Coronavirus Communications Strategies to Help Employees Navigate the COVID-19 Outbreak
How are you communicating with employees during coronavirus?
With coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading quickly across the world, it’s time to act fast to keep employees and customers safe. Uncertainty about how your business will respond to the health crisis can only damage your reputation and your productivity. That’s why a comprehensive coronavirus communications plan covering email, social media, videos and digital signage is the first step to ensuring continued productivity.
A successful internal communications strategy will help your employees understand what they can expect from your company’s leadership. It will also reassure them that they’ll stay safe and informed.
Clear coronavirus communications can reduce employee stress
As the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has demonstrated, the sheer amount of information available during a health crisis can be overwhelming. In the role of business leader or communications expert, it’s up to you to find and share actionable items and credible facts. By providing clear coronavirus communications, you can remove a lot of the cognitive stress from your staff and help maintain calm. Taking a proactive role and implementing precautionary measures will ensure your company keeps moving forward.
While remote work policies are the response at many companies, that isn’t an option for all businesses. Retail workers not only have to be on site to do their job, but they also are working extra hours to keep shelves stocked. Logistics and shipping organizations are likewise under a great deal of stress. Manufacturing companies continue to manage a workforce that ensures everything from food to soap is available. Meanwhile biomedical and pharmaceutical staff carry on important research and initiatives in the laboratory.
So how can your organization help both remote and onsite employees navigate this health challenge?
5 Steps to an effective coronavirus communications plan
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been talking with our customers about the challenges they face as they activate their crisis strategy. We’ve collected some ideas and resources to help manage business communications as they relate to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.
1. Create or engage your crisis management team
If you have a team responsible for identifying and responding to a crisis or disaster, now’s the time to activate it. If you don’t have a team in place, build a lean team from senior management that includes representatives from human resources and communications.
Your crisis management team’s first and foremost priority is to figure out how your business is going to protect your employees and their families. Next, prioritize your policies to ensure operational continuity without jeopardizing the health of the general public with unnecessary travel and events.
2. Keep your coronavirus communications approval process streamlined
You want to share information that’s accurate, but you also need to make sure it’s timely. Create a documented process for assessing the accuracy and reliability of the information you want to communicate. However, don’t create so many levels of approval that the message never gets out or is no longer relevant. With designated decision makers in place, the content approval process can be fast and efficient.
3. Identify the best channels for employees to receive specific information
You likely have many ways of reaching employees at your disposal. For example, email, intranet postings, text messages, digital signage and social media are all common means of internal communication. An effective coronavirus communication plan combines different channels to make sure all employees get the message.
When planning how to share information, ensure that the channels you choose are accessible by all staff. Remember that you may have many non-desk employees without regular access to computers or mobile phones. Also, keep in mind that some messages are more effective when communicated through specific channels. For example, a memo about using hand sanitizer is less likely to inspire action when sent via email to an employee at a desk, than on a sign in a common lounge.
Internal communication channels to evaluate for crisis communications include:
- Intranet postings
- Social media
- Text messaging
- Mobile apps
- Social media
4. Share information that’s current, relevant, and readable.
Establish a consistent schedule for providing your staff and clients updates. In some cases, even a status update like “no change” can reassure your employees that you are monitoring the situation. Your organization is already living with uncertainty, don’t let the timing of your communications contribute to that further.
In addition to the timing of your messages, your content should also be highly structured. For example, you should define unfamiliar terms and concepts and explain them with clear visuals. In particular, avoid business and medical jargon. If action needs to be taken, make sure each step is clearly defined. Providing a clear next step can further reduce the sense of uncertainty or panic your employees might be experiencing.
5. Use official sources of information and communicate the facts on COVID-19.
Your crisis communications plan should identify simple key messages and support them with the latest information from reliable sources. Since new information is issued almost by the hour, the easiest way to plan for shifting conditions is to choose the news and information outlets you will rely on.
For US based companies, COVID-19 health and prevention guidance primarily comes from the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), and your local State and County Health Departments.
The CDC has specific pages for business guidance. The CDC coronavirus page also has mitigation strategies for specific parts of the country. Currently it lists special mitigation guidance for specific areas including: Santa Clara, CA, Seattle, WA, New Rochelle, NY, Florida, and Massachusetts.
6. Borrow from coronavirus communications approaches that have already proven effective
Coinbase’s Security and Communications teams have created a detailed COVID-19 response plan that they’ve shared publicly. Potential responses are organized around projected levels of person-to-person virus transmission. Not only is their plan clear and easy to follow, but it also includes a FAQ section that is great for generating ideas for your own content and communications materials.
7. Promote two-way communication
Don’t just talk to your employees, listen to them as well. Listening to your employees will make them feel heard at a time when that matters. Also, it will provide your organization with valuable feedback it can act on.
Use employee feedback and response during a crisis to adjust your messaging and communications plan to best serve them. There may be certain priorities your staff is concerned about, but you hadn’t thought of. For instance, parents might be wondering how or if your organization will support working parents if the local school system closes down.
In order for two-way communication to work, you need a way to collect feedback and comments. Consider surveys as well as virtual question and answer sessions via Slack or videoconference. Perhaps have your managers gather and send issues to a dedicated email address within your organization. Answers and other information can be sent out from the same address then shared with your community.
Examples of corporate information to share during a health crisis
1. Preventative Information
Clearly articulate preventive actions. Share what your organization is doing to avert the transmission of COVID-19 at work and how employees can take part. For example:
- Office cleaning policies and schedules
- Available resources (hand sanitizer stations, disposable gloves)
- Hand washing instructions
- Safe travel practices
- How to recognize virus symptoms
2. Policy & Schedule Changes
Work schedules and policies are top-of-mind for you employees, so make it very clear what has changed, what won’t change and what could change depending on circumstances.
- Sick leave policy
- Health insurance policies and benefits
- Tips for working remote. See Zapier and Gitlab guides to remote work.
3. Community and Family-Related Information
Your organization doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so don’t ignore the situation outside your office. In particular, information about mandated closures will be of great interest to your employees, so don’t make them search for it online.
- School closures
- Government office hours
- Municipal and state mandated closures
4. Corporate Impact & Response Information
The welfare of family and friends is likely one of your employees’ first concerns. However, they’ll also want to know about what the crisis means for the organization and their role in it. Keeping employees and staff in the dark about what your company is doing to meet the risks of a widespread outbreak only breeds more uncertainty. Share what you’re doing. Also let your employees know how to communicate your strategy to clients and friends outside the organization.
- Updates from other office locations in your organization
- Changes to company strategy to meet existing & future risks
- Policies & guides for customer-facing communications