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7 Steps to plan for re-opening your biz

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges and created questions about what life in your biz will look like going forward.

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Many biz owners are asking the same questions: How do we effectively plan, communicate and execute new guidelines that follow health and government guidelines for all our establishments and employees when we are all experiencing different stages of this pandemic?

CRB USA shares its approaches to re-opening to help those looking for guidance during this time. The plan is outlined in a three-phased approach to cautiously enter the “new normal”.

  • The Restricted Phase is the most stringent as we re-learn the safe use of offices with physical distancing and new standards for cleanliness. Among other guidelines, conferencing rooms will not be available, no guests will be allowed, and masks will be required. The good news: this is expected to be the shortest phase.
  • The Controlled Phase brings back some office amenities and we potentially re-work seating plans to bring teams together, flexibly and safely. In time, clients may be allowed to visit the offices again. The duration of this phase is uncertain, and we are planning for it to extend at least through the end of 2020.
  • The Unrestricted Phase means that things are mostly getting back to normal. To enter this phase, it seems that guidance from the global healthcare community would be a prerequisite.

This guide is primarily focused on preparations for the first phase of re-entry, which we have identified as the “Restricted Phase.” Below you will find a step-by-step approach that serves as a guide to inform local leaders as they prepare for re-entering the workplace.

Step 1: Establish your team

Establish a re-entry task force. When establishing your team, considering creating a multi-disciplinary task force. Members could include architects, human resources, marketing, safety and management. This task force is responsible for developing the specific approach to re-entering the workplace and communicating it across the company.

Tip: Create a roles and responsibilities matrix. This matrix should identify members of your “workplace re-entry team” and outline individual responsibilities.

Photo by Dylan Gillis from Unsplash.com

Step 2: Check governmental guidance

Adhere to applicable governmental guidelines. These can be found at the federal, state, county, city, and metro level, and vary by location. These guidelines change frequently and are expected to do so as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Tip: Assign an internal resource to keep an updated database with governmental guidelines for re- opening. When you are ready to begin preparing your office to enter the workplace, schedule a meeting to review the most current updates.

Step 3: Supervisor training 

A top priority during this pandemic is making employees feel comfortable as we begin to re-enter the workplace. This situation creates different personal challenges for employees. Effectively returning to the workplace requires strong leadership, collaboration and engagement from everyone. Use your in-house Human Resources Team to provide guidance and training for supervisors to follow as they support employees during the transition back to the office.

Tip: Create a roadmap with reminders, checklists and helpful tips for supervisors to print and keep at their desks.

Step 4: Set up your health station

Consider re-tooling your office reception areas as health stations. This is where employees check in and out, complete health checks, learn about using the office safely, and receive supplies. The use of a health station is a necessary upgrade to ensure offices can maintain safety controls and contact tracing.

Tip: Especially during their first days back, re-entering the office can be stressful for some employees. Having a clear process can help them build up their own comfort and sense of confidence.

Step 5: Plan your space

To use the existing layouts and furniture, occupancy reductions, circulation paths and assigned seating can be modified to accommodate physical distancing recommendations.

  • Occupancy Reductions: Gather information about current office capacities and reduce occupancy based on guidelines. Create capacity graphs to allow a quick side-by-side view of the current office capacity, in comparison to updated reduced occupancy per local guidelines.
  • Identify Circulation: Establish the direction of foot traffic and identify two-way vs. one-way circulation, mark circulation in a clockwise direction where possible.
  • Assign Workstations: Apply a checkerboard pattern to workstations and coordinate with supervisors to implement a shiftwork pattern to ensure physical distancing while employees are seated at their stations.
  • Apply Signage: Create signage and decals to indicate one-way circulation path, standing points for physical distancing and desk decals to reflect shiftwork.

Tip: Engage a consultant with space planners or architects on staff to help adjust current layouts to fit these new guidelines.

Photo by Bethany Legg from Unsplash.com

Step 6: Clean your space

With what we know about this virus, cleanliness needs to be top of mind for organizations during this process. While most organizations have cleaning services in place, we all now have an individual responsibility for keeping the office and community amenities clean.

  • Determine what surfaces are cleaned and how often
  • Establish a list of necessary cleaning supplies to meet the required level of cleaning in each office.
  • Setup cleaning substations
  • Maintain a cleaning log that is updated daily
  • Declutter by evaluating what items can be moved or removed completely to reduce frequent handling or contact.
  • Establish shared appliance allowances for this first phase and how to properly sanitize after each use.

