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Bringing Them Back? Careful with the MessagingJuly 21, 2020

In late April, a slickly-produced video called ‘Plandemic’ went live. For 25 minutes, it spat out claim after debunked claim, building up to the ludicrous notion that pharma companies orchestrated the coronavirus pandemic to profit from a vaccine. The video was watched 8 million times before Facebook, Twitter and YouTube banned it for false and dangerous claims.

So why should you worry about this? Not too long from now, you will have to bring your staff back to the office—perhaps some of you are already at that point. A piece by City University of London explains the dangers of running a standard safety messaging campaign. “Faced with such a seemingly unending stream of information there is a tendency to pick out the bizarre and sensational,” the authors argue.

Returning staff to work safely requires two assumptions. First, that many are already turning a blind eye to old safety messages. Second, that they may be at risk of believing fake and dangerous ones. What that means is that slamming your teams with ‘more of the same’ could turn your office into a new ‘hot spot’.

We’ve worked out 5 tips to avoid that. They blend new thinking on safety messaging with old-school design and copywriting to deliver an integrated communications campaign for staff.

Focus on the new…

Your staff have heard of every single precaution – washing hands frequently, standing six feet apart, and so on. Front-load your messaging with this and they’ll roll their eyes and delete the email. What they don’t know is what the entry and exit rules for their building are. What the new seating arrangement looks like. What are the rules for sharing the microwave and coffee machine? Who should they contact if they suspect a contamination, etc. Communicate the new rules clearly and often before staff return.

…but don’t’ forget the old

While you focus on the new rules, make sure you reinforce the old ones in places where they matter. For example, you don’t need danglers at the front door asking people to wash their hands for 20 seconds, but this would be great on a poster in washrooms. Similarly, a placard telling staff to stay 6 feet apart is more effective in the cafeteria and less so in the car park. Make sure to include emergency contact information on every communications collateral.

Run practice drills

Don’t assume universal compliance or uniformity on knowledge. On their first day back, hold (socially-distanced) meetings where employees are walked through all the new procedures. And it doesn’t hurt to show them the correct way to execute the old rules. Explain – with markers on the floor – what standing six feet apart looks like. Use the old ink on gloves technique to teach them how to correctly lather soap. Train them on correctly donning and doffing masks. Video tape these sessions for employees who missed them, or for later revision.

Keep it visual and simple

Lean on good design principles and clear visuals. A photograph of rubbing soap between the fingers communicates thorough handwashing more effectively than printing the words ‘Wash your hands for 20 seconds’. As the old saying goes, ‘Show, don’t tell’.

Use every tool in the shop

Finally, use every channel – even unofficial ones – to run a truly integrated communications campaign. Emailers or Yammer or Workplace by Facebook groups are useful. ‘On ground’ collaterals will ensure more visibility. But don’t shy away from asking team leads to share your messages on their WhatsApp groups. These will take the message even further. The chain always breaks where it is the weakest.

The thought of finally meeting old colleagues again is exciting. But it also means some staff may lay their guard down, endangering everyone else. Make sure everyone understands that the risks remain, and that they must take ownership for their actions. After all, we may survive the pandemic alone, but we can only beat it together.