We all know that communicating change is important. But when EVERYTHING changes, for EVERYONE, how much communication is enough? And is anyone actually listening?

It’s fair to say that the last few weeks have been noisy. The urgent need for the government and health experts to seize our attention, help us to grasp the severity of the situation, and change the behaviours of millions of people in the blink of an eye, triggered a tsunami of instruction and information.

The crashing forces of all-encompassing change have been felt in every organisation in every sector, from large employers to small businesses. It’s required innovative thinking, tough decisions and a vast amount of cooperation.

Eliciting cooperation is key to any dialogue in which we’re asking someone to come with us in a new direction. Whether that’s our staff and colleagues, customers, or the suppliers who help us function at our best. While clear instruction is absolutely necessary in a crisis, it’s dialogue – good old two-way communication – that will help us to embed change, adapt and survive.

Which brings me back to my earlier question. How can we pitch our communications at the optimum level?

By considering these four factors, you’ll be best placed to determine the answer for your particular organisation:

Purpose

Companies that have moved to remote working may feel quite self-conscious about keeping in touch. Task-based communications are straightforward to replicate in a virtual office, but the social glue that happens ‘naturally’ may feel tricky to achieve. While we’re all adjusting to meetings via video call, not everyone feels comfortable in this format.

Every video call should have a purpose; if it’s just a social check-in to say hello, make that clear and make it optional. If it’s a work-scheduling meeting, set an agenda that people can prepare for and understand what’s expected of them.

The same principle applies to external communications. Sometimes there’s a clear practical need to share information that has relevance to your customers or partners. But that’s not the only reason for communicating. Purpose isn’t just a question of what you can get out of the conversation (an opportunity to sell, for example), but what you think you may be able to give that will be of value. You may be able to offer reassurance, advice or knowledge. You could gain useful insight and, just as precious, goodwill.

Listening is under-rated, but it’s an essential part of healthy communication. It can steer you towards what really matters to the people that matter to you.

And, while we’re talking about purposeful communication, now is not the time to lose sight of the bigger picture of brand purpose. Remind yourself, then others, of your sense of mission and values. Enact them. Let your values guide the manner in which you behave in these testing times. Ignore them at your peril; trust will be difficult to re-build when all this is over if you can’t live up to your brand promise now.

Frequency

The amount of time you spend communicating will vary through different stages of crisis, adaptation and recovery. If you’re led by making each communication purposeful (tick), then the next determinant will probably be resource. When re-prioritising the deployment of colleagues – and your own time – try to ringfence some capacity to plan and implement a regular flow of communication, internally and externally.

It may be tempting to breathe a deep sigh of relief when the firefighting subsides and metaphorically (or actually) just turn off all your devices and not talk to anyone. Instead, reduce the pace to something that you can sustain and set two or three key messages or themes around which you build your new comms plan.

Tone

It’s not just what we say, but how we say it, that will influence the response we get. Step one, be aware of the need to check your tone. Pause long enough to consider how your message may be received by someone who is angry, fearful or demotivated. Or feeling hopeful. Step two, ask someone else to cast an eye over a written communication, or to hear you rehearse what you plan to say. Sometimes how we think something sounds in our head, isn’t what comes out.

Be careful about ‘selling’ messages. That’s not to say that all businesses should stop selling, but don’t just bang on the drum as if nothing has happened. Show why your product or service is relevant, how you’ve adapted your offering to be of even greater use. And, if the market is simply not in a position to buy right now, let’s think about how we can be helpful with our knowledge, without immediate return.

Generally, be human. We’re all learning how to deal with an extraordinary set of circumstances.

Channels

Digital and social media channels have become more important than ever, so most businesses will need to concentrate their efforts here. Adapting your strategy to move communications online still requires strategy, otherwise it’s just noise and wasted energy.

Some firms may be concerned about accessing the skills and confidence required to deliver digital and social media campaigns, when the need to cut overheads has reduced the available capacity from internal and external specialists. Ringfence some time from a good communicator. Make use of the free webinars being made available from really credible sources. Many platforms are themselves offering training and guidance. And accredited professionals such as social media trainer Luan Wise are sharing resources, too.

Many publishers are expertly switching formats, so work with them to think differently about the type of content you can share.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Better to pick one or two channels and communicate well, than try and be everywhere, all the time.

And finally…

Try something new. Necessity is the mother of invention, so the saying goes. Just a couple of great examples among our clients in recent weeks include a new Facebook community to share inspiration and togetherness for remote workers, and an intranet guide to help team leaders feel confident leading and supporting their colleagues.

How much is enough? If it’s regular and purposeful, you’ll be doing enough.

Is anyone listening? Stay relevant, personable and adapt your channels, they’ll hear you.

Authored by Sarah Bryars.