate communication considerations I’ll be paying close attention to this year as we collectively attempt to figure out how to live in a world without daily COVID-19 headlines.
1. Where you work from is as important as where you work.
There’s a reckoning coming on how, and more importantly where, people will work going forward. The dam holding back remote work officially burst in 2020. Now executives and workers are attempting to patch together a new social contract. This will no doubt involve continued flexibility around working hours and locations. But this won’t be easy. We’ve already seen certain high-profile executives call for employees to be back in the office full-time. And we’ve seen employees exercise their leverage to maintain their flexibility. I predict this will be one of the more contentious workplace debates over the next year.
Regardless of where your workplace ends up on the remote work spectrum, communication is going to be key. Here is what to consider when communicating your remote work policies:
Provide plenty of advance notice before adjusting your policies. By now, most employees have settled into a routine that involves being away from the office for a portion of the work week. That means they’ve built up expectations around that routine, whether it be related to child or pet care, appointments, or commitments outside of work. Adjusting your policy means they will have to adjust their routines, and that can take time, especially when it comes to lining up child care. Ideally you would want to give weeks, if not months, of notice before expecting them to make a significant change.
Explain yourself and back up your explanation. It’s not enough to simply tell people they need to be back in the office. You need to tell them why it’s important to your business and their role in particular.
- Communicate every use of your office space and available technology. Don’t expect people to return to the office and work exactly like they did in 2019. The way we work has changed, and the office needs to adapt. This could involve ensuring you have the right technology for the dozens of video conferences held each week. Or maybe you need more dedicated spaces for focused work. 2022 is a great time to evaluate your office space and ask if it meets the needs of an evolving workforce.
2. Businesses now have a social responsibility.
“Corporations are people, my friend.” That line was uttered by Mitt Romney at the Iowa State Fair when he was a presidential candidate in 2011. The widely ridiculed quip was in reference to corporate tax policy, but in the context of 2022, it takes on new meaning. As social justice issues embroiled the country over the last couple years, corporations were forced off the sidelines. It’s no longer enough for corporations to act as unfeeling monoliths concerned with only profit. Brands now are expected to have opinions and personalities. They’re expected to weigh in and take action on the biggest issues of the day. You know, kind of like … people.
This was brought into stark focus once again recently when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Almost immediately after the news broke, some of the largest brands in the country began to weigh in by announcing that they would cover their employees’ travel costs for abortion services should they need to travel out of state. These weren’t the usual hollow corporate statements expressing dismay. These companies were ready to act by putting new policies in place immediately. These companies were prepared because they knew what would be asked of them and they knew how they wanted to respond. Is your company prepared for issues like this? If not, it may be time to consider developing a proactive, values-based framework for what issues your company needs to be vocal about and how you’ll take action.
3. Video conferencing killed the corporate video.
The rapid proliferation of video conferencing technology in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic significantly rerouted our expectations for how we communicate with one another. It also altered the expectations for how executives communicate to their employees. Authentic leadership starts with authentic communication. And in 2022, there’s nothing less authentic than reading from a teleprompter in a stale corporate studio. Encourage your executives to let their guard down and show more of their personality. More frequent, shorter, and less-scripted videos are a better match for a workforce that’s hooked on TikTok and Instagram Reels. The traditional barriers between an executive and their workforce have been all but eliminated. The executives who take advantage of this new landscape will be the ones best positioned to lead their companies forward.
I look forward to watching these trends play out for the rest of the year. For more about how companies are adapting to these tumultuous times, check out our blogs about crisis communications and corporate social responsibility.