COVID-19 Crisis Communication - Best Practices
Deliver messages that convey calm and are transparent and tailored to your audience
iTester Inc. has surveyed hundreds of companies about their experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Discover how the people who help you deliver value — arguably your most critical asset — are experiencing this state of potential anxiety.
Pay special attention to the 3i’s; this is the most critical principle as it promotes a channel for two-way feedback and allows employees to feel heard in a time of crisis.
Inform, Interact & Involve: Conduct check-ins beyond initial communications to ensure key messages are being understood and identify areas for improvement. Follow iTester’s 3i’s of engaging leadership to ensure effective two-way communication.
Commitment to health and safety: Your organization is nothing without your employees. Highlight your commitment to your employees’ physical, mental, financial, and social well-being.
Business continuity plan: Offer clear and straightforward information. Share a summary of your BCP, including key actions and oversight. Be sure to include some of the other best practices listed below.
Transparency: Given the evolving nature of the COVID-19 situation it is best to be transparent in communications about what is known that could affect employees.
Audiences: COVID-19’s impact will differ based on a variety of factors and this means there is a need for different communications. Segment messages and approaches by employee type and/or geography and work environment.
Channel/Medium: Differing audiences will be receptive to different channels, mediums, and language. Ensure communication methods align with the message being communicated and who it is being communicated to.
Authentic: Write messages in a way that embodies the personality of the deliverer and shows the human aspect of the message. Don’t spin information; position it with empathy within the wider organizational context.
Timely: With the situation evolving hourly and daily, manage expectations of when new updates can be expected and stick to them, for example, set expectations that a COVID-19 update can be expected at the beginning of each day
Clear ownership: With key actions and resources changing daily, make sure to clarify ownership of BCP actions in the communication to avoid a bottleneck of questions for one person or department.
Resources: Provide employees with key resources (such as EAPs) all in one location (such as an intranet) to make it easier for both employees and resource providers.
iTester recommends segmenting into three to five internal audiences to start, typically by level of management: employees, managers, and senior leaders. Alternatively, segment by geography, department, or work environment, or some combination of the three
Geography Employees from different locations may share similar business objectives depending on the department they are in, but the extent of the crisis may vary by location in severity, and therefore, need different communications.
Department Different departments may have a similar culture, but different business continuity plans in the face of the crisis. Segment communication to ensure departments get the right information. This approach is best used in organizations where departments have distinct functions.
Work Environment Work environment may affect several things: the communication channels audiences have access to, the amount of time available to consume information, or the ability to direct contact the audience. Depending on the severity of the crisis, work environments may change without notice. Ensure your communication matches the channels and mediums employees have access to.
Draft a plan
Establish and share consistent protocols that leadership and employees can rely on for information involving business continuity.
Example of protocols:
All messages concerning business closures will come from senior leadership.
Any messages concerning working from home will come from your team lead.
Direct all questions concerning time off and resources to HR.
Make sure to include a mechanism for two-way feedback in your protocols to ensure any questions that may be helpful for everyone are being shared upwardly.
Determine who will oversee delivering messages at the organizational level, department level, and team level.
While crisis situations operate in uncertainty, it’s important to be as transparent and as consistent as possible when delivering communications.
Key messages that may need to be segmented, given work environments and employee level, include:
iTester Inc has created a Leadership Crisis Communications Guide Template is to provide communicators (i.e. anyone writing or sharing communications) across the organization with guidance on how to communicate effectively. It is meant to be customized by the communicator and should be used in conjunction with iTester’s Crisis Communication Guide for Leadership.
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Link – Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak