As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, internal communicators in organizations globally are having to manage crisis communications to keep their employees informed during an unprecedented and ever-changing event.
What is crisis communication and why is it important?
Crisis communications management is a specialized niche within the internal communications space, and perhaps one that not every internal communications professional will have had to navigate before.
A crisis situation can occur without warning, and can affect your organization in many different ways… particularly when you fail to keep your employees adequately informed as the situation unfolds.
This can include tarnishing the company’s image and reputation, negatively impacting on the financial bottom line of the organization, leave the organization exposed to litigation or failing to comply with regulatory requirements, or causing harm to employees.
A crisis is any type of event that can be defined as unusual, complicated and a threat to the stability and reputation of the organization – or indeed a threat to the organization’s very existence. When a crisis happens it needs to be managed strategically so it doesn’t spin out of control.
Effective crisis communication ensures reduced confusion and misinformation, can help to keep employees calm, can reduce the risk of harm to your organization’s reputation and can help to improve employee engagement and wellbeing.
Being prepared in advance is key to successfully handling the crisis so that you can communicate quickly and accurately with your employees… unlike routine internal communications work, there is often little time to spare when it comes to delivering the information.
How COVID-19 differs from other types of crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented global event. It doesn’t just affect one company, or even a few companies: it is affecting almost every single business in the world in different ways. It’s a global health emergency that’s affecting countries around the world in different ways: some are managing to flatten the curve, while others are seeing the numbers of cases and deaths soar. It’s also created an economic crisis that’s seen many businesses collapse and people lose their jobs and livelihoods.
Organizations, like countries, are being affected in different ways, depending on where they operate, the industry they are in, how severe the pandemic is and how government regulations apply to them.
Some organizations are continuing as normal. Some are working in new ways, such as remote work. Some businesses can’t operate at all. Some companies have employees on the front-lines who may be exposed to the virus. Some organizations may be suffering financial losses – and even possible collapse. While others may be prospering as a result of the essential role they play.
Your employees will be getting information about the pandemic from many different sources all day long… but when it comes to how the pandemic affects their employer, the only place they can get reliable and accurate information is from the company itself.
Employees will understandably have many fears and anxieties about the pandemic, so it’s important they are kept updated.
Best practices and tips for effective crisis communication management
When a crisis affects your company – whether it is COVID-19 or any other event – your employees will be concerned about how the negative effects of the crisis will affect their jobs and the company.
These crisis communication tips will ensure your employees are properly informed.
1. Have a draft crisis communication plan ready to go
Sure, you may not have ever imagined a crisis on the scale of COVID-19 would be affecting your company. But having a draft crisis communication plan can ensure when something bad and unexpected happens that will have an impact on your organization’s ability to operate and will impact your employees, you’re ready to hit the ground running.
When an actual crisis occurs you can save lots of time by populating your draft crisis communication plan with the relevant information and work to deliver its objectives straight away.
2. Communicate regularly with your employees
If you don’t communicate at all, or if you don’t communicate often enough, the “void” left by the silence can be filled with speculation, rumor and innuendo, which can be a crisis all of its very own and can be hard to undo.
Communicate quickly with your employees when you have established that there is a crisis letting them know what has happened, how it may affect the company and what steps are being taken to deal with the situation. Commit to ongoing and timely communication and continue to update your employees as new information is available or if the situation changes.
The company itself should be the “single source of truth” to employees when it comes to the relevant crisis information about the company.
3. Tell the truth
“Single source of truth” means exactly that – it should be a source of truth. This shouldn’t be an opportunity to “spin” a positive story or sugar-coat bad news. If you fail to be truthful with employees, you can cause ongoing and lasting harm that can be difficult to undo - when employees don’t trust management that breeds a toxic work culture and a business that is doomed to fail.
To this extent, your internal messages should reflect whatever is being said by your external communications team. If you tell your employees one thing it's important that they don’t read something contradictory from your company on social media or in the newspaper. They also shouldn’t hear different things from different managers within the company – so ensure you have a coordinated, unified approach across the organization to your information and messages.
4. Communicate clearly and concisely
Large swathes of complex information can be difficult for most people to digest at the best of times. In a crisis, people are scared and panicking and want to know the most important information, and to know it quickly.
Clear and concise written and spoken communications are essential in crisis communication management so that employees get the information they need in a way that they can easily understand.
5. Ensure you have a reliable internal communications system
To keep your employees properly informed in a crisis, it’s critical that you have an effective and reliable internal communications system in place. You should be able to quickly and easily reach all your employees whenever you need to in order to keep them updated, and to keep them safe.
The internal communication channels your organization currently uses might not be up to the achieving this. Are you still relying on email and intranet only to communicate with employees? Emails don’t always get opened, and intranet updates require employees to actively check for new information regularly.
Modern digital tools such as pop-up alerts, SMS, desktop tickers, corporate screensavers, corporate wallpapers, video alerts and push alerts to mobile and tablets are guaranteed to be seen by employees provides more effective crisis communication.
Crisis communication examples you may need to prepare for one day
Aside from COVID-19, there are other crises that organizations can find themselves embroiled in. The crisis communication tips above can be used in any of these crisis communication examples:
1. Employee incident
Your organization could face a crisis if an employee brings it into disrepute by being involved in illegal or unethical activities that are damaging to the organization’s reputation.
2. Natural disaster
Unfortunately, humans are always at the mercy of mother nature… and so too are our businesses. If there’s a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, forest fire, flood, tsunami, volcanic eruption or extreme weather event that affects your business’ ability to operate, you need to respond.
3. Other disasters
Not all disasters are caused by nature. You could be caught up in a terror event, a large-scale accident, a fire, a gas leak, civil unrest or have an active shooter incident. These are all issues you should be prepared to mitigate.
4. Financial crisis
This can occur for many reasons, whether it's a stock market issue, negative credit rating, a bad business deal, the state of the wider economy or decreased demand from customers. When the company is having trouble paying the bills – and paying staff – this is a crisis that can’t be ignored.
5. Technological failures
Perhaps the company has been hacked and sensitive information stolen. Or the website has broken and will be offline for some days, meaning customers can’t purchase goods from the company.
How our clients are using DeskAlerts for crisis communications
Organizations from different industries around the world are using DeskAlerts to keep their employees reliably informed during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re looking to communicate better with your employees, using DeskAlerts and these real-life crisis communication tips could improve your outcomes.
An international bank, headquartered in Switzerland, usually uses DeskAlerts to inform employees about service outages or maintenance issues. They’ve deployed DeskAlerts during COVID-19 to survey employees to determine that they have the right tools to work from home.
A manufacturing company from France uses DeskAlerts to send employees important reminders about proper hand washing and maintaining social distancing.
A telecommunications company in Africa uses the system to determine which of its retail shops are trading and what they need to help them deal with the current situation.
A healthcare organization in Australia uses DeskAlerts as a “source of truth” for employees to send them regular updates and information about the COVID-19 situation.
DeskAlerts can be used for crisis internal communications as well as your regular internal communications, and is guaranteed to be seen by your employees, which improves business outcomes.