Tip: Maintain a cleaning log daily to ensure all cleaning requirements are met.

Step 7: Coordinate with landlord

Many offices are located within a multi-tenant commercial office building. These professional environments include shared elevators and stairwells, gyms and cafés, other tenants, and building systems – all of which employees encounter through the course of a normal working day. Landlords and their property management teams are critical partners in maintaining safe, clean workplaces.

Tip: Issue a questionnaire to gather key information about each landlord’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The questionnaire can cover topics such as: tenants and guests, people circulation, janitorial and maintenance, building systems, and emergency preparedness.

As plans commence for the return to normal, hopefully these processes will support others with business continuity and ensuring the safety of workers everywhere. General guidance abounds, but every office space is different. Get started by working through these steps to have solutions in place for your re-opening day.

CRB’s Re-Entry Task Force’s contributors: John Schwaller, Andi Feeley, Jay Marshall, Vince Corden, Steve Pianalto, Jesse Taborsky, Audra Augustin, Danielle David, Rebekah Hunter, Shoshana Marske, Pam Rezzelle, Patti St. Vincent, Marilou Wilson, Robert Brady, Karla Chiarelli, Jamie Nelson, Debra Reed, Tracy Stanfield, Viktoriya Lupareva, Lauren Candelora, Kelsey Monahan, Kevin Kuzma, Nicole Lane, Madi Olberding, Lindsay Kenney, David Keith, Chelsea Stramel 

Strategies

Workplace study during pandemic finds managers should talk less, listen more

For communications professionals, remote work made it harder for them to build trusting new relationships. They, like others, felt isolated, missing critical conversations and small talk.

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Workplace communication often took a back seat this past year, as employees and employers rushed to work remotely, struggled with technology barriers and adjusted to physical distancing. But the pandemic has resulted in valuable lessons for communicating on the job, according to a Baylor University study.

During the onset of COVID-19 — along with accompanying layoffs and a recession — “there likely has never been a moment with such demand for ethical listening to employees,” said lead author Marlene S. Neill, Ph.D., associate professor of journalism, public relations and new media at Baylor.

“Ethical listening” was defined by one communication manager as “listening with an open mind and being able to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. Strategic listening is then taking the good and the bad and the ugly and knowing how to use the information.”

For the study, published in the Journal of Communication Management, researchers interviewed 30 communication professionals in the District of Columbia and 13 states in the USA: Arkansas, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington. Interviewees represented technology, financial and legal services, food and beverage, hospitality, energy, health care, trade associations, transportation, higher education and consultants.

The professionals interviewed stressed the importance of protecting confidentiality so employees feel comfortable giving feedback and do not fear retribution.

When COVID-19 hit and workers often no longer shared physical quarters, the use of Zoom soared, whether for large group meetings or one-on-one sessions, researchers noted. And while senior managers valued communication, it became less of a priority as companies made such quick changes as mandated quarantines.

For communications professionals, remote work made it harder for them to build trusting new relationships. They, like others, felt isolated, missing critical conversations and small talk.

“We heard that the pandemic posed challenges in internal communication due to the alienation many employees experienced, and it prompted us to reevaluate the moral responsibility communications holds for keeping employees feeling connected to their teams,” said co-researcher Shannon A. Bowen, Ph.D., professor of journalism and mass communications at the University of South Carolina.

The study shed light on companies’ challenges, how they strove to meet them and how they might use those strategies in the future.

For example, a communication manager for a trade association of the hospitality industry said that its members also are primary stakeholders in their companies.

“There were stakeholders who were saying, ‘I’m going to have to close my doors. Please do something.’ And there’s only so much we can do. It called for a different type of empathetic listening. This is these people’s livelihood. In hospitality, that’s like any business owner, that’s their baby. But it’s not just their baby. It’s a baby that generates income for the employees they deeply care about. It’s not just that it impacts them; it impacts their employees, which is a double cut to the heart.”

Meanwhile, a communication manager in health care encouraged senior leaders to schedule 30-minute “walk-around” sessions — whether masked and in person or via technology.

“Trust has to be built with actions and follow-through, not just words,” Bowen said.

For all the organizations studied, “the desire and follow-through to ethically listen to employees appeared to be a challenge,” Neill said.

Most participants said the ratio of management messaging to employees compared to feedback was lopsided, with far more talking than listening.

“We cannot promise we are going to fix everything,” said a communication manager in the financial services industry. “But we have the mantra if you are asking for feedback, it is critical that you close the loop and say that.”

