The recent outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has sent the world into a panic. Retailers are running out of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, countries have been shut down and thousands of people across the globe have been put into isolation.
Simply put, people are scared. With an abundance of misinformation floating about the internet, clear and concise crisis communication has never been more important.
Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School recently drafted a poignant article comparing COVID-19 crisis comms in relation to transparency in the workplace. More than anything, she emphasizes the importance of dealing with and sharing bad news appropriately.
“If sunshine is the best disinfectant, the opposite is also true: Dark, hidden corners are great places to grow something truly horrible. Few problems improve with age, and public health crises are no exception.” – Don’t Hide Bad news in Times of Crisis, Amy C Edmondson
With the stock market crashing on March 9 and dire forecasts projecting a severe economic impact, businesses are feeling the fear just as much as their employees.
The general response by companies has been to communicate press release-like statements to staff. This mostly includes updates from the respective government health officials and of course precaution information centered around hygiene.
Most companies have also set up hand sanitizer stations around the office to encourage employees to regularly clean their hands.
The problem with this way of dealing with information is that organizations aren’t really saying anything new. That same information is circulated 24/7 on news channels and social media. Although it is important to reinforce district updates and precautions, it doesn’t really address people’s concerns about COVID-19 in the workplace.
Every day that the disease continues the wave of panic is growing. You may be located in an area that has a low risk to public health, but one of the most dangerous questions left unanswered in communications is “what if?”
The number one rule of internal communication is to see your audience as people with wants, needs, and fears. By addressing those fears humanely, and calmly, you’re stepping into a position of effective crisis control.
An email with a press release attached or a poster about good hand hygiene is not going to cut it. The COVID-19 outbreak is a developing event and thus needs continuous communications to support employees until the situation is resolved.
Yes, send your press releases and set up posters, but then also talk to your audience on a regular basis about the things they can’t read in the news. Check-in on your team, know what is on their minds, and find ways to bring calm to the situation.
Reassuring your employees about their concerns and questions will go far in building trust in the leadership of your organization, never mind affect your team’s productivity if they can work without fear and gossip plaguing them.
A good place to start is to hold town hall meetings where people can speak freely about their worries and rumors they may have heard, sending daily updates on various channels, and having the leadership team step in to talk about some of the larger concerns that might impact the company. With most companies working remotely, shift these meetings online! There’s nothing stopping you to have a group chat or videoconferencing meeting, as long as it’s well moderated.
The fact of the matter is that people are talking and sharing information about COVID-19, whether you as an organization are joining the discussion or not. Taking charge of your crisis communications is your opportunity to shape the narrative of those conversations. Take it.
As a software company specializing in healthcare industries, a few of our clients have reached out to us for support.
Aside from a full-scale intranet, which could take some time to set up properly, our main recommendation for organizations is our latest product, Reach.
Reach is an internal communications tool that empowers employees to receive information on the channel of their choice while automating follow-ups, and measuring the success of each message. The beautiful thing about Reach is that you don’t need to change the end-user behavior. You can deliver the message across the existing channels.
When it comes to crisis comms you can reach your team on their mobiles, you’re able to set up direct feedback channels, and with live metrics, you have numbers to show the success of your message.
To learn more about Reach or to book a demo, head over to reachyouremployees.com.
To continue your journey into internal communication, read about the best practices for effective communication in the workplace.