Patrick Donadio has a simple phrase that sums up what he feels is the importance of good communication: “What people aren’t up on, they’re down on.”
And that’s just the beginning. That small seed of doubt breeds assumptions and fear begins to take over, which can wreak havoc on your staff and shop culture.
That’s only more exacerbated by the rampant anxiety and uncertainty that 2020 has ushered in for many people.
"We’re in a less connected environment in that we can’t see each other,” says Donadio, a communications coach and author. “When you can’t manage by walking around, remember the value of keeping people informed. The more people are informed, the more they’ll be connected.”
Naturally, that only becomes more complicated when you own multiple locations and can’t be at those locations every day. Donadio outlines six tips for getting the right information and messages across to staff throughout multiple locations.
1) Consider new communication vehicles.
More than ever, you will need good lines of communication, Donadio says. Provide opportunities to communicate out to employees and for them to communicate back to you by making sure those vehicles are available.
“How do you want people to communicate with you—email, text?” Donadio says. “There’s a lot more information you need to communicate. Do a communication channel assessment and determine what you’re using, what’s working, and what you can add or expand.”
Those technologies to add could be an Intranet site, virtual meetings, an instant messaging system like Slack or Google Chat, or a private Facebook group for all the shops.
2) Get comfortable with virtual meetings.
If you already conducted weekly staff or leadership team meetings, keep doing those—virtually, Donadio says. However, note that there are some differences when it comes to conducting virtual meetings:
- Send an agenda ahead of time, even if you typically don’t. People need time to think and get ready. Before, you likely had the option to walk around the shop and hear what’s going on, thereby getting ideas. Without that option now, Donadio says, there’s a good chance you’re not as up to do date with the concerns of your staff. Ask people to submit agenda items.
- Build in a little bit of time for a check-in at the beginning of meetings, and encourage your managers to do the same. This is any easy way to take the temperature of staff.
- Communication guidelines about how employees can best contribute to virtual meetings. This might be a new tool, so staff needs ground rules. Communicate how and when they can ask questions, if there’s a moderator, and ask everyone to turn their cameras on. The latter helps build connection and you can better read someone’s body language.
- Be mindful of your background and ensure the lighting is OK and there aren’t any notable distractions in the background.
- Pay attention to the camera and talk to the camera.
- Do a quick technical check before the meeting to check audio, lighting and Internet connection.
- Get comfortable with the tools available through virtual meetings, such as sharing your screen or sending polls.
3) Make a point to share good news.
Of all the assumptions to make, Donadio says it’s fairly safe to assume that there’s some anxiety and fear among your team. That’s why it’s critical for you as the leader to maintain a positive outlook.
“Who knows what their fear is—that’s why it’s important to keep them informed,” Donadio says. “Not that we have to be motivational speakers, but we have to remember to keep the morale high.”
There are easy ways to do that, including sharing encouraging stories, small wins, or asking everyone to share “30 seconds of good news” at the beginning of weekly meetings.
“Make sure you have a few moments that you can share something good or exciting or that you’re proud of. During normal times, they can see you walking around and smiling. When they don’t see you, they need that more than ever,” Donadio says. “People need to know you care about them. So goes the leader, so goes the team.”
4) Work with your managers to take the temperature of staff.
If you have a weekly managers’ meeting, Donadio says to encourage them to be your eyes and ears in the shop. What are the challenges? What are they hearing from employees? Another option, Donadio says, is conducting a 30-minute town hall meeting where employees can hear directly from you and answer questions (asking employees to anonymously submit questions ahead of time is an easy way to solicit questions).
“Managers can keep you informed, but think about how you could be available,” he says.
5) Create a location to store all important information and announcements.
If you don’t already have a company-wide Intranet site, Donadio says now could be the right time to create one. It allows you to create an easily accessible COVID-19 page and list out employee benefits, guidelines, recorded meetings, resources, etc.
If you don’t have the resources to do that, consider sending a weekly newsletter so that everyone receives all the same information.
6) Ask the team for help.
If communication isn’t your strong suit, or it’s always been a challenge in your business, now’s the time to get feedback, Donadio says. Ask your team: What can we do to achieve better communication?
“Don’t dictate it—co-create it,” he says. “Let it bubble up from the bottom: I would love to make sure I’m communicating well. What are some things that I could do to keep you all informed?”
But if you’re going to ask your team for feedback, genuinely listen to that feedback and try your best to apply it. If your team says they don’t want an influx of emails, then don’t email them every day with announcements, Donadio says. Instead, send a weekly recap email.