Communications managers often have limited staff to analyze feedback. They also contend with a lack of communication between departments, especially in larger organizations.

To solve those problems, some communications professionals suggested having a team member to sit in on department meetings and serve as a liaison. One professional in a law firm said she makes it a point to invite the less vocal members to share their thoughts, while another uses on-on-one meetings for them.

“They open up a lot more when it’s just one on one,” she said. “In groups, large groups, they do not speak as freely, because there’s a hierarchy. If the older, more senior people are not saying anything, then the younger less seasoned attorneys more than likely will not say anything.”

Some internal communicators also said that during the pandemic, they saw a need for shorter, more focused meetings, in part to cut down on stress. And one consultant said that more visual communications, such as videos and video conferencing, seemed to help employees feel that they are cared for.

“I’m making sure that I have my eyes trained on the screen on the facial expressions,” said a communication manager for a trade association. “Part of active listening is also looking for visual cues of the reactions of your colleagues.”

Neill said the researchers were encouraged by the heightened level of empathy for the impact of organizational decisions on employees’ lives.

“We recommend that senior leadership and communication professionals seek ways to continue to improve moral sensitivity well after the global pandemic has receded, which can lead to more ethical decision-making,” she said.

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Strategies

The market advantage of a feminine brand name

What do iconic brands Nike, Coca-Cola, and Disney have in common? They all have linguistically feminine names. In fact, the highest-ranking companies on Interbrand’s Global Top Brands list for the past twenty years have, on average, more feminine names than lower-ranked companies.

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Researchers from University of Calgary, University of Montana, HEC Paris, and University of Cincinnati published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing that explores the linguistic aspects of a name that can influence brand perceptions without people even realizing it.

The study, forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing, is titled “Is Nestlé a Lady? The Feminine Brand Name Advantage” and is authored by Ruth Pogacar, Justin Angle, Tina Lowrey, L. J. Shrum, and Frank Kardes.

What do iconic brands Nike, Coca-Cola, and Disney have in common? They all have linguistically feminine names. In fact, the highest-ranking companies on Interbrand’s Global Top Brands list for the past twenty years have, on average, more feminine names than lower-ranked companies. How can you tell if a name is linguistically feminine? Easy–does it have two or more syllables and stress on the second or later syllable? Does it end in a vowel? If so, then it is a feminine name. Linguistically feminine names convey “warmth” (good-natured sincerity), which makes people like them better than less feminine names.

A brand’s name is incredibly important. In most cases, the name is the first thing consumers learn about a brand. And a brand’s name does the work of communicating what the brand represents. For instance, Lean Cuisine conveys the product’s purpose. Others, like Reese’s’ Pieces, have rhyming names that promise whimsy and fun. Making a good first impression is critical, so it is not surprising that the market for brand naming services is booming. Boutique naming fees can run as much as $5,000 – $10,000 per letter for brand names in high-stakes product categories like automobiles and technology.

Specifically, the number of syllables in a name, which syllable is stressed, and the ending sound, all convey masculine or feminine gender. People automatically associate name length, stress, and ending sound with men’s or women’s names because most people’s names follow certain rules. Women’s names tend to be longer, have more syllables, have stress on the second or later syllable, and end with a vowel (e.g., Amánda). Men’s names tend to be shorter with one stressed syllable, or with stress on the first of two syllables, and end in a consonant (e.g., Éd or Édward).

We often relate to brands like people–we love them, we hate them, we are loyal to certain brands but sometimes we cheat. We associate brands with masculine or feminine traits based on the linguistic cues in the name. So, attributes associated with gender – like warmth – become attached to a brand because of its name. “Warmth” is the quality of being good-natured, tolerant, and sincere. Researchers believe that warmth is incredibly important because deep in our evolutionary past, primitive people had to make a quick, critical judgment whenever they encountered someone new–is this stranger a threat or not? In other words–is this stranger dangerous or warm? If the newcomer was not warm, then a fight or flight decision might be called for. People still rely on warmth judgments every day to decide whether someone will be a good partner, employee, or friend.

So, it is no surprise that warmth is an important characteristic of brand personality. And because linguistically feminine names convey warmth, features like ending in a vowel are advantageous for brand names. As Pogacar explains, “We find that linguistically feminine brand names are perceived as warmer and are therefore better liked and more frequently chosen, an effect we term the Feminine Brand Name Advantage.”

