How To Manage Internal Communications When You Return To Work

by Rebecca Symmank on May 7, 2020
The Hummingbird EX App

As you plan your return to work, you’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking about how to reconfigure your space for safe distancing, and how to update your cleaning procedures to minimize the risk to employees and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Internal communication is an equally important element of employee safety, but one you may not have considered as much.

Here are the most pressing concerns you’ll need to keep in mind as you reexamine your internal communications strategy.

5 Concerns Your Internal Communications Plan Should Address

1. When Can Employees Safely Return To Work?

In the U.S., the three-phase plan for reopening businesses gives state governors the authority to decide what to reopen and when, based on data and recommendations from health officials.

If your organization has multiple offices, they may all reopen at different times. Even within a single office, you may decide to return employees to work in shifts to limit the number of people working together at one time.

Without a solid internal communications plan, this could easily create confusion. Employees might hear their colleagues in another state talking about returning to work and assume it’s okay for them to return, too. Make sure employees know when their office will reopen and what plans you have for limiting the number of people working there, at least in the first phase of reopening.

You can do this in several ways.

First, you can reconfigure your floor plan, using our new Space-Right™ safe distancing tool. The tool allows you to set parameters for the amount of space between workstations and automatically generates new scenarios based on those settings.

From there, you can reassign seats based on need. If you have one group of employees who typically works in the office, you can assign them to desks. You can also designate some desks to be reservable as needed for employees who plan to continue working remotely.

If you’re not sure how many employees will be returning to the office and how many will be remote, you can assign them to return in shifts.

Assuming you want your maximum capacity to be at no more than 50%, you can divide employees into two groups. Group A can work in the office on Mondays and Wednesdays, while Group B can work there on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Fridays, you might want to have everyone working remotely, at least for now.

Just make sure you update your internal communications so everyone knows which days they are being asked to work remotely and where they should sit when they’re in the office.

2. What Steps Are You Taking To Protect Employees From Coronavirus?

Some workplaces are now taking employees’ temperatures before allowing them to enter the office each day. Others are simply asking employees who don’t feel well to work at home to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus.

While there is no one “right” way to protect your workforce, what’s important is that everyone knows what new protocols in place. No one wants to be surprised by having their temperature taken at the door or having a client turned away because you’ve updated your visitor management policy.

3. How Will You Manage The Flow Of Traffic In The Workplace?

You’ve probably noticed your grocery stores have added signage to direct the flow of customers according to physical distancing guidelines. There are signs reminding customers where to enter and exit, which way to walk down the aisles and where to stand while waiting in line. You should consider adding similar signage in your workplace.

You can use  digital signage to help employees navigate your workplace, including:

  • Showing employees which common areas are closed
  • Showing employees how to navigate the workplace, including which way to walk down stairwells and hallways to avoid close contact
  • Marking important points of interest, such as sanitization stations and the location of personal protective equipment
  • Marking the maximum recommended occupancy for each conference room, which will likely be different from each room’s maximum capacity

Before the coronavirus pandemic, your employees probably didn’t think much about how to find their way around your workplace. When they return after an extended period of time, it might feel a little unfamiliar and disorienting. The less they have to think about navigating this “new normal” in the most literal sense, the better it will be for everyone.

4. What Can Employees Do To Protect Themselves?

Help employees protect themselves by reminding them of basic steps they can take to minimize exposure, including:

  • Washing their hands frequently for at least 20 seconds
  • Wearing a mask if it’s recommended in your state or your industry
  • Wiping down shared surfaces after each use

Right now, many employees are vigilant about taking these steps. But as they ease back into the familiar routines of being at work, they can become more lax. That’s why it’s a good idea to have these reminders prominently displayed and reinforced through multiple channels. That includes sharing them on digital displays, sending reminders through a mobile app and communicating them during internal meetings.

5. How Will You Share Important Alerts Related To Health And Safety?

If there’s one thing we’ve all learned in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that everything can change at a moment’s notice. We need to be ready to respond immediately when the situation calls for it. Just because you’ve declared it safe to return to work now doesn’t mean that won’t change.

Your plan for internal communications needs to be flexible enough to notify employees the moment you receive new information.

For instance:

  • Who should employees notify if they have been advised to self-quarantine?
  • How will you notify employees if you learn of a potential exposure in the workplace?
  • How will you notify employees of a last-minute change in travel plans?
  • What happens if you need to reschedule a planned in-person meeting or event?

While there’s no way to anticipate every possible scenario, your internal communications plan should at least address the most common ones.

How To Manage Internal Communications In Your Return-To-Work Plan

Without strong internal communications in your workplace, rumors, confusion and anxiety can thrive.

Hastily printed signs and one-time emails are too easy to overlook, especially when your workforce may not be in the office every day. You need to communicate your updated policies to employees in multiple ways, in multiple formats.

One of the best ways to manage internal communications is with a mobile app that meets employees where they are.

With the Hummingbird employee experience app, you can put all the important information your workforce needs to know right at their fingertips.

If you’ve decided to return to work in shifts, you can notify employees by office location or by group when their office has reopened. Employees can use the app’s wayfinding functionality to find individual employees who are in the office that day and locate important points of interest. They can find and reserve an available room, noting its recommended occupancy. If they have back-to-back meetings, they can submit a request to have the room sanitized before the next group comes in.

And they can easily receive important announcements related to their health and safety — such as a last-minute office closure or a reminder that your workplace is hosting free flu shots.

You can even set up a link to a survey that asks employees for feedback about returning to work and what they need from you to feel more at ease.

Managing internal communications in this new environment will almost certainly bring new challenges. Your workforce has grown accustomed to receiving daily updates related to coronavirus for the past few months, and they’re still going to have a lot of questions as they return to work.

That’s why one of the smartest things you can do right now is invest in technology that allows you to send important announcements in a timely manner — no matter how many employees you have, or where they are.


Rebecca Symmank

As a member of the Business Development team for iOFFICE, Rebecca is spirited and is quick to take initiative. Previously a customer and daily user of the IWMS provider, she has extensive experience on both the front and back end structure of the product. Rebecca's enthusiasm for facilities management and her tangible experience in the field give her an unprecedented understanding and perception of iOFFICE customers. Rebecca is able to relate to organizations implementing on IWMS, and has a unique perspective on what makes the experience a success.

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