Pandemic Fuels Communication Innovation in 2020: GM

Despite battling big problems related to COVID-19, communicators at companies around the world deployed new, innovative approaches and utilized solid crisis communications skills to break through and engage their key audiences. This is part of a series of articles taking a look at the pioneering programs Page Up members deployed to drive change in their orgs. Contact if you have a great story to tell.

General Motors
Initiated at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, GM initiated a “Return to the Workplace” (RTW) project after a handful of lessons learned from its Asia-based business units and an eagerness among GM senior leaders to share comprehensive safety protocols with employees to prevent the spread of disease in their workplaces. This multi-media communications project supported an enterprise-wide call to help their employees return to the workplace safely, and mitigating anxiety over their return.

The project focused on three key objectives. 1) Ensure all employees were properly informed about how and when to return to the workplace safely. 2) Listen to employee feedback and address their questions. 3) Share the communications plan and assets with colleagues to support needed external stakeholder outreach.

The multi-media communications included a “Returning To The Workplace With Confidence Employee Guide”; regular coronavirus updates on the company intranet “Socrates” and Yammer channel; several written and video leadership messages from the top of the company as well as from the GM corporate medical director; and a “Safety Playbook” shared in webinars with media and community members.

According to Dave Roman, GM executive director of corporate communications, “One challenge we initially faced was ensuring we could reach all of our employees with the important information on our approach to safely returning to the workplace. Our manufacturing employees didn’t have access to GM email while off work so sharing lengthy messages through our phone text emergency alert system wasn’t possible. To address the lack of a quick technology solution, we decided on an ‘old school’ approach. We received management approval to mail a back-to-work package to the homes of all 90,000 employees in the U.S. Included in the package; instructions for returning to work, a letter from our chairman and CEO, and five face masks for each employee and their loved ones so they could also be safe outside of work. We, fortunately, had quick access to face masks since we had turned one of our idled plants into a face mask production facility a few weeks after the pandemic hit.”

According to an employee survey after the project was initiated, the majority of U.S. salaried employees (92 percent) agree/strongly agree that GM has clearly communicated the RTW protocols to employees. Likewise, 94 percent of manufacturing employees agreed or strongly agreed they “understand their role in making safety protocols effective.” RTW content on the company’s intranet site received over 255,000 views over the course of five months with an average of 10,234 views per page, over twice the average viewership of any page.