Organizations have prioritized internal communications since the start of the Covid pandemic, adapting the substance and means of messaging to ensure workers feel safe, informed and appreciated, according to speakers at PRovokeGlobal today.

"The lesson learned was that sometimes you just have to get it out there, with short, concise, quick messaging, and you don’t have to go through loads of edits. You just have to move a little faster,” said Kimberly Bendross, Georgia-Pacific’s senior communications manager.

She added that the tone of internal communications had also changed: “We led with our hearts a little bit — are you healthy, are you safe, is your family OK? We spent a lot of time reminding employees: We are here for you and we’re going through it together,” she said.

Bendross shared her experiences during a discussion on how companies are responding to changes in workforce expectations — and how employee communications is forever changed as a result. She was joined on the panel — moderated by Ketchum partner and MD Tamara Norman — by Melissa Silvia, Tyson Foods’ director of executive and internal communications.

As companies that remained operational throughout the pandemic, Georgia-Pacific (whose products include toilet paper, which was in scarce supply early on) and Tyson enlisted a range of means to arm employees with information and support to keep them safe from contracting the virus while continuing to work during the shutdown.

For both organizations, that included frequent communications, often by rough video, from leaders including CEOs, holding town halls and using employee social platforms like Yammer. 

While virtual meetings were not new to Tyson, the scale at which they are being used is, said Silvia: "Everyone is taking any opportunity to connect in as close to real time as possible through technology. It’s been an interesting shift."

Information about accessing benefits, such as counseling services, was included in communications from both organizations. Today, the companies are encouraging employees to get flu shots and register to vote. And employees have been recognized for their efforts via everything from personal thank you notes from company leaders, and videos of appreciation.

With 141,000 employees who speak 54 languages, Tyson had the additional challenge of being inclusive in its engagement and communications, which included “encouraging team members to be open to sharing what’s on their minds and creating a safe space for people to ask questions,” Silvia said.

“So we were not only creating a space but also making sure we are reaching them in ways they can comprehend and understand,” she said. That included relaying information “in a way tailored to their needs and wants.”

Both Bendross and Silvia noted that their companies’ communications teams banded together to get through the challenges of the last seven months, creating unity between internal and external communications groups.

“We’ve seen the ability of the team to work in a more cross-functional way. There was a clear light on the importance of internal communications, but the ability of our team to work together and get consistent messaging has been one of my favorite things,” Silvia said.

“You never know what the team is capable of until it is tested."