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The importance of internal communications in a crisis
When unexpected and uncontrollable external events such as the COVID-19 outbreak occur, it’s important for companies to focus on what they can control - their response. And a large part of how that response is perceived by employees is determined by your internal communications.
These internal communications need to outline what policies are being enacted, keep employees informed about what is going on and should foster a sense of unity and resilience to make it through the challenging period.
The good news is that many businesses already seem to be doing it right. In a survey of employees in Hong Kong, we found that 80% currently feel taken care of in these times of uncertainty and 85% are happy with their leadership's overall response to COVID-19. This is good news for companies, as this should translate into company loyalty and overall increased productivity
Communicating effectively with your employees - and keeping them informed in a rapidly changing situation can help them navigate difficult times - and improve your bottom line. Here are a few things that companies need to get right when considering their internal communications in a crisis:
Decide on key messaging and how you will communicate it.
In difficult times, especially times that we are in now, where fake news is everywhere, employees want to hear consistent messaging throughout a crisis. At the beginning, establish key messaging and ensure that everyone who communicates sticks to it. Decide on common terms, what language to use, and what key points to emphasise. All these small details matter, and will create a smooth, consistent message for employees during times when all the information around them is changing.
Prioritise timely and clear communications.
It is better to communicate more often than seems necessary. Send out regular updates and send out communications whenever there are external changes. Aside from regular communication, respond quickly to new developments.
Use clear communications, meaning use simple language, be direct and ensure there is no room for misunderstandings. When crafting messages for people to read or hear, use language that gets straight to the point, and doesn’t add any unnecessary emotions.
As an example, the governor of New York state in the USA, Andrew Cuomo is being praised for his simple, direct language when addressing New Yorkers. When prepping for a press conference when he had to announce stay at home orders for New Yorkers, his advisors urged him to use the term “Shelter in Place”. He insisted on using the more simple, direct term: “Stay Home” insisting that it was easier for people to understand, and the former term is also used during active shooter or terrorist situations. The latter phrase was meant to evoke a feeling of safety and security for people who were not leaving their home.
Clear and frequent communications make a big difference when it comes to perceptions of how well a company is handling a crisis.
Use words that foster a sense of unity.
According to our recent study, creating a sense of unity is one of the top things that employees in Hong Kong expect from their employers. By using language such as “We are in this together” and “We understand”, companies can show that they value employees - and therefore give them job security. The key factor in this is to ensure that you are enacting the policies to back up the words.
Set out clear communication channels
Choose several communication channels and stick to them. Knowing where companies will communicate important information makes a small, but clear difference in the overall security felt by employees. Employees that we checked in with in Hong Kong stated that email was the most popular internal communication channel, followed by virutal meetings and then social messaging apps.
Communicate down the line
It’s not just the CEO or executive team that needs to focus on clear communication. Ensure that throughout your organisation, the communication lines are open. The Executive Team can make big announcements, then other line managers can check in with individuals, using the same key messaging. Don’t dismiss the importance of one-on-one check-ins on each employee.
Remember employees’ personal lives
Remember to communicate with employees about more than just how business is being impacted. Check in on aspects such as overall wellbeing and make it clear that they are aware of Employee Assistance Programs and other assistance that is available such as tips for staying healthy or ways to work from home productively.
Aside from simply being the right thing to do, getting internal communication right during times of crisis, can have a large benefit to your employees. In particular, it will help with:
- Employee engagement and productivity.
Employees who are informed will be more engaged. This is especially important if you are managing a remote team. Following that, engaged employees are more productive and will work harder if they feel as if they are a valued part of the team.
- Adherence to long term goals and vision.
Short term challenges that are handled well allow for employees to continue to believe in long-term goals and vision, another factor that contributes to satisfied and productive employees.
- Brand awareness and reputation
A company’s reputation is essential for attracting the right talent. These days, when word gets around fast, it’s always good to have positive buzz surrounding your company - this will make a difference when conditions improve and you begin hiring again.
For more information on managing teams effectively, see more of our Managment Advice articles.