• Samantha Page for Old Mutual MindSpace

Vox pop: How employees rate company comms in lockdown

Honest, empathetic and transparent communication is the key to building loyalty and maintaining company culture when everyone is working remotely. We asked four employees from different industries to rate their employers’ communication during lockdown.

According to Harvard Business Review, during a crisis, managers need to communicate early and often – even if business owners are still trying to understand the full extent of the problem. But has this been the case during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Creating a culture of trust

Sibu* works in the marketing department of a property development firm based in Johannesburg. As someone new to the company – he joined a month before lockdown began – he is impressed with how the company communicated with staff during lockdown.

‘My line manager, mentor and the CEO have been communicating with me and my team since the beginning of lockdown. Regular check-ins via Skype and Zoom focus on the business, as well as the mental and emotional wellbeing of employees.

‘On Friday afternoons, we have “drinks” with our South African and European teams, during which the CEO gives transparent updates about the health of the company, and guest speakers, ranging from experts in virology to qualified psychiatrists, share accurate information and keep staff informed.

‘The way in which communication was delivered impressed me and made me feel valued and respected. My mentor constantly assures me that my position is safe, so I can just enjoy my work and be creative. I’ve learnt so much about how a company can create a culture of trust and loyalty by caring.’ (Read how leaders from other industries have achieved virtual teambuilding during lockdown.)

How secure is my salary?

Natasha* is an advertising executive in Durban. Although she believes the communication from her employer is good, she thinks it’s important to also address job security.

‘Many companies – mine included – use Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp groups and other online meeting platforms to stay connected. Starting the day with a 30-minute status catch-up helps teams better align with the work they have to do that day and plan for the next day.

‘The presentations and talks the company arranged have been rewarding, and allowed us to interact with thought leaders and experts in the industry whom I might never have been exposed otherwise to. Who would’ve thought that during a pandemic I would come to see my potential and the value I bring to the organisation!

‘Regular updates and team meetings have helped give my work more purpose and direction.’

‘Given that I derived so much value from these talks, it’s a pity not all staff were able to attend. The company should have tried to organise them at a time when the majority of employees were available. I also think more feedback sessions – where employees can ask questions and respond to the situation in the country – could make it feel more like a conversation.

‘Personally, I would have welcomed a little more communication about job security and salary adjustments. While the company did well in keeping staff informed about mental wellbeing, health and safety, and kept in regular touch, everyone wants to be reassured about their job in times like these.’

Keeping up the comms

Sisanda*, who works at a health and wellness company in Johannesburg, says: ‘The company ramped up communications during the pandemic – especially since staff were working from home. Besides bi-weekly Microsoft Teams calls and regular check-ins, staff also had the opportunity to attend senior management webinars, which included speakers from outside the company like motivational and industry experts, even comedians to lift the mood.

‘The experts helped me feel to connected and involved during this uncertain time, and the presentations reassured me of the value I bring and why it is important to continue doing the work I do.

‘Now that lockdown has extended beyond the three-month mark, the fervor of presentations and communication seems to have slowed. I think it would still be valuable to hear from senior teams, even for shorter periods of time. During the initial phase, it was reassuring to know that our concerns were universal and that business operations were still healthy. This kind of information is not always necessary to share, but it’s helpful to hear.’

Providing purpose and direction

Lynne* works in publishing in Johannesburg and feels her company could’ve started lockdown with better communication.

‘We were all a little shell-shocked at the beginning. Maybe that is why communication was a little scant at the beginning. But about a month in, when everyone realised this was going to be our new normal for a while, we started having meetings more regularly. They include work updates, but since I work in a small team, we are more comfortable sharing some of our personal challenges. My department also shared a newsletter with lockdown updates and helpful resources, and introduced people in the company you might not have met before.

‘Until the meetings started, I had been feeling a little useless. I was trying to reconfigure my job while in isolation, but when I chatted with others, I realised I was not alone. Regular updates and team meetings have helped give my work more purpose and direction.

‘Our CEO has been committed to giving us regular email updates and his message is always clear: you have our support. I value that, as well as the other resources provided, like making trained counsellors available to staff and the members of their household. His clear voice of reason was the calm my busy brain needed.’

*Names have been changed


Article by Samantha Page Group editor: Health, John Brown South Africa

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