With the current measures, such as the stay-at-home order, effectively communicating through the COVID-19 crisis will be a challenge. Many healthcare companies have adapted to managing staff members remotely. Since this ultimately may become the new norm, organizations will need to adapt to effectively communicate with key stakeholders. Three major stakeholders for any healthcare organization could be:

  1. Leadership
  2. Staff
  3. Customers

Healthcare companies will need to practice effective communication among all three of these stakeholders.

Leadership

With a majority of offices closed due to stay-at-home orders, ensuring the leadership team is effectively communicating with the staff is key. The ability to walk down to an individual’s office no longer exists. 

How to Communicate

There are many different platforms healthcare leadership can use to effectively communicate. Most individuals are accustomed to using email. With the dwindling ability to speak face to face, inboxes around the world are being flooded. Following long email chains can be difficult and responses can get lost in replies. All kinds of organizations from eye care facilities to drug detox centers are adopting mediums such as:

  • Slack
  • RingCentral
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Google Hangout

All of these channels are effective but lack tone when messaging. To overcome the loss of tone and emotion when communicating, schedule a daily conference call with your leadership team. Using voice communication will allow for tone and emotion to be conveyed. Also, this form of communication will begin to bring some normality to the workforce. Hearing a friendly voice during the stay at home order can provide a calming sensation.

What to Communicate

Be Transparent

Healthcare leadership teams need to be transparent. Without a physical location, individuals may not be able to see what is transpiring in the organization. For example, if the breakroom supplies at a drug and alcohol rehab center are low, a staff member may think financial trouble is ahead. The ability to see “the writing on the wall”, may not exist in a virtual work environment. Being transparent with the team will allow for future planning. The new virtual workplace might be the new norm.

Singular Messaging

Make sure to communicate a singular message. Ensure all individuals are hearing and speaking the same message. By doing so, the organization will be able to instill confidence with staff during these times. By communicating a singular message, an organization may avoid the old telephone game. Without a physical office space, the ability to corral the staff members to change the message may not be available. If you find yourself in a mixed message situation, you may need to consider using a video conference platform.

Staff

The topics discussed in the leadership section should also be applied when it comes to healthcare staff. The important topic that must be executed correctly is singular messaging. Rounding up the leadership team might be an easy task, but depending on the number of staff members and shifts, corralling this portion of stakeholders could be difficult. By this time, staff should understand the organization’s standard operating procedures. Over the next several months, it will be important to communicate about the topics below.

Safety

The current COVID-19 crisis has rapidly produced mass fear. With the current media coverage regarding the deaths that have occurred, staff members are worried. They may not have the ability to work remotely or have the financial means not to work during this time. Considering their safety will go a long way.

Communicating About Safety

One of the easiest ways to communicate safety is through training. Leadership can facilitate additional training by adding new standard operating procedures or by supplying videos. The CDC currently has numerous videos on topics like hand-washing and making DIY cloth face masks. Having training information available for staff will go a long way.

Regardless of whether you have been able to secure PPE equipment or make cloth face masks, make sure to let the staff know what is going on. Often, staff members do not see or hear what is discussed behind closed doors. They only see what is delivered. Seeing a manager cleaning high-traffic touchpoints is a physical action that they see. However, they do not see the purchasing manager combing the internet for these supplies. Sending out a weekly report outlining the steps you have taken (successful or not) will ease any worries among the staff. Knowing that the organization is doing everything it can to ensure staff safety will go a long way.

Job Security Communication

Financial fear drives everyone. Some individuals deal with financial fear better than others. Nonetheless, it is a tough topic that must be discussed. 

As many authors have already pointed out, if you have to layoff staff members, do it fast and all at once. Do not draw the process out. Be transparent about the layoffs, what the plan is, and why you are executing the plan. The individuals that were laid off will be hurt, but you will be able to calm the remaining staff.

If you were successful with the payroll protection program, inform the staff. Letting them know you have two and a half months of secured payroll is comforting news. Be upfront with the financial aspect of the healthcare organization. In most cases, organizations will want to do the opposite. But during this time, staff members are more concerned about maintaining their employment rather than getting a raise.

Customers

Just like staff, customers share the same fears. Sending communication to address both of these concerns will comfort your customers. Communicating about safety and finances can be done in the following ways:

  1. Email campaigns
  2. Social media posts
  3. Cold calling

Getting the message out, regarding the positive message of safety and any help you are offering financially, will hit home with your customer base. Also, consider using a mobile app to communicate with your customer base. Just about every type of healthcare organization, from mental health specialists to sober living home operations, can benefit from a mobile app.

In every environment, adapting to change is necessary. How organizations operate during COVID-19 might become the new norm. A virtual workforce might replace the downtown office space. Healthcare organizations that embrace this change will thrive on the other side. Communicate with the intention of looking forward. 

If you remember Southwestern Bell, they were a telephone company several decades ago. During the technology change, they were still hyper-focused on laying telephone lines when cell phones were becoming the norm. AT&T, on the other hand, began building cell phone towers. You can guess what happened with Southwestern Bell.

Embrace the current environment and begin communicating with the future in mind. How a healthcare organization used to communicate might be like the old telephone lines.

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