Why Authentic Company Communication Is More Important Than Ever

In uncertain times, people are looking to — and relying on — their employers for support.

antoniodiaz / Shutterstock
antoniodiaz / Shutterstock

From staying connected with co-workers to staying sane while working alongside a partner, the new work-from-home reality has created many challenges for employees and leaders. In this series, we examine top challenges and solutions, drawing on insights from Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse — a tool that helps organizations determine pain points for their remote workforce.

As chief revenue officer at Qualtrics, Eric Stine spends a lot of time in meetings. Since March, when he began to work full-time from his home in Connecticut, that’s meant plenty of days packed with back-to-back Zoom calls.

But as Stine tells Thrive Global, this kind of communication doesn’t necessarily give people the connection they need and crave right now. Scheduled calls simply can’t make up for the informal moments of connection in an office setting, what Stine calls “relationship glue”: dropping by a co-worker’s desk, getting an impromptu coffee with a teammate, even traveling with colleagues to customer meetings.

“The most important communication right now is the informal communication — the unscheduled,” Stine says. “We need to break the cycle of having so many meetings booked and just connect with people on our teams.”

Just a few months ago, frequent informal check-ins from managers and co-workers might not have been high on most employee’s wish lists. But as workers adjust to a new normal and remote work, they’re craving this kind of communication — not just for work-related issues and announcements, but basic well-being and connection.

In other words, this is not a time when less (communication) is more. According to a nationally representative Thrive Global survey of more than 5,000 Americans, nearly 85% say being forced to work from home leads them to worry they won’t be as connected to their teams and colleagues as usual. And nearly 90% percent say workplaces need to do more than implement work-from-home policies to address people’s challenges.

Throughout the pandemic, Americans have been flooded with near constant updates about COVID-19 from an array of sources outside of the workplace — but that’s part of the problem: It can be hard to know what’s reliable guidance and what’s not. Amid all the confusion and uncertainty, workers are counting on company communication to be a trusted source of information and support. In fact, according to the Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse survey, “80% of newly remote workers say the communication from their company helps them feel more confident in the actions they can take for themselves during the crisis.”

For leaders, this underlines the importance of regularly making time to check in with direct reports, in ways that may have nothing to do with work. One way to do this is starting each conversation with a simple “How are you?”

The key, says Stine, is authenticity. “Please only ask ‘How are you?’ or any question like that if you really want to hear the answer and answer the same question, transparently, yourself,” he says. “It’s not about the question; it’s about engaging.”

Authentic communication requires curiosity and empathy about what the person might be facing, said Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.

“Check in with employees regularly and realize that most of them are dealing with stress not just from working at home. For instance, they may be homeschooling children and worrying about their futures,” Argenti tells Thrive Global. “Be clear that you care about them and give them the most precious resource that you have — your time.” Leaders must put themselves in the other person’s shoes, he said, and ask: “Am I really paying attention to the stress level, or carrying on as if it is business as usual?”

When it comes to more formal communication, transparency is essential. Argenti cautions that leaders can actually add to their people’s stress by providing limited information, being ambiguous, or going radio silent.

Qualtrics administers its Remote Work Pulse every couple of weeks, and Stine made the decision to send a daily Pulse to his own team — a few brief questions to get a sense of their needs and challenges. The most important thing he consistently hears is a hunger for transparent and authentic communication. So while Stine says his communication style hasn’t fundamentally changed, he has increased the frequency, to maximize opportunities to connect and listen.

“People don’t want to believe their leaders are infallible,” says Stine. “It is OK to tell people that you are uncertain about something — like when the office is going to open or what that will look like — as long as they know you are working on it.”

For a more authentic, transparent, and effective way of communicating with your remote teams, try these Microsteps:

Microstep
Open your next one-on-one with a personal question.
It might be related to work (like technical support or challenges with WFH) or something more personal (like their well-being). Asking questions will let you lead as effectively as possible.
Microstep
When communicating to your team, be direct about what you know and what you don’t know.
In times of crisis, employees don’t need their leaders to have every answer — but they do need to know they’re listening and sensitive to people’s concerns.
Microstep
Schedule a weekly update with your team, even if you don’t have news to share.
In times of uncertainty, hearing from leaders regularly is even more important. 95% of employees surveyed by Thrive say they want weekly status updates from their employer as the crisis continues to unfold.

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The experts cited in this story were not paid for their participation, nor does their participation imply an endorsement of the products and/or services mentioned above. 

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