But does all this matter in terms of dollars and cents? Yes, according to the Interbrand Global Top Brand rankings, which is based on brand performance and strength. Angle says that “By analyzing the linguistic properties of each name on Interbrand’s lists for the past twenty years, we find that brands with linguistically feminine names are more likely to make the list. And even more, the higher ranked a brand is, the more likely it is to have a linguistically feminine name.”

After observing this feminine brand name advantage, the researchers conducted a series of experiments to better understand what is happening. Participants reported that brands with linguistically feminine names seemed warmer and this increased their purchase intentions. This pattern occurred with well-known brands and made-up brands that study participants had no prior experience with.

There are limitations to the feminine brand name advantage. When a product is specifically targeted to a male audience (e.g., men’s sneakers), masculine and feminine brand names are equally well-liked. Furthermore, people like linguistically feminine names for hedonic products, like chocolate, but may prefer masculine names for strictly functional products like bathroom scales.

It is important to note that results may vary based on the linguistic patterns of name gender in the target market country. Lowrey summarizes the study’s insights by saying “We suggest that brand managers consider linguistically feminine names when designing new brand names, particularly for hedonic products.”

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Strategies

How to get customers to talk about you

WOM is arguably the most influential means of persuasion and can be a critical driver of a company’s growth. For this reason, many companies offer consumers incentives to encourage them to generate WOM.

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Researchers from Arizona State University, New York University, and Northwestern University published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing that examines how marketers can fuel positive word of mouth (WOM) without using explicit incentives.

The study, appearing in the Journal of Marketing, is titled “How Marketing Perks Influence Word of Mouth” and is authored by Monika Lisjak, Andrea Bonezzi, and Derek Rucker.

WOM is arguably the most influential means of persuasion and can be a critical driver of a company’s growth. For this reason, many companies offer consumers incentives to encourage them to generate WOM.

Classic examples of WOM are referral and seeding programs, whereby a company literally “pays” current customers to generate positive WOM and attract new customers. Despite its intuitive appeal, however, this practice can backfire. Ironically, incentivizing WOM sometimes can hamper, rather than increase, consumers’ willingness to engage in WOM.

This research shows that commonly used marketing perks–e.g., gifts, benefits, and rewards–can effectively foster WOM without being used as explicit incentives. Their effectiveness at boosting WOM, however, depends on how they are framed and therefore perceived by consumers: Marketing perks are more effective at fostering WOM the less they are perceived to be given out of contractual obligation. The term “contractuality” refers to the degree to which a perk is perceived to be given to consumers in exchange for engaging in specific behaviors dictated by a company, such as filling out a survey or making a certain number of purchases.

Lisjak explains that “We demonstrate that marketers can influence the perceived contractuality of a perk with easily implementable pivots. Consumers can perceive the exact same perk, say a free coffee, as more or less contractual simply based on how it is framed.”

As one example, the perceived contractuality of a perk can be lowered by giving consumers a free item after a set number of purchases, but not making the number of purchases salient to the consumer. As another example, the same perk could be accompanied by a thank you note, as opposed to a note that highlights all the effort a customer had to put in to earn the perk. In both instances, companies do not have to change the offering, only how consumers perceive it.

Interestingly, however, perks lower in contractuality can sometimes backfire against companies. This is more likely to occur when a perk characterized by low contractuality comes from a disliked or distrusted company. Under such circumstances, consumers become wary of the company’s intentions and then interpret the perk as a manipulative act of persuasion driven by ulterior motives.

When this happens, perks lower in contractuality in fact hinder rather than fuel WOM. To illustrate, many consumers do not like utility providers or financial institutions. To the extent that such dislike prompts consumers to make hostile attributions of benevolent gestures, such companies might be better off using perks that are higher in contractuality.

Finally, contractuality can entail a trade-off. Despite being more effective at fostering WOM, low contractuality perks might be less effective than high contractuality perks at inducing compliance with a direct request. For example, if a company wants consumers to complete a customer satisfaction survey, offering a high contractuality perk can be more effective and efficient than offering a low contractuality perk.

Simply put, when brands have a specific action other than WOM that they would like consumers to take, perks higher in contractuality might serve as better incentives because they make behavior-reward contingencies clear and salient.

Bonezzi summarizes the study by saying “Our findings suggest that marketers could nudge consumers to generate positive WOM by providing them with perks that have fewer strings attached. Of note, this could be achieved at a similar cost to perks that come across as highly contractual.”

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