One of the many impacts of COVID-19 is that organisations had to change the way they communicated and engaged with employees and clients.

Corlia Boshoff from Bizmod Consulting says that the first quarter of 2021 has shown us that while things may not be as severe as they were in 2020, we are still constantly needing to adapt the way we communicate.

A global survey conducted by Gartner, Inc. found that 88% of business organisations around the world mandated or encouraged all their employees to work from home with the onset of COVID-19. Today, even though the pandemic is far from over recent research has shown that 55% of businesses globally offer some capacity for remote work.

Boshoff says that this trend is prevalent in South Africa with many organisations choosing to either do away with physical office space entirely or offering a work from home (WFH) option.

“Even though the pandemic is far from over, we are socialising more than last year, so loneliness is not as much of a problem and we have now become ‘experts’ at managing online tools. However, for many employees screen fatigue is real and organisations are still finding it challenging to effectively communicate with these information overloaded WFH employees,” says Boshoff.

She says that a National Geographic article  highlights that the unprecedented explosion of the use of online tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, or any other video-calling interface has launched an unofficial social experiment, showing at a population scale what’s always been true: virtual interactions can be extremely hard on the brain. Non-verbal cues are an important part of communication and unfortunately onscreen communication inhibits this. Multi-person screens magnify this exhausting problem as it challenges the brain’s central vision, forcing it to decode so many people at once that no one comes through meaningfully, not even the speaker. Boshoff says, “This is one of the reasons that so many of us are utterly exhausted after an online meeting or session.” Online meetings can also increase anxiety and tension for attendees, especially for those who battled with in-person exchanges in the world pre COVID-19.

Boshoff says that it is important for organisations who are communicating online to bear all this in mind. Some other key points that she shares are:

  • Communication should rather be short and informative, no matter what the platform.
  • The use of infographics is highly encouraged as visuals are typically easier to understand especially in a shorter amount of time. Infographic visuals work very effectively as part of an emailer or can be sent as a link via WhatsApp or other social media platforms.
  • The use of more visually rich presentations can also help with the understanding of them during online meetings.
  • As we have been communicating primarily online for what may feel like forever for many and from what is evident will not be changing it is important to ensure that your communication doesn’t start to feel cold and uncaring. Adding an audio element to communications can help with this. For example, instead of just sending an email record a voice or video message too and upload that to a SharePoint site with a link in the mailer.

Boshoff says that with global research showing that a high percentage of companies are planning to have some of their employees working remotely permanently and that 73% of teams will have remote workers by 2028 means that leaders and management need to be constantly improving how they are engaging employees and clients, while also being aware of the challenges in doing so online.