Communicating return to operations

Has your organisation already put together a strategy for returning to operations and returning staff to the workplace? Have you communicated this yet? 

Communicating your plan once is never enough. To be effective and ensure your message has been heard and understood, it may well be necessary to communicate it again, and again, and again.

Obviously, communicating the exact same message each time is weird and patronising. However, with consistent, regular and well-planned communication you can shift where your stakeholders are at now to where you need them to be in a matter of weeks.

Risk is defined as the “effect of uncertainty on objectives”. The risk of not communicating is that others may hijack, misinterpret or mis-communicate your intended message which could jeopardise your organisation’s desired outcomes for return to work.

So, you need a communication strategy to help you figure out:

  1. Who you are trying to reach.
  2. What message you want them to receive.
  3. How you will reach them.

Below are the three not-to-miss steps in developing your organisation’s return to operations communication strategy, to use with our free downloadable :

1. Audiences and Stakeholders

First, identify key stakeholder GROUPS for your organisation. This is where to start with any communications strategy. By knowing first who you’re talking to it becomes easier to determine what needs to be said, when and how.

For example, your organisation’s key internal stakeholders may be staff, department heads, administrators, managers, permanent on-site contractors and your entity’s Board of Management. It is best practice to talk to internal stakeholders first before communicating with external stakeholders.

Your external audiences and stakeholders may be customers, visitors, other Adventist entities, suppliers, members and local community interest groups or even the media (e.g. Adventist Record).

Below is an example of possible internal and external stakeholders, not all will apply to your entity and there may be audiences not listed. This is at your discretion.

Internal Stakeholders External Stakeholders
Staff Customers and Clients
Leadership Visitors
Department Heads Other Adventist entities
Permanent on-site contractors Suppliers and service providers
Boards of Management Community interest groups
Volunteers Media


2. Choose your message and objectives.

A communication plan sets out to achieve one or more of 4 specific goals.

Your objectives could be any, or a combination, of the below:

Let people know what the plan is, the key info, and the reasons why. This is the ‘who, what, when, where, why and how’ of your communication.

Once people are aware of the info, the follow up comms can be designed to increase understanding of resources, services, expectations and assurances. For example, you may find questions come out of the ‘awareness’ communication and this is the time to respond and clarify.

Change attitudes
Perhaps the most challenging objective but worthwhile pursuing, particularly if internal stakeholders have reservations about the plan moving forward. The secret here is to be gentle,  positive,  transparent and consistent.

Change behaviours
As above, this is about communicating in a way that brings about the desired behaviour in your stakeholders and this can only happen if they know and “buy into” the WHY of your return to work plan.

If you don’t know which one to choose, start with awareness and build over time. Importantly, don’t sweat over trying to do it all in one communication piece.

To determine your key message points, ask:

  • What is it that you want your audiences and stakeholders to know or do?
  • Importantly, WHY do you need them to know this, or do that? Hopefully, your ‘why’ gives your audience a compelling reason to learn, change or act.


3. Bring it to life

You have defined your audiences, you’ve articulated your objectives, you know your message points – now is the time to get tactical:

Modes and Mediums
Which modes and mediums of communication will suit each audience? Emails, newsletters, printed signage, social media, website, zoom meetings? What about ‘nudge’ communication like hand sanitising stations, or physical distance stickers where people gather, or even SMS messages? Choose at least two different ways to communicate with a specific audience, preferably more if budget allows. Be sure to tailor your message for each audience and medium.

How much budget will be assigned to this? (Yes, you may need a budget, for example signage and printing costs.)

Tone of Voice
What tone of voice will suit a Christian organisation’s return to operations? Often overlooked, but REALLY important at this time – remember people’s lives have been turned upside down, stress and anxiety are at an all-time high. If you need them to “get on the bus” then it is wise to choose sensitive and compassionate over authoritarian.

Outline timeframes – what message and when? It is worthwhile preparing a simple calendar for the next two to three months and work toward that.

Embrace your internal talent pool! Bring your WHS Officer, your best communications person, your HR specialist and a finance person to make this happen – believe in the expertise and dedication of the many gifted and qualified people within your organisation.

De-escalation is a blessing and now is the time to embrace this opportunity to return to work.

Through smart communication you will bring your stakeholders where you would like them to be, not because they are afraid or obedient, but because you have assured them through consistent and regular communication. Doing so will remove some uncertainty in achieving the best outcome for returning to work, and ultimately, protect your organisation’s trustworthy good name and reputation.

Download our Post-Covid Return to Operations

Author: Linzi Aitken, Risk Officer – Communications