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IoIC's COVID-19 Taskforce has drafted a comprehensive list of tips for internal communicators in managing the crisis, and what lessons can influence comms beyond COVID-19.
 

1. Establish clear links with your contingency team.

In organisations of any scale, there is likely to be a contingency team responsible for monitoring Government advice, anticipating potential impacts on business and ensuring the wellbeing of staff and customers.

As an internal communicator, you should have clear line of sight to this group – ideally as part of it, or at least through an appropriate representative. Either way, you should be positioned to offer expert advice on internal communication handling as the situation develops.
 

2. Keep up to date with Government and public health advice.

Your contingency group should be monitoring this anyway, but internal communicators should stay one step ahead by tracking advice from the authorities and considering proactively how this may be communicated within the organisation (in line with your contingency group’s plans, of course).

This may include referring employees who are concerned about infection to official and expert medical sources such as GOV.UK and the NHS.
 

3. Help the organisation understand staff concerns and questions.

With much uncertainty around how the situation will play out, your staff are likely to be concerned about potential impacts on health, earnings and even job security.

By listening to staff now and ensuring that questions are raised to the right level and answered as clearly as possible, you will help ensure that frustrations and fears are limited.

You may consider using your usual feedback channels for this, eg. ‘always on’ surveys or employee forums, or instigating new ones.
 

4. Maintain a calm tone.

Respond don’t react – and help others to do the same. One important influence that internal communicators can have now is working with leaders and managers to ensure the right tone is present throughout any communication on coronavirus. It is important that communications are clear, simple and directive when needed, but, above all, that they exude calm in a situation where so much of the media coverage is sensationalistic.


5. Set a new comms drumbeat.

After the immediate shock, regularise communication cycles and mobilise your leaders and comms network around a shared approach


6. Get close to decision-makers.

Join the right meetings to get context on key decisions and minimise publication delays. Earn your place on the core group.


7. Create and promote an effective hero-channel.

As the crisis evolves, employees are trying to filter a torrent of information and see how it impacts their lives. Our first task is to help them do that quickly and easily, by creating a single source of accessible and reliable advice. This would be somewhere all employees can easily find advice on the things that matter. Most commonly, it will be an intranet site/microsite or mobile app, accessible anywhere, constantly updated, in multiple languages, promoted at every opportunity.


8. Distil core messages into memorable phrases.

Filter the tsunami of information on Covid-19 – its evolving characteristics, public health advice across markets, organisational policies – and convert it all into simple words.

Think how the crisis is impacting specific segments of your workforce differently and tailor and supplement your messages accordingly. A universal message to “stay safe: will sound hollow if you’re asking frontline staff to work in harm’s way. Be aware you may need to do this in multiple languages.

IoIC’s factsheet on making complex messages understandable may help with achieving clarity.


9. Involve your leaders.

They will be critical to emphasise the importance of the situation, acknowledge the difficulties, and show empathy and deep commitment to employee and customer welfare.


10. Share personal stories. 

Use these to build a greater sense of community and belonging within your organisation by sharing common experiences and tips to help others.


11. Share comms principles widely.

Organise and co-ordinate communications for your comms network, leadership team and other stakeholders, so this group has a common understanding on how you’re communicating and why, including your use of channels – global, country, leadership and manager – to reach specific audience segments reliably and quickly


12. Build a fast feedback loop.

It’s important that you know what your audience is finding useful, how they are feeling and what information they’re missing. Keep checking in and listening.


13. Be dynamic.

Reset the ‘to do’ list daily. As the crisis continues, move the communications focus in line with an employee’s multiple role – as a manager, employee and parent – and their shifting information needs, i.e. from what is Covid-19? to policies on self-quarantine, travel and home-working to mental health in isolation to reassurance when re-entering the workplace.


14. Be more inclusive and less hierarchical.

Make your output equally impactful for homeworkers, flex-workers and front-line teams as for head office staff – we’re all in this together.


15. Help your leaders to be visible and more authentic.

This is a moment of truth for them, to show deep commitment to employee and customer welfare, and to be open and honest when explaining business impacts. Enable them to make the shift in leadership comms permanent – with no going back to pre-Covid corporate style.

Create more transparency on business decisions and more disclosure on a leader’s world outside of work, including home-life, emotions and deepest commitments.


16. Be more digital and virtual.

Make better use of social collaboration platforms and team-working tools – but, alongside the allure of new technology, don’t neglect the deep need for human contact and face-to-face connectivity.


17. Encourage more cross-functional collaboration.

Make lasting alliances with colleagues in HR, Marketing, IT and Facilities etc, to take employee experience to the next level.


18. Play a fuller part in making the physical workplace special.

Cultivate a hotbed of creativity, collaboration, wellbeing and professional development.


19. Talk to internal communicators in other organisations and sectors.

A crisis is a stressful time, but other communicators will have been through something similar. In the example of Covid-19, everyone is going through it at the same time as you. Ask others what is working well – what are the effective approaches cutting through the noise? Reach out to peers or an online network to talk about how you feel on a one-to-one basis. Even if they don’t have solutions to your workload, it can be reassuring to know that others are in the same boat as you.


20. Look after yourself.

Crisis comms is a team sport which could make relentless demands last months. Share the load and avoid burn-out.

 

How could COVID-19 change internal communications forever?

  • Parity of experience across the entire workforce – ensure communications is equally impactful and accessible for homeworkers, flex-workers and front-line teams as for head office staff. Make comms genuinely feel that “we’re all in this together”.
     
  • More pace, less polish – take a more pragmatic view on version approvals and corporate finesse, guided by what employees need to know in real time to do their jobs.
     
  • More authentic and open leaders – offer greater disclosure of a leader’s world outside of work and provide greater transparency on business decisions.
     
  • More digital and virtual – normalise the use of social collaboration platforms and remote team-working tools, while not neglecting the deep need for human connection and shared experiences.
     
  • More cross-functional collaboration – preserve new-found alliances with colleagues in HR, marketing, IT and facilities to take employees’ experience of work to the next level.
     
  • Make the physical workplace worth the commute. The likelihood is that employees will now feel more empowered to work from home, so make it a great experience when they choose to come into the workplace – it should be a hotbed of creativity, collaboration, professional development and wellbeing.
     
  • Permanently reset leaders’ expectations of you and your team. The crisis has made unprecedented demands on communicators in your organisation. It has shown the value of a well-resourced and equipped team and exposed your skills as a crisis leader and adviser.  Maintain that modus operandi in handling the next set of strategic issues confronting the organisation – you’ll never have a better opportunity.

If you have any other thoughts on how COVID-19 and our experiences as internal communicators will change our profession forever, email IoIC chief executive Jennifer Sproul.

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