Six Internal Comms Tips for the Great Office Reopening

Chris Ortman

Six Steps to Make Sure Your Company Aces It

For the millions of office workers who suddenly shifted to remote work in March of 2020, work life is beginning to return to its pre-pandemic state—or at least some modified version of it.

Polls show that many people are less than eager to go back to exactly the way things were, so it’s no surprise that employers are completely rethinking office policies for the post-pandemic world, to include going completely remote, adopting a hybrid model, or giving employees more freedom to choose based on individual preferences.  How employees feel about these changes could have a huge impact on employee satisfaction—and a company’s reputation.

That’s why “The Great Office Reopening” will be a big test for internal communications.

Internal communications, or employee communications, refers to the communications tools used by a company or organization to inform, engage, and motivate its workforce. With a few exceptions, such as large multinational companies or sprawling federal agencies with employee counts in the hundreds of thousands, internal comms is often relegated to the lowest priority tier, with limited or non-existent staffing and budget. At its best, internal comms can be quite dynamic, treating employees as a critical primary audience and turning them into brand ambassadors. At its worst, it is an afterthought, a function relegated to the human resources team to notify employees of mundane personnel policy, or a one-way channel that only serves management.

As pandemic restrictions are lifted, communicating company policy relating to remote work presents new challenges and opportunities. What’s more, concerns about the Delta variant and unvaccinated young children mean health and safety protocols – and communications around them – will be needed for the foreseeable future.

Here’s are six steps your company can take to be sure you pass “The Great Office Reopening” test.

1.  Seek employee input before the big unveil.

Employees are watching closely to see how leadership handles the office reopening. They’re still concerned about their family’s health. They are reading online about permanent remote work policies other companies are implementing. And you can bet they are talking about it all at dinner parties with friends and on group texts with their colleagues—the pandemic’s virtual water cooler. Or worse, they may be leaving negative reviews for all the world to see on Glassdoor. For some, returning to the office full time may even be a dealbreaker.

With so much on the line, internal communications must be a two-way street. It’s a great idea to solicit input and feedback through surveys, an anonymous hotline, or in conversations with team leaders where employees may be more willing to speak candidly.

2.  Take advantage of the summer months.

With kids out of school and family vacation schedules, it was already common for offices to have more relaxed schedules during the summer months. While the transition to remote work due to COVID-19 was abrupt, the summer allows for a gradual return. Start communicating the office policy changes now, so that your employees will have plenty of time to adjust and anticipate changes to their daily routine.

3.  Think outside the portal.

Don’t assume that employees will read about a new policy on your company portal or in a mass email. Many simply will not, and those who do won’t necessarily retain it. In public relations, effective communication to reach external audiences requires repetition. Internal comms is no different. Put it in writing, yes, but also create opportunities to discuss and explain the new office policy in various settings – company town halls, departmental meetings, and in new-hire trainings.

4.  Lead by example.

Employees may be reluctant to take advantage of a new work-from-home policy or the virtual meeting option if they have reason to believe it could harm their standing or prospects for advancement. So if you say to your employees that your company culture is changing, show them. From the CEO to division or department heads to managers, team leaders should lead by example, ensuring that in-person meetings are inclusive of virtual participants and taking advantage of remote work alternatives themselves when they are able.

5.  Consider the perspectives of all employees, especially those least likely to work remotely.

The abrupt shift to remote work, with all its benefits and shortcomings, affected some employees differently than others. The Great Office Reopening will be no different. Some workers, due to the nature of their jobs, will have fewer opportunities or be less inclined to take advantage of remote work. When communicating your new office policies, be sure to anticipate how all kinds of workers at your company will be affected.

In addition, for applicants and new hires, who either started at your company during the pandemic or are coming from a job where remote work was the norm, you’ll need clear answers on company policy for the interview and onboarding processes.

6.  Continue soliciting feedback.

The Great Office Reopening will be a new experience for everyone. Who knows? We might be reminded of certain benefits – opportunities for collaboration, a more defined boundary between our work and personal lives, or a renewed appreciation for our professional pursuits. But it will also surely come with its own set of growing pains. For example, a change in policy for office attendance has implications for how office space is allocated (read: not everyone who wants an office will get one).

We really don’t know much about the future of office work or how we will feel about it once we go back. That’s why a company’s internal comms team should continue that two-way communication and build in regular feedback.

And now that internal comms will have its moment in the sun, hopefully more companies will make it a regular part of a comprehensive strategic communications strategy.

Chris Ortman is an executive vice president at Signal Group.

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