7 good communication skills to help manage staff through a crisis

By Robert Half on 24 August 2020

Effective management communication is essential for guiding teams and lifting morale during times of disruption and uncertainty — like right now.

But what if communicating with employees has never been one of your top strengths? And what if your staff members are working remotely?

For many managers, keeping employees informed and making them feel supported while working at a distance during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging.

Trying to muddle through the coming weeks and months without taking action to improve your management communication skills is not an option, however. The ability to deliver clear messaging — including through virtual communication — will be just as critical as your business transitions into the next new normal and uncertainty persists.

Maybe your whole team will continue working remotely, or perhaps you’ll need to manage a mix of off-site and on-site employees and contractors. Either way, they’ll need a steady stream of reliable information — and reassurance, too.

To improve your communication abilities in the near term, and set yourself on the path to mastering management communication over time, consider the following strategies:

1. Communicate more frequently

A good rule of thumb is to communicate two to three times more often with your remote employees as you did in person.

For example, if your past practice was updating your in-office team once a week on Monday morning, consider changing the frequency to every other day — Monday, Wednesday and Friday. To underscore the importance of these additional check-ins, keep calls on time and limit cancellations.

2. Promote virtual communication

Effective virtual communication, particularly video conferencing, is obviously essential if your entire team is working remotely. But it will remain critical as you begin to transition back to working in the office. There’s a good chance many employees will still work remotely at least part of the time in the months ahead.

Even when some of your employees return to the office, you can’t relax your efforts to help everyone stay connected. Continuing to make all key meetings virtual is one option. If a meeting must be held on-site, promptly fill in off-site staff on any decisions made pertaining to their projects.

You can do a lot to make virtual communication successful now — and as your team members transition back to the office. That includes making sure employee communication isn’t hindered by easy-to-solve tech obstacles. Learn as much as you can about the collaboration and data-sharing apps your company uses. Aim to become a source of support for helping staff members troubleshoot issues when they arise. And by better understanding how these tools work, you’ll feel more comfortable using them when communicating with employees.

3. Embrace transparency and straight talk

While it can be tempting to sugarcoat difficult news, that approach can easily backfire. Be as transparent as possible when sharing the latest information about the state of the business. Stick to the facts and avoid speculating, even when asked to.

This does not mean stonewalling, however. You can still keep a positive tone to your responses with something like, “I know everyone has this question, but we just don’t know yet. In the meantime, we’re encouraged at the progress the company is making to stabilise because of your efforts."

4. Listen actively — and with empathy

The ability to listen actively to employees is the mark of a good manager. If you’re the one who’s doing all the talking, all the time, then you can’t tune in. And it’s more vital than ever that your team members know they are heard and that you take their concerns and questions seriously.

Don’t assume you know exactly what your workers are feeling. Check in on them individually, asking questions and then listening with an empathetic ear.

What does it mean to listen actively? It means truly focusing on the individual’s words rather than silently formulating a response while they’re speaking to you. During video meetings, take note of nonverbal cues. In short, give the other person your full attention.

5. Make yourself available

Also let your employees know they can come to you. Institute a virtual open-door policy and make yourself available to hear their concerns and ideas.

By communicating with your team in a two-way fashion, instead of always delivering messages from the “top down,” you’ll create a sense of trust — and inspire their ongoing support for the company’s efforts to manage change now and moving forward.

6. Paint the big picture

Another way to boost good communication skills as a manager is to help your staff understand the connection between their duties and the broader strategic goals of the organisation, which may be evolving rapidly right now.

Engagement and productivity rise when people know that their work matters. It’s always important to remind them how much their contributions and commitment are valued and how they contribute to the bottom line. So, be quick to offer appreciation and share any wins the team achieves.

7. Keep their future in focus

While there’s likely no shortage of pressing projects or concerns for you and your employees to focus on right now, you should also get workers thinking about opportunities that lie ahead for the company as well as for them as individuals.

To rally everyone around the same vision, make it clear how the company’s mission and values continue to guide the organisation. Above all else, remind them that you’re all in this together.

Effective management communication is a requirement for business leaders guiding their teams through any major change. It’s also a skill set that many executives need to polish. So, don’t be discouraged if your traditional and virtual communication abilities need some refinement.

Now’s an ideal moment to improve how you are communicating with your team. They need to have confidence in your words — and know that you are listening to what they have to say, too.

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