As we’ve seen in the United States throughout 2020 and now into 2021, civil unrest can occur in just about any city, with the potential to impact on business operations. From protests to riots to insurrection, the USA has seen it all recently.
Internal communicators need to be prepared to communicate with their employees should the company find itself affected by civil unrest: whether its fire, looting, destruction of property, or just unsafe for employees to get to or leave the premises due to what’s happening outside, having plans in place to communicate with your people is essential. This includes both the mechanisms to send messages and to be ready with the right message at the right time.
Using an internal communication system during civil unrest
During civil unrest, you may need to communicate with employees unexpectedly and quickly: the situation can be volatile and escalate very soon, putting employee safety in jeopardy.
Investing in an internal communication system will ensure that you have the tools at your disposal to reach your employees if and when your business is affected. An internal communication system uses different channels and delivery methods to ensure that you can reach your employees with critical information no matter where they are or what they are doing.
Some of the ways to use an internal communication system during civil unrest include:
1. Sending emergency notifications
These can be sent quickly to any employees who will be immediately affected by any civil unrest. For example, anyone in a particular office location where there are riots outside. Or employees who are traveling to another place for business where there is civil unrest nearby.
Emergency notifications spell out what the threat is and what steps employees should take to be safe. For example, if they should shelter in place or avoid a particular area.
Notifications can be prepared in advance and can be sent with one click to save time during an emergency. They can be both sent and received on computers and cell phones.
2. Hearing from employees about the situation
Staff on the ground who are caught up in any activity caused by civil unrest are best placed to tell management what is happening and what assistance they may need. Unless you ask them, it can be guesswork.
Sending quick surveys via the internal communication system to the relevant staff will help you to determine if they are okay and what they need at the moment.
3. Encourage employees to be alert and aware
When you know that a situation could potentially escalate, it’s a good idea to keep it front-of-mind for affected employees so that they can get prepared to act if they need to.
This can be done by sending reminders, precautions, and instructions from local law enforcement via various channels such as pop-up alerts, screensavers on computer screens, and digital signage - where you broadcast information to different screens located within your organization.
4. Video message from the CEO
Your employees will be feeling a range of emotions, including fear. The company’s leadership must acknowledge the situation and what the employees on the ground are potentially going through.
Send video message from the CEO to different employee devices - mobile or computer - via pop-up notifications.
The content of the message should be carefully constructed. It needs to appear genuine otherwise, it can just inflame the situation further.
5. Make the most of mobile communication
Traditional internal communications methods can often fall wide of their intended mark. When a critical situation develops, employees are not necessarily sitting at their desks in an office environment.
Non-desk employees make up a significant chunk of the workforce (sales, freight, factory employees etc) while others work remotely. And an incident could occur outside normal business hours - but could affect employees when the time comes to attend the office.
An internal communication system that lets you send SMS messages or use an employee app to send push notifications to employees on their mobile phones can help to overcome these internal communication problems.
6. Make sure your messages can’t be ignored
It’s human nature to tune out unwanted “noise” - which means that communicating with employees can be difficult at the best of times as they filter out information they don’t want to take the time to interact with.
Sending critical notifications to employees that can’t be ignored can help ensure their safety in a situation like civil unrest. For example, alerts can be sent in a way that block the entire computer screen, and the employee has no choice but to pay attention.
What leaders need to know about communicating during civil unrest
When civil unrest has gripped the population, you will potentially have employees who have strong feelings about it one way or the other. How you respond can potentially make the situation worse.
- Avoid language that is inflammatory and casts blame. Your communications should be empathetic and courteous.
- Remain calm, and call for employees to be calm as well.
- Avoid sounding like you care more about your company’s brand reputation than the employees’ welfare.
- Don’t do or say anything to provoke the situation.
- Take the time to listen to how your employees are feeling.
- Call law enforcement if the situation is dangerous.
Civil unrest, like any other emergency situation, can happen with little or no warning. By having a plan in place to deal with it, you’ll be on the front foot in the event your business is caught up in such a situation.