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Communication in times of crisis

Posted On: 02/06/2020

When your organisation is facing a crisis of any kind, clear, timely and transparent communications are essential to inform, connect, reassure and to help workforces navigate their way through it.

Communications have the power to bring workforces together during times of crisis, to help prevent feelings of isolation, worry and overwhelm. It pays to stay true to your values and do what you can to fully support your employees.

The key is to focus your efforts into communicating the things that really matter to your employees. To establish what it is that they want to hear, your organisation must create a robust working feedback loop between line managers and the leadership team. 

Knowing you are in a crisis 

We’re writing this blog in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic; the world of business has virtually stood still globally for a few months – it’s pretty clear that this is a crisis.

But, a crisis situation doesn’t always have to be on such a grand scale. Any eventuality that leads your workforce to feel unsettled and ask questions such as, “what does this mean for me?”, is probably an indication that your business is facing a crisis.

Business Continuity Team 

If your organisation doesn’t have a Business Continuity Team or a team of senior managers to drive the business forward at times of crisis, then you really should consider putting one together.

This team isn’t just about getting through the current crisis, they are there to plan for future crises too and it’s good practice for them to meet regularly. This way, your business will always be one step ahead.

The team’s role is to form a plan, to provide consistency and to communicate to the workforce the organisation’s direction and priorities.

Regular open and trusted communications 

It’s crucial to formulate a communication strategy which strikes the right balance. Too much communication, and over several channels, may put employees off from reading them, and too few gives rise to rumours being spread resulting in an increase in unsettlement.

Your employees will look to you for guidance and will trust that the information you give is correct. To help you make the right decisions for your business and for your workforce we recommend that you always take your facts from trusted sources. During the coronavirus crisis, look to the NHS, WHO and Public Health England.

Be upfront about the challenges your business is facing and also ask for ideas and insight from employees. Your communications will be better received when you actively listen to your workforce.

Inform your employees when they will receive key communications as this will encourage them to read, or hear, what you have to say. You must stick to this timetable, as again, speculations as to why communications are late will cause unrest. If a scheduled communication piece is going to be late, be transparent and explain the reasons why.

Obviously, your organisation will need to clearly communicate any changes to policies and procedures, but this must be backed up with information concerning the ‘bigger picture’. Your employees deserve to know why certain decisions and actions have been made.

Remember the value of the word ‘because’ and use it in your communications, for example, “we’ve put this in place because …”. This simple, and hugely important, step will help your employees adjust their expectations.

Know your ‘why’

During a crisis, understand why you are communicating and what the purpose of every piece is. Consider how the message will affect the workforce and whether an action is needed. Knowing the ‘why’ will help you strike the right tone and create the best content.

It is likely that some communications could be unsettling and there may be the need to deliver bad news. Think about employees’ wellbeing and how they will react, when necessary signpost them to extra support.

Don’t pretend to know everything

Admitting to not having all the answers shows a human side which will be appreciated by the workforce. Using phrases such as, “we’re in this together” and “when we work together, we can …” will instil a strong connection that everyone, no matter what their role is within the organisation, is working towards the same goal.

Uncertainty does not cause disengagement when the responses given to the answers are transparent.

Understanding the concerns of your employees

As mentioned above, there are going to be instances when your business cannot give the answers to a question or satisfy a concern. And that’s OK.

Include things you don’t know in your communications too. It’s crucial that you demonstrate that you are listening to your employees and are taking their concerns seriously. Reiterating the most common questions in your communications with the reason why they can’t be answered yet but reiterating the organisation’s plans and directions will provide some comfort.

Are emails enough?

Probably not. It’s highly likely that there will be sensitive and complex messages to be delivered. Utilising video conferencing is a great choice because:

Consistency with a ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ approach

In any crisis, your employees will want to have a voice and to have that voice heard. Depending on the size of your organisation, it’s good practice to trust your managers to act as the listener: to gather questions to escalate, or to provide the answers themselves.

To do this effectively:

Successful managers will know their teams well and employees will feel more comfortable speaking with them than going direct to the leadership team. Line managers will be able to gauge the feeling and emotions of the workforce too which will need to be recognised and addressed.

Individuals making up a talented and diverse team will always have their own preferred way of being managed and communicated to. Your managers will be aware of this and be able to keep the individuals in their teams connected and motivated.

Be empathetic 

It’s easier for mangers who are close to their teams to talk to them about feelings. During times of crisis, successful communications will truly resonate when they respond to people’s feelings and emotions.

How are your workforce feeling? What keeps them awake at night? Knowing the answers to questions such as these will allow your organisation to guide your employees through uncertainties successfully.

Feedback from employees must be given to the leadership team or Business Continuity Team to give them a chance to try and stay one step ahead of future questions and put solutions in place. Being ready for questions which are yet to be asked is a demonstration that you care for your people.

Employees on the front line

During times of crisis, some of your employees will have an increase in their workload, while others have less. For those who find themselves under more pressure they will appreciate short and to the point messages.

Establish how best to communicate to your front line workers who may not find the time to sit in front of a PC to read or hear updates. Creating posters and producing hard copies of leaflets displaying the key messages will be appreciated and well received. If possible, provide front line workers with time away from their duties to read or listen to communications and be able to take part in 2 way conversations as their insight will be invaluable.

Thank your employees

Your organisation won’t be able to get through any crisis without the support of your workforce. Recognise the difficulties they find themselves in and the hard work they have put in to keep the wheels turning and thank them. Always celebrate successes, no matter how small.

Look to the future

And finally, no crisis lasts forever. Remind your employees of the organisation’s future plans and get them future-ready!

We’re Here To Help

If your organisation would like to talk to a HR professional about any of the issues raised in this blog, please get in touch on 0161 941 2426.

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