Key Lessons from Messaging to Frontline Workers During Coronavirus

by Julie Sheedy, Chief Marketing and Engagement Officer, Loretto

While many businesses are accustomed to working virtually, essential workers have remained on site during the pandemic. In pre-coronavirus times, internal messaging routinely thanked staff, celebrated victories, updated employees and bolstered morale. During the past nine months, the volume of such messaging has risen significantly.

Still, the pandemic has led internal communicators to change tactics and messaging in spots.

When it feels stale, change the message

Fatigue has been a critical challenge during the pandemic: physical, emotional, even information fatigue. To keep staff engaged, some internal communicators turned to tasteful humor, used different angles and employed more testimonials than during a normal period.

Ironically, a major issue for communicators working with frontline workers was easing of lockdowns and related controls. As the summer began, and communities started to venture outside, communicators knew it was important to ask frontline staff to remain diligent about infection control.

This was more difficult than it might seem. Nobody wants a lecture, least of all overworked staff. Yet, as the pandemic rolled on, frontline workers relaxed, as did everyone else.

A critical difference with frontline workers is that their workplaces, such as medical and related care facilities, often contain a highly vulnerable population. Consistent messaging urging staff to remain vigilant was necessary.

The post at left tried to convey that message, but also broke from the routine “ Wear Your Mask” content. It ran on an employee Facebook channel. Its mix of humor and education was well received.

This humorous content cemented dogma on mask-wearing. Source: The author

Keep in Touch, Constantly:You can never over-communicate. Unfortunately, that piece of conventional wisdom wasn’t meant for lengthy crises. The importance of constant communication is real; still, changing message elements becomes critical.

Communicators who initiated internal weekly manager calls and regular all-hands staff communication during the pandemic now realize their benefit. They’re likely to continue, in some form, when the pandemic is over.

Again, changing routines during these sessions is important. One method that’s worked well is texting. Whether it’s a reminder to frontline staff to attend weekly testing or a simple, Thank you,communicators have another tool in their kit.

Celebrate Small Moments

This is a hallmark of internal communication. It’s morphed slightly during the pandemic. For example:

1. Make employees top priority: If we had a dime for every internal statement issued during the pandemic that read, ‘Employees are our top priority,’ we could all retire.

Still, after the initial months of the pandemic, employees needed regular boosts to keep going. Internal communicators can make staff feel special with a modest investment.

Pre-pandemic, it was good practice to include motivational quotes and tips for stress relief on organizational Facebook pages. Do it more now.

2. Mix in education: During the pandemic, internal communicators’ top goal is to ensure that staff is receiving operational and educational messages. Is the content helping staff do their jobs well? In frontline situations, this is vital.

As such, internal communicators used celebrations and other upbeat content as opportunities to weave in educational messages. For frontline workers, those included content about the state of the pandemic, how to be safe at home, and managing through changes in travel restrictions.

3. Circulate regular communication through multiple channels. Here’s an example of internal communication having an external element. When visitation to medical facilities reopened, some internal communicators proactively shared visitation guidelines with patients’ families through email, phone calls and social media. Not only did this give families hope that they’d see their loved ones again, but it also benefitted frontline staff, as fewer phone calls were placed to strained switchboard employees.

4. Leverage blogs and social media. To continue to educate patient families and the larger community that it’s safe to visit facilities, internal communicators included short videos in organic posts. This helped the community and families better understand visiting procedures. In addition, this line of education was included in blogs and contributed columns for community papers.

The challenges are not over. But we have seen the importance of internal communication for making employees feel appreciated and motivated.

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