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Nov 4, 2020

Returning to the Workplace: 6 Internal Communication Guidelines


As lock-down restrictions in the UAE and around the world begin to ease, organisations are implementing plans for the safe return of their employees to the workplace. After months of effectively asking employees to stay at home (other than frontline staff), communication professionals must now encourage employees to return.

Transparent internal communication is crucial. Employees are anxious and want businesses to be cautious and measured in their return-to-work planning. Business leaders will need to communicate and explain every decision and involve staff in the decision-making process wherever possible to ensure buy-in. We’ve put the following guidelines together to help you with your planning activities.

1) Ensure employee wellbeing remains at the top of the agenda

The race to produce a vaccine for COVID-19 is on, with the best scientific minds working to find a solution. Until a vaccine is created, everyone needs to move forward with caution. It is essential that employee wellbeing remains firmly at the top of your organisation’s agenda. Employees must feel convinced that it is safe to return to the workplace. Adhere to the government’s guidelines when developing your safety protocols and clearly communicate all requirements.

2) Involve employees in decision making

It is essential that you give employees a voice and involve them in the planning process. Run a quick ‘pulse survey’ to check how employees are feeling and capture changes/suggestions that employees would like to see implemented in the office.

3) Provide clarity around the reopening process

This is easier said than done (this is new territory for everyone), but wherever possible, share accurate reopening plans with your employees. Tell them:

What you know (e.g. government guidelines) What you don’t know (i.e. any unanswered questions) What processes you are using to get the right answers (e.g. setting up a reopening task team).

Consider developing a Question & Answer Guide for employees, that can be saved centrally on your intranet for easy access. Keep the Q&As updated regularly – as with all things COVID-19 related – the situation can change quickly, so remind employees to be flexible and patient. We’ve prepared a list of questions for consideration.

4) Crucial questions

Key questions need to be answered in preparation for, and during, the ‘reopening process’. Answers to these questions can be utilized as part of your key messaging:

When can employees safely return to work premises? Who can return to work / who is exempted? Will returning to the workplace be implemented in a phased approach? What steps are being taken to protect employees from COVID-19? What can employees do to protect themselves from COVID-19? What elements of the virtual workplace (e.g. remote working) will we continue to embrace? What initiatives will we implement/maintain in our ongoing commitment to support employee mental health and wellbeing?

5) Be mindful of individual circumstances

Frontline employees: Many employees have already been working at physical locations. Your communications should take this into account, celebrating and thanking them for their ongoing efforts. Remote working: Remote working is here to stay. A large percentage of employees have enjoyed working from home and appreciate the many benefits (e.g. no daily commute, more flexibility). These employees will be hard-pressed to return to the workplace so consider incorporating weekly remote working days on a permanent basis. Working from an office, however, also has its benefits (e.g. networking, ease of communication) so highlight these in your communications.

Caring responsibilities: Many employees will be unable to return to the office as they are teaching their children (until schools reopen) or caring for elderly parents. Continue to be empathetic and understanding of their needs.

6) Communication tactics

It is essential that all actions are implemented in a phased approach, allowing employees time to adjust and prepare accordingly. We have provided a number of suggested pre-and-post reopening announcement tactics for consideration.

The gradual reopening of economies gives the private and public sectors a new opportunity to rekindle trust. The weeks and months ahead will be a moment of reckoning, especially for businesses, and could well define reputations for years to come. The golden rule is to put employee wellbeing and customer safety above profit.

Visit our dedicated COVID-19 support hub for helpful toolkits and additional COVID-19 suggestions.

Author: Brett Smyth

Brett is the founder and 'Big Chief' at Engage Me. He welcomes a challenge. A passion for adventure has fueled his career, which has seen him bring real and lasting change to a diverse range of organisations across the globe. From London to New York, Dubai to Doha, Brett has brought his unique brand of communications, organisational psychology and change management consulting expertise to the table. He infuses unbridled energy and passion into all of his undertakings.

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