3 Tips for Communicating with COVID-19 Frontline Workers Remotely
COVID changed how we communicate, here's some ways to stay in touch.
As a resident of Berlin, Germany and someone who’s worked remotely full-time for a few years in a previous role, I completely understand how stir crazy many folks are feeling these days. It’s one thing to choose to stay home and hibernate (because you chose to). But it’s another thing to be told by the government that you can’t leave your house, or if you do that you can’t be in a group of more than two people.
But then I see the frontline workers – grocery store employees stocking food and household items as quickly as possible, pharmacists answering questions and providing necessary medications, hospital workers taking care of thousands of infected patients in overcrowded facilities and retail/food delivery employees who are getting all the online orders to people’s homes. And I re-examine my feelings and realize how grateful I am for the bravery and selflessness of these frontline workers.
Lately I’ve been wondering if and how the managers of these frontline workers are adjusting their methods, frequency and style of communication to reach the large numbers of frontline workers – from a distance. It must be tough. So I wanted to share three ways managers can effectively communicate with their frontline workers during the current uncertainty of coronavirus.
Communicate with frequent, digestible bursts of information
You have to remember that frontline workers don’t sit at a desk or work from a computer. Their work is hands-on, tiring and requires a heavy amount of face-to-face interaction with customers. But these are still employees, nonetheless. They still need guidance, clarity, support and advice from their managers.
But because they don’t sit in front of a computer, the tools and methods by which managers communicate with these employees matters a great deal. And there’s no time or room for delays or countless back and forth emails, text messages or calls to try to nail down time for large groups of frontline workers. Delays could mean frontline workers become overwhelmed and stressed, which can impact their productivity as well as their mental wellbeing.
Build and encourage a digital one-to-one meeting culture
For most employees, the one-to-one meeting is a common occurrence in our work lives. It’s a way for managers to maintain a regular cadence of communication with direct reports – be it to get a status update on current projects, discuss key roadblocks they might be facing, or to do a pulse check on how their employees are feeling overall (happy, engaged, fulfilled).
But according to Soapbox’s State of One-on-Ones Report, 34 percent of the surveyed managers said their biggest challenge with one-to-one meetings was ensuring that they’re providing value to their direct report. This is a valid concern, and one that I can imagine many managers of frontline workers are currently facing too. With thousands of employees working in frontline roles (i.e. health workers, grocery store employees, delivery men/women, etc.) managers or HR teams might be working from home and trying to find ways to deliver value to their teams and direct reports, all of whom are working on the frontline and simply can’t come to a physical meeting room for their one-to-one meetings.
Take advantage of the digital tools and channels employees use daily
As with any crises, there will likely be plenty of documents, guidebooks, memos and other materials being created by your organization’s executives, HR team and other departments. This is all critical information for frontline workers – they need to receive and read it.
But remember that these employees aren’t sitting in front of a computer all day – they’re standing, walking or driving in their daily roles. So the channels you use to discuss and share relevant updates matters. Frontline workers need to be able to access the information via their mobile devices. This means using digital tools and channels that your frontline workers are already using on a daily basis. Post key links, written materials and videos into the internal communications and collaboration tools your employees already use. These can include the company’s intranet, social channels, company blog, employee newsletter, etc.
If you only send important updates via email, a large number of your frontline workers could end up missing out on critical information, which could not only affect their ability to perform their essential functions, but it could also lead to unnecessary confusion, fear and panic.