This blog is provided by IPR Organizational Communication Research Center.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a renewed focus on internal communication as many organizations had to introduce new working practices, furlough employees, and handle sudden redundancies. This has created unique challenges for organizations as they adjust to new operating, business, and public policy environments. As a result, consistent, accurate, and reliable information is critical to ensuring employees are able to respond effectively to the crisis while maintaining productivity.

Graduate Students in the Communication Department at the University of Ottawa studied the internal communications practices of organizations (in government and private institutions) to gain greater insight into how managers communicate important information related to the COVID-19 pandemic to their employees. Interviews of communication managers were conducted to determine how internal communication management has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The interviewees’ responses were divided into five functions of management: planning, organizing, staffing, leading, and controlling. The planning function of management is focused on activities such as strategizing and goal setting. The organizing function is concerned with organizational design, division of labor, working relationships, etc. The staffing function is primarily concerned with talent recruitment and retention, as well as training and employee development. Leading refers to the ability to create and demonstrate organizational culture, delegate tasks, and responsibilities, and make decisions. Finally, the controlling function refers to performance evaluation, and if necessary, corrective action.

1.) Planning: Some of the participants indicated that their organization did not have an internal crisis communication plan before COVID-19. Of the participants that did have an organizational plan in place, they stated that the current plan was either more general, out of date, or did not cover pandemic circumstances and work-from-home contingencies.

2.) Organizing: COVID-19 forced most participants to change the way they chose to delegate work during the pandemic, while a few did not change their delegation practices, and a small number of participants found that their pre-COVID practices differed occasionally.

3.) Staffing: A majority of participants indicated that diversity is an important factor in the staffing process. Interviewees agreed that diverse teams or individuals were able to think more creatively, increase their productivity, and bring forward new ideas based on their work histories, strengths, interests, and experiences. This had a direct impact on employees’ ability to engage in healthy dialogue and challenge ideas with their colleagues. Respondents emphasized the importance of recruiting a diverse team, as they have found that greater diversity in perspective and experience leads to better overall communication outcomes. This research also exposed the thin line between working hours and non-working hours that affected work-life balance throughout the pandemic.

4.) Leading: Respondents highlighted the importance of leading by example and willingness to demonstrate support for the team. This type of involvement demonstrates that managers are approachable, that employee efforts are valued, and that it is better to problem-solve than to be perfect. An emphasis on “we” language along with positive enforcement can help employees feel like their contributions matter.

5.) Controlling: Remotely monitoring staff progress and performance can be difficult. Participants shared several solutions they developed throughout the pandemic to address this issue. The most critical solution was the use of regular and informal check-ins to maintain ongoing communication amongst team members. Informal check-ins allowed employees to take performance monitoring into their own hands and self-manage accordingly. Many participants indicated they were pleased with the quality of the work produced by their teams; only a small number of respondents noted systematic use of performance monitoring systems or software. Generally, most managers relied on traditional methods of performance measurement, like setting clear deadlines and regular performance meetings with employees. Managers noted that digital tools such as Intranet were used to communicate and monitor team performance.

The challenges presented by COVID-19 exemplified that managers who invest time and energy into delivering clear lines of communication will build trust among employees and generate improvements in productivity, output, and morale in general.

Linda Diokpa is an Executive Assistant that has worked with different CEOs for nearly two decades. She is a Master’s Communication Student at the University of Ottawa. She is an Executive on the Communication Graduate Students Association (CGSA) and the Graduate Student Representative (Humanities) to the University Senate. Her Twitter handle is @diokpalinda. 

Alexandra Swift is a Master of Communication Student at the University of Ottawa and is currently working towards the CO-OP portion of the program. Connect with her on LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/alexandraswift

Oreoluwa Afe is a Master’s Student in the Communications Department, University of Ottawa. She has served on some public health projects as a Communication and Data Quantification Specialist; supporting Nigerian government stakeholders in data capture, data communication, and data management.

Amalia Lentini is a Policy Analyst at Environment and Climate Change Canada and a current Master of Communication Student at the University of Ottawa. Connect with her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amalialentini/

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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