Five Tips to Ensure Effective Communication During COVID-19

Steve Bassine

As companies are transitioning to remote working operations, communication is important for business continuity.

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As governments across the world grapple with containing the spread of COVID-19, companies are continuing to shift to a remote working environment to protect their employees. Aside from a strong IT infrastructure and maintaining staffing levels and vital operations, communication — both internally and externally — is quickly becoming one of the important factors in ensuring businesses can continue to operate through this and future crises.

Not every business will be able to stay in operation during this crisis. As businesses of all sizes limit operations or shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19, many companies are feeling the impact. For many other companies, however, there is still a need to continue “business as usual”. The primary goal of business continuity planning is to efficiently restore or continue operations through predetermined, systematic processes and procedures.

Communication planning is an integral part of preparedness and any continuity process. Clear and effective communication channels must remain available in order to share information with employees and clients, assess and relay conditions and coordinate a recovery strategy. Failed communication often results in failed business continuity efforts. Thoroughly planning, testing and exercising communication procedures within the following five factors is essential to ensure business continuity and viability of critical business operations.

1. Notification: The notification process begins as soon as possible. Creating a committee or team dedicated to monitoring, responding and coordinating communication is a best practice. The initial notification format can be dictated by company policy and available tools; however, all known information should be provided at that time, including:

  1. Location of impact or potential impact
  2. Scenario details
  3. Implementation timeline

The committee should begin documenting response actions immediately. Continuity information should be maintained and updated as necessary to ensure all management and affected personnel can quickly initiate proper actions.

In the planning phase, initial communication procedures, available communications equipment and alternative communication formats should be evaluated. Initial and back up communication formats should be agreed upon during training and exercises to ensure that managers, continuity personnel, external suppliers and the public receive important communication.

In order to communicate effectively, it’s critical to have accurate and up-to-date contact information for primary and alternate points of contacts including suppliers and vendors who may also be affected by coronavirus.

2. Verification: Verification of contact information for personnel, continuity supervisors and external responders should be done on a periodic basis. Business continuity planners must be certain that new employees are included in the plan, as necessary, and that notifications are being delivered to accurate e-mail addresses and/or contact numbers.

If maintaining accurate contact information is challenging, consider opting for an e-mail notification verification system that enables the contact to verify their information through hyperlinks. Companies can also offer incentives, such as drawings or prizes, to encourage all personnel to verify contact information as requested.

3. Messaging: During a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, it’s critical to get the message across effectively while taking the right tone. The individuals you’re communicating to may be anxious, confused or scared. Using simple, straightforward, authoritative and reassuring language will help to ensure your communication is “received” and internalized. Different audiences will need different messaging — employees, clients and suppliers/vendors should all be evaluated separately.

4. Stabilization + Continuity: While each day brings new challenges, companies should work towards stabilizing their business operations as much as they can and communicating on this progress daily. Continuous communication internally is important, especially if your workforce is now working remotely. Encouraging your front-line employees to communicate directly with their clients is a more effective tool than a blanket corporate communication via email. While it’s important to follow set processes, encouraging over-communication both “up and down” will help business leaders understand the ongoing situation more effectively.

5. Recovery: Recovery begins once the affected area, personnel, equipment and/or operations are accounted for and stabilized. Your recovery communications should include actions such as damage assessment reporting, interactions with response personnel and ensuring a safe environment prior to reentry or a return to operations. The lines of communications need to remain open in order to return to a “business as usual” level.

Ideally, developing relationships and common understandings of roles and responsibilities should occur prior to a continuity event. Doing this gives you a better chance of increasing overall communication, post-disaster collaboration, and unified decision-making, streamlining the recovery process.

When the current coronavirus pandemic is over, it will be important to critique your response and overall communication efforts, including surveying personnel and key business continuity committee members. This critique process can lead to identifying lessons learned and process improvements. Action items should be documented, communicated to involved parties and tracked to ensure corrective actions are identified and mitigation efforts are completed.

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