The COVID-19 pandemic provided every business leader with a crash course in crisis communications and emergency management. While we cannot anticipate a once-in-a-century public health emergency, we must remember that emergencies and the need for quick, clear communication with team members happens more than we realize.
From natural disasters and extreme weather to civil unrest and – yes – pandemics, it is no longer a question of if an emergency will surface but when. Business leaders must take the lessons from the pandemic and continue to apply them where needed.
As we move away from the worst of the pandemic, we must look back at our actions from those hurried first few weeks. Were we clear and upfront with employees? Did we keep a regular communication schedule? Did we give appropriate updates promptly? Could employees reach someone if they were in need?
The pandemic caught many unprepared. This is no longer an excuse. Let’s look at some of the best practices for crisis communications we learned and how to apply them.
In October 2017, wildfires spread throughout California. It was a sensitive time for our company and employees, who worried about their safety and friends and families.
A local news outlet reported that our entire site near one of the fires burned down. Thankfully, this report was an error. When the news station made its mistake, our team already knew that the site was safe, and all employees were accounted for. More important, we communicated with employees as the situation unfolded at our site.
Like all emergency communications, this case was a bit messy. In a developing situation, providing employees with immediate answers to all their questions is impossible. What you can do, though, is communicate what you know as quickly as you can. Don’t wait to be perfect. Be honest with employees, telling them what you know, what decisions must be made, and when they can expect future communication.
Employees will always want to know as much as possible. Keeping them updated is an essential first step to easing tension.
Keep a Consistent Communications Schedule
A communications schedule can help employees feel more secure, even if there is nothing new to report. Simply telling employees that nothing has changed since the last report can provide a sense of ease. Employees know communication is critical and will gain a sense of understanding that leadership continues to try.
Take Time to Plan
Crisis communications stay remarkably similar, regardless of the situation. In many ways, that makes planning for these scenarios slightly easier. Companies should have a straightforward crisis communications plan that outlines roles and responsibilities.
Companies should have a guide for what will happen in a crisis. Those steps include gathering information, communicating with employees through business channels, setting a schedule for future communications, and outlining the next steps and outside resources.
The plan should include a simple flow chart and a trained team familiar with their roles. Often, training and maintenance on this plan require only a few hours per year.
During a crisis, our top duty is to contact every employee. Some cases may involve a direct phone call, reaching out on social media, or contacting loved ones if more common channels fall short. We want to locate every employee and ensure their safety.
Good Crisis Communications Hygiene
The pandemic taught us the value of good internal communications. Proactive planning can provide tremendous benefits. As our world continues to change, the need for crisis communications plans will likely only increase.
Alicia Benson is Vice President of Workplace Solutions at Keysight Technologies.