Masked Communication: COVID-19 and Being Heard on the Factory Floor

Steel workers wearing N95 masks on the factory floor.

Many of us are wearing masks when we’re out and about and at work, too.  We’re getting used to the new routines such as social distancing and increased sanitation practices at the factory and on the job site, but communicating while wearing a mask has its challenges. Muffled voices don’t carry as far, and you can’t look to the lips to glean any additional understanding. That takes some getting used to, especially when the job requires a certain amount of interaction with coworkers. 

Masked communication is an adjustment for most of us, but it’s actually standard operating procedure for many workers who need to wear respirators, face masks, and other head coverings in their day-to-day roles. What can we learn from them? 

Masked communication tips

  • Slow down and enunciate. Face masks muffle your words, so make sure you pronounce words a little more clearly and slowly. And if possible, say a little less.
  • Signals are your friend. If you’re on the receiving end of the conversation, signal that you’ve understood what’s been said. Nod or give a thumbs up. Promptly ask for clarification if you need it. We all know what they say about assumptions…
  • Raise your hand. Remember doing that in school? When we’re in a group it can be hard to know who’s talking. Raising your hand eliminates the guessing.
  • Wear communication headsets. They help to enhance voices, especially when working near loud equipment. Mic positioning and adjustment features customize the gear to your environment. And, technologies with full-duplex eliminate delays inherent to two-way radios and many headsets. 

As with anything, masked communication is going to take a bit of getting used to and some trial and error. This is a work in progress for all of us. In the short term, we’ll get through the staffing and training challenges we’re facing by applying best practices, the right technology, and plain old common sense. And once we’re COVID-19 clear, your team will have mastered the fine art of mask communication.


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