On the outside of a crisis looking in

To be on holiday during the rapidly changing landscape of COVID-19 provided me with an interesting perspective both as a communicator and employee during the start of the crisis.

For the first time in 18 months, I took an overseas holiday and went to New York just as COVID-19 was gaining momentum in Europe. The speed at which rules and advice were changing was scary and looking each day on social media I could see the stresses and challenges that fellow communicators across the globe were facing. It raised the question in my mind though on how do we make sure all colleagues not only have access to the right information but also know how to access it?

I’ve shared some thoughts on what as an #icnewbie or junior communicator practitioner you could do to support those colleagues who aren’t in the business when the crisis starts.

You’ll see a lot of information now about the use of digital tools such as Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Slack to name a few to help keep colleagues informed but I appreciate these tools aren’t always available for internal comms teams to use. So, what can you do to help in your planning for a crisis?

  • Speak with your HR team to understand what contact information they hold for colleagues. This can then allow you to explore additional channels using contact details such as telephone numbers.
  • Review your channel matrix to ensure that it captures all your audiences during any crisis communications. This should include colleagues working from home, on holiday, sickness, maternity/paternity leave or away on business.
  • Provide a clear brief to colleagues on what communications they can expect, how to raise any concerns or questions and where they can find additional information.
  • Don’t be afraid to trial new approaches, now is the time to get information out quickly and people will be more accepting if things aren’t 100% perfect.

Rachel Miller of AllThingsIC has made available her Crisis communications guide, full of useful information to help.

AllThingsIC – Crisis communications guide

There is nothing wrong with a simple idea
Small organisations might not have the need or resources available to manage multiple or expensive digital channels. With this in mind, here are some simple solutions you could introduce quickly if you aren’t sure where to start.

  • Daily digest email – merge your key messages into a single email that is sent out at a set time. Urgent emails might need to go out in between, but by providing a regular update it means colleagues know when they can expect to receive a corporate update. This will provide them reassurance that the business is committed to regular communications and show there is a structured plan in place to support them.
  • Dedicated intranet/extranet page – Having a single area on your intranet makes it easier to find all the updates, links and resources colleagues might need without the need to search back through emails. This should contain links or copies of any all communications and remain clean and easy to navigate without becoming a depository for anything people feel might be relevant. Depending on IT systems, create this as a website page so it’s easier for colleagues to access on any device.
  • WhatsApp groups – This has become a powerful tool that you could use in multiple ways, too many for me to list here but some ideas include posting video and voice messages from the leadership team or direct links to updates on your intranet/website. If you need to use personal numbers, you can create an invitation link that allows colleagues to opt-in.
  • SMS alerts – For colleagues working remotely, can you look at sending out links to video messages of your senior leadership team that can be opened in any internet browser or mobile device? There can be more reassurance to see the CEO talking in person rather than just reading a blog or email and can sometimes be quicker to do than writing and circulating copy for approval.

Extra support
There is a lot of information at your fingertips to help in these difficult times. Many communications practitioners have shared guides and what they have learned in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis. Besides the websites listed on the Horizon Comms resources page, the CIPR, IOIC and PRCA have created dedicated sites to help.

Last, don’t forget to look after yourself. It’s important to take regular breaks, give yourself time away from social media and the news to focus on your own wellbeing. Fresh Air Fridays has a great newsletter that gives you some tips on getting outside and looking after yourself.

Featured image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay